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.

40 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?

      • Joanna Durrell (Hodgkin?), you’ve have given a perfect description of The Durrell’s of that time, thank you. Are you Pinkie’s sister? I’m Margo’s grandaughter Tracy Breeze. Warm wishes

      • I didn’t think Maria was close to the family. I understood that Larry and Gerry wanted nothing to do with her or the baby and disapproved of the pregnancy.
        I also thought Maria lived out her life in a council house , struggling to manage as a single mother. I know Margo tried to keep ties, but I understood the rest of the family just abandoned her and Tony, who never knew his father?
        I also read somewhere that Maria had lost a previous pregnancy to Leslie and had to leave because her father was very angry with her.
        This seems a bit of an air brushing of the true facts.

      • I watched last nights TV programme ‘What the Durrells did next” and whilst it was very interesting, it focused mainly on Gerald Durrell and I couldn’t help feel slightly sad that Leslie was barely mentioned. In short, my subsequent research led me to this sight, which had left to feeling incredibly sad. Why didn’t the siblings attend their brothers funeral. I cannot imagine that anyone of them would have been ashamed of their association with him, so struggle to accept this as a reason. I just wondered if Joanne Durrell had any clearer understanding?

      • I have wondered this too. Not such a close family after all. I think Gerry and Larry found him an embarrassment and did t want their own reputations sullied. Doesn’t cast them in a good light.Also on This Is Your Life Larry apple to Gerald on a video link but Leslie wasn’t mentioned.

  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”)

      • Well just because you can’t imagine they would be bothered, doesn’t mean they weren’t. Maybe they thought that if it came out it would affect their book sales. If so that is rather shameful, he was their brother after all. Still, I suppose we will never know for sure, it’s all speculation…

  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?

      • Wow I’m just casually reading the comments .

        I have so far only read GeraldnDurrells famous book – my family and other animals .
        And am currently watching the series durrells – on series 3.
        I am in awe of such an interesting magnificent family .
        As a young mother of four children myself I could well imagine the situation Louisa found herself and have read and watched it with love .

        Thanks so much for sharing these things it is truly wonderful to read .

        Im a big fan of your family .

    • 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.

      • Well we don’t know the full details why Leslie did or didn’t support the son, maybe Maria wanted nothing more to do with him? And it takes two to tango, why as a much older woman did she consent to have an affair with her employer’s young son,it’s not as though she was an innocent teenager!
        I think the siblings should have gone to the funeral, one wonders was it because of snobbery, the men were professional writers and may have considered themselves above Leslie, who did not have a profession? (That’s just a theory of course). Personally I don’t think much of people who can’t be bothered to attend their own brother’s funeral.

  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.

  11. Life is such a torturous journey. Unless others’ lives effect us profoundly in some very personal way, I don’t believe we’ve a right to extend approval or disapproval. Forgiveness, decisions not to forgive, reconciliation or parting ways, love and hate…are choices which effects and emotions are the sole property of those directly involved. The only right we really have as regards these affairs of others is a contemplative conversation with ourself to figure out what we believe for ourself and reflection on the paths we would take in such circumstances to best be true to our principles. For me, that contemplation is not something I’ve a right to share with others.

    Those of us most honest with ourselves well understand not throwing stones at others — in personal matters.

  12. Absolutely wonderful brave depiction of a family stepping up to a life challenge , willing to take a chance with no a lot of money but a trunk of brave resilience. life is not perfect so they lived it as resiliently as they could.I will this year (read all the other books in the trilogy). I read gerry durrell`s first book in my early 20`s.i am now 56 and find the series on Netflix adventurous , infectious , totally engaging and re-watchable.inspiring….Beronike

  13. I haven’t read the books for years, so can you clear up a confusion for me, if Leslie had an affair with Maria Kondos, then the housekeeper in the TV show is a completely made up creation?

    • The Durrells did have a maid (more like home help, maid such an old fashioned word), but for the television series the name was changed. Maria returned to Bournemouth, England with the Durrells, living the rest of her life there and remained a close friend to the family. Margo was close to her and kept in touch with her son until she died in 2007.

  14. History is written by the victors…remember that when you read any book that attempts to recall the past. I loved Gerald’s book but have always taken them with a grain of salt…as pure, enjoyable entertainment and nothing more.

  15. Thank you for writing a bit about Leslie. The PBS short “What the Durrells Did After Corfu,” barely mentions him once and that was to say he was “underachieving.” Perhaps he “underachieved” in relation to the rest of his eccentric family but his life was more typical of the rest of us. How callous for that to be demeaned. The film does not even give the year of Leslie’s death at the end when summing up the lives of the siblings. A simple statement at the end that he “led a quiet life and died in 1983” would’ve been more respectful than a total omission.

    • Thank you so much for writing about him! I agree completely, Teresa. I quite liked Leslie’s character in the PBS show, however, was disappointed with the portrayal of him in “What the Durrells Did After Corfu.” It seems an injustice to not discuss him more so in this short. I am thinking that perhaps he was just more typical (like the rest of us), as you say, rather than an unsavory person. Perhaps someone can give us a bit of insight into the relationship with the rest of his family, as it is tragic none of them attended his funeral (and do we know that as a fact or is that speculation?)

      • I so agree! I just recently finished watching the series. I loved Leslie’s heart in the show and he seemed to genuinely desire to be a good brother and son. I was so shocked and saddened that so very little was said about him in the follow up show. I agree, it absolutely did feel disrespectful and very odd. I found myself wondering if perhaps a family member had asked that his life be kept private, but then why the rudeness when he was mentioned? Life is complicated, I hope somehow they all found forgiveness for each other and were able to see the best in everyone, even if that wasn’t publicized.

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