Vikki Heywood

Vikki Heywood’s theatrical career spans forty years – culminating in her role as Executive Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is chairman of the Royal Society of Arts and completing her first novel, which is set in Cornwall in the present day and Jordan and Israel in 1964. Beginning with the discovery of a father’s secret it becomes an urgent quest to unmask a murderer and find a missing Dead Sea Scroll.


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Helen is considering what to do with her Saturday, when the telephone rings.  Uncle Arthur is in the midst of a conversation – but with someone else.

“Oh, do be quiet dears for goodness sake. Leonard, chuck the bloody dogs a biscuit can you? I am desperately trying to talk to Helen. YES, DEAR I’M ON THE TELEPHONE. DAMM IT GIRLS, BE QUIET! There, peace in our time.

Now, it seems something’s up with your wily old Pa – he has presented dear Peggy with a valentine card. She called me this morning in a bit of a flap. Apparently he told her they were on a two for one offer in W H Smiths. Lord knows what he’s done with the other one. Seriously, it does sound as if she’s rather worried about him. It all rather unlikely, I mean the idea that he has developed a late in life crush. Though you must admit it’s a beguiling thought; a deep passion revealed at last, after a lifetime of being his housekeeper. I think you should seriously consider coming down, besides some Cornish air will do you good.”

“I can’t imagine what he is playing at, poor Peggy. I’ll give him a ring.”

“Probably best not to mention I told you. Now, tell me a juicy piece of London gossip. Something I can pass on to Leonard and then have the deceitful pleasure of NOT telling anyone else in the village. Life is just too dull for words in soggy Devonshire.”

They had just ended their call, when her phone rings again. Down the line she can hear the rooks arguing in her father’s garden.

“Hello, darling. I’m dashing up from Penzance, on the spur of the moment. I want to see what you have done to the old place.”

“But I was just thinking of coming to see you.”

“Well I got in there first, see you later.”

Helen begins to convert her workroom back into his bedroom. She folds her easel, rolls away canvasses, washes out jam jars, sorts the tubes and packets of paint and winds the brushes into their wraps. It will be the usual routine; a drink with his agent, a night at the theatre, a walk on Hampstead Heath; his plan.

He arrives in the afternoon, hot foot from Paddington, carrying his battered leather suitcase with BOAC stickers on the side, stuffed with a collection of shabby clothes and a quantity of books. He removes his cap releasing a whiff of Floris aftershave and brushes today’s bristle across her cheek. Glancing in the hall mirror he gives it his sideways smile, the one that she knows other women find so irresistible, pats down the salt and pepper wisps of his hair and after rummaging in his room, joins her in the kitchen. He perches on a stool beside the table, slightly swamped by his corduroy jacket, known as “old faithful”. He will just as happily wear it digging in the garden, or at a BBC script conference, “more like a bloody script vivisection”. He hums as he lays his rumpled newspaper out on the table and begins to snip out a selection of articles.

“They haven’t printed the story about the murder of that young Arab boy again, but then they wouldn’t put it in, even if some poor sod had worked it out,” he says carefully folding the cuttings into his pocket diary.

He stares around him at her orderly kitchen with its new units and paintwork. He gets up and looks out onto the February garden, running the change in his trouser pocket through his fingers. Peggy would call him a knotless thread.

There being no plan, she moves to makes supper, no point in hoping for an offer of any assistance; her father only dragged himself away from his writing to mix the drinks. When it transpired her mother wasn’t just tired but actually dying, he left the meals to Helen, though she was only nine.

“Why don’t you mix us a couple of gins?”

“Righto!” he says, with the confidence of a man given a decent role at last. After a few sips he begins flicking peanuts into the air and catching them, an old dog with a new trick.

“I had a call from Philip this morning,” Helen says, “sounds as if Margot’s not too good. Shall we drive over to the hospital tomorrow?”

“Lovely idea.”

Philip was conjuring up people to visit his mother, conjuring anyone but himself. Helen remembers shoe boxes full of tiny black and white photographs of her father and Margot growing up; from back alley kids living next door to each other in Bolton, to twenty something’s, a la mode, outside a frothy coffee shop in Soho. Margot had the 1950’s look all right, with her thick black curls swept up in a scarf, a tight waisted skirt and a broad slick of lipstick. Helen recalls lying in bed in this flat, the smell of gin and cigarettes mingled with serious voices, drifting along the hallway, her goodnight story long forgotten. Margot’s husband Henry had been caught, yet again, with a young starlet from the actor’s agency they jointly founded and Margot was over for dinner, drawing up battle plans.

The next morning she squishes Frank into her orange VW Beetle and they chug along to a grey and rainy Hendon. The fuggy air of the ward is a thick mixture of the smells of the day. A clinical winter has killed all traces of Margot’s past life and wiped her clean, leaving her shrunk and lost in a sea of white bed-sheets, lying alongside similar ghosts with lost past lives. They are shocked to see she is so far gone. Her long fingers move like bony mice, back and forth across the folded sheets. Her throat sounds parched, her eyes are deep and dark, yet she misses nothing.

“What are you staring at my Lancashire lad?”  Margot whispers.

“Only the notice on your wall,” Frank lies.

Margot shuts her eyes with a sigh.

“Goodbye, my Lancashire lass,” he says, stroking her hand.

They slink out, as she slumbers.

“I should have come to see her sooner, no idea she was so far gone,” says Frank blowing his nose loudly into his handkerchief, as they wander down endless grey corridors.

On the way home they ease the sadness with memories of Cornish holidays, after Margot dumped her no good husband, but kept a tight grip on the agency and the name. The memories run round their heads like the winding spools of Frank’s lovingly edited holiday films.

“Do you remember the restorative power of ‘after bathe’ chocolate?” he says digging a large bar out of his coat pocket.

“You must finish it once you open it – otherwise the germs get in,” and he passes her a small portion, with a chocolaty grin.

The last evening of his visit, they go to the theatre. They look at each other, their smiling faces caught by the stage lighting. At the end, as they press out into the street, he calls to her from deep in the crowd.

“So where is the stage door?” He is lit up by the fun of it, the buzz.

She can’t bear to tell him he has no friends in this show. They are not ‘going round’.

“Dad, we don’t know any of these guys, remember?” she shouts over the babble.


Outside the theatre lights dim. The crowd bends against the February rain and runs across inky pavements to the tube station. “PARIS TERROR MASSACRE LATEST REPORT AND PICTURES” shouts the abandoned poster boards of the Evening Standard.  Frank stares, transfixed, the rain dribbling off his umbrella.

“They couldn’t have saved the boy. I tried to, but he was too far gone by the time they arrived.”

“How could you have tried to save a boy in Paris?  What boy?”  This is the second time.

“Dad?” Purring black taxis with amber lights glide towards them on the slick road.

“Come on let’s get you home.”

The next morning they are waiting for his taxi. Light snow is falling, settling on the old fence. A cat walks along it performing a confident high wire act and drops down out of sight.

“Maybe I should have brought us both back here after Dodo died, not left you stuck with me in deepest Cornwall.”

“At fifty-nine and eighty-six there’s not much point in either of us regretting anything is there?”

“Do you think I have missed something, some vital clue, a spark, that would get me back on track?”

“Clue about what?”

The doorbell rings, it’s his taxi. She stands on the pavement as he waves and smiles. She turns his room back into hers; soon it will be how she likes it, as if he never came. Why exactly had he come? She knows she should have asked about the valentine card, but how could she without revealing Arthur was talking behind his back?

As she strips the bed a well-thumbed book about the Dead Sea Scrolls falls onto the floor. She flicks the pages, the smell of mildew, the smell of his writing cabin, drifts out. A raggedy envelope provides a bookmark.  Inside there is a letter, a letter from her.

Dearest Daddy,

I am wondring how you are and what you are doing? I am fine, the dog is fine and Peggy says to tell you that Mummy is fine.  I have been doing my reading for Mummy wile she has a ly down – which is good.

Love, Helen. xx

PS here is a picture I drew of me in Cornwall, swimming from one land to land. Will you teach me when you come home please?

Why is he carrying around that sad little voice – that reminder of a time long ago, when he should have been there, with her, for her. She stuffs the letter back in the book.

Later that evening she calls him.

“How was your journey?”

“Oh you know, the usual. I did get rather separated from my suitcase, I think I must have taken a wrong turn coming back from the loo, after Dawlish.”

She pictures him starring out at the tomato soup coloured sea, as the train sped him to Penzance.

“It is clear to me, now I think about it again, that I was set up, you know.  I never should have got into that taxi.”

“The taxi this morning?”

“No silly, in Israel in ’64,” he sounds dreamy, “that’s when the Arab boy was killed.”

“What Arab boy? You keep mentioning a boy who has been killed but I am not sure if you are talking about in the past, or the present?”

He is silent. She wonders if he has fallen asleep.

“You sound tired, perhaps you should have an early night?”

“Yes, I’ll go in, in a minute.”

“In? Why, where on earth are you?” Light snow has fallen in London all day.

“Oh, just sitting in the garden, I’ve got my hat on, the one you gave me at Christmas. I’ve been out here for a while, catching peanuts for my supper. I can see their faces smiling up at me from the jar, but you mustn’t worry, I know which one is the leader.”


Helen wakes knowing she must go to Cornwall. Something is not right. Her legs feel heavy as she moves about the flat, sorting. She cancels the papers, puts out the rubbish, leaves a note for the neighbours downstairs and heads off to Paddington. Fifty-nine years of controlling his demands has prepared her; she will stay for a week, no more.

The train slides her along the jointed tracks. How well she knows this run. So many holiday journeys when they lived in the flat in Maida Vale, her mother was alive and everything was as it should be, now and forever, amen. Frank would be dispatched to drive the car with the dog, there was always a dog, whilst Margot and her beehive, Philip, Dodo and Helen would take a taxi, all noise and excitement, to Paddington and the Cornish Riviera Express.

They would pile through a sliding door from a narrow corridor and into a small compartment, where inevitably an elderly couple would have already staked a claim. After much banging and crashing about and negotiation as to who would sit where, they would finally be settled, uncomfortably close.

Red-brown chequered bench covers, like scrubbing brushes, would rub away at bare legs. Way above was a headrest, its red leather stained and glossy from the sweat of many other heads. Above that, a rack made of netting for her attaché case. Between these hung a framed and yellowing map of the West Country, so small fingers and older, disapproving eyes, could track the slow, oh so slow progression. A steward, in a white jacket, buttons stretched to bursting, would bowl down the corridor, bouncing from side to side with the motion of the train. His hair an oil slicked perfection.

“Anyone for luncheon?”

“First sitting please,” Margot would leap up before Dodo would have a chance to argue.

“Of course madam – four tickets – what a treat! Come down after Taunton.” Relief on the faces of the elderly passengers, peace would fall after Taunton. Lunch with a view to die for as the soft cliffs dip dye the sea red, after Dawlish. White tablecloths, napkins, silver plate, and cutlery settings for four courses; heavy handled knives, forks and soupspoons as big as her small fist.

“Sit up and just try it Philip, for goodness sake stop making such a fuss.”

Soup, followed by fish, then meat, then pudding; all served from swaying hipped stewards, who juggled silver service with a merry wave of their double spoon action.

“Steward, two of your best brandies with a dash of soda please.   Darling, do try one of these, they are absolutely the latest thing,” and Margot would hand the delighted Dodo something just come in to fashion, like a pastel shaded, golden tipped cocktail cigarette, identical to the chocolate version Helen would get from her at Christmas. Such promise of sunny days and sandy-footed freedom.  The two women would have kicked off their sling-back shoes and treated themselves to another.


That evening Frank and Helen join the rest of the West Country anxiously staring at the weather map that follows the ten o’clock news.  He gets up and taps the barometer.

“Well the pressure is rising, so they’ve got it wrong, yet again.”

He pokes the fire and chucks in the logs, as if tossing every weatherman he ever knew into their crackling flames.

“Well I hope so, as I need to get back to London at the weekend and it will be a bloody nuisance if the train track slides into the sea.”

“If they are worried I am sure they will call you and ask your opinion.”

Was that a put down, or an odd thing to say? She is relieved to find there had been no more talk over supper about a tragic boy, either past or present.

“No worries tonight about which one is the leader in this bowlful of peanuts then?”


“You know you are saying and doing some rather odd things?”

“Well, I am worried that I have forgotten what I might need to remember, but can’t remember what it is,” a lift of one shoulder, the sideways smile he should know is wasted on her. “I sometimes think I am behaving like your mother’s dreadful bore of an Uncle – just staring out of the window. Mind you he had his interesting moments, before they shut him up for good with a frontal lobotomy and generous doses of electric shock therapy. Perhaps I’ve got an intermittent fault.”

Despite his wry humour he looks frightened and is searching for eye contact, blue, blue eyes.

“Whilst I’m here you should talk to the doctor about it, I could come with you? Arthur is also worried.”

“Ah, now I understand.  This is a conspiracy.”

He stumps out of the room and up the stairs in humiliation, seeking the sanctuary of a bath. She hears the water run, amplified through the thin floorboards above. The radio comes on, a concert on Radio Three, the comfort of the routine. He floats above her head, whilst she sits dejected below.

What a jumble this room has become. Every surface is covered in papers, books cuttings, scripts, magazines and newspapers. She needs to clear some of it up, but where on earth to begin? The old grand piano stands braced under the weight of it all. Resting on top of one pile is a photograph of her, sitting in the garden with a daisy chain in her hair. How old, maybe five? Taken at a time when she still had a mother, a mother that made a crown of flowers for her and pressed the camera shutter. Her eyes are Dodo’s eyes, smiling at a happy little girl in a summer garden.

As she tackles the first piano pile, her attention drifts back upstairs to the bathroom. She is afraid he is falling into an increasingly deep reverie up there; time is ticking on and there is still no sound of water descending the drainpipe. What if he falls asleep and slips under the water? She stands at the bottom of the stairs and listens, nothing. She goes up, knocks and bursts the bubble into which he has drifted.

“Dad? It’s late, it’s time for bed now, we’ve both had a long day.”

“Just a minute darling, can’t a chap get a bit of peace in his bath?”

“You have had a good deal of peace.  Now its time for bed.”

There is the squeak of skin on enamel and she can hear him padding to the door which opens to reveal him, aged and flushed, his large white towel sagging like a nappy. He pulls the misty bath fug with him, as he steps into the hall.

“Ah, there you are, now follow me,” and he takes her into his bedroom, which she is appalled to see is in a worse state than downstairs. Cloths are strewn all over the floor, the bed is unmade, one curtain is pulled off its runners and books and papers are in dusty piles everywhere. Clearly Peggy has not been allowed in this room for quite a while, she will have to have a word.

“I’m doing a bit of research, don’t make a fuss.” He begins to rummage through a pile of papers on the floor.

“Ah, here it is. If you want to be helpful to me, you might care to begin your research with this,” and hands her a copy of a battered notebook, labelled JORDAN AND ISRAEL 1964 in faded blue ink.

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” He dismisses her by brushing his cheek against hers.

The house has grown chilly, so just as the girl in the picture would, she takes the notebook to read under the covers, in the warmth of her old bed.

24th May, 1964

Arrival in Amman

   I passed easily enough through Jordanian immigration, offering up my British Passport.  As advised for my onward trip to Israel, its freshly minted sibling was buried in my bag in the hold.  

   There being no sense of any queuing system, fractious and already drenched in sweat, I threw my luggage and myself into the first cab I could catch. It smelled equally and not that unpleasantly of young man and garlic. The expanding city has been stack-piled, like roughly folded parchment paper on the sides of its surrounding hills. 

  Imposing billboards smiled down on us as we made our way into the city.  The dapper and suited King Hussein, sporting a jaunty keffiyeh, floated above the chaos, and twinkled from on high – adored.  

    “What brings you to Amman, my friend?” His elbow rested on the open window frame, his hand constantly up, ready to shoot out and demand for us to be let through.

    “I am researching a movie, a film about the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

    “Any time you want to go to Qumran, I will take you, any time, I give you my card.”

    “And you?” I began, as I mean to go on, with questions and questions.

     My taxi boy beamed, he can’t have been more than eighteen. 

    “I am a Palestinian. Like you my friend, ‘just passing through’. Resting here for a while, then I will go back, God willing, back to reclaim my family’s farm, outside West Jerusalem, in occupied Palestine.”  

   Girls in sexy dresses strolled arm in arm; the men looked at them with interest and circumspection. On the reckless drive from the airport to the city centre we stopped abruptly and my driver – in mid flow of his hapless story – switched on the car radio to listen to the call of the Muezzin from the mosque.  He punctuated this with blasts on the horn. The Jordanian drives ruthlessly, possessed, straight at the pedestrian or the car going the other way. Neither yields, they pass by with only inches to spare. 

   I was already buzzing with ideas. I should start my movie with a claxon symphony in a darkened cinema. Quick staccato stabs of protest – little gasps of life in this vast wilderness. The holy land. Parp-parp! Honk-honk!

   Situated in a quiet back street the hotel entrance had a triple height, wooden door, probably stolen from some ancient building; nothing goes to waste. The open front door led me to a pleasant lobby, the air smelled sweet and reassuringly cool; ceiling fans spooned the sand dry air. The reception desk had pigeonholes for keys and guest mail – it reminded me of so many hotels, in so many movies. 

   When I staggered in with my bags a young Arab woman, (what is it that gives them such grace?) was seated at a small table in the lobby, smoking. By the look of her short skirt and sunglasses, she would be just as happy seated in a coffee shop in the Kings Road. I wondered for whom she was waiting and hoped it might just be me. I gave her one of my smiles, but to no avail. Mr Hallak bustled out from the back office, small and western style, his left hand clutched cigarettes and a flashy gold lighter, his right extended in greeting. As with the majority of all men I have spotted so far, he sports a fantastically thick moustache. My blonde hair (“golden” – thank you mother) and clean-shaven face makes me stick out like a sore thumb. 

   “Some tea?  Some food? How was your flight?” 

    Ding went the desk bell and a small boy carried my bags up to this room. 

   As soon as I was alone I stepped out onto my balcony into the soupy dusk.  Lights from houses were emerging – glittering the hillsides. Life here is a hard eruption on the surface of a lifeless part of the planet. Only a few people were out on the street below, which is an alleyway of shops – mostly cloth merchants and tailors. When I ventured out for dinner only one tout approached me and in a most gentlemanly fashion – selling archaeological tours! Think of Bombay, think of Soho at that hour.  

   So here I am. Tomorrow Jerusalem and the next leg of my research trip.   My producer, Larry, has set me up with a good collection of potential characters to meet. More will reveal themselves to me as I go along through Jordan and then Israel. I will keep up this daily record of my thoughts and capture as many quotes and characters as I can, for material later. I must suppress my interest in everything ‘now’ and stick to my commission, to tell the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls – however tempting.

  At last the call to prayers has ceased, the buzzing mosquitoes are calmed and I will sleep.

 24th May, 1964

 Amman to Jerusalem

   This morning I took my leave of Mr Hallak, his son Tony and warm-hearted Amman. Baksheesh all round, I hoped enough. You would never know; Jordanians are far too polite to show you have insulted them. How unlike the Americans.  

   “Good luck with your movie.” 

   Just that little a hint of amusement – I was not entirely being levelled with  and that’s just by the bellboy.  

   The service taxi was booked for 11am. We left, without comment, half an hour late. Three unidentified white men in suits squashed into the back seat and spoke in Arabic to the driver. With a sigh, like the last breath of air from a flaccid balloon, a fat padre plonked himself up front and filled all the available space for us both leaving me bookended between him and the sweaty driver. There was no sign of the beautiful girl from yesterday – what a shame.

   Thus overloaded we bowled out of Amman and onto the excellent highway.  The cab had the ominous title “fury” on the dashboard. The scenery is rugged, but strangely not unlike my beloved Cornish and Lancashire moors, only parched and trodden to dust by the poor man’s taxi service – the donkey. 

   We sensed the start of the fall below sea level, as we began the dip to the Dead Sea. The wind through the opened window was like a blast furnace – it dried my eyes.  Down and down to the vast plateau. I spotted the Sea through a heat haze on the left, we sped past a lonely and tantalising signpost and glimpsed barren hills to the West, amongst them the home of the Scrolls, Qumran.  

    Some Bedouin, their camels kneeling, were standing in the hot road. A tall westerner stood pleading with them – his car smashed up in the ditch. There was blood on his hands but it seems only from superficial cuts. He was covered in dust. He spoke English with a Scandinavian accent to the trio in the back seat of our car, who translated for the driver. He desperately wanted a rope and help to pull the car out but the taxi man singularly refused to move from his seat and had, it would seem, no rope. The back seat translators told him they would call the police at the next stop, but he shook his head in irritation, “No, No. I don’t want the police. I want…I want…help. Please don’t leave me here – don’t leave me with these men.” But to my horror we were already pulling away and the Bedouin were moving in on him, in a manner that did not lead me to think they were planning to be kind. The fat padre gazed to the hazy horizon and ignored the whole thing. The man continued to shout in fury at our exhaust dust.

    The driver told the guards at the next police post but referred unsympathetically to “an American”. The guards seemed indifferent. It remained unclear whether they would do anything. I stood forlornly by the cab and resisted the urge to push his cause – for fear it disadvantaged my own plans for the day. The first day and there were already choices and alliances to be made and broken. We drove on and up into the hills, to my new location and my obsession, Jerusalem.

   The National Hotel is a classic representation of modern Jordan, smart and expensive looking – thank you, ABC Pictures! I delighted in the fitments and the fine wire mesh over the window; perhaps a better night, free of mosquitoes, will be in store tonight, but the place is soulless.

   I called Professor Joseph Saad. He had received my introduction from Larry. He was, I think, flattered by my call and agreed to see me tomorrow morning at the Palestine Archaeological Museum.

   This afternoon I walked around this divided city – divided between old and new, Jordan and Israel, Muslim, Christian and Jew. We are all trapped in the eastern Jordanian side; I alone can double cross and enter the Israeli “occupied” west. I was drawn to the old city and walked down the crowded Via Dolorosa. Small Arab girls, with stony eyes, hold up souvenirs of the Stations of the Cross. Here is where He fell; here is where Veronica wiped His face. 

   I dived off the main track to find an experience less moulded, corrupted, for the tourists. Looking around at the huggermugger of shops, their front steps strung with baskets and dripping with cheap pots and pans I saw nothing that moved my imagination. A small, bootless child attached herself to me till I gave her 5 fils. She hardly spoke; only to touch my sleeve. Her silent tears were probably fake – but highly effective. She kept her pride intact.  

    I went to the Temple – the Al Aqsa Mosque. Everything – the choice of place names, the choice of dress, the choice (what choice?) of faith is an allegiance, a betrayal, a denial of someone, or something, a statement of your viewpoint and a declaration of your fixed point of view. I stared in disbelief at a tiny area, a silent postage stamp sized piece of two thousand years of obliteration. Drawn and quartered for centuries – what is to come? There is character in the old city, but what else? If this place had a soul before it became an international battleground, it seems to have lost it now. 

Helen drops the notebook to the bedroom floor, her eyes stinging with exhaustion. That’s two Arab boys and two taxis already, she thinks as she drifts off to sleep.