Saturday, February 23, 2013


My Scottish maternal grandmother had some very famous relatives. The first of whom I shall tell you about is her cousin ELIZABETH MACKINTOSH (my grandmother was a MACKINTOSH), whom the world knows as the mystery writer JOSEPHINE TEY.  Josephine was her mother's first name and Tey the surname of an English grandmother.

Eliazbeth was born four years after my grandmother in 1896 in Inverness, Scotland (my grandmother further up the road in Conon Vridge). She attended Inverness Royal Academy and then Anstey Physical Training College in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham. She taught physical training at various schools in England and Scotland, but in 1926 she had to return to Inverness to care for her invalid father. There she began her career as a writer.

In the period, between 1946 and her death in 1952, Eliazbeth expanded and enriched the nature of crime fiction by creating, in Inspector Alan Grant, a credible detective whose compassion, intelligence and professionalism paved the way for Adam Dalgliesh and the next generation of police inspectors.

As GORDON DAVIOT ( How she chose the name of Gordon is unknown, but Daviot was the name of a scenic locale near Inverness where she had spent many happy holidays with her family) she wrote many other plays and four novels, all of which enjoyed a certain amount of success in their day, but it is the work she created as Josephine Tey which was the most popular. Only four of her plays were produced during her lifetime. Richard of Bordeaux was particularly successful, running for fourteen months and making a household name of its young leading man and director, John Gielgud, who was a great friend of hers and some think she wrote the part specially for him.

The Daughter of Time is possibly her masterpiece. Alan Grant, trapped in the hospital with a broken leg, clamours for distraction. His actress friend Marta Hallard, knowing that he fancies himself an expert on faces, gives him some portraits to study. In the face of Richard III, Grant finds power and suffering, the expression of a man of conscience and integrity. Is this "a judge, a soldier, a prince"? he asks. "Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. A worrier, perhaps a perfectionist…"When Grant discovers that this is the face of one of English history's greatest villains, he is aghast at his misjudgment and sets to uncover the "historical truth" about Richard of Gloucester. He concludes, persuasively, that Richard was wholly innocent of the deaths of the princes in the Tower.

In 1950  Elizabeth's  father died and she left Scotland to live in Streatham, South London. Her writing output increased considerably and she began publishing one novel a year. It seemed that she was on a path to becoming one of the great authors of detective fiction, often mentioned in the same breath as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Elizabeth MacKintosh died of cancer at the age of just 55, while the world was mourning George VI. Her loss was a shock to her friends, most of whom had no idea she was even ill. It filtered through to them gradually, via Gielgud, who read about it in the evening paper during a matinee of The Winter’s Tale, but she left no personal messages and contacted no one.

Like her contemporary, Agatha Christie, her books have been reprinted many times.
In 1990, The Daughter of Time was selected by the British-based Crime Writers' Association as the greatest mystery novel of all time; The Franchise Affair was eleventh on the same list of 100 books.

In 2012, Peter Hitchens wrote that, "Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land", and "what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, in curiosity and of a resistance to reason."

My grandmother never spoke to us of  Elizabeth, but my aunt Josie did. And strangely enough my aunt looked more like Josephine Tey than she did any other family member. I wonder was she named after the famous writer?  I have all of her original works, except for a few plays, which are hard to find.

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