"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Alexander Chancellor, my dear Papa – cook, musician, Oldie editor

Features | By Freya Bearn

Freya in the Oldie office with Nicholas Garland’s portrait of Alexander Chancellor

Freya Bearn, 14, remembers her dear father, Alexander Chancellor (1940-2017), who would have turned 80 in January

My father, Alexander Chancellor, former editor of The Oldie, would have turned 80 this year.

His birthday used to be spent very quietly at Stoke Park, his home in Northamptonshire. Straight after school, my mother and I would drive to Stoke Park to be greeted by my father, standing over the stove, cooking lunch. I told him he ought to be a chef as he was such a brilliant cook. This ridiculous idea was more sensible than my other belief: he should be a gardener because of the broad beans he grew in a vegetable patch.

At Stoke Park there were also hens, which lived in a small enclosure with a rather beautiful old wooden door. I called it the Secret Garden (not that it was remotely secret – I told everyone about it although I was sure to do so in a hushed tone). I named one hen Sweetie because of her amicable nature. Her feathers were a lovely golden colour and she was my favourite.

One day, Papa and I found Sweetie lying on the ground, unable to move. We carried her inside and laid her in a box with some straw. We cared for her in this box for a couple of hours until she died. We carried her outside and buried her in the orchard. I covered the spot with a stone and planted a stick in the ground. As Papa and I walked back to the house hand in hand, we agreed to get another hen with the same golden feathers.

‘What should we call it?’ Papa asked.

‘How about Demerara? Sweetie’s feathers were the same colour as demerara sugar.’

‘That’s a bit long and complicated, don’t you think?’ he said. ‘Why don’t we just call it Sugar?’

What a splendid idea. Our plan was agreed. It was never fulfilled as Papa died in 2017 before we got the chance.

In the sitting room of Stoke Park, there was a piano, on which Papa would play the music of his childhood. Annie Get Your Gun, Oklahoma! and the songs of the Second World War – We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover – became the music of my childhood, too. It was my job to turn the pages. Papa was always very musical and considered becoming a concert pianist. As a child, he also played the violin. When he was seven, his mother asked him to play for their guests. He declared, ‘I am too old to be an infant prodigy!’

Papa was a very pretty child. At the end of the war, he and his siblings liked to ask American soldiers for chewing gum. When it came to deciding which one of them would approach the soldiers, Papa said, ‘I should ask, for I have the longest eyelashes.’ The soldiers never turned him down.

When I was little, Papa would come into my bedroom in the evenings to wish me goodnight. He would read me a story and sing me a song his mother had sung to him:

‘Goodnight, goodnight.

Papa will sing a song to Freya.

Goodnight, goodnight.

Freya will go to sleep.’

Freya Bearn, aged 14

This story was from April 2020 issue. Subscribe Now