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Such a flirt, the Duchess of Windsor would have made a beeline for my husband

According to the pop superstar Madonna, the late Wallis Simpson, the woman for whose love the besotted Edward VIII forfeited his throne and empire, was truly a romantic heroine.

That is how the scorned American divorcee, who thrust the British monarchy into the crisis abdication of the King, is portrayed in Madonna’s film, W.E, the first movie she has ever written and directed.

But ask Anne Sebba, author of the first full-scale biography by a woman writer of the girl from Baltimore who bewitched men, whether she would have invited the celebrated Duchess of Windsor into her own home, and you receive a surprising response.

“If she were my friend who I met occasionally at a party then I’d be amused by her sharp wit and banter,” says Anne, one of the stars of this month’s Marlborough Literary Festival.

“But I’d be sorry not to be able to discuss books and culture and music with her as she was not interested in any of that – she and the Duke never read proper books and several people commented on how their homes lacked all trace of a library or single book.”

“But inviting her to my home?  Well I’m quite sure she wouldn’t want to come but, if she did, I’d have to make sure she did not make a beeline for my husband.”

“She’d be bound to flirt with him so perhaps a ladies lunch would be safer.  And I’d ask her ‘If you did it all again, what would you do differently?’”

Anne, who spent four years delving into the life of That Woman –- the title of her biography -- probably knows more about the Duchess than anyone alive today, which is what makes her visit to Marlborough so exciting.

For it was undoubtedly the search for the truth that provided Anne with electric moments, none more so than when she unexpectedly found letters from Wallis to her second husband Ernest Simpson, the grandson of Polish-born Jews.

“Being handed the package of 15 letters from Wallis to Ernest tied up with ribbon never before made public still in their envelopes …so unexpected yet dynamite,” Anne tells me.  “Wallis was not meant to be corresponding with Ernest at all during these months -- she was meant to hate him and was divorcing him.  She was certainly not meant to be telling him how she missed him, loved him, thought of him and prayed for him.”

“And how the King was Peter Pan, who would never grow up and how she wished none of this mess had ever happened.  Every biographer hopes to find some little new nuggets but this was a vast great treasure trove with real historical importance.”

Indeed, Anne, Reuter journalist turned biographer of Enid Bangnold, Mother Teresa and Jennie Churchill, dates her interest the royal saga that shook the nation to her own university days studying the history of the 1930s when Hitler came to power.

She also remembers visiting Schloss Enzesfeld, the fairytale castle outside Vienna where the Duke of Windsor stayed immediately after his abdication in 1936, waiting nervously for the woman he loved to arrive.

That, together with her researches into the life of Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston and another American who shocked the establishment, kept her switched on to the subject of iconic women like Wallis Simpson.

Yet, in those early days, she explains: “I had no idea what I would find, although I was convinced there must be another side and, after the Queen Mother’s death, there must be many who would talk more freely.”

“But it was just after a lot of detective work and digging that I found the new letters and diaries…I did not know of them when I started.  I also knew that I would see things differently as a woman and ask different questions so I was confident it would produce something new but not sure what - four years ago when I started.”

In particular, she reveals that between her first and second marriages, her enemies claim, “she learnt from Chinese prostitutes some ancient oriental techniques for pleasuring men.”

So did Edward VIII forsake his throne for sexual satisfaction?

“No absolutely not,” insists Anne.  “Wallis was an enigma and, at over 40, not especially beautiful or clever and twice married, no-one could understand what it was that Edward found in her that made him throw up a kingdom, a throne, as well as respect.

“So people assumed it must be sex and turned her into a sex demon.  It was part of the whole process of making Wallis into a hate figure so that the next King and Queen -- George V1 and Elizabeth -- were seen as paragons of virtue compared with the American brash she-devil who had lured Edward to abdication.”

“Now we can see that Wallis was the hunted, not the hunter, it is time to re-evaluate all of this.”

However, she performed one tremendous task for which we can all be thankful.  Her love of powerful men, her fascination with Mussolini and Hitler, did prevent England ending up with a King willing to capitulate to Fascism.

Anne Sebba, author of That Woman – The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), speaks at Marlborough Town Hall at 5pm on Sunday, September 25.

Tickets priced at £10 at 01249 701628 and www.marlboroughlitfest.org

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Andrew Deuchar speaks about his new role with Marlborough-based charity BUILD

Andrew Deuchar, who was brought up in Aldbourne and still has relatives living in the Marlborough area, is to succeed Dr Nick Maurice who is retiring as director of BUILD the national charity he founded and which is based in Marlborough.

Since 2002, BUILD (which stands for “building understanding through international links for development”) has worked with government, schools, hospitals and faith groups to create and sustain links between communities in the United Kingdom and developing countries.

Andrew Deuchar will take up his post on October 1.  His career in the diplomatic service has been followed by ministry in the Church of England.  He has long experience in international development, communications, management and project management.

After working as a parish priest, from 1994 to 2000 Andrew Deuchar was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs, managing the Archbishop’s work as leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  He returned to parish work in Nottingham and has most recently been working in the Highlands for the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness.

The Archbishop of Canterbury for whom he worked, Lord Carey, said, “BUILD is looking for an outstanding leader. Andrew was one of my best officers. I have great confidence in him.  He is a very wise and consensual leader.”

BUILD believes that global community partnerships make the world better.  Working with community, national and global partners, BUILD promotes cross-cultural links and provides services to help communities to link and to develop their work in ways that increase global peace, prosperity and justice.

Andrew Deuchar spoke to Marlborough News Online about BUILD and his new role as leader of the organisation: “One thing I love about the potential for BUILD’s work is the possibility of people at each end of the linking process being able to tell their stories.  These sort of linking projects should enable both sides to tell their own authentic stories.”

All too often, he says, stories and folk memories become obliterated or distorted by colonialism or local politics and giving people back their true identity is a worthy ideal.  He has been most impressed by the practical moves in the Highlands of Scotland within schools and communities to bring alive the language, music and history of its people.

Andrew and his wife will be returning to live in the Marlborough area as soon aas they can find a suitable home.

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Come to Marlborough town hall on Monday to discover how to survive the future

Facing up to the current recession and all its pitfalls may be one challenge, but surviving the future is far more important – for Marlborough and the world.

That is the graphic message being sent out to all Marlborough residents -- together with an invitation to attend a major public meeting at the town hall on Monday.

It’s aim is to set up the structure for the market town to follow in the footsteps of Totnes, Ludlow, Scarborough, Perth and communities round the world by turning Marlborough into a transition town.

Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured) has been charged by the Mayor, Alexander Kirk Wilson, to work with the local Climate Pledge Group and other organisations for Marlborough to make the leap forward in finding positive ways to deal with life on the planet.

That means grappling with problems such as rapidly rising fuel and food prices, inadequate transport systems that may be restricting job and education opportunities for young people in one of the most urbanised countries on earth.

The dangers stem from the fact that by 2030 it is estimated that 92 per cent of us will be living an urban life in congested cities, which is why the future of market towns like Marlborough is so vital.

“We are extremely concerned about the rising cost of petrol and diesel, as well as electricity, oil and gas, which is used to heat our homes,” Councillor Pitts told Marlborough News Online.  “We note that the government is planning to reduce carbon emissions by a colossal 50 per cent by 2025, which will mean further price rises.

“We are pleased that Wiltshire council has now come up with a community plan, which is aiming to tackle climate change over the next 15 years by creating green jobs, promoting energy efficiency, shifting to sustainable transport and improving food security at local level.”

This is why Marlborough wants to mobilise the town at all levels to hear what can be done positively by turning it into a transition town – Totnes has become the pioneering example – to survive the future.

Monday’s meeting starts at 7.30pm with the showing of extracts from the film End of Suburbia, which explores the issues to be addressed.

This will be followed by a short talk by Wiltshire’s senior climate change officer on Calculating Marlborough’s carbon footprint before discussion groups will be set up to consider subjects ranging from food sovereignty and sustainable transport to renewable energy and the three Rs – repair, re-use and recycle.

And it is hoped that current community groups such as ARK and the Marlborough Gardening Association will align themselves with the Transition Town objectives.

Then the transition hub committee, led by Dr Sam Page, will explain the opportunities that already exist to help people reduce their energy bills and ensuring that food is grown locally instead of being flown in from across the globe.

“All over Britain and around the world transition towns are forming in local communities, to help plan ahead for the end of cheap oil and to combat climate change,” said Councillor Pitts. “We want Marlborough to be there with them.”

He can be contacted on 01672 512087.  There is a website were you can register your interest in contributing to the process  in the plans  www.transitionmarlborough.org  and also a blog of the Transition Town Hub interim co-ordination team:  transitiontownmarlborough.blogspot.com

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Safer Puffin road crossing plan for George Lane, Marlborough

A safer form of pedestrian crossing is to be installed by Wiltshire Council at the junction of George Lane and Figgins Lane, Marlborough, where children regularly cross to and from school.

The user-friendly Puffin control system will allow pedestrians to halt traffic and cross safely at the junction, where vehicles turn in and out of the major Waitrose car park.

“This is a proposal which this council very much welcomes,” Wiltshire councillor Peggy Dow told Marlborough town council on Monday.

One resident of George Lane told Marlborough News Online: “I hope this means that the present zebra crossing is going to be repainted and that the awful condition of this potentially dangerous road junction will also be repaired at the same time.”

Comments on the project – with reasons – should be sent in writing or via Wiltshire Council website by 26 September quoting the reference LJB/TRO/MARL/HY296. The address is: Sustainable Transport Group, County Hall, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge BA14 8JN.

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Gamekeeper escapes prison for endangering low flying helicopter

Gamekeeper Malcolm Hughes, 61, who could have killed two pilots when he drove his Land Rover straight at a low-flying Army Air Corps helicopter, has avoided going to prison.

Hughes, of Raffin Lane, Pewsey, who pleaded not guilty to acting in a manner likely to endanger aircraft during a trial in July, has been given a five-month jail sentence suspended for a year at Swindon Crown Court.

He was also ordered to carry out 120 hours' unpaid community work and pay £1,000 prosecution costs after explaining that he was trying to identify the helicopter when he saw it flying over farmland at Wootton Rivers in December, 2009.

Passing sentence, Judge Douglas Field pointed out that Hughes had risked the lives of the pilot and a trainee on board the Squirrel machine, as well as his own.

"Having seen this helicopter you entered the field where it was situated in your Land Rover and you drove at the helicopter,” he added.  "I am quite satisfied you didn't drive at it with the intention of hitting the helicopter.  I am prepared to accept your motive was to get its details so the flight could be properly reported."

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Council and residents fight footpath 39 plan through Manton back gardens

Unless a compromise route can be reached, then a proposal by Wiltshire Council to create a controversial footpath through the gardens of properties in Manton High Street should be decided by a planning inquiry.

This was Marlborough town council’s stance when asked on Monday for its views on the scheme outlined by Barbara Burke, the council’s senior Rights of Way officer, for the route of foothpath 39 before it reaches the grounds of Manton Mill.

Councillors declared that a  scheme that did not put the gardens of up to a dozen properties in the High Street “into jeopardy” was essential.

They hoped that a compromise could be reached that was not disruptive and that “goodwill and commonsense should prevail”.

“There is an element of bureaucracy here,” said Councillor Nick Fogg, who is also a member of Wiltshire Council. “We need to find a solution, but there is a problem of procedure.  I favour a compromise solution that does not impinge on residents’ gardens.”

Councillor Peggy Dow, also a member of the Wiltshire authority, said: “Can we pleasure ensure that this issue goes to a planning inspector to decide.”

But the property owners, four of whom living nearby have not been consulted, claim that a map of 1792 shows the ancient footpath on a bank outside of their garden boundaries.

They point out that that neither the old Kennet District Council nor the new Wiltshire unity authority revealed the ancient footpath on solicitors’ searches made when they originally bought their homes.

But in letters to them Barbara Burke insists: “I am aware that members of the public have been walking a route through the field but this is not the legal line of the path as shown on the definitive map. It is precisely this anomaly that is making the council seek a workable solution.

 “Issues regarding the route of this right of way and other routes the public have used within the field have arisen several times over a number of years and it is for that reason that the council is seeking to establish a route which is convenient for users and landowners affected by it.”

One resident whose family  has lived for 60 years on the site refutes the claim and declares that there is no evidence at all to show that the original footpath went through back gardens. Another points out that the Land Registry map received when the property was bought showed no existing footpath through the garden.

Solicitors who made searches for house purchasers were also not told of the existence of any such footpath.  And a third resident has already complained to local Tory MP Claire Perry about the footpath proposal.

The greenfield site through which a footpath runs to the banks of the River Kennet was sold in 2007 to Tim Clarke, the owner of Manton Mill, by Marlborough Tory town councillor Stewart Dobson, who declared an “historical interest” when the proposed footpath was discussed.

Residents fear the field is being divested of its original footpath so that unwanted development can take place.

They are contemplating collective opposition by forming an action group to fight the loss of garden land and are also considering making a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

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Arm of High Street to get one-way trial : A4 Manton to Lockeridge in overnight closure

Two pieces of information on local traffic changes emerged from this week’s meeting of Marlborough Area Board in the Town Hall – neither as yet has firm dates:

First, the narrow part of the High Street that runs north of St Peter’s church is going to be made one-way for an experimental eighteen month period. This trial is being arranged in response to complaints from residents in the street which is too narrow for anything but small cars to pass each other and is often used as a ‘rat run’ by drivers trying to avoid queues at the Pewsey Road mini-roundabout.

The trial was backed by councillors Nick Fogg and Peggy Dow. But there was some strong opposition voiced from the floor of the meeting.  It was said that traffic emerging onto the A4 by Hatto’s the barbers, close to the Pewsey Road mini-roundabout, would be dangerous.  It was argued that it would much better to make this arm of the High Street one-way from west to east so drivers could then go up Hyde Lane and lessen the traffic on the main part of the High Street.

The Area Board Chairman, Chris Humphries, put the proposal to a vote it was narrowly agreed.

If there are no objections to the one-way scheme during the trial it would automatically become permanent.  No date for the start of this trial has been set.  We will bring you the date as soon as we know it.

Secondly, the A4 between Manton and Lockeridge is to be closed for eight nights – sometime in early October.  The closure is to start at 7 pm and this start time worried representatives from Lockeridge who feared evening rush hour traffic would divert onto narrow country lanes and village streets. Watch this space for news of the actual closure dates.

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Weekly drama classes for tiny tots in Marlborough from Tuesday 20th September

Kennet Valley Arts Trust, which encourages drama in local schools, is sponsoring a pre-school drama class in St. Mary's church hall, Marlborough, every Tuesday morning from September 20. 

The first hour -- from10 to 11am -- will be devoted to reading with action for two and three year olds together with their mothers.

The second hour will be for four to five-year-olds.  The teacher in charge  is actress Lizzie Sigrist, director of Youth Development at the Newbury’s Watermill Theatre.

Those interested should contact 077950 56256. 

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Massive spending charges against town council proved to be totally untrue

Marlborough is a not high spending town council and is not guilty of persistent allegations that it is incompetent, reckless and even dishonest.

Its annual budget of £400,000, planned to stay in surplus, is among the lowest of market towns in Wiltshire, ended the last financial year £52,672 in the red compared with a loss of £125,555 a decade ago and other substantial losses until 2009.

And the council’s proposals to use low interest rate public loans to carry out further improvements to the town hall – aimed at raising its income level – is the same policy as that adopted by other town councils in the county.

“I think some members were quite shocked by the implied allegation that appeared to accuse this council of financial incompetence, reckless spending and even dishonesty at the annual meeting,” finance committee chairman and former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross (pictured) told last night’s town council meeting.

“Even more disturbing is that one of our councillors, Mrs Marian Hannaford-Dobson, is writing in the press challenging the financial governance of this council and raising concerns that really have little basis in fact.”

And he added that the council currently maintained reserves of £284,000.

Mr Ross was interrupted by Mrs Hannaford-Dobson, a Conservative member, who jumped up protesting that he was “being very rude and insulting” and repeatedly asking him to withdraw his remarks.

And her husband, Councillor Stewart Dobson, complained that councillors were not present to hear a lecture that made petty points and raised insulting issues but to hear details of a new and improved presentation of the council’s accounts.

“This (points scoring) is not the purpose of the item on the agenda,” he insisted.

But they were both slapped down by Councillor Edwina Fogg, the deputy mayor who was in the chair, and told to wait until question time to raise any matters they disagreed with.

And later in the meeting, Mrs Fogg said that the town’s precept for council tax payers was neutral last year and in the current year was below inflation.

“We are a high income generating council, attracting funds and donations of £250,000,” she declared, among them £75,000 for the town’s skate park, £50,000 to repair the steps and decorate the frontage of the town hall and £18,000 for disabled access to the Town Hall.

The row erupted following angry scenes at the council’s annual parish meeting earlier in the year when some members of the public challenged the council’s spending record and its proposals for further renovations to the town.

In the current issue of the Gazette & Herald, Mrs Hannaford-Dobson writes: “Marlborough town council is a high spending council with even larger plans to spend mega money later in the year.”

“Sadly councillors who dared to voice concerns over the £1.2 million projected spend and massive borrowing for the town that this expenditure would require, were swiftly removed from the committees.”

She complained that just a third of the councillors controlled the budget, and added: After all this is public money, yours and mine, and it is always easy to spend other people’s money.”

But those accounts were accepted by the 16-strong council and Mr Ross, a retired chartered accountant, has now produced easily understandable accounts.  They reveal that last year’s overspend was on buying the Stonebridge Meadow in partnership deal with ARK plus equipment for the Salisbury Road play park, reducing the council’s reserves by £52,000.

The town council’s current budget –- each individual committee is responsible for its own budgeted spending -- is to end the year with a surplus of £7,950, the improvements to the town hall, which generates an income of £25,400, to be carried out over several years.

“Clearly it can be seen that council spending is not being controlled by one third of the council as Mrs Hannaford-Dobson alleged in the Gazette and Herald this week,” insisted Mr Ross.

“Council spending decision are not made behind closed doors. There are no secret cabals. All spending is determined by 16 members with the public present.”

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Councillor Fogg petition saves the Bath bus

A petition presented to Wiltshire Council by Nick Fogg, one of Marlborough’s councillors, has saved the former No 76 bus service from Marlborough to Bath.

The route was under the chop by the council. “But the Bath bus has been saved,” Mr Fogg told Marlborough town council. “It is a very good route and people can still enjoy it, but not with quite the same frequency as before.”

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Duncan Hames says LibDems seek cap in health Bill on private work in NHS hospitals

Duncan Hames, LibDem MP for Chippenham, has told Marlborough News Online that the LibDems are working hard to write into the Health Bill a cap on the amount of private work carried out in NHS hospital trusts.  If this demand does not crystalise during this week’s debate in the Commons, they will pursue it in the Lords.

Hames told Marlborough News Online: “The area about which most people have written to me is ensuring some kind of cap on the amount of private health care within NHS hospital trusts.  We’re seeking to have some safeguards to achieve that cap.  We shall be interested to see what attention is given to that [in the Commons debate.]”

He emphasised that LibDem MPs and Peers were working closely together on the Bill and would be pressing their case for a cap when the Bill reaches the Lords.  However he is clear that LibDem MPs will be voting for the Bill:
“We got a lot of changes to the Bill over the summer.  We need to support the government amendments to achieve the third reading.”  The vote on the third reading is today (September 7).

We wanted to ask Mr Hames for his views on the Bill because the new Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG – replacing the Primary Care Trust or PCT) covering the Marlborough area stretches from Ramsbury to Corsham and so includes much of his Chippenham constituency.  And, of course, the LibDems have been instrumental in changing the Bill.

One of the LibDems' main beefs about the NHS has been its lack of democratic accountability and they were successful in getting into the coalition agreement their policy of having elected members on PCTs.  That was in May 2010.  By July 2010, when Mr Lansley’s White paper came out, the abolition of the PCTs was set in stone and any shred of democratic legitimacy lost.

Duncan Hames believes that democratic accountability will now come via the new Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWB) which will be based with local authorities - in our case Wiltshire Council.  The boards’ role has been strengthened following the re-think on the Bill.

“The form of democratic accountability is through elected members on the HWBs. … They will oversee strategy, making critical decisions in setting out what we’re going to provide for the people of Wiltshire.” The elected members will be councillors and Mr Hames says that the greater role given to councils in the provision of health services “is long overdue.”

These boards will have the right to refer back any local commissioning plans that are not in line with the HWB strategy.  This has put another layer of oversight onto the CCGs.  Are doctors happy with this?  “Commissioning services within a budget is never easy, it’s a hefty challenge.  But since the pause, it’s a good thing that clinicians are right at the forefront and the groups are now more broadly based.”

After the ‘pause and re-think’ process, the government decided HWBs should have more members of the public on them.  But it seems that the boards’ only elected members will still be councillors.

Other members will be local authority officers, clinicians from the CCGs and patient representatives – the latter will be from the new Local HealthWatch organisations which are to be run and funded (with non-ring-fenced funding) by local councils.  It is not yet clear how these HWBs will access the sort of expertise and detailed knowledge of local health care needs currently available in the PCTs.

Duncan Hames was successful when the Bill was first considered in ensuring that the new commissioning groups – now run mainly by doctors – would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  Will the increasing number of private, commercial firms working for the NHS have the same sort of transparency – and transparency was one of the key elements promised in the White Paper?

It has been alleged by critics of Mr Lansley’s restructuring that commercial confidentiality and competition rules will override transparency.  Mr Hames told Marlborough News Online that as these private providers would be operating “with money coming from the NHS budget we can expect the NHS to demand high standards of transparency.”

Is Mr Hames optimistic that the promised savings on NHS bureaucracy will be achieved? “I am.  The NHS is not having its budget cut: whilst there is a tighter financial regime, there is scope in an organisation of that size to make further efficiency savings.  We are not allowing that to interfere with local democratic accountability.”

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