Feature Lesley Blanch, Red Tape and Blue Pencil: The Autocracy of Film Censorship, April 1945


After leaving British Vogue in 1945, Lesley Blanch freelanced for a year, and was a regular contributor to Edward Hulton’s The Leader (sister publication to Picture Post). She covered film and photography – still relatively new media – and profiled rising stars; Vivien Leigh, Peter Ustinov and Billy Wilder among them. A fellow contributor and friend, Robbie Lantz, later became her agent when they were both living and working in the US. He also took on her husband Romain Gary as a client. Red Tape and Blue Pencil is one of a series of feature articles by Lesley Blanch being republished that originally appeared in 1945.

Although the British Board of Film Censors is a non-Governmental organisation, appointed by the film industry itself, it appears to bask in a glow of complacency which renders it at once unassailable, unapproachable, and uncooperative. It seems to enjoy an atmosphere of sacrosanctity and prerogative almost as strong as that which the Lord Chamberlain’s office in its function as Censor of Plays. Both are, it seems, outside the law; there is no court of appeal; what they say goes.

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Shusha Guppy interviews Lesley Blanch (1991) part 1

lesley blanch terrace view roquebrune gael elton mayo

We are delighted to celebrate the release of the new Lesley Blanch website with Shusha Guppy’s interview of Lesley Blanch as a series of five blog posts. The interview was first published in Looking Back: A Panoramic View of a Literary Age by the Grande Dames of European Letters (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1991). 

Shusha Guppy, Persian شوشا (شمسی) گوپی‎; née Shamsi Assār, (1935 – 2008) was a writer, editor and, under the name of “Shusha”, a singer of Persian and Western folk songs. She lived in London from the early 1960s.

Lesley Blanch was already a distinguished traveller and journalist when her first book, The Wilder Shores of Love, was published in 1954. It was immediately acclaimed as a classic, and became a worldwide bestseller. It told of four nineteenth-century women of contrasting backgrounds and temperaments who sought in the East the adventures and emotions which were rapidly disappearing from the industrialized West. Her following book, The Sabres of Paradise, which took six years to complete, with research in Russia and Turkey, was the biography of Imam Shamyl, the religious leader of the Caucasian tribes who fought the invading Russian armies in 1834 to 1859. It combines biography and history with beautiful descriptions of the Caucasus and the campaigns in which both the young Tolstoy and Lermontov participated.

This interview took place in September 1988 at Lesley Blanch’s home in Garavan, before and after a delicious lunch that she had cooked and which was consumed in the shade of a fig tree in her garden.

SHUSHA GUPPY : You were born into an upper middle-class family. Were your parents wealthy?

LESLEY BLANCH : No. They were always broke. My father was a very clever and cultivated man, but he didn’t do anything. He spent his time in museums and galleries, discussing things like Chinese porcelain and early oak furniture, about which he knew a great deal. They had been quite well-off, especially my mother, but the money trickled away gradually. My mother was not strictly beautiful, but seemed so. She was extremely elegant and artistic, and extremely frustrated too. Having married she had decided to become a devoted wife, and everything she touched she made lovely – houses, plants, food; she had magical hands.

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