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Susan Crosland, former Second Lady of Great Britain, journalist and author dies

The death of Susan Crosland, former Second Lady of Great Britain, journalist and author, could change the political landscape of Great Britain for years.


I, Susan Bainbridge, admired Susan Crosland, in many capacities. A very versatile woman, like myself. We followed the same path. She became my British journalism contact, while I was her American journalism contact.


But more than that, Susan Crosland was my very dear friend, colleague and aunt.


She is now and will always be missed by all who knew and loved Aunt Susan and Uncle Tony Crosland.


 _____________________________________________________________________


Susan Crosland


 


Susan Crosland, who died on February 26 aged 84, was a feline, glamorous and astute American journalist who married the Labour intellectual Anthony Crosland and, after his death in harness as Foreign Secretary in 1977, wrote a biography acclaimed for the balance it struck between his political life and their personal closeness.


Susan and tony crosland rlexaing at home Photo: KEYSTONE











6:04PM GMT 28 Feb 2011


Susan Barnes – the name under which she wrote profiles for the Sunday Expressand Sunday Times– was married to her first husband, Patrick Skene Catling, when she met Crosland at a London cocktail party at the height of the Suez crisis, just after he published his seminal book The Future of Socialism.



Though it would be four years before her marriage collapsed and eight before she and Crosland wed, they clicked. This despite her not having heard of his book, and Crosland’s reacting to her account of how her favourite cousin had committed suicide with: “That must be the most boring story I’ve ever heard.” She also became an intimate of Crosland’s mentor Hugh Gaitskell, then leader of the Labour Party, and his wife Dora.



Crosland was regarded by his peers as “a man of Olympian intellect and seething passion”. Apart from being the most engaging of the Gaitskellites, he had a reputation for promiscuity either side of his brief first marriage.



Susan Crosland allowed for this by proposing that they keep their own homes and spend holidays apart each August – Crosland feasting on European architecture, she with her family in America. Yet for 13 years of marriage Tony Crosland not only was faithful to his wife but remained enthralled by her.



Their attraction was obvious: David Owen recalled dining with the Croslands and being “quite unable to stop looking obsessively and lustfully” at a life-size nude of Susan in stiletto sandals, commissioned by her husband. But Crosland also valued his wife as his intellectual equal.



They were married at Chelsea Register Office in February 1964; the witnesses were Dora Gaitskell and Ruth Dalton, widow of the former Chancellor. Susan sent her daughters to private schools until Crosland, as Education Secretary, found this embarrassing; they switched to state schools at 11.


Crosland was at the peak of his career when on February 13 1977, the day after their wedding anniversary, he had a stroke at their country home, a converted mill near Banbury bought three years before. When he told her: “Something is happening. I can’t feel my right side,” she called an ambulance. After six days in a coma in an Oxford hospital, he died.


Susan scattered his ashes from a Grimsby trawler, as they had agreed; hers were bound for the family plot by Lake Champlain in New York state. She turned down an appeal from local trades unionists to take on his seat, then campaigned for Austin Mitchell in a by-election won against the odds. She put her diaries aside for four years then, with co-operation from his colleagues and senior civil servants, produced Tony Crosland(1982), which was hailed as a masterpiece.


There were plenty of insights from their years together: Tony Benn arriving in bicycle clips intent on earnest discussion when they had planned a Sunday afternoon in bed; Crosland hoicking her over the wall of Highgate Cemetery to see Karl Marx’s grave on what would be Gaitskell’s final birthday; Crosland disappearing with the government chauffeurs to watch Match of the Day.


She also chronicled Crosland’s upbringing in the Exclusive Brethren, a sore point with him. When he found her reading Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, he shouted: “Why don’t you mind your own bloody business?” She took readers adeptly through his time at Oxford and as a paratroop officer, and his rise in a bitterly divided Labour Party in which Crosland was a radical, not a Right-winger.


Enlighteningly, she recalled the discussions at their Notting Hill home before and immediately after Labour’s 1964 election victory at which Crosland tried to put together a coalition of ministers and advisers to make Wilson devalue the pound. Wilson refused, paving the way for repeated sterling crises. When James Callaghan did devalue in 1967, Crosland hoped to become Chancellor, but – to his wife’s relief – was disappointed.


Starting Wilson’s first government as minister of state to the turbulent George Brown at the Department of Economic Affairs, Crosland was in turn Education Secretary – accelerating the move toward comprehensive schooling – President of the Board of Trade, and Secretary for Local Government and Regional Planning.


When Labour returned to power in 1974 he became Environment Secretary. Finishing last in the leadership contest when Wilson retired, Callaghan made him Foreign Secretary.


Susan Crosland came into her own as she accompanied her husband abroad (paying her own way in economy with Crosland popping through bearing glasses of champagne). Visiting Beijing as the facade of Maoism began to crack, she noted that the Chinese lied to her less than the Russians, but were just as brazen in their objectives.


The highlight for her of Crosland’s nine months as Foreign Secretary was the Queen’s Bicentennial visit to the United States. The Croslands went over on the Royal yacht Britannia, with the Queen showing her how to stand for hours without tiring. At the embassy dinner in Washington for President Ford, she fell and broke her jaw – which was set by presidential surgeons.


She carved out a niche for herself with her profiles of the likes of Barbara Cartland, Margot Fonteyn, Lord Hailsham, Kenneth Tynan, Kingsley Amis (whom she was interviewing the night Gaitskell died) and Jack Jones. One of the few concessions she made to being a minister’s wife was that she stopped dyeing her hair pink; Crosland bewailed her refusal to purchase a “decent pair of walking shoes”.


Susan Crosland did not frequent the Commons; this made her all the more impressed that her husband always had the time to ask how her latest venture was going. Though she eschewed the political salon, they did have good political friends: Derek Gladwin, David Lipsey, Dick Leonard, Lord McCarthy and Lord Young of Dartington and their wives.


She swore that after Tony Crosland, she could never again experience a close relationship. But in the mid-1980s she struck up a friendship with Auberon Waugh that deepened until his death in 2001. She dedicated her novel The Prime Minister’s Wife(2001) to him. Waugh had no intention of leaving his wife, but the couple of evenings a week they spent together mattered to them both.


She helped him cope with a failing heart, he with her arthritis – once, to her amusement, buying crotchless tights from a sex shop to ease her visits to the bathroom.


Susan Barnes Watson was born in Baltimore on January 23 1927, the younger daughter of Mark Watson, Pulitzer prize-winning war correspondent of the Baltimore Sun, and the former Susan Owens, from an old Maryland family, who was also a reporter. As a child she broke multiple bones in a riding accident before taking a degree at Vassar, one of America’s most exclusive women’s colleges. She then taught at Baltimore School of Art.


She met Patrick Skene Catling, known today for his children’s books but then reporting for the Baltimore Sun. On the eve of their wedding she drank so many cocktails that she needed an anti-nausea injection to get her up the aisle; on the first night of the marriage, she cried.


In 1956 Catling was posted to London, and Susan accompanied him with their two young daughters. When she met Crosland at a party given by a Vassar friend, he was away reporting Suez. Her rocky marriage survived the encounter; the Catlings returned together to Baltimore and Crosland – not expecting to see Susan again – chartered a plane to Cannes to say goodbye.


Catling returned to London in 1958 with the Manchester Guardian; the marriage teetered. Susan went up to Grimsby with a friend to canvass for Crosland in the 1959 election; his agent exclaimed: “My God, Tony, who are they?” But her classless charm helped him hold the seat by 101 votes.


With Catling away on assignment that autumn Susan’s appendix burst; Crosland was out of town too. When the hospital asked for her next of kin, she could only think of the Gaitskells. Hugh visited her the next day, and he and Crosland drove her home.


Soon after, Catling returned to America to be factotum to Peggy Lee. A divorce seemed unlikely until Catling announced that he was marrying her.


In fact Catling and Peggy Lee never married. Instead he lingered in Washington as an increasingly embarrassing house guest to former colleagues until Deirdre Barber, wife of the Daily Telegraph‘s bureau chief, ordered him from the house after one apparently unforgivable episode. He later settled in Ireland.


Susan Barnes wrote to John Junor at the Sunday Expressand was taken on to write features. After her marriage she freelanced, then from the late 1960s wrote profiles for The Sunday Times.


After her biography of her husband, two of Susan Crosland’s recent books attracted most notice. The Magnates(1994) was widely thought, despite her denials, to be based on her friends Peter and Margaret Jay, whose marriage breakdown had already been put under the spotlight in Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.


When she told Cherie Blair she had written The Prime Minister’s Wife, the reaction was a horrified shriek. Susan Crosland reassured her that this tale of a transatlantic marriage was based on her own experiences, yet her Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Alastair Campbell figures were less than flattering.


In latter years Susan Crosland suffered acutely from arthritis, and from MRSA contracted during one of three hip replacement operations. She was left with a right leg 4½ inches shorter than her left, and referred to the boot needed to level them up as the “Spice Girl shoe”.


Having insisted on treatment by the NHS – and waited for it – she was appalled by the failure to diagnose MRSA for several years. Her final stay in hospital ended with ward staff trying to detain her after the consultant said she could leave, because they did not want to have to do the paperwork on a Friday. “People are right not to want to stay in NHS hospitals,” she observed.


Susan Crosland was a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery from 1978 to 1992. She is survived by her first husband and their two daughters.






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