On this day in history : 31st March 1981 – The death of author and playwright Enid Bagnold – best known for ‘National Velvet’, which was later to be made into a highly successful film….

Enid Bagnold – Public domain

Enid, the daughter of Arthur Henry Bagnold, an army colonel and his wife Ethel, was born in Rochester, Kent on the 27th of October 1889 – but she spent much of her childhood in Jamaica…. On her return to England she attended art school in London and was to mix with artists such as Walter Sickert and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska; she was to be romantically involved with Frank Harris, the Irish-American novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher – with his well-connected circle of friends and 34 years her senior….

During World War 1 Enid trained as a nurse but after complaining about the hospital administration she was dismissed and spent the rest of the War as a driver in France…. Her first books – ‘A Diary Without Dates’ in 1917 and ‘The Happy Foreigner’ in 1920, tell of her wartime experiences….

Enid was always a bit of a rebel…. Virginia Woolf once called her ‘a scallywag who married a very rich man’…. In 1920 she married the chairman of Reuter’s News Agency, Sir Roderick Jones – and became Lady Jones – although she continued to write under her maiden name…. The couple were to have four children – their great grand-daughter is Samantha Cameron, wife of the former Prime Minister David Cameron….

‘National Velvet’ was first published in 1935; the story of 14-year-old Velvet Brown – who trains her horse, ‘The Piebald’ and then rides to victory in the Grand National…. Enid was an accomplished horsewoman herself….and in her writing she created strong roles for women….

1st edition cover – fair use

In 1944 ‘National Velvet’ was made into a film with a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor playing the part of Velvet…. It also starred Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp and Angela Lansbury….

Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and The Pie in National Velvet – Public domain

A 1978 sequel, ‘International Velvet’, was to follow, starring Tatum O’Neal as orphaned American teenager Sarah Brown…. After coming to England to live with her aunt, Velvet Brown – played by Nanette Newman – the pair purchase ‘Arizona Pie’, a descendant of the horse Velvet once owned….

Enid and her family lived at North End House, Rottingdean, near to Brighton…. It was the garden of her home that inspired her award winning play ‘The Chalk Garden’, which premiered on Broadway in 1955…. Its London debut, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, took place in April 1956, directed by John Gielgud it starred Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Gurney….

Part of the former home of Enid Bagnold in Rottingdean – Image credit : Luiza Serpa Lopes – own work – CC BY SA 3.0

It was later to be adapted into a film in 1964 – starring once again Edith Evans, with Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills and John Mills….

Enid died in Rottingdean, aged 91….

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