Blanche Black­well obituary

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Blanche Black­well, who has died aged 104, was a di­vorcee in her 40s when in 1956 she met Ian Flem­ing, her neigh­bour in Ja­maica and the cre­ator of James Bond; and soon they be­came lovers. Cracks had by then be­gun to show in Flem­ing’s mar­riage to Ann Char­teris. Ann was ashamed of her hus­band’s suc­cess as a thriller writer (the Bond nov­els were “pornog­ra­phy”, she told friends), and had be­gun to stay away from their Ja­maican home, Gold­en­eye.

Black­well’s friend­ship with Flem­ing in­ten­si­fied when Ann be­gan an af­fair with the politi­cian Hugh Gaitskell. Ann be­came sus­pi­cious of “Ian’s Ja­maican wife” af­ter An­thony Eden’s wife, Clarissa, men­tioned how help­ful Black­well had been at Gold­en­eye when the prime min­is­ter re­cu­per­ated there in 1956 af­ter the de­ba­cle of Suez. In an at­tempt to make Gold­en­eye more wel­com­ing for the Edens, Black­well had planted the gar­den with flow­ers; Ann later tore them out and threw them over the cliff.

Flem­ing wrote all 13 of his 007 nov­els in Ja­maica, though only three (Dr No, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun) were set partly on the is­land. Noël Cow­ard, an­other neigh­bour, dubbed Flem­ing’s home “Gold­en­eye, nose and throat” for its lack of crea­ture com­forts. It was in this Spar­tan retreat that Flem­ing im­mersed him­self in a Bond-like life of trop­i­cal obliv­ion fu­elled by vodka and cig­a­rettes (like 007, Flem­ing smoked 70 a day).

Imp­ishly, he in­cluded sketches of his friends (and en­e­mies) in his fic­tion. Black­well was sup­pos­edly a model for Pussy Ga­lore, the pi­lot and mar­tial arts expert in Goldfin­ger; and in Dr No, the guano-col­lect­ing ship was named the Blanche. Black­well claimed not to have read any of the books, though: “I don’t like vi­o­lence.”

Daugh­ter of Hilda (née Lindo) and Percy Lindo, cousins who mar­ried, she was born into a wealthy Ja­maican fam­ily, de­scended from Sephardic Jews from west­ern Europe who had set­tled in Kingston in the mid-18th century and came to con­trol much of the is­land’s com­merce. Her fa­ther had helped to con­sol­i­date the fam­ily for­tune in Costa Rica – where Blanche was born, in San José – be­fore re­turn­ing to Ja­maica, where he owned prop­erty and pro­duced rum.

In 1936, in Lon­don, Blanche mar­ried Joseph Black­well, a cap­tain in the Ir­ish Guards and heir to the Crosse & Black­well foods for­tune. To­gether they ran the fam­ily es­tates in Ja­maica and owned a string of race­horses. In 1937 their son Christo­pher was born. Blanche was not happy in the mar­riage, how­ever. The ac­tor Er­rol Flynn (“a gor­geous god,” Black­well called him) be­came one of her ad­mir­ers.

By the time she and Joseph di­vorced in 1949, she had moved to Ja­maica’s north coast, to a house equidis­tant be­tween Cow­ard’s and Flem­ing’s. “Noël be­came a special pal of mine,” Black­well told me dur­ing an in­ter­view in 2007, and Cow­ard was said to have based his play Vol­cano on is­land life, and one of its cen­tral char­ac­ters, Adela, on Black­well.

Flem­ing adored “Birdie” Black­well and her dart­ing, king­fisher mind. And Black­well, in her turn, con­sid­ered Flem­ing a “charm­ing, handsome, gifted man”, but one plagued by self-doubt and self-hate. “Ian was an an­gel”, she told me. “Er­rol was an­other . . . Both lovely men – both ex­cep­tion­ally gifted and def­i­nitely not for do­mes­ti­cat­ing.”

When Flem­ing died of a heart attack in 1964, Blanche was in­vited nei­ther to the funeral nor the me­mo­rial ser­vice. For years, she kept watch over Gold­en­eye for Flem­ing’s son Cas­par; and af­ter Cas­par’s death in 1975 the house was bought first by Bob Mar­ley, and then by her son, Chris, the founder in 1959 of Is­land Records, who had “dis­cov­ered” Mar­ley.

Tough and good-hu­moured, in later life Black­well wore her white hair bobbed round an an­i­mated, heart-shaped face. Her life, un­til she de­camped in 2003 to a flat in Knights­bridge, Lon­don, had been one of is­land en­ter­tain­ments and lit­er­ary friend­ships. Now, looked af­ter by three Ja­maican maids, Black­well be­came an un­likely devo­tee of bingo. Each week her chauf­feur took her to the Crick­le­wood Mecca to play. In Kingston, she had liked to bet on the horses, but Lon­don bingo was not with­out its thrills. “Crick­le­wood might seem a lit­tle dull to you,” she said. “It isn’t re­ally. I could sit for hours in the Mecca. The ten­sion as your num­ber comes up. Bing­bing-bingo!” She is sur­vived by her son.

The heiress who be­came the ‘Ja­maican wife’ of James Bond cre­ator Ian Flem­ing and was sup­pos­edly the model for Goldfin­ger’s Pussy Ga­lore.

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