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Article by Sue Waters
Jean Overton Fuller
(1915 – 2009)
Miss Jean Overton Fuller
Miss Jean Overton Fuller
In the Spring of 1975, Miss Jean Overton Fuller moved from London to live at Steep House, Church Lane, Wymington on the Northamptonshire/Bedford border. Her new life there began at the age of 60 years. Sharing the house were a roost of chickens and her beloved cats.
Aged two with her mother
Aged two with her mother

Miss Fuller could often be seen looking under hedges and peering into ditches, to gather her children of fur and feathers back home. Or with a sheaf of letters in her hand, walking along to the village post box. A solitary figure, sometimes with her small black cat Leo scampering behind.

She never retired from writing biographies and poetry and set herself other challenges – learning to ride a horse and play the piano. In 1980, after a total of 277 driving lessons, Miss Fuller passed her driving test. She immediately went out and bought a red Fiat 128 car and named it Robin. Tales of her parking are legendary. When she could no longer drive, Miss Fuller would catch the bus into Rushden – something she did up until a few months before she died, age 94.

I knew Miss Fuller in my work as a Library Assistant at Rushden Library during her latter years. She was a small, stooped old lady with a deep, ringing voice. Loud, because of her deafness. Miss Fuller’s shining intelligence made an impression on me and I wondered about her life. There was mention of The Special Operations Executive during the War. A spy then? That did not seem to fit. It was only when her Times obituary was published that people, other than her friends, realised that an extraordinary person had been quietly living in our midst.

Jean Violet Overton Fuller was born in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire on March 7th 1915. Her father, a Captain in the Indian army, had been killed in action and never lived to see his daughter. Despite this sad beginning, Jean had a happy childhood, guided by her maternal Grandfather Gilby. She was taught to observe nature and encouraged to paint.

aged 15 At RADA
Wearing her pearls
Aged 15
Wearing her pearls

Miss Fuller trained at RADA and spent some years touring the country in repertory theatre. She started to write and joined an elite literary circle, which included Dylan Thomas in their number. She was briefly engaged to an Oxford scholar, but her deep spiritual beliefs were something that finally divided them.

She worked in Postal Censorship for The War Office. When Miss Fuller’s friend, Noor Inayat Khan, did not return from service abroad, the family asked Jean to enquire about her fate. The startling truth was that Noor had been the first female wireless operator to be parachuted into occupied France. Miss Fuller travelled to Paris – alone – in 1950 to interview one of Noor’s captors, shortly after his release from prison.

The oak tree
The oak tree
Miss Fuller was uncompromising in her forensic researches into discovering the truth. She published Noor’s biography as well as some controversial books challenging The War Office’s official version of events. Her actions demonstrate her character as a deeply loyal person.

The great love of her life was her friend and antiquarian bookselling business partner, Tim d’Arch Smith. It began as a chance meeting in a bookshop. Their friendship lasted over 50 years. The poetry Miss Fuller wrote dedicated to him is particularly beautiful.

Miss Fuller believed in reincarnation, something practically demonstrated in the planting of an acorn picked up by her Mother Violet on a visit to Kew Gardens together. Some 21 years later, the tree was replanted to live on the brow of Wymington Hill in the drought of 1983. In her book “Cats and Other Immortals”, Miss Fuller writes:

“I carried up Maxicrop in which to bathe the twigs of the oak-tree, and believed it had a new bud that was green. I have so many children, children with fur, children with feathers, children with leaves. You will outlive [my cat] Bambina, you will outlive me. But perhaps I shall find my way back to you in another incarnation. Perhaps we shall all meet again under your boughs.”

Susan Waters

Blue Plaque

A Wymington Neighbour Remembers

“The house next to ours was unoccupied, but one day I noticed activity there. I wondered who the newcomers would be. Did they like cats? I had ten at the time, mostly strays. I need not have worried.

One of her cats
One of her cats
Next morning there was a very loud thump on the door, and there stood a little lady smiling, saying she had come to make herself known, and to get to know me. I asked her in and with a cry of “How delightful”, she scooped two cats from a chair and sat with them on her lap.

“I’m so glad you love cats,” she said. “I was afraid you would not like mine.”

She explained that her flat in London was not suitable for them, so had asked Martin Booth, an old friend and fellow author to find her a house. He was teaching at the Boy’s School in Rushden then, and found her a suitable house.

We soon realised we had many things in common beside the cats. We were close in age and were both deaf. We read the same authors, and both looked on much housework as a waste of good reading time. Here we differed a little. I liked cooking, especially baking – (I must have made her well over twenty birthday cakes). Jean did not like cooking, and did very little. She ruined many a saucepan by putting on the vegetables on for a meal, then picking up a book, becoming engrossed in it – and another blackened mess was dumped in the bin.

We picked politicians to pieces, convinced we could do a better job. We both loved the natural world. I remember her excitement every Spring when she found the first snowdrop or violet in bloom, and fetching me to see it.

She soon learned the names of the wild flowers, and from her rambles in the fields would bring flowers and leaves for me to identify. She once asked how I knew birds by their song, and I said they were all different, each species has a distinctive sound, like our own voices.

I kept a few hens, and Jean wanted to do the same. She bought six from an advertisement in the local paper, thinking they could just live in her garden. Next morning they had all disappeared, but a frantic search of the village recovered five. We told her they must all be shut up securely at night and in a run during the day.

A neighbour had collected a huge pile of wood for a November 5th Bonfire, and it included some old doors and other useful bits of wood. He helped my husband erect a little shed out of these at the end of the garden, and they wired off a long run.

Jean was never happier than when digging and planting her garden, but much of her effort came to nothing, as she still let the hens out. At night, if they would not go in, I was called to help, and she painted a big picture of me, arms outspread, stick in hand, chasing them in.

When the hens began to venture into the house – with predictable results - Jean began to think about a home help, and found Mrs. Goodman, who remained a good friend and helper.

The hens gradually died off, and Jean was without for a time, but one day a small grey speckled hen flew in over the gate, and stayed. She was named Millicent and spent her time in the garden and the house, laying her daily egg in an armchair, and sleeping there at night.

With the paintings
and with the oak tree
With the paintings
and with the oak tree

Jean wrote many poems about her cats, hens and other creatures, having them all published as little booklets, illustrated by her charming drawings. She gave some of these to friends instead of cards at Christmas.

Then she had an urge to drive, and began lessons. Her first instructor gave her up in despair, but the next one had more patience. After four years and 277 lessons she finally passed. She bought a car and was making plans to take me to St. Albans to see something of interest, when a minor accident made her give up driving, so we never went, to my great relief. She was a terrible driver. A ride into Rushden could be a hair-raising experience.

Then she took up riding, and had lessons with Shirley Warner. She loved the horse she rode, and wanted to keep Rose, but was not able to.

Jean practised yoga until in her nineties and it was no surprise to walk in and find her doing headstands with feet waving in the air. I resisted her attempts to get me to do the same, she said it would be beneficial to me, but I could not believe that.

She joined none of Wymington Village’s organisations, but always supported their fundraising events, and gradually got to know a few more people.

Jean the photographer with cat
Jean the photographer with cat

When our daughter Margaret – a teacher in London – was home in the holidays or at weekends, she was often invited down for a cup of tea and a chat. She mowed the lawns, pruned trees and made herself generally useful.

Jean did not have a clue about anything electrical or mechanical, any more than I did, so when things went wrong, she would call on one of our sons for help. They always put things right, which, I suppose is why she thought they were both electricians, although John was an architect and Charles the Manager of a department in Peter Crisp's.

Another memory I have concerns a stray cat who lived with us both. One cold morning I saw a beautiful ginger cat down the garden. He was licking the empty dishes the hedgehogs fed from, so I opened a can of food and called him. He came racing down, bolted the food, rubbed round my legs, came in and sat by the fire.

Enquiries failed to find his owner, so I named him Tomas, and kept him some months. Then he disappeared, but days later I saw him in Jean’s garden, wearing a collar and was being walked round on a long lead.

I went down and she beamed - “I’ve got a stray” she said. “I shall call him Alexander, he is just like your Tomas.” Jean’s eyesight was very bad by then, as she often used a big magnifying glass to read. She was disappointed when I told her it was indeed Tomas, so I said I didn’t mind her keeping him if he wanted to stay with her, which he did, for years, never coming back to me.

Until one cold morning, like when he first came, I heard strange noises. Alexander was on the doorstep wailing and making an awful row. Just then Jean came to ask if I had seen him, so took him home. He protested loudly. The next day exactly the same thing happened, he looked very weak, and was taken back again.

The third day Jean watched him. He crossed the garden and the hen-run, and struggled through a very small gap between the hen-run and our garage, into our garden and down to the back door, still making these awful noises. Jean fetched him, and he died a few hours later. What made him come back to me? Did he remember once living here? Did he want to die here? We could not understand it. There was no rational explanation.

Jean was a prolific writer, not novels but serious books – poetry and biographies. She moved in a cosmopolitan set, artists, politicians and authors. An old friend was Dylan Thomas. “Poor Dylan” she said, “Ruined by alcohol. He should have married Pamela Hansford Johnson.” Pamela was another famous writer in their set.

She not only wrote and painted, but was an actress for a time with a Repertory Company, travelling all over the country with them and playing different roles. An old poster she kept showed how beautiful she was then.

She told me many anecdotes about her Wartime friends. One special one was Noor-un-Nisa Khan, an American – Indian girl. Under the code name Madeleine, she was flown into occupied France to work as a wireless operator with the French Resistance. Noor spent her last hours with Jean before her Special Operations Executive training, talking far into the night in what was to be their last conversation.

After an unusually long time in the field and in much danger, Noor was due to be brought out, but was betrayed to the Germans that day. Noor was arrested and taken to Dachau, tortured and shot, steadfastly refusing to give any information.

This prompted Jean to be the first biographer of Noor Inayat Khan. She actually tracked down the Officer who initially interrogated Noor in Paris, interviewing him there in 1950, to try and discover more about Noor’s fate.

For a time during the War, Jean worked in the Postal Censor’s Office. When I said that must have been interesting, she replied, “No, there is nothing so boring as other people’s letters.” But judging by the books she wrote, I realised she knew a great deal more of what was going on than from other people’s letters.

She wrote about the Special Operations Executive, headed by Col. Buckmaster, who was responsible for sending Noor to France. Jean was talking about him to me once when she stopped, then said quietly, “Buckmaster was an ass,” but she never said why. She wrote a lengthy book about Dericourt, a double, some thought a triple agent, but Jean thought he was really on our side. Her book about him and “The German Penetration of the S.O.E.” made very interesting reading.

Late one evening in January 2009, Jean had a fall while walking up to the post box. Luckily a neighbour, Mr Brian Capell saw her, helped her up, got her home, fetched me and called an ambulance. Jean said she was all right and did not want to go to hospital. “I’m going to bed,” she said, and went.

I followed a few minutes later, she was fast asleep already. The ambulance arrived and I called down, “She is asleep.” “You will have to wake her” said the ambulance man, so I gently shook her shoulder and called her name. She sat up, saw the men and said “What’s this for?” I said she must go just for a check-up to make sure she was well, so she went, still grumbling.

She was kept in for a time, but came home again and celebrated her 94th birthday with a party for friends, which she enjoyed. She was in very good spirits, but sadly soon had to go back to hospital, where she died.

I was not very mobile by then, but was able to go to her funeral, and I was so glad I did. On a bright sunny April day six of us went from Wymington to Golders Green Crematorium, where we met my daughter Margaret and seven other people. A small congregation to say goodbye.

High in the chapel wall was a big round stained glass window, and during the short service the sun shone directly through onto Jean’s coffin, bathing it in a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours. From the surrounding candles, wisps of smoke curled up through the radiant light. It was so lovely. I thought what a fitting end it was for her, she so loved colour and light. I wish she could have seen it. Perhaps she did?”

Mrs. Stella Reynolds
July 2010

Some thoughts from a correspondent of over 30 years who describes

“the absolute essence of Jean – her multiple talents and extraordinary intelligence, so endearingly linked to that childlike trust in the ultimate benevolence of things. There was no guile in her, and endless patience, and an imaginative sensitivity which gave her insight into the best and the worst of human predicaments.”

Dr. Megs Little
July 2010

And the final word goes to Jean Overton Fuller

“Of one thing I am sure, where there is real affection there can never be any separation, neither by distance nor even by death itself. For the links of love are eternal.”

Plecotus Auritus

I came downstairs and put my hand in the cut-glass bowl
In which, to prevent its rolling, I had placed my doctor's phial
Of tablets. My hand recoiled from the touch of something warm,
Squirmy. Grey-brown. An injured bird? Or mouse?
Brought in by a cat? Uncomfortably hunched - a bat,
And a leaf or bracht of a lime come in with it. I called on Stella,
"Come and see what I've found in my house."

I saw, now, that the ears were not round like those of a mouse
But nearly as long as the body and slender as those of a hare.
A long-eared bat. They are rare. How did it come to be there?
Nor she nor I had seen bats in the village for years.
They were made to hang up, not squat like that.
I opened a tin for the cats awaiting their breakfast and stole
A small spoonfull of cat-food, to put in the bowl.

The bat crept on to the spoon and ate and ate and ate,
Its head bobbing up and down. The ears which had lain
Flat along its back spread suddenly like the wings of an aeroplane
And quivered. To give it shade
I covered the top of the bowl with a magazine.
"At dusk I'll launch it from an upstairs window
As one would a grounded swift or swallow."

Later I thought to make a drawing, but when I lifted the magazine
There was only the spoon and the leaf. How had it got out
Without disturbing the lid? I shook every curtain and hanging;
Fetched back Stella. She looked behind every picture
On the landing and stairs. If a cat
Had got the bat, there must have been the remains on the mat.
Mysteriously it came; mysteriously it was gone.

In the churchyard across the lane I stood in the twilight.
Between the limes and the yews flittered a bat. I stood a long time
That night and the next, to make sure there was just the one,
And hoped it was mine, which had recovered the joy of flight.


Ducksfeet of snow wet on my cheek
Teach the eyes to narrow against the cold.
Resist this lesson,
That would make the face
A grey and eyeless fortress
With slits to glint from.

Better be a buttercup
Battered by the rains
Of summer,
Petals beaten back,
Yet still
Buttercup petals,
Petals of a flower,

Than become a winter thing
With vents closed against the blast.

This poem recalls the night Miss Fuller’s grandfather Gilby woke up a very young Jean to show her butterflies hatching in her aquarium.


The mystery of that night has been with me all my life
The whole mystery of the caterpillar and its transformations
Has underlain much of my thought and symbolism.
When first I saw the Greek letter Omega
I said, “It’s my dear caterpillar.”
I have painted him in his glorious half-hoop shape,
More than life-size; the painting
Hangs over my poetry shelves.

I believe it is because of the caterpillar
I have always believed in immortality.
Mother was never quite sure whether
She thought we Lived after death. Urging her, as a still
Small child, I said, “Perhaps we are caterpillars.
Perhaps the coffin is a chrysalis.
Perhaps we climb out with wings, and fly.”

The Secret

There is no sacred work
Save to understand
What is happening from hour to hour;
To bring to the encounter
Of every moment total presence
Without expectation
Is the whole of the secret,
Art and power.

Jean Overton Fuller
reproduced by kind permission of

Tim d'Arch Smith 2010

"Ducksfeet" (1964) from "Venus Protected and other poems"

"The Secret" (1966) unpublished

"Plecotus Auritus" (1996)



My Love To Thee: Poems written to H.H. (1942)

Venus Protected and other poems (1964)

Carthage and The Midnight Sun (1966)

African Violets: poems for Violet Overton Fuller, artist, deceased September 12th 1967, a tribute from her daughter (1969)

Silver Planet – for Timothy D’Arch Smith (1969)

The Sun’s Cart (1969)

Darun and Pitar (1970)

Tintagel (1970)

“Gilby”: Colonel Frederick Smith: a poem (1972)

The Norn (1979)

Prophecy from Helen (1978

The Christmas Poems 1983 – 2007 (Sent to friends as a Christmas card)

1983 The Prophet – Alexander Pushkin (translated from the Russian)

1984 The Great Adventure of the Much Travelled Little Oak-Tree

1985 Between The Wishbone of the Hyades and The Little Plough of Pleides

1986 The Mystical Tale of Two Hens

1987 The New Arrival

1988 Bambina – The Thanksgiving Picture

1989 The Nightingale

1990 The Passing of Bambina and The Coming of Chalcedony

1991 Chalcedony’s Kittens

1992 Leo and America

1993 Cats and Burglars

1994 The Secret Guardian – Danielle Aurosseau (translated from the French)

1995 Tinta’s Toe

1996 Plecotus Auritus

1997 Watching The Moon Walk – A poem, Picture and Setting in a Flat

1998 Psychism of Leo or More Often Than By Chance

1999 A Trail of Hen’s Feet

2000 Lime Hawk, Weevil and Frog

2001 Of Space, Size and Time In Infinity

2002 Two Poems Conceived in the Garden

2003 Mainly For Millicent – a Chicken

2004 The Wasp and The Slug

2005 Four Poems for my Cat and Chicken

2006 The Passing of Millicent

2007 Leo and Me (unpublished)


Cats and Other Immortals (1992)

Driven To It (2007)


Swinburne: a crital biography (1968)

Shelley (1968)

The Comte de Sainte-Germain: last scion of the House of Raakaoczy (1988)

Blavatsky and Her Teachers: an investigative biography (1988)

Sickert and the Ripper crimes: an investigation into the relationship between the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and the English tonal painter Walter Richard Sickert (1990 & 2003)

Sir Francis Bacon: a biography (1994)

The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg: a biography (1990)

Krishnamurti and the Wind: an integral biography (2003)

World War Two books

Madeleine: the story of Noor Inayat Khan (1952)

The Starr Affair (1954 & 1973)

No. 13, Bob (“written practically as it was told [the author] by Captain Starr”) (1954)

Double Webs: Light on the Secret Agent’s War in France (1958)

Double Agent? Light on the Secret Agent’s War in France (1961)

Horoscope for a Double Agent (“Gilbert”) (1961)

Noor–un–nisa Inayat Khan (Madeleine) George Cross, M.B.E., Croix de Guerre with Gold Star – forward by Dame Irene Ward (1972)

Conversations with a Captor (1973)

The German Penetration of SOE: France 1941 – 1944 (1975)

Dericourt: the chequered spy (1989)

The Bombed Years: poems (1995)


Shiva’s Dance by Helen Bouvard (1979)

Espionage as a Fine Art by Henri Dericourt – a translation from the French with introduction and commentary (2002)

As an Illustrator

Meeting the snowy North again – poems by Martin Booth (1982)

Theosophical History Occasional Papers

Volume 2   Joan Grant: Winged Pharaoh (1993)

Volume 7  Cyril Scott and a Hidden School:
               Towards the Peeling of an Onion (1998)

Unpublished work

The Smoke and the Flame: a history of The Theosophy Society

All poetry and prose copyright Timothy d’arch Smith 2009

I had the absolute pleasure to interview Miss Overton Fuller about 20 years ago when I was a reporter on a local newspaper and she left a lasting impression – she was an inspiration and I enjoyed that afternoon in her company so much.

She taught me so much about literature and art and it was fascinating to listen to her – I have never forgotten that meeting with her. Nick Tite, 2011

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