The day my mother's wig flew off in front of the Queen Mum... Our final instalment of Roger Mortimer's letters to the daughter he called 'Lumpy'

By Louise Mortimer


Even in his last years, racing journalist Roger Mortimer sent dozens of brilliantly funny and gloriously eccentric letters to his children.

Here, in our final instalment of despatches to his daughter he called 'Lumpy', he continues to despair of his adored wife Cynthia - known as Nidnod - while 'Lumpy' had just celebrated the christening of her second child, Benjamin.

Cynthia, known as Nidnod by her husband Roger Mortimer,

Cynthia, known as Nidnod by her husband Roger Mortimer, was so excited during a memorial race for him that her wig fell off in front of the Queen Mother

October 27, 1985

Dearest Lumpy,

Thank you so much for inviting me to Benjamin’s christening. I think it all went off very well.

Benjamin is very much in my good books as most babies take one long, hard look at me and are then sick in a slightly cynical but thoroughly offensive way.

I think I told you the very nice tall parson who took the service is a son of my former Commanding Officer, Sir John Whitaker, a huge man who smoked 80 Gold Flake per day and who died suddenly out shooting. I once had to share a room with him in Jerusalem and he snored like a Chieftain tank in bottom gear.

Nidnod is in very bad form: she never stops banging on about how she hates this [new] house and the inhabitants of Kintbury [Berkshire]. I like it here, but I suppose I shall be forced to leave.

Best love, D


Dearest L,

Thank you so much for your letter and the photographs, both greatly appreciated. Benjamin looks a very cheerful character. Possibly I did at that age.

In 1910 there were very few cars, and about six aeroplanes that looked like bicycles with wings. The British Navy was easily the strongest in the world.

I had two World Wars ahead of me, men walking about on the Moon, the threat of the atomic holocaust, the decline of this country into third- rate power!

I was brought up with seven or more indoor servants, including a butler and a footman. Now, at 76, I do the grate, fill the log-baskets, clean my shoes, make my bed, cook and wash up my breakfast, wash my car, do endless weeding fatigues in the garden, dig up huge piles of ground elder, join huge queues at the surgery. Quelle Vie de Dog!

Love to all, D

Queen Mother

While the other guests were horrified by the wig mishap, the Queen Mother agreed that Nidnod should be allowed her moment as the race was in memory of her husband Roger Mortimer


Dearest Lumpy,

How are you keeping? East winds are very damaging to the liver and tend to make everyone unhappy and bad tempered. I made myself a big cocktail last Tuesday with lots of Cointreau and cognac. Unfortunately, a front tooth (almost the last one) contacted a solid block of ice and, as was the case of The Titanic with the iceberg, the tooth came off second best, being split from bottom to top.

I have got to go to a wedding in London this month: I am told the bride is known in SW3 as ‘Horizontal Harriet’.

Love to you all and keep in touch, D

Dearest L,

Happy Easter to you all and I hope you have all recovered from influenza. Yesterday, Nidnod drove me to lunch with Mrs Cameron [Agnete,  great-aunt of the Prime Minister and Nidnod’s best friend] in my car.

We missed a crash (her fault) by inches at a roundabout and when we reached our destination she removed much of the left-hand side of the car when parking it. It will cost hundreds to put right. I can’t understand how she did it as it was before lunch,  not afterwards!

Your brother seems to have become an antiquarian bookseller: he has tried everything except running a brothel and being a jockey. We have been invited to a posh lunch at Ascot on Wednesday and Nidnod is polishing up her chestnut wig.

Love to all, XX D


Dearest L,

Nidnod and I thought of having a party to mark our 40th wedding anniversary, but we have given up the idea as we cannot think of any form of celebration that would be amusing and would not involve inviting bores. Perhaps I shall go off and get quietly p***ed on my own!

Hungerford is recovering from the massacre; they had not had a murder there since 1870 when two policemen were shot by burglars. There is supposed to be a memorial to the policemen, but no one seems to know where it is.

Major Surtees [his best friend] is just back from Turkey where he had a marvellous time, no doubt in  the harems.

Love to all, XX D

Roger Mortimer wrote to his daughter about how his wife Cynthia, known as Nidnod, hated their new home

Roger Mortimer wrote to his daughter about how his wife Cynthia, known as Nidnod, hated their new home

My father had a soft spot for the jockey Lester Piggott and was visibly upset when he was convicted of tax fraud and jailed for three years.

October 24, 1987

Dearest L,

I first met Lester P when he was a boy of 15 staying for Brighton races at the Royal Crescent Hotel by himself. He was lonely and I used to drive him to the races, and if it was fine we sat on the beach or even bathed in the morning.

Owing to his speech and hearing difficulties, conversation was  not easy. He told me about his life at home and said that to keep  his weight down he got very  sparse meals.

He complained of being undernourished and said that whenever he caught a cold he came out in running sores. The sad thing is he never got any fun for his money.

Sorry [your daughter] Rebecca is idle; I do sympathise with anyone who takes life easy at school. I was always unwilling to exert myself.

Best love, D


Dearest L,

I was hoping for a quiet morning here, but Otto [their chihuahua] has had diarrhoea and has been sick over my bed. Thanks very much!

On Wednesday I dined out with Mrs Surtees at West Ilsley. I got home soon after ten, intending to enter the house by the electrically operated garage door. However, on pressing the appropriate button nothing happened.

I had locked up carefully before I went out and there was no alternative way in. Realising I was in for a night in the open, I drove to Hungerford Police Station and explained my little predicament.

The police were most helpful and two young constables returned home with me, guaranteeing to get me in somehow. They failed to force a window in the sitting room but eventually, by means of a jemmy, forced open the window of the downstairs loo. Luckily, the burglar alarm was not working. Nor were the lights.

I eventually crawled into bed, very weary, long after midnight.

Your mother is due back today and I think has enjoyed her visit to [your sister] Jane. I couldn’t find much I wanted in the kitchen and have been living on stewed apples and grape-nuts.

Love to all, X D

The journalist wrote about 200 letters to his Louise, pictured together in 1987 at her marriage blessing

The journalist wrote about 200 letters to his Louise, pictured together in 1987 at her marriage blessing

March 20, 1988

Dearest Lumpy,

I’m sorry you are having rather a worrying time due to the recession. If things get a bit sticky at your end, don’t hesitate to call on your parents for help. We can probably dig into our jeans for a few quid even if it means flogging a couple of pictures or some silver.

Items like school fees are so desperately expensive nowadays. I think when I went to Eton it was something like £80 per term and a suit of grey flannels was £5.

I enjoyed my lunch in London on Monday. The Duke of Devonshire said he remembered the bad language I had used to him when he was a cadet at Eton. Brig Robin was there and we both regretted we were too old to go and see an improper film afterwards.

Love, D

March 23, 1988

Dearest L,

My few remaining teeth are all falling out and I can hardly bite into a blancmange. We had a very good lunch on Sunday with Mrs Pope, and Nidnod made sheep’s eyes at an old major from the 17th/21st Lancers.

We looked at the hospital Nidnod is going to. It appears clean from the outside, which is something. It is not a very pleasant operation, but she is facing up to it with her usual pluck. Cousin John is very lame with a poisoned bunion.

Best love to you all, D

The Miller’s House

September 28, 1988

Dearest L,

It has not been exactly hilarious here: Nidnod has got fearful depression which does not make her exactly easy.

I dare say I’m both exacting and annoying, a really irritating type of old man. I haven’t been all that well and at times my favourite reading has been catalogues from cremation companies, including ‘Special Offer’ services.

A bookmaker’s family was returning home from the old man’s funeral. En route, his son said to the sorrowing widow, ‘Mummy, Daddy did die of diarrhoea, didn’t he?’ ‘No dear,’ the widow replied, ‘not diarrhoea, gonorrhoea. Daddy was a sportsman, not a s**t.’

I don’t think that’s a very nice story and I ought not to have related it to a pure and innocent girl  like you.

John Surtees paid an unexpected call here. He is now 72, has shed two wives, but looks young and healthy.

I fear he has lost quite a wad of money in the Lloyd’s affair and has had to give up his London flat. Luckily, an ex-girlfriend has invited him to use hers when he needs to. Offer accepted!  

I have known John for 51 years. We saw a lot of each other after the war before I took Nidnod to the altar and we had some very good times which I have no intention of letting you know about.

Your affectionate father, RM

Roger Mortimer addresses his letters to his daughter as 'Dear Lumpy' or variations on the nickname

Roger Mortimer addresses his letters to his daughter as 'Dear Lumpy' or variations on the nickname

Dearest L,

Many thanks for a birthday card (slightly late) and a Christmas card (somewhat early). Both appreciated, though. I had a lot of birthday cards, mostly connected with sex. Freddy B.A. [Burnaby-Atkins] sent me a group of plump, naked German girls getting up to larks. I left it in the bathroom where it was found by your mother!

My sister sent me a vulgar book on sex for geriatrics and [Desmond] Parkinson sent one on how to run a brothel, coupled with some instructions which rather surprised me.

Best love, D

February 28, 1990

Dearest L,

My typewriter is kaput so now I have no car and no writing machine. Combined with my ill health and Nidnod’s tantrums, life is not exactly a bowl of cherries.

Nidnod finds me more or less impossible and I find her looking at me as if nothing would give her greater pleasure than to hear I had been squashed flat by a  No.19 bus or perhaps a No.22 on Sloane Street.



In the final year of my father’s life, his health went downhill quite quickly. As is often the case, he became very clear about the early years of his life but would forget what had happened that morning. Sadly, this was the last letter I received from him.

The racing journalist was upset when Louise married in secret aged 19

The racing journalist was upset when Louise married in secret aged 19

Dearest L,

What ghastly times we live in! The Gulf, The IRA, terrorism, unemployment, ghastly weather!

I don’t seem to have had much peace since that day in 1916 when I was doing French with Miss Shaw, my rather pongy governess, when a lot of aeroplanes flew over Cadogan Gardens. We only discovered later they were German.

Years later, during a dock strike, I was marching guardsmen down to Smithfield when an elderly striker shouted: ‘You wouldn’t shoot your fellow workers, would you?’ and my Platoon Sergeant shouted back: ‘Yes, I would, Grandad, and in the balls!’

My mother, of all people, worked in a canteen during the General Strike and was generally acknowledged the queen washer-up! She washed up — it was the job she liked above all — through two major wars and various big strikes.

Uncle Tony, my mother’s brother and my godfather, was a splendid character, the larky mobbing type. He was arrested on his 21st birthday party for breaking up a Masonic dinner at the Cafe Royal and careering down Regent St waving the master mason’s insignia.

He hated the war, got an MC, was badly wounded and was killed when his ambulance was hit by a shell.

He gave me a gorgeous tiger skin when he came back from India. My mother pinched it for an evening coat, but I got it back in the end.



Just over a year after my father’s death in 1991, aged 82, from Parkinson’s disease, the family gathered for The Roger Mortimer Memorial National Hunt Novices Race at Sandown, one of his favourite racecourses.

My mother and my brother Charlie — nicknamed Lupin by my father — were invited to join the Queen Mother for lunch in her private box. Towards the end of lunch, the Queen Mother and the other guests’ attention was drawn towards the balcony where my mother was jumping up and down, shrieking in support for jockey Gardie Grissell (a family friend) who was neck and neck on his way to winning the Memorial race.

Unfortunately, my mother’s wig flew off her head. Unabashed, she picked it up, placed in back on her head and carried on shrieking as though nothing had happened.

I’m told the other guests in the box looked on in horror. But the Queen Mother and my brother agreed between them that as this was my father’s race, my mother should definitely be allowed her moment.

  •  EXTRACTED from Dear Lumpy by Roger Mortimer and Louise Mortimer, to be published by Constable & Robinson on April 18 at £12.99. © 2013 Louise Mortimer. To order a copy for £10.49, call  0844 472 4157. Dear Lupin: Letters To A Wayward Son is out in paperback at £7.99.
In Roger Mortimer's poignant last letter

In Roger Mortimer's poignant last letter to his daughter before his death from Parkinson's he recalled with clarity choice moments from his eventful life


The comments below have not been moderated.

This is without doubt the funniest thing that ever read in The Mail. What a family! Splendid stuff. Thank you for making me laugh till I cried.

Click to rate     Rating   5

Lovely letters. They remind me of the little notes I used to receive from my father. How I miss them and him.

Click to rate     Rating   7

these letters made my day! wonderful! thank you!

Click to rate     Rating   36

Thank you DM for publishing these wonderful letters (and thank you to Lumpy too). Been miserable weather this Easter in Uk. Bit these letters warmed my heart.

Click to rate     Rating   35

I've read these letters to 'Dear Lumpy' with a permanent grin on my face - pretty much as I read the letters to 'Dear Lupin'. RM seems to have been a wonderful father to have had, and both he and Nidnod true eccentrics who dearly loved their children. It's been lovely to be able to read these anecdotes, symbolic of a generation fast disappearing, and as far removed from that other 'father' in the news, Philpott, as can possibly be imagined. Not all of us can have had such privileged childhoods as the Mortimer children had, but I am sure that many of us have some anecdotes about our own parents in a similar vein. And I'm pretty sure that our children have some about us, waiting to embarrassingly surface in future years.

Click to rate     Rating   44

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