Penelope Mortimer

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Penelope Mortimer
Penelope mortimer.jpg
Born Penelope Ruth Fletcher
(1918-09-19)19 September 1918
Flintshire, Wales, U.K.
Died 19 October 1999(1999-10-19) (aged 81)
Kensington, England, U.K.
Occupation journalist
Spouse(s) Charles Dinmont
John Mortimer

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.

Early life[edit]

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.[1] He also sexually abused her.[1] Her father frequently changed his parish, so she attended numerous schools. She left University College, London,[2] after only one year.[1]

Life and career[edit]

She married Charles Dimont, a journalist, in 1937;[1] and they had two daughters,[1] including the actress Caroline Mortimer. She had two daughters through extra-marital relationships with Kenneth Harrison and Randall Swingler.

She met barrister and writer John Mortimer while pregnant with the last child and married him in 1949. Together they had a daughter and a son.

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."[2]

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.[2]

She died from cancer, aged 81, in Kensington,[3] London, England.



  • 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[edit]

  • 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

Travel writing[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Peter Guttridge, Anna Pavord "Obituary: Penelope Mortimer", The Independent, 23 October 1999, as reproduced on the Find Articles website
  2. ^ a b c Giles Gordon "Obituary:Penelope Mortimer", The Guardian, 22 October 1999. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.
  3. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006

External links[edit]