We were all saddened to hear of the death of Lettice Curtis last week as her autobiography was one of the first books that we published as Red Kite. Simon Parry had known her for many years and here is his personal tribute to a remarkable woman.
A Personal Tribute
It’s always a sad day when someone you have known passes away, and so it was when I heard that Lettice had died last week.
A fine obituary can be found here:
But what was she really like?
We first met in the late 1980s when I helped her overcome some problems reprinting ‘Forgotten Pilots’ her history of the ATA. Typically ‘annoyed’ with incompetent publishers, Lettice decided that she would do it herself. She possessed a keen a memory and telephoned me some years later, ‘I want a publisher for my next book and want you to do it.’ For some reason, she seemed to ‘tolerate’ me more than most; and for Lettice to ‘tolerate’ you was as good as you got. She was a woman who did not tolerate fools gladly – in fact she did not tolerate them at all!
Thus ‘commanded’ I published her biography of the Duchess of Bedford ‘ Winged Odyssey’ and she arranged a book signing at Duke and Duchess of Bedford’s estate at Woburn Abbey to coincide with the annual Moth Club event. In these elegant surroundings she was engaged in conversation by one of the pilots who had flown his Tiger Moth into the small grass airstrip.
“It’s very tricky on finals here isn’t it”, he said, “not much room to get down. ”
Then he made his mistake by asking if she had ever landed there.
“Yes, many times – but I was flying Halifaxes – and the landing strip was much smaller then.”
With that, the Moth pilot was dismissed.
Lettice struck fear into anyone who picked up the phone – when she called there was never any doubt who was speaking, or that you would do exactly as she bid. So it was that I was ‘commanded’ to publish her autobiography. I made many visits to her bungalow near Reading while I tried to make sense of the box of papers, cuttings and photographs that constituted her manuscript. Among the photographs was a magnificent 10×8 of her standing next to a belly-landed Mosquito that appeared to have had a mishap after the undercarriage had been accidentally raised; so I asked Lettice what the story behind it was. She took the photograph, considered it for a while, then pronounced, “That never happened” and put it into a draw.
Below is a photo of Lettice signing copies of her autobiography several years ago. The hardback edition sold out but we still have copies of the softback reprint, it really is a remarkable story of a pioneering woman in a male dominated industry.
Click on the photo for more details;