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The Plunket Greene's - Muses & The Beau Monde

Richard Plunket Greene, first from the left, Olivia Plunket Greene, second from left, David Plunket Greene, holding the dog, Terence Lucy Greenidge, smoking, second from right, Elizabeth Frances Russell, first from the right, Evelyn Waugh, sitting down

David Plunket Greene, together with his brother Richard and sister Olivia, were part of the Bright Young Things who inspired the novel Vile Bodies to Evelyn Waugh, a family friend.

Their father was Harry Plunket Greene, an Irish baritone who was most famous in the formal concert and oratorio repertoire, and their mother was Gwendolen Maud Parry, the daughter of Hubert Parry, English composer, teacher and historian of music. Their grandmother, Louisa Lelias (Lilias) Plunket, was an author as well (Bound by a spell, or The Hunted Witch of the Forest, 1885).


Richard Plunket Greene

Richard George Hubert Plunket Greene was born on 1 July 1901. He attended Oxford University where he formed a long-lasting friendship with Evelyn Waugh, who at one time, in the 1920s, was in love with Plunket Greene's sister, Olivia Plunket Greene. Waugh described him as:

"a piratical in appearance, sometimes wearing ear-rings, a good man in a boat, a heavy smoker of dark, strong tobacco, tinged, as were his siblings, with melancholy, but also infused with a succession of wild, obsessive enthusiasms. He brought to the purchase of a pipe or a necktie the concentration of a collector. During the next few years I saw him become a connoisseur of wine, a racing motorist, an exponent of the latest jazz, the author of a detective novel".

The 1930 novel Vile Bodies, satirising the Bright Young Things, the decadent young London society between World War I and World War II, is partly inspired by the Plunket Greene family. Always at Oxford, Richard made friends with Anthony Powell. He was also friends with Rosa Lewis.

In the 1920s he was a school-master at Aston Clinton School (previously Aston Clinton House which was originally owned by the Rothschild family) and it was him that introduced Waugh to the school’s headmaster, Albert Edward Bredan-Crawford.

He was a racing sports cars fan and competitor, on 8 August 1928, and on 17 August 1929 he took part at the Tourist Trophy with a Frazer Nash Boulogne. For a short period he was a business partner of sports-car designer Archibald Frazer-Nash. The 1927 Frazer Nash Boulogne Super Sport recently went up for auction at Bonhams on 29th March 2020.

On 21 December 1926 Richard Plunket Greene married Elizabeth Frances Russell, first cousin once removed of Bertrand Russell. Evelyn Waugh was his best man and Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross, who was a member of the Railway Club at Oxford with his brother David, was also at the wedding. Richard and Elizabeth had one son Alexander Plunket Greene who married fashion designer Mary Quant. Plunket Greene and Russell divorced in 1943.

In 1932 a story by Plunket Greene, A Gamble in Clocks, appeared in Life And Letters Vol. VIII No. 46 September, 1932, edited by Desmond MacCarthy. Together with his wife, in 1932 he wrote Where Ignorance is Bliss, and aloneThe Bandits, both published with John Murray. In 1934 they wrote Eleven-Thirty Till Twelve, a detective novel set in London Society.


David Plunket Greene

David Plunket Greene was born on 19 November 1904. James Knox described David and his elder brother Richard as a:

"Wildly irresponsible pair who had never experienced any form of parental control"

He attended West Downs School, Harrow School, and then Oxford University where his brother Richard was already attending. He was a member of the Hypocrites' Club. When in May 1925 the authorities ordered the closure of the Hypocrites' Club, David rented the former premises of the club.

At Oxford Plunket Greene was part of the Railway Club, which included: Henry Yorke, Roy Harrod, Henry Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath, David Plunket Greene, Edward Henry Charles James Fox-Strangways, 7th Earl of Ilchester, Brian Howard, Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse, John Sutro, Hugh Lygon, Harold Acton, Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne, Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross, Mark Ogilvie-Grant and John Drury-Lowe.

David Plunket Greene was a "dandy devoted to all that was fashionable". His cousin was Hugh Lygon and therefore he was often a guest at Madresfield Court. Lygon and David attended West Downs together, and together decided to go to Oxford.

The Plunket Greene siblings, Richard, Olivia and David, went often to New York City, to have their trousers cut properly and to frequent the Harlem Renaissance clubs. David and his brother were both jazz musicians.

Babe Plunket Greene (at the far right), at David Tennant's party in 1928, with William Acton, Margot Bendir (her mother), Elizabeth Ponsonby, and Harry Melville

In 1926 he married Marguerite McGustie, nicknamed "Babe", daughter of W. McGustie. She played a leading role in the Bright Young Things, in the company of her friends Sylvia Ashley and Davids cousin Elizabeth Ponsonby. The marriage was short lived, they divorced in October 1928, and already in May 1929 Babe Plunket Greene was announcing her engagement to Count Anthony de Bosdari, former fiancé of actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Blackbirds Party at David Plunket Greene's, Somewhere in Knightsbridge is a 1927 painting by Anthony Wysard currently at the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Olivia Plunket Greene

Olivia Honor Mary Plunket Greene was born on 7 March 1907. Evelyn Waugh while at Oxford with David and Richard Plunket Greene, fell in love with Olivia Greene and became a constant of the family.

Waugh wrote about his attraction to Olivia in A Little Learning. According to a rebuffed Waugh, she was a tease who was available to everyone but him. It has been said that she is the model for the Honourable Agatha Runcible inVile Bodies.

In 1936 Plunket Greene, struggling with a problem with alcohol, went into retirement at Longleat Estate, Aucombe, with her mother Gwendolen.


David Plunket Greene committed suicide on 24 February 1941. In July 1958 Olivia Plunket Greene went to Bath for breast cancer treatment but died on 11 November 1958. The next day, her mother wrote to Waugh, and her letter is now in the British Library. She said she had saved all of Waugh’s letters to her. Her mother died eight months later supposedly of a broken heart over the loss of David.

Nearly 20 tears later Richard Plunket Greene died in 1978 in Falmer, England, and is buried at St Andrew Churchyard, Hurstbourne Priors, Hampshire, near his father and his brother David.

Harman Grisewood wanted to write a biography of Gwendolen Plunket Greene, and wrote to her grandson, Alexander Plunket Greene. According to him, Richard Plunket Greene destroyed everything to do with the family, including probably Waugh’s letters to Olivia. The Harman Grisewood Papers, including several letters by Olivia and Gwendolen, are at the Georgetown University Library’s Special Collections.

St Andrew's Church in Hurstbourne Priors, Hampshire


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