'Trudy at 100' - Lady Bliss, A Centenary Birthday Celebration'


Bliss Society Journal, April 2004


I first met Lady Bliss in June 1995, when I was beginning an article on Sir Arthur’s ballet music for the magazine Dance Now. Fiona Southey from Novello had kindly arranged the meeting and accompanied me to provide the introductions, little did I realise then that Lady Bliss would become one of the most important people in my life.Lady Bliss, aided by ‘prop and stay’ Elizabeth Travis had gone to a great deal of effort to search through the Bliss files and lay out for me articles and photographs on all of the ballets. Left to go through the paperwork I was a little embarrassed when Lady Bliss, came in carrying a tray of coffee and biscuits, at the time I had no idea how old she was but I felt she should not have been carrying the tray. More important than the paperwork was my ‘interview’ with Lady Bliss, her ability to recall events of over sixty years ago seemed then –and now- remarkable. Her memories of the origins of the works and the people involved were enthralling. The dinner party when Checkmate was hatched, Helpmann at Pen Pitts leaping over a ropes at increasing height to the delight of Karen and Barbara, all bringing to life dusty newspaper cuttings. Well, the article was written and published, and Lady Bliss was pleased with it – apparently I had begun with a subordinate clause which tickled her. I moved back from America where I had been living and began to make regular visits to Chartwell House.

I am not sure when Lady Bliss became Trudy but it happened soon enough, helped by our shared interest in things American and Blissian. The visits began to move from Chartwell House to further afield taking in excursions to the ballet, art galleries and exhibitions. Her comments on performances from everything from the Mark Morris Dance Group to Rambert Dance Company were always witty and current. I remember in the interval of a performance at Sadler’s Wells, Trudy and Pamela May dancing extracts from Checkmate. And one day in the late 90’s she had laid out for me catalogues and notes from a Jackson Pollack exhibition she had taken herself off to and proceeded to analyze the paintings , saying how she had got them all wrong when she had seen them originally in the 50’s.

Trudy’s memory was then extraordinary and I realised that the things she would recall in our chats should be recorded, so we began to make some tapes of her memories of the people and events in her life. Having presented her own radio programme to America after the war, she has exacting standards and destroyed the first tape because she felt that she ‘sounded like a steam train’. Other sessions were more successful and I have been privileged to share with her, her memories of her long and extraordinary life.

Extraordinary that she emigrated to cold wet England from the sunshine of California, to be greeted by indifference by a society who barely new what America was. Extraordinary that she should think to start music lessons with R.O.Morris, to understand her new world better. Extraordinary that she should canoe down the Danube. Extraordinary that she should brave wartime dangers to bring the children back to the UK. Extraordinary that she should have her own radio programme broadcasting news and views to America. Extraordinary that she should write a children's cook book. Extraordinary that she should write a radio play. Extraordinary that she should collect and edit the letters of Thomas Carlyle. Extraordinary that she should follow this with the letters of his wife. Extraordinary that she should stay with Phyliss Sellick in Russia and watch over the stricken Cyril Smith. Extraordinary that she should embark on an OU degree as a ‘mature’student. Extraordinary that she should oversee the collecting and cataloguing of the Bliss papers and manuscripts. Extraordinary that she should oversee the founding of the Bliss trust.

Trudy will probably hate that list, so ingrained in her are New England values of self-effacement . She once told me a story of her childhood when on a trolley bus with her mother, a lady complimented her on her lovely golden curls. Returning home the little Trudy began tossing her curls about with a little too much pride. Her mother cut them off! Well she has spent the last hundred years being self-effacing and I am not going to apologise for bringing to the for some of her extraordinariness!

I ended my article on Bliss in America (in Bliss Music and Literature ), saying that the best thing Bliss discovered in his American years was Trudy. I stand by that and thank Sir Arthur for bringing her to us.

Happy Birthday Trudy, I will be calling you from Santa Barbara.