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Nancy Astor

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I think that Nancy Astor is getting a bum rap in the television serial of that name which is currently running in the United States. Yes, she was arbitrary, and bossy. I know. In my student days in England I was standing on the railway platform at Crewe waiting for a change of trains. I was reading a copy of a magazine named La Vie Parisienne. It was considered risque at the time (1928), although long since supplanted by more questionable student entertainment.

A firm hand took the questionable reading matter from me, steered me to the newspaper kiosk, dropped the offending magazine in the waste bin, purchased a dull Tory political pamphlet, and gave it to me: ''There, your parents would not want you reading that trash, read this.''

Of course at the time I would not have referred to her even in my inner thoughts as Nancy Astor. My parents were on a first-name basis with her and her husband, Waldorf (2nd Viscount) Astor. But my parents always referred to them when speaking of them to others, including their children, as Lady Astor, or Lord Astor. I think it is not overstating the case to say that my parents genuinely loved them. The Astors were generous, considerate, and friendly.

His style was softer than hers. The television series is correct in presenting him as being always gentle. She could be sharp, and prided herself on the quick verbal jab that could deflate pomposity or uncover hypocrisy. But she usually had either an ''uplifting purpose'' or justification.

Many years later I was invited to lunch at the house on Hill Street in London which she occupied after World War II. There were others invited that day. Just before lunch was announced, the butler came to her and whispered that she had two more guests than the number of lamb chops that had been prepared. Without hesitation or trace of embarrassment she turned to two lady friends and said, ''You two go away now.''


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