Sunday, July 22, 2012

A triumph of modern architecture

The cost of repairing broken window blinds at London’s iconic City Hall, which houses the offices of Mayor Boris Johnson, is set to top £730,000.

The glass-clad building on the South Bank of the Thames – which was designed by architect Norman Foster and is one of the capital’s landmarks – has suffered from defective blinds for years, hampering efforts to clean its windows.

The bulk of the costs of the repairs are being met under an insurance policy. But the Greater London Authority (GLA) must contribute almost £100,000 in taxpayers’ money – under an excess clause in the policy and for work that it does not cover.

The specially designed roman blinds sit between two panes of glass and should open and close to regulate the amount of light coming into the building, known as the ‘beehive’. Window cleaners are able to open the outside panes and can normally remove the blinds to wash off the grime on the inside pane.

But City Hall insiders say dozens of blinds have stuck, meaning that the inside surfaces of many of the windows cannot be reached. They complain that the cost of cleaning the 3,000-plus panes of glass that clad the building has now topped £12,000 a month, but many are still filthy.

The GLA, which is jointly responsible for the building with developers More London, initially considered legal action against the Swiss company that installed the blinds when the building was constructed a decade ago, but it is no longer in business.

They have now employed a specialist firm to repair or replace the damaged blinds and other broken parts of the windows at an estimated cost of £733,000. The GLA has agreed to pay £72,000 towards the excess on the insurance claim and another £25,000 for further work on the windows that is not covered by the policy.

It said in an official document: ‘There will be a positive impact from these works where windows that have not been properly cleaned for many years will now become accessible, improving the overall appearance of City Hall. ‘Without taking necessary steps to rectify the faults with the building facade, further degradation of the window units will occur.’

More London Estate Management said: ‘The original contractor went into liquidation – but fortunately the developer and the GLA were fully insured against such an eventuality. ‘The necessary repairs are being effected under this insurance following collaboration between the developer and the GLA.’

But Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly group, said: ‘It is amazing that a glass building was built only ten years ago with so little thought given to how the windows could be cleaned and maintained. It shows the real price of when design is considered everything.’

The GLA declined to comment.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lady Mosley

Lady Mosley, who died in Paris on Monday aged 93, was a friend of both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, and decidedly more fascinated by the Führer

The third and the most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters (daughters of the 3rd Lord Redesdale), she left her first husband Bryan Guinness to unite her destiny with Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. The uncompromising temperament of the Mitfords, combined with Mosley's rebarbative politics, involved renouncing the social life of which she had previously been a leading ornament.

Three of Diana Mosley's sisters would follow her in forswearing England for a mixture of a man and ideology. Nancy, her eldest sister, found in Gaston Palewski the personification of her drooling Francophilia. Unity became enamoured of Hitler and shot herself at the outbreak of the war. Jessica became a Communist and married an American of that persuasion.

In Diana Mosley's memory, Sir Oswald was a figure of unequalled glamour. "He had every gift, being handsome, generous, intelligent, and full of wonderful gaiety and joie de vivre. Of course I fell in love with him . . . and I have never regretted the step I took then."

She left Bryan Guinness in 1932, just as Mosley was forming the British Union of Fascists. To the horror of her family and friends - her father forbade her younger sisters to see her again - she set up house with her two small sons in Eaton Square, and placed herself at the Leader's disposal.

Yet it was for an uncertain future that she had cast herself away. Mosley's first wife Cimmie, Lord Curzon's daughter, was still alive; and Mosley showed no disposition to leave her. "I never dreamed of marrying him," Diana remembered.

It was as though the fairy princess had been carried off by the demon king. As Diana Guinness, she had been a leader of a set which included Augustus John, the Sitwells, Henry Yorke, Evelyn Waugh, Roy Harrod and Robert Byron. Lytton Strachey paid her court.

Her photograph regularly stared from the covers of the society weeklies; her portrait was painted again and again. The face always seemed to come out the same - large, calm, and staring vacantly into space. "She was getting like that in real life too," her sister Jessica acidly observed.

The death of Cimmie Mosley from peritonitis in May 1933 made possible a lifetime commitment to the Leader of the Blackshirts, which she would honour through every adversity. At first, it seemed that she might keep him within the bounds of respectability. "The Leader is so clever and in his way so civilised and English," she explained to Roy Harrod in 1933, "that [his Blackshirts] could not be comparable to the German movement. But if everyone of sensibility, charm and intelligence shuns him, there is definitely a danger that he will come to regard those virtues as vicious and the possessors of them as enemies."

But that same year, on the invitation of Hitler's stooge Putzi Hansfstaengl, Diana Guinness visited Nazi Germany. For her sister Unity, who accompanied her, the holiday was the beginning of an obsession that would destroy her life. Diana was also deeply impressed, and ever afterwards disposed to ignore what she heard of anti-semitism and concentration camps.

Unity Mitford finally succeeded in making Hitler's acquaintance in January 1935, and in March proudly introduced him to her sister. Diana Guinness, in the full flower of her beauty, made a considerable impression; she herself was dazzled. "His eyes were dark blue," Diana rhapsodised about Hitler, "his skin was fair and his brown hair exceptionally fine. In certain moods he could be very funny. He was extremely polite towards women. He was the most unselfconscious politician I have ever come across. He never sought to impress, he never bothered to act a part. If he felt morose, he was morose. If he was in high spirits he talked brilliantly."

Later in 1935 Irene Ravensdale, sister of Mosley's first wife, found the picture of Hitler in Diana Guinness's house at Wootton, in Staffordshire, "particularly painful". Certainly, Diana's partiality for the Führer quite outran that of Mosley, who later in life would refer to Hitler as "a terrible little man".

On October 6 1936, two days after the Blackshirts' humiliating withdrawal from Cable Street, Diana secretly married Mosley in Berlin - a wedding arranged under the auspices of Dr Goebbels, whose wife Magda was a friend of Diana's. Hitler came to dinner after the wedding, presenting a picture of himself in an eagle-topped silver frame. Afterwards, the newly-weds had a fierce quarrel: "We went to bed in dudgeon."

Diana Mosley continued to visit Germany frequently, being involved in negotiations to set up an independent radio station to broadcast to Britain from Heligoland; Mosley hoped that this scheme would finance his movement. She had several private late-night meetings with Hitler in the Chancellery, and he invited her to Bayreuth.

Mosley, meanwhile, took the line that Britain should stay out of any conflict with Germany, in order to preserve the Empire by leaving Hitler a free hand in Europe. As Hitler swept through France in May 1940 Mosley was arrested and imprisoned in Brixton under Defence Regulation 18b, which empowered the Home Secretary to detain in prison "any particular person if satisfied that it is necessary to do so".

In fact, Mosley had frequently declared he would fight for his country in the event of an invasion. But there were many politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, who had scores to pay off. By this time the Mosleys were such pariahs that when Diana gave birth to their youngest son in April 1940 many Britons were inspired to write that they were coming to pour vitriol over her babies.

The Mitfords were cousins of Clementine Churchill, the Prime Minister's wife, and as a girl Diana Mosley used to stay with the Churchills at Chartwell. This did not prevent her imprisonment in Holloway at the end of June 1940.

The conditions under which Diana was imprisoned were ghastly, but she was never one to sue for mercy. Interviewed by a Home Office Advisory Committee under Lord Birkett in 1940, she put her worst foot forward. She admitted that she would like to replace the British political system with the German one "because we think it has done well for that country". Did she approve of the Nazi policies against Jews? "Up to point," she declared. "I am not fond of Jews."

When her lawyer asked if she knew anyone in the government who might help, she gave further hostages to fortune. "Know anyone in the government?" she cried. "I know all the Tories beginning with Churchill. The whole lot deserve to be shot." This was reported to Churchill, who was not amused.

Not until December 1941, after the intervention of Diana's brother Tom with the Prime Minister, was Mosley allowed to join her in married quarters at Holloway. After two more years, in November 1943, they were both released on grounds of Mosley's health, and placed under house arrest until the end of the war.

Evelyn Waugh, who encountered Diana Mosley when she was just out of prison, told his daughter that he was shocked to observe that his friend was wearing a swastika diamond brooch. But then the Mitfords had been brought up to pay scant attention to the opinion of others.

Diana Freeman-Mitford was born on June 17 1910 into a family which her sister Nancy would immortalise in Love in a Cold Climate. Their parents, Lord and Lady Redesdale, featured as Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. The family first came to prominence in the 18th century, when John Mitford was Speaker of the House of Commons and (as Lord Redesdale) Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His son was raised to an earldom in 1877, but nine years later both titles became extinct.

The Redesdale title would be revived for a cousin, Bertie (pronounced "Barty") Mitford, whose great-grandfather was William Mitford, celebrated as the author of The History of Greece. Bertie's second son, David, Diana's father, married Sydney, daughter of "Tap" Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. Their only boy, Tom, was killed in Burma in 1944. Of the more orthodox daughters, the second, Pamela, married Professor Derek Jackson; and Debo, the sixth, is the present Duchess of Devonshire.

Diana remembered her father with a great deal more affection than Nancy or Jessica did. "Not only did he make us scream with laughter at his lovely jokes," she wrote, "but he was very affectionate. Certainly he had a quick temper, and would often rage, but we were never punished."

In 1919 Lord Redesdale sold the house his father had built at Batsford, Gloucestershire, and moved to Astall Manor in Oxfordshire. The children loved it, and Diana, "in a supreme effort to make money", kept chickens, pigs and calves. A succession of governesses - Diana thought 15 - abandoned the attempt to instil some education. Nevertheless, Diana read avidly, and though regarded as soft-hearted by her sisters imbibed her share of the family's tough style. "Do try to hang on this time, darling," Jessica remembered her saying when riding. "You know how cross Muv will be if you break your arm again."

The idyll at Astall did not last; after six years Lord Redesdale decided to build a new house on the hill above Swinbrook. It turned out to be a monstrosity, but for the children there was the compensation that he also bought a large house in London, at 26 Rutland Gate. In 1926 Diana was sent to stay in Paris, where she attended a day school and in six months learnt more than she had during six years in England.

Evelyn Waugh thought that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells". Jim Lees-Milne, who was a friend of Tom Mitford's at Eton, remembered her as "the most divine adolescent I ever beheld: a goddess, more immaculate, more perfect, more celestial than Botticelli's sea-borne Venus". In 1928 this vision came to the attention of Bryan Guinness, and within weeks they were engaged.

Lady Redesdale objected strenuously to her prospective son-in-law on the grounds that he was "so frightfully rich". Nancy Mitford thought he was perfectly all right, but could not imagine why her sister should want to marry him. Eventually, though, consent was granted, and the wedding took place on January 30 1929.

Apart from her two sons, the most notable achievement of Diana Guinness's first marriage was a spoof exhibition of the works of a mythical artist called Bruno Hat. Brian Howard produced most of the paintings; Evelyn Waugh wrote the catalogue and Tom Mitford impersonated Hat.

At Biddesdon, their country house near Andover, Diana was able for the first time to employ her talent for interior decoration. At the end of her life she expressed gratitude for having lived in three beautiful houses: Biddesdon, Wootton and, from 1950, the pretentiously entitled (though not by the Mosleys) Temple de la Gloire on the outskirts of Paris; the house was known to their foes as "The Concentration of Camp".

After the Second World War, the Mosleys lived on a farm at Crowood, near Ramsbury in Wiltshire. Though largely ignored by the local residents, they appeared content in their self-sufficiency; whatever else might be said about them, no one could deny the success of their marriage.

In 1951 Mosley, now obsessed with the ideal of creating a united Europe, decided to leave England and divide his time between the Temple de la Gloire and a house he had bought in Galway. "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it," he commented of his decision to leave England.

In France, Diana Mosley edited The European, a magazine that boasted contributions from Ezra Pound, Henry Williamson and Roy Campbell. She herself contributed reviews and comment, showing a sharpness that would not have shamed her sister Nancy.

Her loyalty to Mosley remained absolute, though she did venture to suggest, when he stood for North Kensington in 1959, that the use by his supporters of such terms as "fuzzy wuzzies" was not likely to bolster his credentials as a serious politician. In Paris, the Mosleys discovered that they had much in common with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and in 1980 Diana published a book on the Duchess.

If Diana Mosley never enjoyed the literary success of her sister Nancy, she was undoubtedly happier. Thrusting aside all remembrance of Nancy's betrayal of her during the war, Diana proved the main consolation in her sister's painful and protracted final illness, which ended in 1973. But she never made her peace with Jessica, who had declared at the end of the war that the Mosleys should be thrown back into prison. "She's a rather boring person really," Diana concluded.

Sir Oswald Mosley died in 1980, and a year later Diana Mosley suffered from a brain tumour. It turned out to be benign and was operated upon successfully. While convalescing she was visited by Lord Longford. "Of course, he thinks I'm Myra Hindley," Diana remarked.

Although her book of memoirs, A Life of Contrasts (1977), was deliberately provocative, most of those who met her found her a delightful companion, while to her sisters' children she was Aunt Honks. On one subject, however, she remained incorrigible.

"They will go on persecuting me until I say Hitler was ghastly," she acknowledged. "Well, what's the point in saying that? We all know he was a monster, that he was very cruel and did terrible things. But that doesn't alter the fact that he was obviously an interesting figure. It was fascinating for me, at 24, to sit and talk with him, to ask him questions and get answers, even if they weren't true ones. No torture on earth would get me to say anything different."

"I was very fond of him," she admitted in an interview in 2000. "Very, very fond."

Of her sons from her first marriage, the elder, Jonathan, is the 3rd Lord Moyne, while the younger, Desmond, founded the Irish Georgian Society. There were two sons from her second marriage; the younger, Max, is President of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile.