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Last Word
Listen to the latest editionFriday   16:00-16:30
Sunday 20:30-21:00 (rpt)

Radio 4's weekly obituaries programme
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This week
Friday 9th May 2008
(Rpt) Sunday 11th May
Matthew Bannister
Matthew Bannister tells the life stories of people who have died recently: Diana Barnato Walker, Mildred Loving, Elaine Dundy, Mary Berry and Germaine Tillion.
Diana Barnato Walker
Pilot who has died aged 90.
Diana Barnato Walker was the debutante who went on to become a daredevil wartime pilot and the first woman to break the sound barrier. Her grandfather made his fortune in South African diamond mines. Her father was the famous motor racing champion Woolf “Babe” Barnato – who at one time owned the Bentley motor company and won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in three consecutive years. Diana found life at home stifling and spent her pocket money on taking flying lessons.

During the war she joined the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and delivered newly-built and battle-ready aircraft to the RAF.

Her love life was complex and tragic. In 1942 she fell in love with a Battle of Britain fighter ace, but three days after they became engaged he was shot down and killed. Two years later Diana married another pilot, Derek Walker. But four months after the end of the war, he was killed whilst flying his Mustang aircraft to a job interview. She never re-married, but she did have a 30 year relationship with the racing driver and pilot Whitney Straight.

Matthew Bannister talks to writer Giles Whittell and to Diana Barnato Walker's son, Barney Barnato. 

Diana Barnato Walker was born January 15th 1918. She died April 28th 2008.
Mildred Loving
American woman who fought the ban on interracial marriage who has died aged 86

Mildred Loving was a reluctant heroine. In 1967 the young black woman’s marriage to a white man led to a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

In 1958, marriage between black and white people was illegal in 16 states, including Virginia where Mildred lived. But the seventeen year old had fallen in love with twenty three year old Richard Loving and was expecting his baby. The couple decided to marry.

In the early morning of July 11th 1958, five weeks after their wedding, the county sheriff and two deputies,  burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A court ruling banished them from living together in Virginia.

By 1963, Mildred Loving could stand the ostracism no longer and inspired by the civil rights movement took her case to the Supreme Court.

Matthew Bannister talks to Bernard Cohen, who was the young civil rights lawyer who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and to Phyl Newbeck, who wrote the book “Virginia hasn’t always been for lovers”.

Mildred Loving was born July 22nd 1939. She died May 2nd 2008.
Elaine Dundy
American writer who has died aged 86

Elaine Dundy was known for her wit, her novels and her stormy marriage to the British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. She moved easily and freely through the literary and artistic circles of the 1950s, attending party after party at which she made friends with writers like Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and Cyril Connolly.

She was born in New York into a wealthy family and began her party lifestyle at an early age. She decided to become an actress and took some classes. But she resolved that the only way to free herself completely from the restrictions of family life was to move to Paris. There she immersed herself in a bohemian world which was later to give her the inspiration for her novel The Dud Avocado. Like Elaine, the novel’s heroine was a young woman enjoying herself in Paris.

Elaine Dundy’s fateful meeting with Kenneth Tynan came during a visit to London to look for acting work. The couple’s marriage was plagued by his notorious enthusiasm for sadomasochism and by her heavy drinking and eventually ended in divorce. 

Matthew Bannister talks to  Elaine Dundy's close friend Gore Vidal and Emma Tennant reads an appreciation.

Elaine Dundy was born August 2nd 1921. She died May 1st 2008.
Dr Mary Berry
Nun and musicologist who has died aged 90

Dr Mary Berry worked tirelessly to preserve the ancient tradition of Gregorian chant. The Cambridge don was born into an academic family – her father was Vice Master and Librarian at Downing College. Mary converted to Catholicism in 1938, just before she graduated with a music degree from Cambridge University. During the war, she was nursing with the Red Cross in Belgium when she decided to become a nun.

In peacetime, Mary Berry took up the teaching of music and English. But it was when she was sent to Gregorian Chant courses in Paris that she found her true enthusiasm. She returned to Cambridge in the 1960s, took a PhD in musicology and founded centres in England and Ireland for the teaching of chant. She also made many recordings of Chant with her ensemble the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.

Last Word hears from the organist and conductor, David Hill, who was a member of the group and one of Dr Mary Berry’s students.

Mary Berry was born June 29th 1917. She died May 1st 2008.
Germaine Tillion
Anthropologist who has died aged 100

Germaine Tillion has been called “the conscience of twentieth century France.” The anthropologist was a heroine of the resistance during the war, survived a Nazi concentration camp and, although a Gaullist, was also an outspoken critic of the French government’s actions in colonial Algeria.

Tillion attributed her survival to three factors: chance, close friendships and anger which provoked a desire to live long enough to reveal the crimes committed in the concentration camp. After the war she used her academic skills to write three books on Ravensbruck. They combine personal memories and ethnographic analysis of the system which permitted the horrors to take place. But in 1954 her attention turned back to Algeria when the National Liberation Front or FLN launched its war of independence. 

On news of her death, the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy described Germaine Tillion as an “exceptional woman for whom courage, dedication and humanism were lifelong guides.”

Matthew Bannister talks to the historian Don Reid and to GermaineTillion’s biographer and friend Nancy Wood. 
Germaine Tillion was born May 30th 1907. She died April 19th 2008.
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