Writing my blog yesterday, remembering Margot Fonteyn, made me seek out a copy of Kieran Tunney’s autobiography. After many years, I read the Foreword I had written when Quartet had first published it. It struck me that it retains a quality of a gentler publishing time and deserves another life perhaps in the new media.
I first met Kieran Tunney in the summer of 1987. He was proposing to write a portrait of Margot Fonteyn to follow up the success of his book Tallulah, Darling of the Gods which was published in the early 1970s on both sides of the Atlantic. Before our encounter I knew nothing of the rather engaging man who walked into my office one morning, having had to climb four flights of stairs and as a result being visibly out of breath. He conveyed a sense of vulnerability which was gently tempered with an old-fashioned, rather distinguished manner rarely found in more recent generations. The old romantic values were there, the glamour and glitter of the Noël Coward era, and the appreciation of beauty and excellence shone through his tired frame. I could not help trying to imagine what it must have been like in those glorious thirties; favoured with good looks, endowed with wit and humour, the world at one’s feet, Kieran was certainly in the midst of it all. He was youthful debonair and talented, and had a great zest for living.
Although a portrait of Margot Fonteyn is not the kind of book normally associated with Quartet, I nevertheless felt a compulsion to commission it because I was enchanted. The feeling was inexplicable and I could only attribute it to a romanticism that we both shared.
The months went by, but progress on the book was slow. Kieran had to undergo a series of operations which left him extremely weak. He neither had the energy to research the book nor the strength to put pen to paper. He had to abandon the project with great sadness. Although short of money, he returned the advance we had given him for the book at great sacrifice to his own needs. I was very touched by his gesture and the dignity of the man, since we live in an age in which, in our quest for survival, we tend to undervalue tradition and chivalry.
Six months later, having been nursed back to health, Kieran was ready to write again. This time it was to be his autobiography. Two chapters were ready and submitted to Mr Robert Lantz, his agent in New York, who, upon reading the material, gave him a great deal of encouragement. I was approached by Kieran soon after with this new project. I, too, was very supportive and urged him to complete the work as soon as possible. Again his health deteriorated and he found himself unable to sustain the original impetus which had resulted in the two chapters already written.
Rather than give up, Kieran had an idea. Why not publish his play Aurora, famous for a variety of reasons but never published, plus the two chapters, since in part they related to the play? I felt great misgivings. Quartet had never published a play before, and I could visualise no obvious link between the interrupted autobiography, that is to say, the two chapters, and the play. At least, that was how I saw it before I read Aurora. Afterwards my attitude changed. I was exhilarated by its mystery and originality, by the strength of its dialogue and by its three main characters. Aurora, the heroin is on the face of it almost uncastable. The role has so many dimensions, is so rich and demanding, that the idea of finding an actress who could credibly attempt its challenge is formidable. But the play is a beautifully crafted surrealistic concept, unlike anything else I have read, and one that will lend itself to vivid imagery on the stage. I was seduced to the extent that I have decided not only to publish it, but also hopefully to produce the play in the West End of London. I know the difficulties will be immense, especially in the search for a leading lady to play Aurora, but I have always cherished an impossible task.
Kieran Tunney’s work is rich and melodic, his spirit undaunted by the ravages of nature. Had fate been kinder, there is no knowing what heights he might have scaled. He is worthy of effort and affection. It will be my glad endeavour to make one of his dreams come true. Aurora, dormant for so long, as in the play, will wake again, still youthful and having defied the vicissitudes of time.