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Chris Blackwell's mom, Blanche passes at 104

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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Following is the obituary published by the Daily Telegraph newspaper in England on Blanche Blackwell, the mother of famous Jamaican music producer Chris Blackwell. Blance Blackwell died on August 8, 2017.

Blanche Blackwell, who has died aged 104, was the mother of the record mogul Chris Blackwell, the mistress of Ian Fleming and one of the last survivors from the age when some 20 families ran Jamaica.

Her family, the Lindos, were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who had arrived in Jamaica in 1743 to make their money from sugar, rum, coconuts and cattle. Their finances were said to have been weakened by a large loan to Napoleon, which was never repaid, and by the early 20th century Blanche's eldest uncle had been forced to depart for Costa Rica, where he struck lucky growing bananas and sent for his seven brothers, including Blanche's father.

Blanche was born there on December 9, 1912. When their wealth was restored, most of the family returned to Jamaica, where they bought and ran the island's leading rum manufacturer, J Wray and Nephew, until 1957.

Strong, petite and full of joie de vivre, Blanche Lindo enjoyed a helter-skelter life on the family's sugar plantation, where she was educated by a tutor until she was sent to a finishing school in Surrey. The headmistress was shocked when she asked for her usual hot whisky with cinnamon to cure a cold (though she was a teetotaller all her adult life) and also when she banged a girl's head against the wall for mocking another pupil's accent.

Back on the island in the late 1920s, the glamorous Miss Lindo was feted by scions of the rich British and American families who had second homes there, and by visiting celebrities. One of her early admirers was Errol Flynn. At first she had not wanted to meet him, telling him she was suffering from boils on her bottom, but they soon became close friends. “He was the most handsome man I've ever seen in my entire life. He had a wonderful physique,” she later recalled.

He taught her how to eat sea urchins: “Just the white ones, of course. We'd open up the shell and suck the eggs out. Delicious! One day when I put mine down, it walked off, half-eaten, across the deck. I've never touched one since.” He fell in love with her and her laugh – “like the sounds of water tinkling over a waterfall” – and, although he was already married at the time, wrote in his memoirs that he thought of proposing to her, but decided against for fear of rejection. For her part Blanche always dodged impertinent questions about whether they had ever been more than just good friends.

Then her father took on as his assistant Joe Blackwell, a former Guards officer and scion of the Crosse and Blackwell family, who was immediately smitten with Blanche. They married when she was in her early 20s and her parents gave them a house in Kingston and an old plantation house with 2,000 acres of coconuts and bananas.

Their only child, Christopher, was born in 1937, and the couple built up one of the finest string of racehorses in Jamaica. But the marriage ended in the late-1940s, after Errol Flynn told Blanche that Joe was having an affair with another woman. After her divorce Blanche moved to Berkshire for the hunting season while Christopher was at Harrow, then returned permanently to Jamaica, settling close to Port Maria, where the Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan (c 1635-1688) had waited for passing galleons before he was appointed the island's governor, and where she rebuilt a cottage called Bolt.

Here she found herself a close neighbour of NoŽl Coward, who had fallen in love with Jamaica while holidaying at Goldeneye, the home of Ian Fleming, in 1948, and had built a house on land bought from Blanche's brother Roy. He and Blanche hit it off immediately and became great friends.

Blanche first met Ian Fleming at a Kingston dinner party in 1956. At first they did not get on: he thought her “a stupid bitch”, albeit an attractive one; she found him insufferably rude. “Don't tell me you're a lesbian,” he demanded. Later he was said to have used her as the model for the glamorously bisexual martial-arts expert Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (less gallantly he named the decrepit guano tanker in Dr No the Blanche). Gradually they got to know each other, however, and Fleming, enchanted by Blanche's mischievous wit and vivacity, started inviting her to his house, where she enjoyed snorkelling on his reef.

Fleming was married to Ann, the former Viscountess Rothermere, though the sexual side of their relationship, Ann claimed later, had ended after the birth of their son Caspar in 1952. As Fleming and Blanche became friends, gossip spread that they were having an affair, although Blanche insisted that it was only after a year and after Ann herself began an affair with the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell, that she felt free to succumb to this “absolutely gorgeous” man.

In the meantime, however, Ann became increasingly jealous. While Fleming was away from Goldeneye, Blanche looked after the house and largely organised the famous visit of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden and his wife at the height of the Suez crisis in 1956, making the place more welcoming by planting flowers in the garden. Ann, on her return, tore up the “ugly shrubs” and hurled them into the sea. To a visiting friend, she pointed out Blanche's estate, saying: “On the left is the house that belongs to Ian's Jamaican wife. You may look, but I cannot.”

As their relationship developed, Blanche visited Fleming after his morning's writing was finished, and he became a regular visitor to Bolt, giving her a fine collection of Jamaican prints. As a “thank-you” present, she gave Fleming a wooden fishing coracle, which he named “Octopussy”.

NoŽl Coward found Blanche “so much more fun than Annie with her intellectual ways”. When he gave Blanche a tablecloth from Morocco he was surprised to find her wearing it as a kaftan. To Ann Fleming, however, Blanche remained Ian's “Jamaican woman”, and when Fleming died in 1964 at the age of only 56, Blanche suffered the fate of a mistress and was absent from both his funeral and his memorial service. She kept his photograph on her dressing-table, however, continued to swim on the reef at Goldeneye, and kept a watching brief on the house for Ian's son Caspar until he committed suicide in 1975 and the house was bought by her own son Christopher.

Blanche Blackwell was generous to her friends, inviting them to make use of Bolt as their own when she was abroad. She was always the first to visit friends in hospital, laden with smoked salmon and books. At the age of 83 she flew up to New York to escort one old lady down to Nassau at her own expense.

For many years she had an English butler who, in a crisis, could turn his hand to cooking, sewing and acting as her “Jeeves”: “Madam is not going out in that hat?” he might say. If they were motoring in France, he was to be found in the back seat, making sandwiches for picnics and occasionally suggesting she slow down. When the Jamaican Labour Department decreed that he should no longer be granted a work permit, Blanche's friends begged her (unsuccessfully) to marry him in order to keep him.

Her friends included the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Sir Alistair Aird, the Queen's private secretary, but she was equally at home with ordinary Jamaicans. Once, she stopped her car at dead of night to pick up three locals who had broken down on a country road. They were appalled and told her she should never pick up strangers again.

When her son Christopher married in 1998, she took over his house at Old Gun Point in Nassau, where he had put up the Rolling Stones when they were recording for his Island Records.

Deaf and almost blind in her 90s, Blanche moved to London where she was looked after by three Jamaican maids. In July 2012, Volcano, a play written by NoŽl Coward in 1956 and unperformed in his lifetime, was given its premiere at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. Set in a thinly-disguised Jamaica, it featured a steamy saga of serial infidelity and marital conflict, in which the main female character Adela, a handsome plantation owner and widow in her mid-40s, was a thinly disguised depiction of Blanche Blackwell.

She recalled that when she first heard that Coward was writing the play, she had got on her horse and ridden over to Coward's house: “I said: 'NoŽl, I know what you think and it isn't true.” When she heard about the London production some 50 years later she was surprised that she had not been warned in advance (the management had assumed she must be dead). On attending a performance, however, she thought Jenny Seagrove's portrayal of her character as a strong-minded and intelligent woman reining in her emotions was a true representation (though she thought Jason Durr overacted in the Fleming role).

Blanche Blackwell was flattered when, in her 80s, Sir Richard Branson offered to send her into space on her 100th birthday. Instead, when she reached 100 her son organised a large party for her and her friends.

Blanche Blackwell, born December 9 1912, died August 8 2017.

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