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LIFE AND TIMES

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LIFE AND TIMES – WINSTON THE MAN AND FAMILY LIFE

It was following the illness of his father that in 1926 Winston, then aged 17, moved to Cornwall from Manchester with his brother and parents. There he met Jean Williamson who became the love of his life. They married in September 1939 and remained living in Cornwall until 1959 when Jean’s increasingly bad asthma was a factor in their decision to live elsewhere - briefly in the South of France in 1960 and thereafter in Sussex. Winston and Jean had first met in 1926 when she was 13. She was a constant source of encouragement, stories and ideas and the only person with whom he talked over everything he wrote. Some have compared Jean to Demelza who, in the Poldarks, Ross first meets when Demelza was also 13. Winston always denied this but both friends and family have often remarked on the many similarities of character between Demelza and Jean.

Winston and Jean had a son and a daughter - Andrew and Rosamund. Andrew became an academic, Master of Balliol College, Oxford and most recently initiated the Europaeum Scholars programme. He and wife Peggotty live in Oxford. For many years Rosamund lived in California where she met and married Douglas Barteau (sadly now deceased) and they had two sons and a daughter - Max, Dominic and Anthea - who have in turn produced nine Winston Graham great-grandchildren. Rosamund became Director of Human Resources for the Head Start Program with Tulare County Department of Education in California; she now lives in Berkshire.

In his youth Winston was a keen tennis player, though later he substituted tennis with a few holes of golf. Throughout his life the one constant (in addition to Jean) was the strong call of Cornwall both for him and the rest of the family. And for many summers Rosamund and Douglas and the grandchildren joined Winston and Jean at the Crantock Bay Hotel in West Pentire for a re-injection of Cornish air. At other times he and Jean enjoyed travelling the world – sometimes it would be for a book signing or promotion trip, at others for the personal enjoyment of exploration. At home in Sussex lunches and parties at Abbotswood were regular memorable events.

Something both Winston and Jean relished was their close involvement in the 1970s TV series of the Poldarks. There was a distinctly rocky start with disagreements about character portrayal in the first draft adaptation but once these all passed, they loved it. And especially when filming in Cornwall they would often be found watching on set, appearing as characters in at least one episode and meeting and spending time with the cast and crew. Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees (who so sadly died in 2012) Christopher Biggins and Jane Wymark amongst others all became good friends. Sadly, by the time of the Mammoth Screen revival of Poldark both Winston and Jean had died. Their place was taken by Andrew Graham who as formal consultant to the series continued the family’s close connection.

It is arguably correct to claim that it is the Poldark novels that most brought Winston Graham fame. However, in total he wrote more than thirty other novels, many to great acclaim and with world-wide sales. Today Winston Graham novels have been translated into well over twenty different languages and continue to be in demand across different parts of the globe. But it is still Cornwall where Winston Graham is perhaps best known both as a distinguished author and for the Poldark legacy. This includes his close connection with the Royal Cornwall Museum (RCM) where he did much research and to whom he bequeathed many of his manuscript notebooks as well as a legacy in the form of the Winston Graham Prize for Historical Fiction.

 

Jean Graham died just before Christmas 1992. She had suffered two strokes in her early 50s which badly impaired her mobility but never her spirit. She and Winston continued travelling to new places and enjoying life to the full until almost the end. Her spirit is well captured by her headstone in Buxted graveyard which quite simply says ‘Loved by All’.

Winston continued to live at home in Abbotswood, Buxted, East Sussex – writing, enjoying his garden, and continuing regularly to take the train to London for lunch with old friends at The Savile Club or The Beefsteak. He died at Abbotswood on 10th July 2003 aged 95 very soon after completing his autobiography. He had continued writing and publishing to the very end. Most of the obituaries got the date of his birth wrong by at least 2 or 3 years. This was hardly surprising since Winston never talked about his age and, as he grew older, made increasing efforts to conceal it. If asked, he simply replied that if publishers knew how old he was they would be less interested in his work and less willing to publish him. A typically downbeat Winston Graham reply but given the numbers of his books that continue to be re-published for new readers today, not very accurate.

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