Derek Alan Trevithick Tangye (29 February 1912 – 26 October 1996) was a British author who lived in Cornwall for nearly fifty years. He wrote 19 books which became known as 'The Minack Chronicles', about his simple life on a clifftop daffodil farm called Dorminack, affectionately referred to as Minack, at St Buryan in the far west of Cornwall with his wife Jeannie. The couple had given up sophisticated metropolitan lives, he as a newspaper columnist (during the war years he had worked for MI5) and she as a hotel PR executive, to live in isolation in a simple cottage surrounded by their beloved animals, which featured in nearly all his works. His brother Nigel Tangye was also an author. They were grandsons of the engineer Richard Tangye. The first of The Minack Chronicles was 'A Gull on the Roof' published in 1961. Great Minack Stories (1990) is "An omnibus edition of Way to Minack, "A Cornish Summer and Cottage on a Cliff which gives an account of the author's time with MI5 and his family's subsequent relocation to a deserted cottage close to the cliffs of Mount's Bay in Cornwall".
Jean Everald Nicol (Jeannie) also wrote four books whilst at Minack: one was factual and the remaining three were fictional accounts but all based on her career in the Savoy Hotel in which she worked before marrying Derek. Jeannie met many famous actors and actresses, including Danny Kaye, James Mason, Charlie Chaplin and Gertrude Lawrence as well as politicians and eminent world leaders during her time at the Savoy group of hotels. Many of these remained friends with Derek and Jeannie when they moved to Cornwall for example the politician George Brown. Books (as Jean Nicol): Meet me at the Savoy, 1952; Hotel Regina, 1967; Home is the Hotel, 1976; Bertioni's Hotel, 1983. She also illustrated her husband's books with sketches and line drawings. Jeannie also painted in oils. Following Derek's death these have since been sold at auction and are now in private collections around the world.
Family life and old age
Tangye was not originally fond of cats and was introduced to Monty, a ginger tom kitten, when he was given to Jeannie at the Savoy. He told their housekeeper it should live in the kitchen, but Monty eventually ended up sleeping on their bed. Monty (named after General Montgomery) moved with Derek and Jeannie to Minack where he leapt across the small stream that crosses the path to the cottage. Derek dedicated one of his books (A Cat in the Window) to Monty. Later he wrote a book entitled Monty's Leap.
Jeannie, after whom one of his books was named, died in 1986 and Derek lived on in the cottage for another ten years, dying at the age of 84. He was in the process of writing Shadows just before his death. The thriller writer John le Carré, who lives a mile away along the cliffpath, gave the eulogy at his funeral.
Towards the end of their lives, the Tangyes bought the fields next to their cottage which are now preserved as a nature reserve "Minack Chronicles Nature Reserve".
Modest and hospitable
Tangye was reluctant to describe himself as a writer, but his simple literary style had tremendous appeal for a wide range of people who yearned to escape urban and suburban drudgery. His books described the couple's happy and largely carefree life nurturing and selling daffodils in a way that made strap-hanging commuters salivate. The donkeys and cats on their tiny farm all became "characters" in his books, and pilgrims arrived at their door from around the world, all eager to share – if only for a few hours – their rustic dream. Invariably, Derek and Jeannie would uncork a bottle of wine and entertain visitors in their small, glazed cottage porch, where he was happy to regale them with tales of life at Minack. Derek was always keen to receive visitors when there was some problem to be resolved and they had a particular skill that would prove useful in dealing with it.
Omnibus volumes and anthologies are not included
- 1941: Time Was Mine. London: Hutchinson
- 1942: Went the Day Well; edited by Derek Tangye with contributions from many writers. London: Harrap
- --do.--(Reissued in 1995 by Michael Joseph, with subtitle: "tributes to men and women who died for freedom when Britain stood alone in the first two years of the Second World War".)
- 1944: One King: a survey of the dominions and colonies of the British empire. London: Harrap
- 1961: A Gull on the Roof. London: Michael Joseph
- 1962: A Cat in the Window. London: Michael Joseph (American ed. has title: Monty: biography of a marmalade cat.)
- 1963: A Drake at the Door. London: Michael Joseph
- 1965: A Donkey in the Meadow. London: Michael Joseph
- 1966: Lama. London: Michael Joseph
- 1968: The Way to Minack. London: Michael Joseph ISBN 0-7221-8366-6
- 1970: A Cornish Summer London: Michael Joseph ISBN 0-7181-0041-7
- 1972: Cottage on a Cliff. London: Michael Joseph
- 1974: A Cat Affair London: Michael Joseph ISBN 0-7181-1287-3
- 1976: Sun on the Lintel. London: Michael Joseph
- 1978: The Winding Lane. London: Michael Joseph ISBN 0-7221-8392-5
- 1980: When the Winds Blow. London: Michael Joseph
- 1982: The Ambrose Rock. London: Michael Joseph
- 1984: A Quiet Year. London: Michael Joseph
- 1986: The Cherry Tree: the new Minack chronicle; an autobiography London: Michael Joseph
- 1988: Jeannie: a love story. London: Michael Joseph
- 1990: The Evening Gull. London: Michael Joseph
- 1993: Monty's Leap. London: Michael Joseph
- 1996: The Confusion Room. London: Michael Joseph
- http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-derek-tangye-1350963.html Independent obituary
- Trevelyan, Raleigh (6 November 1996). "Independent obituary". The Independent (London). Retrieved 23 March 2009.
- A profile of Derek Tangye appeared in the 1996 summer edition of Cornwall Arts by editor John Marquis, who interviewed him in March of that year, just a few months before his death.
- The Western Morning News published a report of Derek Tangye's funeral, with the eulogy given by his friend, neighbour and fellow writer, John le Carré.
- Web resources: The Friends of Minack Society http://friendsofminacksociety.net/
'The Minack Chronicles Revisited' by John Nash was written and published by kind permission of the Tangye estate and trustees on behalf of the Friends of Minack Society. Published in 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Derek's first book in the series 'A Gull on the Roof' this illustrated special edition hard back also includes a full edition of 'A Gull on the Roof' with Jeannie's illustrations. John Nash was the chairman of the society until his death in 2013 and this well-received book starts with the story of Derek and Jeannie before they came to live in Cornwall and concludes with the legacy they left behind including the Oliver Land reserve. Illustrated throughout and including interviews with people who knew them both and descriptions of the area this book is available through The Friends of Minack Society and book shops.