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Indian Marchioness Bapsybanoo gets her due

Ian Fleming’s mother Eve ran away with Bapsy’s husband, the 90-year-old Lord Winchester.

LAKSHMAN MENON  London | 25th May 2013


ll her long life, there was nothing more Bapsybanoo Pavry craved than to be accepted by the British upper classes. The daughter of a Parsi high priest, "Bapsy" moved to Britain in the 1940s to parlay her striking good looks into the highest echelons of society. But she tried too hard and she was shunned by the people whose friendship she sought. Now, six decades later, Bapsy will finally achieve the recognition she thought was her due. Described as "importunate, maddening and pitiful", Bapsy's one great moment of triumph came in 1952 when, aged 51, she married the 90-year-old Henry, 16th Marquess of Winchester. Lord Winchester had little to recommend him other than his title, being bankrupt, impotent and in thrall to Ian Fleming's mother, the redoubtable Eve Fleming, a fiery tempered, promiscuous dominatrix. Mrs Fleming herself had been briefly engaged to Lord Winchester in 1951. But when she realised the marriage would strip her of her substantial widow's allowance, she hastily broke off the engagement. Mrs Fleming, however, was not in the least willing to give up her relationship with the Marquess. Just weeks after his marriage to Bapsy, Lord Winchester and Mrs Fleming eloped to Monte Carlo and from there to Mrs Fleming's house in the Bahamas. An utterly humiliated Bapsy followed them, pacing the road outside and shaking her fist at the house. To no avail.

To Bapsy's consternation, British society now closed ranks. They sided with the Marquess and she became a figure of ridicule. "May a viper's fangs be forever around your throat," she wrote to her errant husband, "and may you sizzle in the pit of your own juice." Bapsy sued Mrs Fleming for enticing her husband away. In 1957, Bapsy won her case. But even her revenge proved short lived. The next year, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgement. Bapsy's rout was complete. Lord Winchester died in 1962, aged 99. Eve Fleming died two years later, long enough to savour both her triumph over the Indian "interloper" and her son, Ian's, huge success as the creator of James Bond. For Bapsy, even the people of Winchester seemed indifferent to her importuning. When she visited the famous cathedral city, so few people knew, or cared, she never returned. But the "slight" smarted. And when she died in Mumbai in 1995, she left £500,000 to Winchester on the condition it would be used to build a public hall in her honour, complete with a full-length portrait of her. For 14 years it seemed that even her generous financial bequest would fall on stony ground. But now, Winchester City Council has decided to refurbish and rename a room after the first and only Indian Marchioness. "The hall is the largest and grandest we have," a councillor said, "and we will now hang the portrait of her there and there will be a plaque and a biography." And Bapsybanoo, Marchioness of Winchester, will finally get the recognition she fought for.

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