Nancy Spain

Nancy Spain

Nancy Brooker Spain (13 September 1917 – 21 March 1964) was a prominent English broadcaster and journalist.

She spent much of her youth in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne. Her father was Lieutenant-Colonel Spain, a freeman of the city and a prominent figure in local military and antiquarian affairs. He was a writer himself and appeared in a number of radio plays as well as broadcasting commentaries on Newcastle United games. Nancy's mother, Norah, was the daughter of Lucy Dorling, a sister of Isabella Beeton.

As a child, Nancy remembered pushing the future eminent journalist William Hardcastle into the Bull Park Lake on the Town Moor, where she used to learn to ride at five shillings an hour "with other little bourgeois tots".

Nancy went to Roedean School (a family tradition) where she began wearing "mannish" clothes, and developed the speaking voice which stood her in such good stead in her eventual media career. She played lacrosse for Northumberland and Durham, and hockey for the North of England, as well as acting on BBC radio, where she took over the star parts vacated by Esther McCracken. During the war, Nancy served in the WRNS on Tyneside, a period covered in her book Thank you, Nelson (1945).

Nancy Spain became a star columnist for the Daily Express, She and the News of the World in the 1950s and 1960s and made many radio broadcasts, particularly on Woman's Hour and My Word! She later appeared as a panellist on BBC TV's record review programme Juke Box Jury and in 1962 performed 'The Blaydon Races', the Victorian Tyneside song, at London's Marquee Club with Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated. A recording of the latter was published on the album R&B from the Marquee.

Spain's scatty style of column-writing caused the Daily Express to be sued successfully for libel - twice - by Evelyn Waugh.[1] Often in the news, and tempted to marry to seem 'respectable' - her name was linked with that of Gilbert Harding - she lived openly with the editor of She, Joan Werner Laurie (Jonny), and was a friend of the famous, including Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich. She and Joan were regulars at the Gateways club in Chelsea, London, and were widely known to be lesbians.[2]

She died, with Joan and four others, in a light aeroplane crash on her way to the Grand National and was cremated with Joan at Golders Green Crematorium, London. She left one son - publicly unacknowledged during her lifetime - Tom Carter. Noel Coward summed up: 'It is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out when so many bores and horrors are left living.'

As well as her books of memoirs, including Why I'm Not a Millionaire (1956), Nancy wrote a biography in 1948 of her relative Mrs Beeton, and a series of detective novels.[3] Rose Collis wrote a posthumous biography of the broadcaster and journalist in 1997.


  • Thank You, Nelson: London: Hutchinson: 1945.
  • Mrs Beeton and Her Husband: London: Collins: 1948.
  • Teach Tennant: The Story of Eleanor Tennant, the Greatest Tennis Coach in the World: London: W.Laurie: 1953.
  • Why I'm Not A Millionaire: London: Hutchinson: 1956.
  • A Funny Thing Happened to the Way: London: Quality Book Company: 1964.


  • Collis, Rose (1997), A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain, London: Cassell, ISBN 0304328790 
  1. ^ Sykes, Christopher. Evelyn Waugh: a biography. Collins, 1975. ISBN 0002112027
  2. ^ Gardiner, Jill (2003), From The Closet to the Screen: Women of the Gateways 1945-85, London: Pandora, ISBN 0-86358-427-6 
  3. ^ Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan, The Lady Investigates, Oxford (1981) ISBN 0-19-281938-0 p.109

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