|Born||Sally Myfanwy Amis
17 January 1954
24 The Grove, Uplands, Swansea, Wales, UK
|Died||8 November 2000
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London, England, UK
|Religion||Roman Catholic (adult conversion)|
|Spouse(s)||Nigel Service (m. 1976–19??; divorced)|
|Children||Catherine Housego (born 24 December 1978); adopted|
|Parents||Sir Kingsley Amis and Hilary (née Bardwell); present Lady Kilmarnock|
|Relatives||Philip and Martin Amis (brothers)
Jaime Boyd (half-brother)
Sally Myfanwy Amis (17 January 1954 – 8 November 2000) was the youngest child of the writer Sir Kingsley Amis, and his wife, Hilary Ann "Hilly" Bardwell, subsequently Lady Kilmarnock. She lived for the most part out of the public eye, except for occasional interviews, but came to wider public attention posthumously in 2010, when her brother, Martin Amis, based a character in his latest novel, The Pregnant Widow, on her life. The novel is about feminism and the sexual revolution of the 1960s—the metaphor of the pregnant widow comes from the Russian writer Alexander Herzen, who used it for that point in a revolution when the old order has died, but the new one is not yet born, leading to what he called a long night of chaos and desolation.
Martin Amis has described Sally as one of the revolution's most spectacular victims. Plagued by alcoholism, depression, and promiscuity, and with a daughter born out of a brief encounter and given up for adoption at three months, she suffered a stroke at the age of 40, and died six years later of an unspecified infection—having "used herself up", as Martin Amis puts it. Her mother argues that Sally was a victim of herself, not of the times, while British journalist Julia Molony blames a dysfunctional family life, with Kingsley as an elusive father figure able to relate to women only through sex.
Amis had talked to his sister about writing her story. "I once rescued her from some terrible situation and paid up what was necessary to release her from it, and took her home and patched her up. And she looked at me and I know she wanted to thank me, and she was wondering how to do that. Normally she thanked people by having sex with them. But she just said: 'Write about me, Martin. You can say anything you like. I won't mind.'"
Sally Myfanwy Amis was born at 24 The Grove, Uplands, Swansea, Wales, the third child and only daughter of writer Sir Kingsley Amis (1922–1995) and his wife, Hilary Ann "Hilly" Bardwell. Sally's maternal grandmother had left her some money, and she bought the Uplands home. Her father lectured in English at Swansea University (from 1949 to 1961), and was writing his first novel, Lucky Jim. One student said Kingsley's arrival in Swansea was "as if a brilliantly-hued tropical bird had come winging into our still blitz-battered town", although the reality was that Kingsley and Hilary were so poor that she had to take a job as a waitress and take scraps home pretending they were for the dog. Kingsley's inability to be faithful to his wife was such that Hilary started drinking herself and engaging in extramarital relations. "I asked Kingsley to stop ... then I learned to live with it and then I did what women finally do, that is to start looking around themselves to boost their self-esteem", she once said.
Around 1953 Hilary became pregnant with Sally. She was not sure if Kingsley was the biological father, but he accepted Sally as his own. Sally was never made aware of this so far as her mother knew, although Hilary overheard her son Philip say, as a family friend was leaving the house — the man she suspected might be the father — "What's Sal's Dad doing here?"
Lucky Jim was published just days after Sally's birth, bringing Kingsley overnight success. Philip Larkin wrote a poem for her, "Born Yesterday", which was completed on 20 January 1954, and published in The Spectator, in which he wished her:
When she was two years old, Sally fell head first from a table in the garden onto a stone floor, fracturing her skull; there were fears for her life for the first day and night, but she recovered. Not long afterwards, in March 1957, her paternal grandmother, Rosa Amis, died suddenly after having a stroke in her home in Shrublands Avenue, Berkhamsted. Sally, aged three, was being looked after by Rosa at the time, and was left alone in the house with the body for 10 or 11 hours, until Rosa's husband arrived home from work. He reportedly found Sally oddly dressed and wearing her grandmother's make-up.
Martin Amis has written about the unusual upbringing he and his siblings had, how they were "participants in what seemed then like an ongoing adult party." Every Christmas from the age of five, the boys were allowed to smoke one cigarette each, and at nine were given a whole packet; when they were 14 or 15, Kingsley took them out and bought them a gross (144) of condoms. A petite and pretty girl according to her mother, Sally moved school several times as her father moved to Princeton University in the U.S. for a year in 1958, where he taught creative writing, then back to Cambridge, England, where he became a fellow and Director of Studies in English at Peterhouse in 1961. He resigned from Cambridge in 1963, declaring that he wanted to move to Majorca, although he never did.
In August that year, when Sally was nine, Kingsley left the family to live with Elizabeth Jane Howard, a novelist, whom he married in 1965. Hilary took her three children to live in Spain in a house with no heating, and no access to a car. The children spoke no Spanish. She said they were miserable and rarely heard from their father. She took them back to London, but became depressed herself, and the children were reportedly left to look after themselves, with Philip and Martin reportedly bunking off school and taking drugs.
In June 1964, Hilary was found drunk and drugged after taking an overdose. The boys eventually moved in with Kingsley, while Sally stayed with her mother, although Sally also lived for a time at Lemmons, the enormous house that Sir Kingsley and his second wife had purchased on Hadley Common, just north of London. In 1972, Hilary had a son, James, by Alastair Boyd, 7th Baron Kilmarnock. She moved to Spain with Boyd and their son; the couple married in 1977.
Amis has said Sally never grew up, but became fixed at a mental age of 12 or 13. Her mother said she was good at English, enjoyed singing and swimming, and had a talent for mimicry, which made her consider drama school. She tried to run away from home several times, and was sent to boarding school, but left at 16 and embarked on a series of casual jobs and inappropriate relationships, becoming "pathologically promiscuous", according to Amis. He told Mark Lawson:
She threw herself into whatever was in the air, promiscuity and new freedoms, but without realizing that none of it was in her interests. It did take women some years to realize that behaving like a boy—which was the only model available to them, in the equalitarian phase of the revolution, where the orthodoxy was that men and women were interchangeable—it took women quite a while to realize that, actually, they were going against their natures. And my sister, inasmuch as she had a fully formed character and personality, was just harming herself.
Amis said his sister sought protection from men, "but it went the other way, she was often beaten up, abused, and she simply used herself up." She lived in the United States for a time—going to rock concerts with the Hell's Angels, using drugs, acting wild. Amis said his sister was unrecognizable when she returned to England, a child adrift in an adult world. "The life she led was awful ... [U]ncertain from moment to moment. She didn't really like sex, so would get drunk, got drunk all the time, and got beaten up ... It was a miracle she made it to 46", he added. Hilary came to dread her daughter's phone calls. "I was always waiting for the next awful crash, when she would lie and get into trouble and do stupid things, picking people up from pubs. How she didn't get murdered, I don't know."
British journalist Julia Molony took issue with Martin Amis's attribution of his sister's problems to the sexual revolution, blaming instead a dysfunctional early family life. She writes that Kingsley was the classic, elusive father figure, able to relate to women only through sex. Kingsley told Philip Larkin that the "only reason I like girls is I want to f*** them", although he added that it was a result of his "neurotic upbringing" and that he was trying to get over it.
Three years after leaving school, in 1974, Sally took a job in a wine bar in Edgware Road, London, managed by Nigel Service and his brother, sons of a Naval commander. Service said she was extroverted and funny, putting on voices to mimic people, and that the customers adored her. He fell in love with her and she responded; 19 years her senior, he made her feel safe.  They were married at Hampstead Register Office in 1976, with her father and brothers in attendance. Nigel rented a flat for the couple in Hampstead, but her alcoholism grew worse. He said the way it took hold of her was terrible to watch. According to her mother, Sally could drink a bottle of vodka in a morning, and, if short of money, would drink Special Brew, an extra-strong beer often associated with vagrants.
Sally split from her husband after six months of wedlock and moved into a church hostel, descending into ever heavier bouts of drinking. She met another alcoholic there, an Irishman, purportedly named Martin O'Vessay, and became pregnant with a daughter. "I didn't want to be pregnant", Sally said of her encounter with O'Vessay, "but sometimes you feel lonely and you want a cuddle and want to feel warm. But he left me the day after."
Kingsley was present for the birth on Christmas Eve 1978, after an 18-hour labour. Sally said he was drunk, and that he insulted the Indian doctor who was preparing her for a Caesarean section, saying he objected to an Indian performing surgery on his daughter. The doctor ignored him. "Once Dad saw the baby, it was 'How sweet! Bye'", said Sally. "But he had stayed 24 hours. Not many dads would do that for you." Sally called the baby Heidi, but, unable to cope, placed her in foster care after three months. "I just couldn't cope without someone behind me ... You seem to lose your marbles", she added.
Heidi was adopted in the summer of 1979 by David Housego, an architect, and his wife, Helen, a teacher, who named her Catherine. They had been trying for a baby for years—one year after adopting Catherine, Helen found she was pregnant with another daughter, Louise. The Housegos told Catherine on Christmas Eve 1996, her 18th birthday, the name of her biological mother. Sally had not added herself to the Adoption Contact Register, so Catherine was unable to reach her easily but believed she had plenty of time to find her.
Ill health and her father's death
Sally converted to Roman Catholicism at one point, but the drinking continued—her mother says that when Sally went to Westminster Cathedral to be received into that Church, she was carrying a can of Special Brew in her handbag. She had a stroke at the age of 40 in 1994, which left her with a limp, and from that time until her death she lived on a weekly disability benefit of ₤73 (then around $116) in a tiny, spotless council flat in Kentish Town, London. Amis writes that the flat was so small, he was able to hang up after one ring when he called her, because it wasn't possible for the phone to be out of arm's reach.
Sally was reportedly devastated by her father's death in 1995. He too had descended into alcoholism after the break-up of his second marriage, who left him in 1980. He ended his days living with his first wife and her new husband, Alastair Boyd, 7th Baron Kilmarnock, who moved into his home as paid housekeepers, a bizarre arrangement, ideated by Philip and Martin. Kingsley needed the help and the Kilmarnocks needed the money. Sally started looking after him as well, doing his shopping and becoming his slave,[clarification needed] according to her mother. He was taken to hospital with a suspected stroke in August 1995, and again in October after he fell and crushed some vertebrae, ending up at St Pancras Hospital. Sally spent hours by his bedside. She had been sitting with him for ten hours when he died on 22 October, while Philip and Martin smoked outside, after which Martin writes she stood, "electrified, as if italicized—as if so many urgent tasks awaited her that she couldn't for the life of her think where to begin. Kingsley worried that she would lose her "raison d'etre" after his death. She fell into a long depression, erecting a shrine of memorabilia to him in her flat, including signed copies of his books and photographs, with his ashes on an urn on the mantelpiece.
Her own death
Sally became seriously ill herself five years later, in November 2000, struck by an unspecified infection, and was taken to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. She was already unconscious in the intensive care unit when Martin arrived, and died four days later. Her mother said her liver and kidneys had failed, and that her death was a relief in a way.  Martin wrote in Koba the Dread:
I was apprised of this death, not by any change in my sister's demeanor, but by the twining coils of the monitor screen. She, or the respirator she was attached to, continued to breathe, to pant ardently: a corpse with a heaving chest. Then they disconnected her, and she could be approached and kissed without horror. And I asked her a question I had asked many times before, but would now have no cause to ask again: "Oh, Sally, what have you done?" Many times, as a child, I silently promised to protect her. And I didn't do that, did I? No one could have protected her, perhaps. But those promises, never uttered, are still inside me and are still a part of me.
He wrote to the editor of The Scotsman to correct an earlier story that implied she had been penniless and alone when she died; she had, in fact, left a considerable legacy, and had remained in touch with the family. A memorial service for Sally was held at St Dominic's Priory Church, Kentish Town, at which Amis recited the poem Larkin had written for her. Amis said he had a breakdown after her death, though it took him a while to see it for what it was. "It was the pity of it", he said. "A certain amount of guilt, certainly. I didn't do as much for her as my brother did, and nothing like as much for her as my mother did. And nothing like as much as Kingsley did. He was always off to admissions wards and sometimes I'd go with him. But I couldn't bear it."
When Sally's daughter, Catherine Housego, by then a 22-year-old nursery school teacher, heard that Sally had died, she attended the funeral without making herself known to anyone. She wrote a letter to "The Amis Family" through the funeral director, and was later introduced to them all. Amis has described her as perfect, the "same weight of presence" as Sally, "a certain smile, a certain glance." She is also one of the last 30 or 40 people in the English-speaking world who doesn't say "between you and I"—proof, he writes, of both her nature and nurture.
Appearances in Martin Amis's writing
Amis dedicated Time's Arrow (1991) to Sally, and has written about her in three of his books: Experience (2000), Koba the Dread (2003), both non-fiction, and in The Pregnant Widow (2010), a novel.
James Diedrick writes that, a year before the publication of Koba—an examination of Joseph Stalin's legacy—Amis had suggested the book would be about Sally, the story of 20 million tragedies through the portrait of one. In the end, only a few paragraphs are about her, but Paul Berman suggests that Koba is, indeed, about the deaths of Sally and Kingsley—that Amis deals with his grief elliptically by studying Stalin instead of his own loss.
In The Pregnant Widow, Sally appears as the promiscuous and damaged Violet, the younger sister of the novel's protagonist, Keith Nearing, always drinking, always in hopeless relationships. Discussing the novel, Mark Lawson asked Amis during a BBC Radio 4 interview about the moral issues of writing about family. Amis replied that there is a process in writing fiction where you have to earn certain things:
Often when I read, I think 'that isn't earned' ... things are discussed and described without enough propriety, and I know what that is, and it's suffering. It's sitting in your room feeling very miserable, remembering and re-experiencing these painful things, and doing enough suffering—although it's not a question of will, it's just a question of receiving this deep unease—until you've earned the book.
As Keith walks through Mayfair ... he finds himself looking forward to seeing his younger sister. More in his heart than in his person, he has been keeping his regulated, geometrical distance, unlike his brother, who actually had Violet come and live with him in his two-room flat in Paddington for three terrible months in 1974.
"Every morning—the crowbar," said Nicholas. In other words, the first thing you did each day was lever her out from under the burglar/builder/beggar/bouncer (or—last resort—the cabbie) she’d brought home with her the night before. ...
"Hi Key," she says and slides from her stool. ...
Like a globule of yolk and albumen freed from its shell, Violet drops all at once, and lies there, forming a circular pool—the egg white now flat in the pan, with her yellow head in the middle of it. Five minutes later he has at last installed her in a leather armchair, and she is saying, "Home. Home."Keith goes and calls Nicholas, who gives him three different and widely separated addresses. As he is paying the bill ("Can this be right?"), he sees that the leather armchair is empty. The barman points. Keith swings the glass door open, and Violet is under his feet on her hands and knees, head tucked down, being copiously and noisily sick.
- Experience, p. 101 for her middle name; p. 148 for her date of birth.
- Herzen 1956; Bilmes 2010
- Flood 2009.
- Adams 2009
- Levy 2009; Molony 2006
- Tonkin 2010
::Also: "You know you can write about me, and you know you can tell the truth, and you can say everything, and I won't mind."
- See (Lawson 2010, radio interview, at 14:57)
- Zachary 2006 (b), p. 238; The Washington Post, 23 October 1995.
- Sands 2006; Profile of Kingsley Amis at dailymail.co.uk
- Levy 2009; William E. Laskowski[who?]writes in Kingsley Amis, 1998, p. xiv, that Sally was born on 17 January 1954, and Lucky Jim was published eight days later.
- For publication in The Spectator, Jackaman 1995, p. 95; the poem was written between 17 and 20 January 1954—see Larkin archive, University of Hull; accessed 3 February 2010.
- Experience, pp. 51-52; Leader 2006, p. 381; Powell 2008, p. 107.
- Keulks 2003, p. 284.
- McGrath 2007, pp. 3, 7.
- Amis 1992; Bradford and Owen 2001, Chapter 10.
- Levy 2009
- McGrath 2007 New York Times coverage of the Amis household, 22 April 2007
- Sands 2006; Leader 2006(c), begins 0:17 minutes; that Sally lived at Lemmons is at 0:18:53. The poet, Cecil Day-Lewis, went there to die in 1972 and wrote a poem about the house, At Lemmons. 
- Hilary Ann Bardwell, Lady Kilmarnock profile at thepeerage.com; accessed 8 February 2010.
- Long 2010; Lawson 2010
- Long 2010; Martin 2000; Levy 2009
- Lawson 2010
- Long 2010
- Sands 2006
- Molony 2006; Leader 2006. The full quote is, "'The only reason I like girls is I want to f*** them, which is adolescent, cheap, irresponsible, not worth doing, a waste of time, not much fun anyway really, a needless distraction from my real vocation, contemptible, something I shouldn't be at my age and as a married man, liable to make me a laughing-stock, narrowing, impracticable, destructive of real sexual pleasure in the end, something originating in my upbringing, neurotic. All I have to do now is stop wanting to f*** girls and I shall have the thing licked."
- Martin 2000
- Levy 2009 calls him Nigel Service; Brown 2001(a) and The Times, 9 November 2000, gave his name as Nigel Slater; however, there is a record in the Births, Marriages, and Deaths Registry of England and Wales of a Mr Nigel M.D. Service, who married Sally Myfanwy Amis in Middlesex.[when?]
- Molony 2009
- Joseph 2002
- Brown 2001(a); Martin 2000
- Experience, p. 351.
- Sands 2006; Martin 2000
- The Washington Post, 23 October 1995.
- Experience, pp. 339, 351, 354.
- Brown 2001(a). Amis wrote in a letter to the editor of The Scotsman: "I have only just seen your Sunday Encounter piece of 28 October 2001. Your correspondent, Allan Brown, has looked into the clippings file and has reproduced some ungenerous inaccuracies about my sister. My sister's baby daughter was not the result of 'a one-night stand'; in fact, she cohabited for some time with the father. More generally, the impression is given that my sister lived in penury and neglect. Not so. She was in full contact with every member of her family, and her will disposed of a considerable legacy" (Amis 2002).
- Diedrick 2004, pp. 194–195; Brown 2001(b)
- Koba, p. 268.
- Tonkin 2010
- Koba, pp. 275–276.
- Diedrick 2004, p. 194; Berman 2002
- Moss 2010
- Lawson 2010, radio interview, from 15:14 minutes.
- Amis 2010
- Adams, Stephen. Martin Amis: the sexual revolution killed my sister Sally, The Daily Telegraph, 21 November 2009.
- Amis, Kingsley. Memoirs. Penguin, 1992.
- Amis, Martin. "Letters to the editor," The Scotsman, on or around 7 February 2002
- Amis, Martin. Experience. Vintage 2001; first published 2000.
- Amis, Martin. Koba the Dread. Vintage, 2003.
- Amis, Martin. The Pregnant Widow. Jonathan Cape, 2010.
- Barratt, Nick. Family detective, The Daily Telegraph, 9 June 2007.
- Berman, Paul. "'Koba the Dread': A Million Deaths Is Not Just a Statistic", The New York Times, 28 July 2002.
- Bilmes, Alex. Martin Amis: 'Women have got too much power for their own good', The Daily Telegraph, 2 February 2010.
- Bradford, Richard and Owen, Peter. Lucky Him: The Life of Kingsley Amis, 2001, chapter 10.
- Brown, Allan (a). Laughter and lost daughters, Scotland on Sunday, 28 October 2001.
- Brown, Allan (b). Amis breaks silence over sister's death, Scotland on Sunday, 28 October 2001.
- Diedrick, James. Understanding Martin Amis. University of South Carolina Press, 2004.
- Flood, Alison. "Martin Amis says new novel will get him 'in trouble with the feminists'", The Guardian, 20 November 2009.
- Herzen, Alexander. From the other shore: and The Russian people and socialism, an open letter to Jules Michelet. G. Braziller, 1956.
- Jackaman, Rob. A study of cultural centres and margins in British poetry since 1950: poets and publishers. Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.
- Joseph, Claudia. Kingsley Amis's secret grandchild, Mail on Sunday, 10 November 2002.
- Keulks, Gavin. Father and son: Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, and the British novel since 1950. University of Wisconsin Press, 2003, p. 284.
- Larkin, Philip. Born Yesterday, martinamisweb.com, accessed 2 February 2010.
- Lawson, Mark. Interview with Martin Amis, Front Row, BBC Radio 4, 2 February 2010.
- Laskowski, William E. Kingsley Amis. Twayne Publishers, 1998.
- Leader, Zachary (a). Kingsley Amis: The young devil, The Daily Mail, 6 November 2006.
- Leader, Zachary (b). The life of Kingsley Amis. Jonathan Cape, 2006.
- Leader, Zachary (c). Book reading with Zachary Leader (video), London Review of Books, 28 November 2006; accessed 5 February 2010.
- Levy, Geoffrey. Was Martin Amis's sister killed by the Sixties sexual revolution - or her drunken father's neglect?, The Daily Mail, 27 November 2009.
- Long, Camilla. Martin Amis and the sex war, The Times, 24 January 2010.
- Martin, Gill. I drank like Dad and had a lost child like Martin ..., The Daily Maily, 14 May 2000.
- McGrath, Charles. The Amis Inheritance, The New York Times, 22 April 2007.
- Molony, Julia. Amis takes aim at the wrong target, The Independent on Sunday, 6 December 2009.
- Moss, Stephen. "Martin Amis: 'I don't want to tread carefully'", The Guardian, 1 February 2010.
- Powell, Neil. Amis & Son: Two Literary Generations. Macmillan, 2008.
- Sands, Sarah. "My life with the unfaithful old devil Kingsley Amis", The Daily Mail, 6 October 2006.
- Stout, Mira. "Martin Amis: Down London's mean streets", The New York Times, 4 February 1990.
- Tonkin, Boyd. Martin Amis: Talking about a revolution, The Independent, 5 February 2010.