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Denise Pelczynski, 1928-2013: in memoriam

Denise Pelczynski was born in Rome in 1928, a British subject of King George V; the daughter of Paul Cremona, a distinguished Maltese journalist in the international press corps. Denise and her older sister Marie attended the French Lycée in Rome.

In 1938, her father was expelled from Italy under direct orders from Mussolini. Given just a week to leave, the family made their way to London. When they were caught up in the Blitz in 1940, Denise was sent to Cambridge to complete her education, while her parents remained in London, where her father was working for the BBC. In Cambridge, Denise discovered a wonderful escape into the world of literature; fluent in French, Italian and English she devoured the classics in all three languages.

Soon after the war ended, Denise won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, to read Modern Languages. After graduating, she travelled widely. She worked in New York and back in Rome as production assistant on an epic film, translating between the English and French lead actors, and the Italian Director. She also spent considerable time working in Indonesia, from where she travelled to Japan.

Returning to London, she officially began her career as a BBC news journalist in 1959, to her father’s delight. The following year she met a young Oxford don, Zbigniew Pelczynski; they were married in December 1961. Three children followed, and Denise gave up her London work, and began to combine full-time motherhood with freelance writing for the children’s TV programme, Jackanory.

In 1969, the family moved into a house belonging to Pembroke College, where Zbigniew was a fellow. There, Denise entertained generations of undergraduates with wonderful home-cooked meals, and many of these students went on to become lifelong friends.

Zbigniew and Denise, Italy, 1960

In 1971, Denise and Zbigniew bought a dilapidated farmhouse in Barton-on-the-Heath, and this became their permanent home in 1987. Over a period of ten years, an acre of breeze block farm buildings was cleared and a beautiful garden with an orchard and potager was created: after her family, the garden was her greatest love, and one that brought her happiness every day.

By the early 1980’s Denise was back working at the BBC, chiefly on Newsnight, where she was highly respected for her intelligence and grasp of international current affairs, and continued making long commutes two days a week from Barton until almost the age of 70.

After her rootless childhood, Denise felt thoroughly settled in Barton-on-the-Heath, and enjoyed everything about village life. She was a long-standing member of the Parish Council, and her wisdom at Council meetings was much respected. Literature was a lifelong passion, and Denise was a very active member of the Book Group, and also took great pleasure in introducing her three grandchildren to the joys of reading.

Denise was a wonderful, wise, thoughtful, compassionate person, a loving wife and mother and a loyal and supportive friend. She touched a lot of people’s lives, and was very deeply loved.

Jan Pelczynski, Denise’s son

via LINK Magazine

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