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The saga of Porteus’s marital relations took a strange twist with a wild assertion by the author Derek Stanford in Inside the Forties (1977). He was astonished by “the frank open manner in which Porteus could speak of his ruined marriage, his wife having gone off with Geoffrey Grigson . . . Confronted with our evident sympathy, his verdict on Grigson — ‘he was the better man’ — evinced a magnanimity of mind beyond the average run of humanity.” But this scandalous story was not true. The outraged Grigson sued for libel and settled with the publisher.

Porteus had been living on and off with Barbara Dunell since Zenka left him in 1944. He frankly revealed that “Barbara is a nice placid girl for another OAP. I’m not myself queer or given to the contortions of the Kama Sutra. The Missionary position is OK with me.”

From 1946 to 1950, sponsored by Eliot, Porteus worked in the Ministry of Information and wrote press summaries. In the 1950s he worked for a time in the Chinese section of the BBC. While continuing his journalism, he began to do some gardening for £4 a week. In the 1960s he became art critic for The Times, the last and best job he ever had, and wrote an article once a fortnight for 20 guineas. But, always contentious, he clashed with the prevailing views on art and was paid off with a trip to Tunisia. He left London after the Times job ended, and had been stuck in his seedy Cheltenham flat ever since. He self-critically concluded, “I had moved, rather than advanced, from being an unemployed art student to advertising jobs whence I had switched to copywriting and (in the year 1932 of the universal slump) to art criticism and book-reviewing. I was too busily curious about everything.”

Porteus sent me 28 long, fascinating letters, a total of 140 pages, from October 1977 to August 1985. Mostly handwritten in different coloured inks, they contain puns, limericks, unpublished poems, Chinese characters and one haiku. Some are 14 pages long, others are scribbled around Xeroxes of folio-size newspaper articles and many have extensive marginal notations. He loved sexual gossip, revealing the perverse tastes of a royal duke and the all-too-lively activity in Selfridges: “The lifts were operated by handchosen beauties, some tarts, some not. A scandal ensued because the lifts kept stopping between floors. So an order was issued to ensure that in future lift-girls shd. discard their skirts and wear jodhpurs.”

Porteus frequently described, with bitter irony, the cruel physical changes around his flat in Cheltenham: “I am not destitute, but I have such domestic problems that I cannot find time to write. Harassed by landlords, and the din of traffic in what was once a country lane, with the tinkle of a forge where garages now roar, and the meadow opposite my bay window overlooking a sports centre where Rugby is played at night by arc lamps — waal, I guess this is progress, eh?”

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