A philanthropist of wit and charm who remained unbowed by war in Shanghai or the Blitz in London
The Daily TelegraphLondon
LADY CHANCELLOR, who has died aged 95, was a woman of irresistible charm and wit gifts which were tempered by an inherited philanthropic strain.
For all her vivacity and sparkle, Sylvia Chancellor was curiously lacking in intellectual self-confidence. Yet she knew how to cut the pretentious down to size, and proved extremely effective in her charitable work.
Touched by the plight of a cleaning woman whose husband had been arrested in the small hours, and who was at a loss about how to act, Sylvia Chancellor founded the Prisoners' Wives Service. Through hard work, and her ability to co-opt such sympathisers as Earl Mountbatten and Roy Jenkins, she was able to create a flourishing organisation. She was appointed OBE in 1976.
Lady Chancellor was born Sylvia Mary Paget on July 10 1901, the eldest of three daughters of Sir Richard Paget, 2nd Bt, and of his wife Lady Muriel, daughter of the 12th Earl of Winchelsea and 7th Earl of Nottingham.
Lady Muriel's mother, Sylvia's grandmother, was the daughter of Edward Harcourt, MP, and a great friend of Alice Liddell, the model for Lewis Carroll's Alice. On her father's side Sylvia Paget was connected with the novelist R S Surtees.
Sir Richard Paget was an eccentric amateur scientist and inventor, who specialised in working for the deaf, and stuffed his daughters' ears with treacle so that they could test the sign language he had developed.
A man who valued spirit, he trained his daughters to jump about on the roof of Cranmore Hall, the family home in Somerset (which was later taken over by All Hallows preparatory school). When electricity was installed, Sylvia, aged nine, was told to do the wiring.
The Paget girls were also required to throw themselves backwards off buses which were proceeding down Park Lane at 30 mph. This was to demonstrate Sir Richard's theory that the force of the air behind them would see to it they landed safely on their feet.
The children's mother, Lady Muriel, was generally absent, often in Russia, where she founded the Anglo-Russian hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War. She was also a friend of Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia.
Sir Richard preferred to keep his distance from these activities; asked if he was related to Lady Muriel, he returned: "Only by marriage". The children were largely left to their own devices, and Sylvia, at only 13 or 14, often found herself in charge of the staff at Cranmore Hall.
Of her sisters, Pamela married the 2nd Lord Glenconner, head of the Tennant family, and Angela married Sir Piers Debenham, 2nd Bt, an early campaigner against the Common Market. Their brother, who was considerably younger, became a distinguished engineer.
Sylvia was educated at Roedean, and then at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read English. It was during this time that she met Christopher Chancellor, the son of Sir John Chancellor, who ended his career as a colonial pro-consul in 1931 as High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief in Palestine.
Though he was younger than she, and both families disapproved of the match, they married in 1926. Perhaps in reaction against her parents' marriage, Sylvia Chancellor showed herself notably supportive of her husband's career, and was always a dutiful mother.
Chancellor joined Reuters, and in 1931 was sent out to Shanghai. It was a difficult period, for the Japanese captured Shanghai in 1932.
In these circumstances Sylvia Chancellor demonstrated that she had the same instinct for philanthropy as her mother. Together with a Jesuit priest she established an orphanage, and helped to care for the refugees who flooded into Shanghai. She also organised a production of The Beggar's Opera for the benefit of the Red Cross.
When a decapitated Japanese soldier was discovered in the garden. Sylvia Chancellor, aware of the danger of reprisals, ensured that the body was quickly disposed of.
Back in Britain in 1939, the Chancellors lived both in London (where they treated the Blitz with disdain in their flat in St Paul's Churchyard) and at Dane End, a house near Ware, in Hertfordshire, which Sylvia Chancellor inherited, together with an estate of some 2,000 acres.
In London Sylvia Chancellor worked for refugees as Secretary of the Czech Institute. She also helped to organise the celebrations for centenary of Antonin Dvorak's birth in 1941. Blessed with the Pagets' musical gene, Sylvia Chancellor played the piano excellently by ear often as accompaniment to her own verses.
At Dane End she showed a marked talent for gardening. Under her guidance the nursery garden was such a success that she opened greengrocer's shops. When she went up to London to replenish stocks, she was greeted as "Duchess" by the costermongers.
Dane End was sold in the late 1950s, and the Chancellors moved to Hunstrete House, Pensford, near Bath. Sylvia Chancellor always loved animals, and at Hunstrete she not only kept swans on the lake but also allowed a pet white goat into the house.
In the late 1970s the Chancellors bought the Priory at Ditcheat, near Shepton Mallet. Although Sylvia Chancellor was now nearly 80 her enthusiasm for gardening was undimmed.
Sir Christopher Chancellor (he had been knighted in 1951) died in 1989, and Lady Chancellor spent her last years in a cottage near Faringdon. Her wit remained to the last. "Your children seem devoted to you," she told her elder son recently, "you must continue to neglect them."
Sir Christopher and Lady Chancellor had two sons (of whom the younger, Alexander, was editor of the Spectator from 1975 to 1984) and three daughters, one of whom died of spinal meningitis in China.
Sylvia Chancellor was particularly proud to see her grand-daughter Anna Chancellor play Miss Bingham [sic] in the recent television version of a novel by another relation, Pride and Prejudice.
The traders who turn to novels
July 8, 1999
by Syrie Johnson
. . . Eddie Chancellor is unusual in having given up his job at Lazards before he'd written a single word.
His sister is actress Anna Chancellor, "Duckface" in Four Weddings and a Funeral. "She made me do it," he says. "She told me the City was making me cynical, mean-spirited and fat," he recalls. "So I rented a cottage in Dorset and it became a big event to see my cleaning lady. I left with no money and plunged into the unknown.
"For the first six months," he continues, "I got very depressed and neurotic about what was going to happen. It was scaryI'd been institutionalised by Winchester, Trinity Cambridge and Lazards, and suddenly I had no one looking after me."
Five years later, Macmillan is publishing his book, The Devil Take the HindmostA History of Financial Speculation. It's a tale of greed, political shenanigans, shrewd manoeuvrings and obsession. "The great thing about leaving banking is that you can fantasise about how much money you would have been making," he says. "Now instead of being an unhappy cynic, I'm a happy cynic."
After surviving 'five weddings' and a divorce, Duckface finds life hard as a single mother; Four Weddings star Anna Chancellor on the legacy of that ill-fated screen liaison
ANNA CHANCELLOR has great presence, even in the anonymous surroundings of a London park cafe. At 5ft 10in, with that beautiful, familiar face, huge eyes, dark hair and high cheekbones, she makes everyone else look rather average.
As people stare at her, I bet they're thinking: 'Look, it's Duckface.' Anna is undoubtedly aware of this.
'I'll probably still be known as Duckface when I'm old. It's not the most flattering of names, but who cares what people call you?' she says.
The actress is resigned to being forever identified as the jilted, Sloaney Henrietta, with the unbecoming nickname, from Four Weddings And A Funeral .
It's the price of turning in a memorable performance in such a successful British film. At least she doesn't get 'quacked at' in pubs any more, as she did when the movie came out.
Perhaps one reason that she struck such a chord in the role was that it was so well cast. Anna is a well-spoken English rose from an aristocratic background.
One of her grandfathers was a lord and she was brought up by her mother and stepfather in a Somerset manor house, surrounded by horses, and was sent to board at a convent school.
She looks much younger than her 36 years, despite having a broken marriage behind her and a 14-year-old daughter, Poppy, from a previous relationship with a poet.
It is three years since she split from her cameraman husband Nigel Willoughby and they're now divorced.
Just like the roles she often plays the latest being a lesbian about to jilt her lover in David Mamet's play Boston Marriage Anna is no longer a follower of the conventional marriage route.
She's tried it and moved on, because, like Duckface, she found it to be a fairy tale with an unpredictable ending.
It is only now that she feels she has things in perspective.
'I was on my own for quite a while afterwards, and I spent a lot of time reflecting on my life and considering my own behaviour. I thought: "I cannot carry on making these monumental mistakes".' Anna had met Nigel when her daughter was eight and says: 'I wanted to make up for what I hadn't had. I wanted a husband with a job.
'We both had images of what we wanted, but it was nothing to do with reality. We didn't set out to mislead each other, but it just didn't work out.
'When we married we'd been together for a couple of years, so it all seemed quite reasonable. It's easy to fall in love, but only time will tell whether you'll grow closer or apart, and in our case it was apart.
'When our marriage broke up, it happened very quickly, like a glass bowl smashing on the ground. Both of us were paralysed. We couldn't pick up one piece. We were definitely wrong for each other. He's done very well since and I'm sure he's much happier.' Anna says she hasn't given up on finding true love, but adds: 'It's odd the way Kate Winslet said recently "I still believe in love", as though it were a religion.
'I felt for her because I think, like me, she had an idea of what she wanted to be the girl who'd have sausages and mash on her wedding day. But she wasn't really like that at all. My wedding was a major fantasy, too.' Indeed, who wouldn't have a white wedding fantasy if they were known as the girl left at the altar by Hugh Grant?
Wiser now, Anna winces slightly as she describes the day. 'I was like Titania, Queen of the Fairies. My nephews and nieces were dressed as Flower Fairies and Poppy was dressed as a poppy.' Marriage appealed to Anna then because she'd never married Poppy's father, Jock Scott, although they had been together for five years.
She became pregnant at the age of 21 after knowing him for only three months. She was still at drama school and describes the period as 'student pregnant hell'.
She had met Jock, who then sported a skinhead and bovver boots, at an Ian Dury gig. 'I used to find him in the pub and he used to do his poetry, which was very good.' It wasn't to be, though. While Anna was at home bringing up Poppy, it seems Jock stayed in the pub. These days, however, they are still friends and he is an active father.
Anna's marriage followed a similar pattern to that of her parents, who divorced when she was two.
'I'm not someone who thinks: "Oh, if only everything had been perfect at home, then my life would have been perfect." I think it can be just as hard when people's parents have a solid marriage and they don't know if they can follow it.
'I just continue to learn through making quite a lot of mistakes.' She describes her father's presence in her life as 'peripheral', although they never lost touch. 'We used to see him a bit, mainly in restaurants.'
Nevertheless, he was the one person perceptive (or brave) enough to say that he didn't think her wedding was a good idea. 'In a way you can see things better from a distance. He wouldn't be part of it.
'My mum is more loyal. She wouldn't want to be seen as interfering. After her divorce she was with my stepdad (landowner Richard Windsor-Clive) immediately and we moved to the West Country and a lovely house.' However, after 25 years of marriage, they also divorced quite recently.
'He wasn't a surrogate father, he definitely provided for us, but it was complex because he had children of his own. There were seven in the house two of his, one together and four of us, of which I'm the youngest.' The glamorous family also includes Anna's uncle Alexander, onetime editor of The Spectator, and his daughter the model Cecilia Chancellor (one of the girls on the cover of this month's Vogue featured in last week's Daily Mail).
Anna and her three siblings are close. Brother Eddie, a writer, lives with Antonia Amis (former wife of novelist Martin). One sister, Kate (now married to chef Rowley Leigh, previously to writer Will Self), is her next-door neighbour and the other, Isobel, lives nearby.
Anna describes her daughter Poppy as 'passionate' and says she was initially jealous of her mother's relationship with Nigel. 'She felt like her world was collapsing but she came round in the end,' says Anna.
Paying Poppy's private school fees and arranging her finances as a single mother is 'quite hard, to say the least' even for an actress as well-known as Anna.
The play Boston Marriage, in which she stars until February with Zoe Wanamaker, pays £1,000 a week now it's in the West End. But before it was moved from the Donmar Warehouse, the fee was only £200 a week.
She's not sure what her next role will be, although she's thinking of planning something to do with the circus. It'll probably happen, because Anna has form in putting together unlikely productions.
For a few years at Christmas she used to organise the Notting Hill panto, which became local legend. They were notoriously rowdy, with the audience talking and falling off their chairs with laughter, and the actors heckling them in return.
The atmosphere reflected Anna's refreshingly down-to earth views on theatre.
'I do think it's all a bit precious, the way you can't say anything during a performance and that you run the risk of being beheaded if your mobile phone goes off.
'I think actors should be able to cope with all that, and if they can't grab the attention it's their fault.' Of course, it helps if you can turn in electric, attention-grabbing performances, like Anna does in Boston Marriage.
Personally things are going well now, too. Anna is seeing someone, but doesn't want to jeopardise the romance by talking about it.
'There is someone I see a bit, and we get on fine. We were friends for a long time and we take it very slowly. I always discussed my marriage freely.
But I wouldn't want to make the same mistake again.' Might she marry again?
'I don't know. Marriage feels like a fantasy to me now, although sharing your life with someone doesn't. I would maybe like to have more children. I would like to have a committed relationship but whether it actually means marriage, I don't know.' Unsurprisingly, it looks like we're in for a long wait before we get Duckface down the aisle again.