Whatever happened to Leslie

Since I started this blog, I have received several emails asking me if I know anything about what happened to Leslie Durrell. Gerald Durrell writes about Leslie in such a compelling way in the Corfu trilogy that it is impossible not to wonder what happened to the hunting, shooting and fishing mad brother who so kindly built young Gerry a boat on Corfu.

Although all the other three Durrell siblings – even Margaret – wrote about their lives, Leslie did not, and never sought the public spotlight and one can imagine he would be surprised at the interest in his life.

Leslie is actually the only Durrell sibling that Lawrence mentions in his Corfu memoir, Prospero’s Cell, and Margo mentions him many times in her own, considerably less famous memoir, Whatever Happened to Margo?

Born in 1918, Leslie was the second-eldest Durrell sibling. When the Durrells moved from India to England after the death of their father, Leslie went to an English school but was apparently not happy there (neither were his brothers). On Corfu, though, Leslie felt at home, drank with the local peasants and hunted local game.

Leslie returned to England with his mother, Gerald, Margaret and the family’s Corfiot maid, Maria Kondos when the Second World War broke out. (Margaret, of course, soon afterwards went back ‘home’ to Corfu.) The Durrells settled in Bournemouth and Leslie tried to enlist in the army but was rejected on the grounds of ill-health, something that was a setback for him. Instead, he spent the war working in an RAF factory.

Shortly after the family returned to England, Leslie had a brief romance with the family’s Corfiot friend and live-in maid, Maria Kondos, that produced a son, Anthony. However, the romance was short-lived.

Leslie also had the Durrell artistic streak – he was a painter. This is how Margo describes him in her memoir, Whatever Happened to Margo?:

Leslie, that squat, Rabelaisian figure lavishing oils on canvas or sunk deep in the intricacies of guns, boats, beer and women

Margo refers to Leslie as having “the hint of an entrepreneur”, and he certainly tried his hand several businesses, but had bad luck. When he came of age and received the inheritance his father left him, he used it to set up a boat business, spending all his money on a fishing boat that sadly sank before its maiden voyage out of Poole Harbour, accordintg to Margo.

Leslie and Margo were close, with Margo recalling several of their childhood antics in her memoir. Leslie was a generous brother – Margo also tells the tale of how he saved a puppy from being put to sleep and brought it to live with Margo.

Two photos of Leslie, one with his wife Doris Hall

In 1952, Leslie married his long-term girlfriend, Doris Hall, whose family ran an off-license in Bournemouth. Doris, “big-hearted, big-voiced, laughing”, was older than Leslie, and the relationship was a happy one. Soon after the couple married, they left England to start a new life in Kenya, where they wanted to run a farm. Sadly, though, that business did not work out and Leslie and Doris were forced to return to England in 1968.

Leslie got work in London as a concierge in a smart Marble Arch hotel. In 1983, he died of heart failure while in a Notting Hill pub. It is rather tragic that none of Leslie’s siblings attended his funeral.

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21 thoughts on “Whatever happened to Leslie

  1. ‘Frothy, but witty’: Fillets of Plaice | Durrelliana, a scrapbook

  2. I have just finished reading what happen to Margo. I am 46 year old, my mother was from Cyprus and my father from England. I am very later to education and reading what happen to Margo was a real challenge and so enjoyable. I have also read my Family and other Animals with the help of my partner. I have collected a lot of the Durrells’ books and feel so privileged to be able to share their live experiences. I father let my mother when I was around 3.1/2 years old. My mother was a afflicted with Bipolar and could not read and write English, hence why I grow up (in New Zealand) very impoverished with no education. Cared for my mother as a child with as had a negative impact to this day. I have started to learn how to speak Greek because I would really like to live in Cyprus, I do not like living in New Zealand and my lack of education and sagacity as held be back badly. However, one day I hope to die happily in Cyprus. There is no Greek school in Dunedin, New Zealand which is another hurdler.

    Thank God for spell check.

    Read the Durrells’ book is strengthening my reading, comprehension, vocabulary and so on. I have really battle to finish reading what happen to Margo, often having to look up the meaning to seven different words on one page. I finished the past page to day: Tuesday, 25 September 2012. It is strange, because I feel a little sad and lot.

    I will read: Three singles to adventure next. I purchased this book on a next weekend outing with my partner. We stop at an orchid and they sold real fruit ice creams. I note a book case with around fifty books. The lady told me they were her fathers book and it was a shame I had not come months earlier as their were most Durrell books.

    Anyway, I was grateful just to of found that book, Which has great photos in it even though it is very old.

    Yours sincerely

    Matthew Brown

  3. I have read that Leslie had to leave Kenya in a hurry, allegations of fleecing people followed him, then he got a job as a caretaker in a block of flats….?
    Gerald and Larry were terrified that their names would be in the papers if any of the fraud allegations hit the papers…. It’s in Douglas Bottings book..

    • J: Leslie always seemed to be a bit backward according to Gerry’s books. Don’t know whether that’s just Gerry’s own impression at age 10-15, or whether Leslie really wasn’t “all there”. His life, tragically, seems to be one long list of failures. I blame the mother: she had absolutely no sense of parental responsibility (dragging them all to Corfu like that, how was Gerry to get an education? And why didn’t the mother send him to a Corfiot school in Corfu town?) and in fact, seems to be a total moron.

      • You watch what you say about my family , they had the biggest education of all and it was nothing to do with conformity, in this country at the time there was nothing so they decided to try something new. You couldn’t teach or buy the education and experiences they all had, they lived their own lives and was allowed freedom to express and grow its what made them what they were they had spirit of adventure they met interesting people and were willing to accept people for who and what they were with no airs and graces that went for friends and family in short they were ALIVE in body soul and spirit.

      • That’s very true Joanne. I do admire them hugely, but I do think the way Leslie treated his son was appalling. Also Laurence did not treat women very well. Out of interest, who are you descended from?

  4. Leslie had to leave Kenya in a hurry. Allegations of fleecing people hot on his heels, he then got a job as a caretaker in a block of flats…
    Larry and Gerry were terrified that their names would be dragged into the papers, if the news regarding Leslie hit the papers
    Maybe that is why they didn’t attend the funeral
    It’s in Douglas Bottings book

    • J: thanks for your interesting information. However, in view of what we’re told about Leslie in Gerry’s books, I can’t imagine he (Gerry) would be bothered about Leslie’s allegedly criminal activities in Kenya. In fact he (Gerry) would probably cash in on this and write a new book about it. And I imagine Larry was far too much of a Bohemian artist to care what Leslie did. Besides, this wasn’t the first time Leslie had got into trouble with the law: remember his court case as recorded by Gerry in Birds, Beasts & Relatives. ( “Durrell vs. Crippenopoulos”)

  5. The link, “my photography website” links to search results on the subject of “transparent things”. Not sure this is what you meant to link to or what it has to do with the Durrells.

    I am impressed by the research you have done.

  6. No Greek school in Dunedin NZ. Well boo hoo. How many NZ schools in Corfu do you think? As to total in Greece, I leave to your imagine. Ancient Greece was certainly a massive voice in Europe and indeed the World. No longer though Greeks now live in the past and live by generosity of European charity.

    • John R Graham, the Greeks are fantastic people, they are warm, friendly, humorous and kind, and they enjoy the important things in life (good food, good wine, good sex …). The fact that they “live on European charity” as you put it, merely means they have tremendous good sense … if they can get the EU to cough up for them all these years, good on them is what I say. How much more intelligent of the Greeks to play the EU system for all it’s worth and remain a member, than to hold a completely farcical referendum like the imbecile British and decide to leave on a majority of a mere 52% of votes. With all the attendant and excruciatingly contemptible ins and outs of their stupid decision. They would have done far better to emulate the intelligent and sensible Greeks. Now they are doomed to global isolation, degeneration and utter poverty. Serves them right.

  7. Does anyone know what happened to Anthony, Leslie’s son? I know he lived with Maria in a council house in bournemouth, and she struggled to keep them both. Are there any photos of him or any info about him as an adult? Also, what happened to Margo’s sons? One still lives in Bournemouth (Gerry), but what about Nicholas?

    • Leslie’s son Tony lives in the US – he kept in contact with Margo Durrell throughout his life until she died in 2009.

      Margo’s first son, Gerry Breeze lives in Bournemouth. He is highly respected in the martial arts world http://www.kanku.org/sensei-gerry-breeze and was teaching karate until ill health late 2016. Gerry is living and married to his third wife Sheila Breeze. His children Tracy Breeze, Sarah Breeze, Nick Breeze, Martin Breeze, Lawrence Breeze and Laura Breeze and has many grandchildren.

      Margo’s second son Nick Breeze also lives in Bournemouth and the two brothers see each other often. Nick is married to his second wife Jan Breeze and he has two sons Daniel Breeze and Christopher Breeze.

      I, Tracy Breeze published my Nan, Margo Duncan (Breeze/Durrell) book which is now out of print but I’m happy to say Penguin are publishing again in 2018. She has another unpublished book about her adventures working on a Greek ships travelling the Carribbean when she was 50 which I hope to get into print.

      Margo was the best grandma anyone could ever wish for and a huge influence on our lives. Her zest, passion and fun for life never allowed for a dull day, she was more than amazing and much missed. http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/features/snapshotsofthepast/1205051.last_of_the_originals/

      • Thanks so much Tracy, I really appreciate the update. Do you know what the rift with Leslie was about and why none of the family attended his funeral?

    • Jane: the more I read about Leslie Durrell, the more utterly, almost criminally irresponsible he seems. Didn’t he have the decency to support his own son, Anthony? It’s tragic that none of the siblings attended Leslie’s funeral, but in view of all these staggering revelations on top of Gerry’s description of Leslie in his books, I can’t say I blame them. Also I cannot imagine why Maria consented to leave Corfu and travel to a totally dreary place like the Uk with the Durrell family.

  8. How tragic. It sounds like there was a serious falling out in the family. I’m currently reading Haag’s ‘The Durrells in Corfu’, it’s very good book but I wonder if Leslie felt outdone and left behind by his more successful brothers?

  9. I do think leslie behaved like a complete shit towards his son and Maria. I believe that Margo often saw them and tried to help, but the rest of the family shunned them as an embarrassment. I would guess Maria moved with them because she was fond of the family and thought she could have a better life in the UK. I can’t believe her own family would have been delighted by her pregnancy and she probably found herself very isolated, poor woman. Leslie seems to be have been immature and not very bright really. Not to attend his funeral is inexcusable I think. I feel the family were fairly self interested in general. Larry was selfish and immature, and treated his first wife appallingly. His daughter killed herself. (Sappho) and there are were allegations of incest.
    I love Gerald’s books, but there is no doubt the family were scewed up and dysfunctional. I am sure many people on the island disapproved of them. I think their poor mother was trying her best to hold things together, at her wits end much of the time. Her predilection for gin probably indicates alcoholism too. Certainly Gerry had a problem with alcohol, and was also a depressive.
    It’s easy to be judgemental, but I admire their eccentricity and boldness, and the books are an inspiring read.

    • You forget the time they lived in. The Durrell’s left Corfu at the outbreak of war as the British stance toward Hitler was not considered favourable. They had little choice but to return and probably the accompanying Maid, they felt they were helping. Yes, Lawrence, Gerry, Leslie Margo and their Mother had terrible problems by today’s standards, but without them millions of people would not have had so much pleasure & stimulation. Quite a contradiction….

  10. I just loved reading the book(s). To be that free to live and enjoy and not really worry about what anyone thought; to treat people the same no matter who they were; sounds like a perfect way to live if you ask me.

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