Search

Sheila (and the Wolf).


Sheila Perceval and Kim.

After Sorina’s death in 1960, Dick stops writing in his journal for a few years. When he starts again in 1964, he has married Sheila, whom he says also worked at the BBC Monitoring Service, until their marriage in 1961.

It took me a while to track down any information about Sheila – because her name was not actually Sheila. There must have been a real fashion for not using your real name back then! Dick’s name was John, but I don’t think he ever used it. Sorina’s name was Gertrud. And Sheila’s real name was Elsie.

Elsie (Sheila) Emms was born in 1920 in Camberwell, London. The daughter of George and Bessie Emms, she had one sister Margaret. In 1940, she married a man called Reginald Blackton, and in one journal entry, Dick suggests that Blackton was abusive, but does not give any details, and as yet I have not been able to find out when they divorced.

The Perceval family story is that Sheila was also at Bletchley Park, and that their romance may have begun during World War 2, although if Sheila was there, she would have been very recently married to Blackton. I cannot find any concrete evidence that Sheila was there – although not all the people who worked at Bletchley are listed on the Roll of Honour. Dick does not mention a Bletchley connection either (although he took the Official Secrets Act very seriously so that if Sheila had worked there, he probably would not have written about it).

Dick didn’t write about their pre-married life at all – he wrote nothing about their romance, or their wedding day. He does not rave about Sheila, in the way that he did about Freida and Sorina. Of course, he is a lot older by then and so presumably the passions and dramas of youth are gone. However, I think that the relationship with Sheila is significantly different to any relationship he has ever had, in that Sheila loves him. She appears to be very supportive, loyal, kind and (according to a friend of theirs who I have been in contact with) very funny. The friend also told me that Sheila had quite a profound stammer and that she was quite shy.

I would also guess that Sheila was blessed with no small amount of patience, because Sorina continued to be a huge presence in Dick’s life. Those of you who have watched Episode 13 of To Be Continued will know what Dick discovered when he read Sorina’s diaries. I don’t know if he ever shared what was in those journals with Sheila – he may have been too humiliated to talk about it with anyone, but he continued to worship and adore Sorina, and had a large portrait of her (by the artist Imre Goth) hanging in their home. Every time they moved house, he would note where in their new home Sorina’s portrait was hanging.

And then there was Wolf, Sorina’s eldest son, who moved to London after WW2, and who was a constant and often unwanted presence in Dick and Sheila’s life. Sheila used to call him ‘Laughing Boy’!

August 1. 1967

Wolf came to dinner. He kindly bought a bottle of Riesling with him, but as we had beer ready, and wine would have needed chilling, we are holding it over until next time. Was not a pleasant evening and we were relieved when he left. His only contribution to the conversation is to contradict and argue about everything one says. And in doing so he becomes very aggressive at times. It is very tiring. As Sheila remarked afterwards, there was not a single laugh or even a smile from him throughout the evening. We are now inviting him only once a fortnight and it is better so, but I keep thinking how sad Sorina would be if she were to know how much he has changed these last years.

July 31 1969

Wolf and Imre Goth to dinner with us. Wolf seemed determined to make no contribution whatever to the conversation throughout the evening. You could not have a duller guest. I don’t know whether this is his way of indicating his dislike of not being asked alone. He just makes no effort. I made numerous attempts to bring him into the conversation but never got more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ out of him. Imre, on the other hand, was much more interesting than I have usually found him. He talked well. We gave them plenty to drink and an excellent meal. Wolf further annoyed us by leaving his second glass of brandy untouched - such a waste. He had rung us up earlier in the week and when Sheila asked him if he would like to come to dinner tonight if he was free, he had been rude and aggressive to her. Why shouldn’t he be free? Had he said he would be busy this week? And so on. I cannot make him out at all, But it is little wonder that he no longer has any friends. Where it not for Sorina’s sake I would not want to have anything more to do with him either. Lotte-Marie said he will get progressively worse and that it is some sort of mental illness - general frustration really. I feel sorry for him because I know he has not had an easy life, but much of the reason for this lies in his own nature. It is very difficult like him. He makes himself so unlikeable.

Dec 26 1972

7 ½ hours with Wolf here today, and as always it was rather strain on both of us. One has to be careful what one says to him because he can - and did - become very aggressive and offensive as a result of the most innocent remark made by way of conversation. I said to Sheila afterwards but I think he has a subconscious hatred and envy of me - a kind of love/hate relationship. Yet we always do all we can to give him a nice time when he comes here.

I can’t imagine how (or why) Sheila put up with it.

The great love of Dick and Sheila’s life was Kim – a cocker spaniel that Dick’s sister Diana gave them for Christmas. They were so devoted to Kim, that they could not bear to leave him alone, so, instead of going to the theatre or cinema together, they would book 2 seats for different days, so that one of them could always stay home with Kim!

Sheila died in 1995, and I have been told that Dick was heartbroken. She had brought him such peace and stability, and I think she gifted him a sense of his own worth.

March 23 1970

Walking Kim in the park this morning, I kept thinking of something Sheila said to me one evening a few weeks ago now, as indeed I have often thought of it since then. She said “This is the happiest period of my life”. It made me so glad. Her reference to “my life” also touched me deeply, reminding me that to each of us our life has an entity of its own - it is so easy to overlook this fact in the case of other people. I love Sheila very deeply. We have been so happy together throughout.

46 views