About two years ago, Alexander Waugh acquired the personal archive of the Canadian scholar Winnifred M. Bogaards. Dr Bogaards is a hugely important figure for the Waugh project; she collaborated with Charles Linck, Bob Davis and Don Gallagher to create the first comprehensive bibliography of Evelyn Waugh in 1986 (which we are now digitising and updating) and contributed regularly to the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies until her death in 2011. Bogaards worked tirelessly to collect copies of every known article written by, or about, Waugh. Alexander and I have no less tirelessly been filing these away for posterity.
Over the summer, we came across a bundle of cassette tapes in the bottom of one of our ‘Winnifred boxes.’ These turned out to be interviews Bogaards conducted over two trips to London in 1989 and 1991. The interviewees are: Auberon Waugh (Evelyn’s son, Alexander’s father); Mark Sykes (son of Waugh’s friend and biographer Christopher Sykes); Frank and Elizabeth Pakenham (Waugh’s lifelong friends, and Lady Antonia Fraser’s parents) and Sebastian York (son of Henry Green, whose early work Waugh admired).
By way of reference, in 1989 I was enjoying my first year in primary school. My colleague and fellow Waugh blogger Rebecca Moore was enjoying her first year on earth. By 1991 I had graduated to projects about dinosaurs and drawing people with hair on both sides of their heads but remaining bald on top.
And here we are now. As I’ve said elsewhere, our current project is part of a long legacy.
Thankfully, my own stereo still has a working cassette player. As far as I know, no-one but Winnifred had listened to these tapes until I put them last week and listened, much as I do to Radio 4, whilst pottering around the living room. Bogaards’ subjects are, for the most part, highly charismatic. I was positively jealous during the Pakenhams’ interview, where conversation flows seamlessly and everyone has a lovely time. Despite this, however, I found myself as compelled by Winnifred as by her interviewees. Before, I had only known her through two things: her work, and the indelible odour of cigarette smoke that still clings to her papers. Now, I could hear her voice too: a low, musical Canadian burr sometimes interrupted by a smoker’s cough (in one interview, a match is struck very close to the microphone and the auditory process of its catching fire is minutely preserved).
Bogaards is relaxed and polite in her questioning, although she finds it hard not to catch the discomfort of her more anxious subjects. Even her cagey hosts, though, are welcoming and the interviews feature offers of wine (from the effusive speakers) or (from those wanting to keep a firmer grip on their memories) coffee and orange juice. Only one asks to speak off the record, to make a comment about another interviewee which we must assume is now lost forever. Winnifred is lucky here. Martin Stannard tells me that his own taped interview with Anthony Powell is peppered with that most frustrating, but reasonable, of interviewee requests:
“Do you mind if we just turn this thing orff?”
Unknown to Stannard, Powell had already promised his material to fellow Waugh-biographer Selina Hastings.
Thanks to the generosity of Colin Hyde at the East Midlands Oral History Archive, I will not be menaced by the image of these tapes being chewed in a long-starved tape deck for long. Colin is digitising them, and we hope to stream them from our Soundcloud account. These interviews, perhaps unheard for 25 years, are not only an invaluable resource for Waugh scholars – they are also a fitting tribute to the life and work of Bogaards herself.