Anne Springman laughs heartily as she fondly recalls a career that has provided her with a kaleidoscope of colourful experiences. There has clearly been very little not to enjoy as she undertook a variety of secretarial and personal assistant duties to a number of famous names, before finally returning to the tranquillity of the Island to manage her estate that includes the picturesque Shanklin Chine and the popular Fisherman’s Cottage pub on the beach below.
She was the Island’s High Sheriff for a 12-month period in 2002 and 2003, the Queen’s Jubilee year, and as you engage in conversation with her you soon appreciate that two words – ‘lucky’ and ‘fun’ – are a key part of her vocabulary. Time and again as she recalled with such detail some events that happened more than 60 years ago, ‘lucky’ and ‘fun’ crept effortlessly into the conversation. Of course she has also experienced difficult and traumatic times, but they are far outweighed by the excitement she has enjoyed.
Born Anne Macpherson at the Manor House, Shanklin, Anne was one of three daughters of parents Cameron Macpherson and his Swedish wife Elsa. Her mother came to the Island initially to improve her skills in the English language, and the couple met at a tennis party at Westhill Manor.
“My great grandfather John Cameron Macpherson of Cluny married Mary Popham, sister of Francis White Popham. They had no children so the Shanklin estate came via the Pophams, and my grandfather and father both had a life interest.
“My grandfather died very young, so my father had a guardian, and was a bit of a tearaway. He was once caught by the police driving his Bentley through Shanklin rather too fast and was disqualified for three months. So my mother and father had to have rather a long honeymoon abroad, and I think that is where I started,” she laughed.
At the age of two, Anne moved with her family to Warwickshire, primarily because her father was a keen huntsman, and the Warwickshire Hunt had a reputation for being among the best in the country. “Doesn’t that sound ghastly in this day and age, but that was the reason,” said Anne. “My parents sold the house here, but kept the land, and off we went.
“In a way my father always regretted he never had a proper job, but in those days there was no real need. He had an extremely good brain, was a wonderful gardener, famous for his roses.”
Anne grew up with her two sisters Janetta and Rosemary in Warwickshire cycling to and from a very small school in a nearby village, where she was educated by just two teachers, which she remembers were nicknamed Beetroot and Turnip – ‘what fun’!
“I was eight when the Second World War started, and one of my memories was the bombing of Coventry, which was quite close. Janetta was just six weeks old, and we had no air raid shelter as the German planes went overhead all night long,” she said. “Then they used to drop any bombs they hadn’t used, and I remember hearing them fall, and was terrified.”
As a war evacuee, Anne later attended school in Newbury, and was keen on playing lacrosse. She was in the first team at the age of 12, and despite having some teeth knocked out in one match, she prides herself on playing the sport on the famous rugby ground at Twickenham.
Following the war, and return to Queensgate school, Anne then left at 16 and went to Sweden for six months to stay with an uncle and aunt. She recalls their house had hot water three days a fortnight! “My uncle was very pompous, and I was quite lonely, but I had a boyfriend who took me to the opera on a Monday, where his parents had a box. While I was there, I learnt dressmaking, Swedish and continued my piano studies.
“Mummy thought I would return as this sophisticated, well educated daughter, but instead I came back with fat cheeks, an orchid in my buttonhole and smoking – mummy was not pleased. So funny!”
On her return from Sweden, Anne went to secretarial college in London, and always made it her aim to work in the Foreign Office. Despite impeccable references she was turned down – but never in writing – and maintains it was because she had a Swedish mother. So she went into the Stock Exchange instead as a secretary, initially earning £5 a week, but spending six and a half happy years there, taking driving lessons and passing the test.
From the Stock Exchange Anne headed for Fleet Street in 1956, spending six years as the editorial manager’s secretary of the Mirror Group Newspapers, embracing all four publications of the time. She laughed: “I was very well protected in there. They used to remove articles they didn’t think I should read, because I suppose in those days we were all very innocent.
“There was one terrible murder, and the murderer actually came into the office to meet the crime correspondent. He was taken to the editorial floor by a girl about the same age as one he had just murdered. After that security was tightened up.
“It was so interesting but my father hated me working at the Mirror. I made a lot of friends, and remember when we moved offices to Holborn Circus, we worked non-stop for 36 hours, moving 165 filing cabinets. We worked hard, but it really was fun.”
During her time at the Mirror, Anne also worked in the legal department and was involved in helping to publish several major stories that are still talked about to this day. She spent 10 hours typing the statement for columnist Cassandra – Bill Connor – when he was sued for implying that renowned pianist Liberace was homosexual. As reward for typing the statement Anne was allowed to attend the court hearing.
She was also in the newspaper offices at the time of the sex scandal involving MP John Profumo with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies. She said: “I went out to lunch with the deputy editor of the Sunday Pictorial and asked him ‘is it really true about Jack Profumo, because he is a great friend of mummy and daddy’. He replied ‘I’m frightfully sorry, but it is true’.
“Jack Profumo was the MP for Warwickshire where we lived, and he was a very kind person. When King George VI died I rang up and said ‘Mr Profumo do you think my cousin and I could come and see the King lying in state’? He said yes, and we met him so he could take us in. Imagine that happening these days; it really was a different world.”
Anne was very much part of the London scene and lucky to see such stars of the day as Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward, dancing to ‘Hutch’ and watching a Goon Show before it was broadcast on radio.
In all she spent 13 years in her two jobs at the Stock Exchange and Mirror Newspapers. Her next employment was secretary with Rhodesia Public Relations at the time of the country’s independence, and was once confronted by Rhodesia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister while working in her office.
She later worked for a Russian Prince as a PR for six months, and was then employed by former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, using her shorthand and typing skills to help write his memoirs, completing three-and-a-half books in four-and-a-half years. Anne said: “I was so lucky. I never knew my grandparents, and he was really like the grandfather I never had. It was marvellous; hard work but like being part of his family – a wonderful period of my life, and I met a lot of interesting people.”
They included Jacqueline and Bobby Kennedy, the widow and brother of murdered US President John Kennedy. “I named it Kennedy Day, because it was not long after the President had been assassinated. Jackie and Bobby arrived, escorted by seven Secret Service cars, for lunch at Mr Macmillan’s house.
“It was pouring with rain, the lobsters were late and in the middle of it all Chief Supt Bignell turned up from East Grinstead Police Station and said ‘Mrs Bignell and I thought we would come and give you a hand!’ The Americans had seven black limos, with Ambassadors and the lot, and the only British security comprised Chief Supt. and Mrs. Bignell.”
Anne also worked for Lord Cobham, whose many responsibilities included former governor of New Zealand and President of the MCC. He had been captain of Worcestershire Cricket Club, so Anne’s work often included arranging cricket matches at Worcester, while she lived nearby in a flat at the top of the imposing Hagley Hall, not far from her original base in the Midlands.
She fondly recalls how the likes of Mr. Macmillan and Lord Cobham were not just employers, but tutors in her education of life. “I think Mr Macmillan was one of the funniest and wittiest men I have ever met. I was taking shorthand notes, but sometimes I was laughing so much I couldn’t write it down. I think in a secretarial career the higher up you went the easier the people were to work for, so I had a lovely time.”
After what she describes as ‘a disastrous nine months’ working for Winston Churchill Junior, Anne lived in Sussex, and had several more appointments including working for Clifford Dann, who became president of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and taught her a lot about planning applications and running estates- which was to prove invaluable on her permanent return to the Island in 1979.
Anne’s father died in 1966 when she found the estate she had inherited, asset rich but income poor. Shanklin Chine had become little more than an overgrown shortcut from Shanklin Old Village to the beach. It was not until 1979 that she took over the running and restoration of the Chine.
“It was like Sleeping Beauty which had been there hidden from the First world War until I took it over. I only uncovered what was already there. Mr Hayles and I ran it between us with his wife helping during the winter, and of course the local branch of Age Concern in the pay boxes! In 1981 we formed the Friends of the Old Village Association. I was secretary because I was the only one who could type.”
Much of the past enhances the future and she admits she is very proud of what has been achieved in the Chine’s restoration. Anne then bought the lease of the Fisherman’s Cottage in 1984, converting it from a club into a pub, and subsequently employing a number of different managers, and bringing stability to one of the most idyllic hostelries on the Island.
Although there is little left of the estate, this quick-witted, sprightly lady still owns several freehold properties, together with farmland and woodland in Shanklin. She now lives in Bembridge with Michael, her husband since 1988, and a friend since her teenage years.
“I never wanted to get married young, because I didn’t want to stand there cooking. I suppose I was a career lady and I had a remarkable secretarial career. I have been very lucky, and it has all been so much fun. Of course I have had my ups and downs and if I have just one regret it is maybe that I never did get to work in the Foreign Office,” she concluded.