Diddle, diddle, diddle, dee.
I am so very happy for thee,
And thou, and them and us and we,
Diddle, diddle, diddle, dee.
(from ‘Diddle, Diddle, Dee’ by Trevor Barrington, 1952)
Trevor Barrington was a Pullizer Prize winning poet and committed internationalist. In his final interview with friend and journalist, Montgomery Dullard, he admitted to having at least eleven illegitimate children scattered across the globe.
“I could never settle,” he explained, “I only ever had one true love.”
Barrington was referring to Edith Montcliffe whom he met in 1937. Edith was an aspiring librarian who had been expelled from the British Academy of Letters for failing to complete a Diploma of Cataloguing. In her acceptance of rejection letter to the Academy, Edith acknowledged she simply couldn’t decide where each book should go.
Trevor first approached Edith in a tea room, just meters away from the Academy, after watching her tearfully compose her acceptance of rejection letter.
“She seemed such a tragic figure, I was immediately captivated,” he told Dullard.
Experts agree that the final, defiant lines of Edith’s letter bear all the hallmarks of Barrington’s early work, particularly the liberal use of profanity.
Trevor and Edith were married in 1938 at the Church of St Luke,Tumnall Green, England. The couple, who had no gainful employment at the time, settled in Tumnall Green with Edith’s Aunt Betty and Uncle Ronald. Betty and Ron ran the Tumnall Green Post Office and occasionally employed Edith to sort the mail and stamp the outgoing letters. Trevor was considered unsuitable for post office work on account of his temperament.
Experts agree the early Tumnall Green period was the happiest time in Barrington’s life, during which he wrote his first collection of poems, Romping through Your Ruins. The period is considered to have lasted until 1940, when Trevor and Edith were both called up for national service.
Edith accepted a place in the Auxilliary Territorial Service and worked as a clerk in the Rochester war office, several miles from Tumnall Green. Trevor registered as a conscietous objector and made a famous appearance at the Rochester conscientous objector tribunal where he read his award winning, anti-war poem, Nary the Green Bile, and was arrested for being a public nuisance.
For the duration of the war, Trevor worked as an orderly in the Royal Rochester Hospital where he would develop a lifelong addiction to morphine.
Experts agree that Edith’s war was as successful as Trevor’s was disasterous. Identified early for her quick and nimble fingers, Edith was promoted from clerk to radio operator, and began transmitting intelligence messages from the Home Office. Her ability to organise the intelligence into fifteen categories of urgency, earnt her the nickname ‘The Little Librarian’.
As the war progressed, the couple drifted apart and by 1945 Trevor was living above the Tumnall Arms Hotel while Edith remained with her aunt and uncle. On release from the Auxilliary Service, Edith immediately moved to France to be with fellow intelligence officer, Amile D’Estraire, with whom she had developed a relationship through their radio transmissions.
Trevor was devastated by Edith’s departure and descended into a deep alcoholism from which he would never fully recover. Yet, for the next ten years, he wrote prolifically, producing five collections of poems including I’d Wrench Mine Eyes for Thine and Light Through the Madhouse Window. In 1953, Madhouse was made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Lancaster. Taylor was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Enid Banks, a lonely, alcoholic post-mistress.
Trevor lived a transient lifestyle after the war, travelling the length and breadth of Europe where he accrued a bevy of high society lovers but never stopped searching for Edith. In 1952, he famously announced his surrender to insanity and the eternal ache of a broken heart in his most famous poem, Diddle Diddle Dee. That same year, he crossed the Atlantic to America where he lived in New York, writing four plays including Behind the Cow Shed.
In June 1955, at the height of a brutal New York summer, Trevor Barrington’s body was found slumped in the stairwell of a Bronx rooming house. He was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
During the final ever interview with Trevor in 1954, Montgomery Dullard asked him to sum up his life in twenty-five words or less. Dullard wrote:
Through the haze of cigarette smoke I saw a rueful smile appear on his face. For the first time in our conversation he did not avoid my eyes and his dark, penetraging gaze locked onto me until I was the one looking for a distraction. Trevor’s power and conviction at that moment belied his years of impotence and despair. Still, my friend remained the master of British understatement with his reply,
“It’s all been a bit of a mess, really.”