Nancy Astor

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I think that Nancy Astor is getting a bum rap in the television serial of that name which is currently running in the United States. Yes, she was arbitrary, and bossy. I know. In my student days in England I was standing on the railway platform at Crewe waiting for a change of trains. I was reading a copy of a magazine named La Vie Parisienne. It was considered risque at the time (1928), although long since supplanted by more questionable student entertainment.

A firm hand took the questionable reading matter from me, steered me to the newspaper kiosk, dropped the offending magazine in the waste bin, purchased a dull Tory political pamphlet, and gave it to me: ''There, your parents would not want you reading that trash, read this.''

Of course at the time I would not have referred to her even in my inner thoughts as Nancy Astor. My parents were on a first-name basis with her and her husband, Waldorf (2nd Viscount) Astor. But my parents always referred to them when speaking of them to others, including their children, as Lady Astor, or Lord Astor. I think it is not overstating the case to say that my parents genuinely loved them. The Astors were generous, considerate, and friendly.

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His style was softer than hers. The television series is correct in presenting him as being always gentle. She could be sharp, and prided herself on the quick verbal jab that could deflate pomposity or uncover hypocrisy. But she usually had either an ''uplifting purpose'' or justification.

Many years later I was invited to lunch at the house on Hill Street in London which she occupied after World War II. There were others invited that day. Just before lunch was announced, the butler came to her and whispered that she had two more guests than the number of lamb chops that had been prepared. Without hesitation or trace of embarrassment she turned to two lady friends and said, ''You two go away now.''

The friends went away, chatting cheerfully. They were accustomed to her brusqueness. I certainly felt no resentment over the sudden loss of my copy of La Vie Parisienne, although I was bored by the Tory pamphlet. I knew she was only doing her duty toward my parents, as she saw it, of steering me down the straight and narrow.

There was another episode in between. There had been an earthquake or some natural disaster somewhere in the world. (I do not remember when or where.) The Christian Science Church they attended (Ninth Church, London) held a special meeting to collect and send aid to the victims. Lady Astor was in charge. Present at that meeting was Philip Kerr (later Lord Lothian), who was also a member of that church.

Lady Astor made an excellent pitch for contributions to the relief fund, and also for needed clothing, but added, ''Mr. Philip Kerr need not contribute clothing.'' Mr. Kerr was famous for wearing ancient and sometimes shabby clothing. A knowing chuckle went through the room.

The television serial is incorrect, I think, in making it seem as though she dominated her husband and imposed her will on him. True, there was one sharp difference between them. He persuaded her to give up her seat in the House of Commons after World War II. She resented that. For a time he lived alone at the Cliveden estate while she lived at Hill Street in London or at a cottage on the south coast at Sandwich. Eventually she relented. They made their last trip to America together. I had it from my parents, whom the Astors visited, that the reunion was a happy one for all four.

She was certainly the more assertive of the two. He advanced ideas gently. She laid down the law. It was characteristic of the generation. My parents differed in the same way. My father always spoke gently. My mother, like Lady Astor, laid down the law, particularly in matters of religion. But the two husbands in their quieter ways set the main course.

I am confident from both first- and secondhand knowledge that Nancy Astor never imposed upon her husband any idea that he had not already accepted, probably ahead of her.

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