Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'White Mischief' Murder

White Mischief is one of my favourite books and films so I was really interested to read the article, by Paul Spicer, below in 'The Sunday Times' and I was very excited to discover he has just written a book, which was published on Monday, another one to add to my ever-growing, Amazon wish list.

"The house might well have been in Surrey. The bricks were a bright baked red, the window frames were painted white and a high chimney on the left served the large ground-floor sitting room, which overlooked a tidy lawn. It had all the right playthings: a swimming pool, a tennis court, verandas and stables. The only clue that the house was located somewhere quite different was the enormous jacaranda tree to its left, in full pink-purple bloom. 

Marula Lane House, Spicer's former home

Marula Lane was 10 miles from the centre of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, but shortly after my wife, June, and I moved there in 1970, we nicknamed it “Murder House”. I was working for Lonrho, which had bought the property for £12,000. Despite its picturesque location in Karen — named after Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, and the preferred address for the well-to-do — it was a home haunted by its past.

 'Jock' Delves Broughton and his new wife Diana

The house had once belonged to Sir Henry John “Jock” Delves Broughton, 11th baronet of Doddington Park, who took it on in 1940 when he married his new blonde wife, Diana, 30 years his junior. Delves Broughton, an Old Etonian, was an imposing man with slicked-back dark hair, who walked with a slight limp due to a war wound. Yet, less than a year after their arrival in Kenya, he was arrested for the murder of Diana’s lover, Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll. 

Josslyn Hay

The earl was the linchpin of Kenya’s colonial community and the Happy Valley set, as the group of aristocratic expats who set up farm on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in the years between the wars became known. Blond, clever, an ace card and polo player, he devoted considerable energies to seducing women. There was a wildness to Erroll: he was a natural womaniser, without respect for rules, regulations or husbands. This was, after all, the era of “English squires established on the equator”, as Evelyn Waugh aptly put it. 

It was from Marula Lane that the earl left in his Buick in the early hours, only to be murdered two miles into his journey. His body was discovered by two milk boys on the Ngong-Nairobi road. There was a bullet hole in his neck and flecks of blood spattered the windscreen. The ensuing court case was, at five weeks, the longest on record for central Africa. Delves Broughton was acquitted, but committed suicide in December 1942 at the Adelphi Hotel, in Liverpool. At least half a dozen books have been published about the murder, which also inspired the movie White Mischief. 

 Still From The Film 'White Mischief'

When we moved into Marula Lane, it was virtually unchanged from those days of high drama. Much of the decor had been influenced by Diana, whose bedroom led into an ensuite bathroom, done up with the pink tiles that had been fashionable at the time. Jock’s bedroom, next door to Diana’s, had its own peculiar bathroom: the bath was surrounded on three sides by mirrors and there was one on the ceiling above the tub. The reasons for such self-imposed voyeurism are perhaps best left to the imagination. 

Downstairs were three main rooms: the sitting room was long and dominated at one end by a fireplace. One of the dining-room windows looked out over a small round swimming pool (which became a sandpit for our two children), where Diana used to go skinny-dipping. The story goes that Joss and Jock were both in Marula Lane one day when Diana was swimming in the nude. So, there was Jock looking out of the dining-room window when he saw Joss standing by the pool, holding up a towel, ready for Diana’s exit. Jock opened the window and shouted: “Joss, it’s my turn to dry Diana today!” 

 Greta Scatcchi as Diana in The Film 'White Mischief'

One must remember that Jock was surprisingly tolerant of the liaison between his wife and Joss. There was a sense of “no grudges” between these two men, who shared the same alma mater and had been brought up to believe that “all’s fair in love and war”. So who did shoot Lord Erroll?
The question hangs in the air. It enthralled me, and the three years I lived in Marula Lane, as well as subsequent visits Kenya, staying with friends or at the Muthaiga Club, inspired me to try to find out. It led me to Alice, Countess de Janzé. She had made close friends with my mother, Margaret Spicer, in late 1925. Both were born in America, both spoke French and both were musical. The countess, who had dreamy grey eyes, bee-stung lips and a fashionably boyish figure, had also been one of Joss’s lovers. 

Alice Countess de Janzé

The more I read and investigated, the more the idea that Alice was the murderer consumed me. So little was really known about her origins, her wealth and what sort of a person she really was. A young heiress, she had tired of Chicago’s jazz-age nightclubs and fled to Europe before making a home in Africa. She was a lesson in contradictions — she could be bold and eccentric, would go out riding alone among wild animals, kept a Nile crocodile in her bathtub in Paris and launched herself with abandon into a string of unsuitable affairs. But her letters and other writings reveal a sense of wrenching need and at times overwhelming unhappiness; she committed suicide in September 1941, seven months after Erroll’s murder. 

 Alice in Chicago 1919

I had to find out where Alice used to live in Happy Valley, the nickname given to the Wanjohi Valley, 80 miles north of Nairobi, and soak up the atmosphere of this heady, liberated community. I stayed the night at Clouds, the house belonging to Lady Idina Sackville, nicknamed “the bolter”. Idina had been divorced five times — Joss was her third husband — and was living with her new boyfriend, Jimmy Bird. Idina was in her late fifties when I met her, and I was about 22. 

 Lady Idina and Josslyn Hay

Dinner at Clouds never started until about 11pm. Idina turned to me at dinner and said: “I shall turn out the lights by stopping the generator at midnight, so you will only have about 10 minutes to undress and get into bed.” In my bedroom I found a new pair of silk pyjamas and a candle. A bottle of brandy and two glasses were also in evidence. 

I had to lock my door after Bird attempted to get into my bedroom. It was only when I retired, 30 years later, that I could continue my research. I travelled to New York, Chicago, Normandy and Paris to find out about Alice, dubbed “the fastest gun in the Gare du Nord” after she shot her lover, Raymund de Trafford, at the French train station. She missed his heart by a millimetre, and he survived, marrying her five years later. “American Woman Weds Man She Shot” was the headline in The New York Times. 

 Sarah Miles as Alice In the Film 'White Mischief'

Finding Alice’s house in Wanjohi was another adventure. I hired a small plane, flown by a brilliant bush pilot called Dave Allan. He found the house from the air and we landed nearby, driving to the 600-acre farm, set by the Wanjohi River. It had been razed to the ground by the new owners, the Satima School, but the foundations still stood out. The beauty of the place was breathtaking. Alice’s burial place is not marked, but the local chief knew where it was, close to the iris beds where she had dug a grave for her favourite dog, Minnie. 

Marula Lane is now owned by a local from Karen, who I imagine will have redecorated extensively and installed new bathrooms. The history of the house is fading, but the glamour of the British upper classes who called this beautiful part of Africa home, and the jacaranda tree, are still flowering".

Book Available Here

Article written by Paul Spicer, From the Sunday Times 2nd May 2010.


  1. Oh Dash, just when I think I must really get some moe work done and concentrate on my objectives, you come out with yet another amazing book to read and a tale that I had to pour myself a glass of wine to read...
    Wonderful stuff! Thanks

  2. What an interesting post. This era in Africa is one of my favorites. I must read this new book and maybe re-read a couple of others. Thank you.

  3. What fun! I have never heard of White Mischief! Where have I been?? Thanks so much for the introduction. I am off to Amazon.....

  4. Me, too. As you so often do, you've tweaked my curiosity. Thanks.

  5. Dash, I still can't bring myself to create a blogroll. I loathe leaving people out and am afraid of the The Sartorialist.
    I went another route. I hope you approve.
    X David

  6. what tangled webs we weave....
    thats an awesome story.

  7. It's all so scandalous and scintillating! Thanks darling Dash, once again you've made my morning coffee time that much more enjoyable x

  8. Hi Dash
    I'm sure I saw the movie with Greta Scatcchi many years back.. but now you have me motivated to get the book.. and The Temptress as well... another fascinating post..

    Oh.. i forgot to say last post.. was that 1st image St Trinian's? I loved those movies as a kid... I was good at school but pretty naughty out of it... those movies pushed my siblings to new heights I think.. haha

    have a great week.. xxx Julie

  9. Dear Dash, what a fabulous post! I loved White Mischief even more the second time around. I will definitely get Paul Spicer's book. I thought Alice was by far the wildest and most fascinating character.

    Greta Scacchi is stunning in the film, I did a post about it after seeing it again here.

    Love the Tatler picture, your image research is wonderful. xx

  10. You've done a great job of inserting all those stills. More than three and I lose the will to live.

    I've not read the book but I loved the film.

  11. congratulations for
    this delightful and
    very chic blog!
    I loved ...

  12. What a wonderful story you shared with us today. I have definitely become a follower.


  13. Riveting. Now I must find the book. (I have a very close friend -- much, much older than I -- who lived in Africa and knew some of the characters involved.)

    Thank you, thank you thank you for the Beautiful Blogger Award. I am particularly touched and flattered it came from you. Even though I have fallen behind in my visits, I hope you know how much I love your blog.

    It fascinates me.

    You are so kind. Merci, merci.


  14. Another fabulous post! I will definitely be skipping over to Amazon now to add to my wish list!

  15. I love how you told this, Dash. Now, of course, I must order the book!

  16. WOW!! Alice was such a fascinating character in "The Bolter." I HAVE to get this...and I also want to be Paul Spicer. He was referenced a few times in the Idina Sackville book.

    We Yanks can't seem to get ahold of the movie "White Mischief!" But I want to more than ever!

  17. Afternoon Dash
    all the way from Africa. i am doing a wedding based on the era of white mischief and out of africa, i am looking for sepia photo's from that era - the happy valley era - could you be of assistance - kind regards

  18. Dash
    For my Birthday late last year my Brother gave me the book "The Bolter" about Idina... have you read it? if not you must get it I can't remember who wrote it but you will find it, I have the one about Alice too, but they go hand in hand...wasn't Alice beautiful sigh...

  19. Where is this house in relation to Karen Camp on Marula Lane? When I stay here I often walk the neighborhood.. I also own the White Micchief DVD, but had not been aware of the location of this house. Interesting!

  20. i would be so happy if i could find this house on google earth.i have searched for it,but it does not stand out.i have even searched for the jacaranda tree9because of its colour,but with no luck.does someone know?


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