In Franco’s International Brigades I mentioned a mysterious Cuban called Miguel Ferreras who fought for both Franco and Hitler then married into the Guinness family and became stepfather to a man immortalised in The Beatles’ song A Day in the Life. Quite a ride.
Now Paul Howard’s biography I Read the News Today, Oh Boy shines more light on Ferrera’s strange life and times through his relationship with stepson Tara Browne. Howard’s book is a great read that covers everything from swinging sixties London to Paris’ gay underworld. Definitely worth buying.
Ferrera’s stepson was a gilded youth born into money, privilege, and bohemia in Ireland. His mother was brewing heiress Oonagh Guinness. Browne was precociously advanced, quitting smoking at the age of eleven, and never getting more than a few year’s schooling. He got his own kind of education from his mother’s artistic friends.
In 1957 Oonagh married Cuban fashion designer Miguel Ferrera in New York. Oonagh had two ex-husbands and Ferrera quickly ditched his first wife (who’d given him an American passport and a few kids) when all that Guinness money walked into his showroom. Tara hated his new stepfather and so did most of Oonagh’s friends who considered Ferreras rude, provincial, and untalented as a designer. They didn’t know the half of it.
If you’ve ever read any Evelyn Waugh then you’ll know the name Basil Seal. He’s the roguish protagonist of Black Mischief (squeezing money out of an impoverished African nation), Put Out More Flags (squeezing money out of WW2), and Basil Seal Rides Again (squeezing money out … no wait, sabotaging his daughter’s wedding). He also makes a brief appearance in the amputated limb of Work Suspended.
Amoral, unclean, and charming, he’s a bit of a fantasy self-portrait for Waugh. But he began as a stinging caricature of Waugh’s real life enemy from Oxford University: Basil Murray.
A dissolute and rich Oxford graduate who found a cause in Liberal politics and anti-fascism, Murray is probably the only man to be murdered by a monkey during the Spanish Civil War.
Crusading Catholics, foreign Fascists, and Muslims with a grudge. The Spanish Civil War set right against left when centuries of grievances erupted into a bloody settling of accounts in 1936. The left-wing volunteers who came from around the world to fight for the Spanish government are well known but foreigners also joined the other side. I wrote a book about it. Here’s a FAQ.
Q. What was the Spanish Civil War?
A. In July 1936 a cabal of right-wing generals tried to overthrow the Spanish government by force. The generals believed the recently elected hard-left government was speeding the country towards anarchy and Marxism. The government saw the generals as Fascists. The overthrow was meant to be a short, sharp coup d’etat, over in a few days. Instead the country was plunged into a bloody and divisive Civil War that lasted three years.
Take a look in the bibliography of any work about the Spanish Civil War and you’ll find a book by Peter Kemp. Mine Were of Trouble is one of the very few accounts of the war told by a foreign volunteer who fought for the Nationalists. There are whole library shelves full of autobiographies by the International Brigades but Kemp’s book has been out of print since the 1950s and goes for stupidly high prices these days.
Now it looks there’s a chance Mine Were of Trouble may come back into print. Adam Nettina is currently shepherding a new edition through an American publisher. Hopefully we’ll be seeing them on book shelves soon. More news when it gets here.
You can now read Franco’s International Brigades [or amazon.com]on your Kindle. The ebook version is available from Amazon as of today. It has a nice new cover and some light revision to the previous Hurst edition text.
Remember – if you’ve ever bought anything from Amazon you’ve got an account there. And that means you can review any book on the site. So if you feel like telling the world how much you enjoyed Franco’s International Brigades go right ahead. It will really help to raise the book’s profile.
For all those completists out there, this ebook edition has some additional material about Australian Catholic reactions to the Spanish Civil War and an updated total for Greek volunteers in Franco’s forces. The photograph selection is slightly different too.
For more warlike weirdness, you can buy my books in paperback or ebook:
Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com]
Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World [or amazon.com]