|Born||Penelope Ruth Fletcher
19 September 1918
Flintshire, Wales, U.K.
|Died||19 October 1999
Kensington, England, U.K.
Penelope Ruth Mortimer (née Fletcher, 19 September 1918 – 19 October 1999) was a British journalist, biographer, and novelist.
Her marriage to John Mortimer was difficult. They both had frequent extramarital affairs. Penelope had six children by four different men. They divorced in 1971. She wrote a semi-autobiographic novel in 1962 titled The Pumpkin Eater which was turned into a 1964 film. Anne Bancroft was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as 'Jo Armitage', a character based on herself.
She was born in Rhyl, Flintshire, Wales, the younger child of an Anglican clergyman, who had lost his faith and used the parish magazine to celebrate the Soviet persecution of the Russian church. He also sexually abused her. Her father frequently changed his parish, so she attended numerous schools. She left University College, London, after only one year.
Life and career
She married Charles Dimont, a journalist, in 1937; and they had two daughters, including the actress Caroline Mortimer. She had two daughters through extra-marital relationships with Kenneth Harrison and Randall Swingler.
She had one novel, Johanna, published under her name, Penelope Dimont; then, as Penelope Mortimer she wrote A Villa in Summer (1954; Michael Joseph). It received critical acclaim. More novels followed (see below), including Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958; republished in 2008 by Persephone Books).
She was also a freelance journalist, whose work appeared regularly in The New Yorker. As an agony aunt for the Daily Mail, she wrote under the nom de plume Ann Temple. In the late 1960s, she replaced Penelope Gilliatt as film critic for The Observer.
Mortimer continued in journalism, mainly for The Sunday Times, and also wrote screenplays. Her biography of the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was commissioned by Macmillan; but, when completed, it was rejected, so Viking published it in 1986. Her former agent Giles Gordon, in his obituary of her in The Guardian, called it "the most astute biography of a royal since Lytton Strachey was at work. Penelope had approached her subject as somebody in the public eye, whose career might as well be recorded as if she were a normal human being."
She wrote two volumes of autobiography, About Time: An Aspect of Autobiography, covering her life until 1939, appeared in 1979 and won the Whitbread Prize, and About Time Too: 1940–78 in 1993. A third volume, Closing Time, is unpublished.
- Johanna (1947) (as Penelope Dimont)
- A Villa in Summer (1954)
- The Bright Prison (1956)
- Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1958)
- The Pumpkin Eater (1962)
- My Friend Says It's Bulletproof (1968)
- The Home (1971)
- Long Distance (1974)
- The Handyman (1983)
Short story collections
- Saturday Lunch with the Brownings (1977)
- Humphrey's Mother
- About Time: An Aspect of Autobiography (1979)
- About Time Too: 1940–78 (1993)
- Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1986), revised edition published in 1995, subtitled An Alternative Portrait Of Her Life And Times
- With Love and Lizards (co-authored with John Mortimer, 1957)
- New York Times obituary, 23 October 1999