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turned into a hugely successful Keith Waterhouse play called Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which cemented his celebrity.
Anecdotes included throwing up on the Queen Mother’s shoes at Ascot, pouring tea over Raquel Welch’s sandwiches during an interview as he was distracted by her thighs, telling Ronnie Kray he was a f***ing bore as he did not realise who he was, being terrified on a blind date with Lauren Bacall and carousing with everyone from Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon to John Hurt and Tom Baker.
It was in 1966 that Bernard, then 34 and already twice divorced, decided to up sticks from his natural habitat in Soho and make a fresh start in Suffolk with the woman who was to become his third wife, 23-year- old costume designer Jill Stanley. “I’d always fancied the idea of living in the country,” Bernard told his biographer Graham Lord. “I had this silly notion that geographical changes will make life better and of course they don’t because wherever you go, the first person you meet when you get there is yourself.”
The couple were on a ‘dirty weekend’ in the county when
they happened upon their rural
idyll, a thatched cottage at 84
The Street. It was practically a
cliche, with honeysuckle around
the front door, a wishing well
and an outbuilding in which
Bernard announced he would
write the novel he had been promising his agent for eons.
That did not happen, despite the many advances he received from publishers, but the unashamed wastrel quickly adopted the life of a country gent, even buying a gun to hunt rabbits and pigeons with his closest friend, a Labrador bitch called Smedley.
Bernard and Jill delighted in watching swans glide along the picturesque River Brett and owls swooping past in the twilight. They also became regulars in the Peacock Inn, then run by a woman called Gwen, whom he described as a “querulous, vaguely upper-class widow who had had a tragic war”.
An eccentric geriatric called Mrs Petch owned the cottage and charged them three shillings a week (15p) in
rent. Compared to London it was a steal, but Bernard still complained when she imposed a hike. “When it went up to 3/6d I had a row with the landlady,” he harrumphed. However, Bernard did have a point as there were no drains, nor inside toilet, the water in the well was undrinkable and the thatch needed replacing. “Imagine a roof with alopecia,” he quipped.
Bernard and Jill married at Sudbury register office in August 1966. They had only been together for three months and
admiral’s full dress uniform on one stall. However, he did ingratiate himself enough to not only play for the village cricket team, but to end up as captain.
It was cricket that drew many of his famous London friends to the area as they formed a Soho team to take on the locals, then after an afternoon of enthusiastic play would withdraw to the Peacock for a post-match drink or three. They included John Le Mesurier and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The latter were said to have got so plastered
they ended up sleeping on the pub floor.
Jill was well aware that Bernard was a philanderer and on one memorable night she decided to test him by disguising herself in a black curly wig and heavy make-up to flutter her eyelashes at him in the saloon bar. “He started to chat to me and I just fell about laughing,” she later recalled. “He was quite p***ed off with me.”
The marriage eventually broke down in 1972.“One day I woke up lying on my sofa in the sitting room of my cottage. The
place seemed almost empty and after a few minutes
of searching, I realised my wife
had left,” he wrote. “The finality of it all, the desolation
and the too- lateness for yet one
more dance, one more new leaf to turn over, made my chest ache
so much that I as good as gasped for breath. Love ebbs, but on that occasion it was
wrenched away like a rotten tooth.” So ended Bernard’s Suffolk sojourn. The professional barfly was eventually
swatted in 1997, his self-destructive lifestyle claiming him at the age of 65. Even today he remains a talking point in the village, not least among the brewers who supply the pub!
  The Peacock pub at Chelsworth where one-time villager Jeffrey Bernard, right, spent many hours
“. . . he described a local jumble sale as being so posh he saw six pith helmets and an admiral’s full dress uniform on one stall.”
 she later admitted it was rash. A factor in Jill’s decision to accept Bernard’s spur-of-the-moment proposal was that Mrs Petch believed they were already married and had rented the cottage to them on that basis.
A self-confessed snob, Bernard longed to join Chelsworth’s cocktail set, but never quite made it. “The gentry struck me off as I had peed in the rectory flowerbed,” he admitted. “A little recycled Tio Pepe never killed a wallflower, but such things live in their memories” With tongue firmly in cheek he described a local jumble sale as being so posh he saw six pith helmets and an
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