Born 1924 Died 2002
Born on the 12th May 1924 John Wodehouse was the only child of John Wodehouse, 3rd Earl of Kimberley and Frances Margaret Montagu Irby. His godfather was a distant cousin named Pelham Grenville Wodehouse alias P.G. Wodehouse, who was a descendant of a younger brother of the 1st Baron Wodehouse. John appears to have had a somewhat lonely childhood at Kimberley Hall before being sent to Eton College, and inherited the title at the age of seventeen when his father was killed during an air raid in 1941. He then went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, but his studies were cut short when he got drunk in a nightclub and "accidentally enlisted in the Grenadier Guards".
He blamed the war for much of his later troubles claiming that "helping to liberate Brussels in 1944 was the beginning of my downfall", explaining that he had managed to acquire a significant quantity of champagne which he kept in a crate in his tank. Thus according to Wodehouse, "I spent much of the war tight and when it was over I couldn't stop."
The Six Wives of John the Fourth
It was whilst he was still at Eton that John first acquired his "taste for feminine flesh" when he visited London and "paid a couple of quid" to "an old dear". This and much of the Earl's subsequent conduct can be explained by his admission; "Sex. I just couldn't think of anything else". It certainly helps explain why the 4th Earl of Kimberley holds the record for being most married peer in history. On top of which one must take into account his various extra-marital excursions. Amongst his many claimed conquests were Eartha Kitt and Glynis Johns, whilst on one occasion, just to prove that these things do actually happen, he was found by one particularly suspicious husband hiding naked in a wardrobe.
He married his first wife shortly after the end of the war on the 27th October 1945. She was Diana Legh, the daughter of Sir Piers Walter Legh, Master of the King's Household and a former equerry to Edward VIII, whom he had met on a blind date at the Ritz. The wedding was rather a grand affair held at St George's Chapel in Windsor, and attended by King George VI, the Queen, and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. It however appears that John was already regretting the decision by the time he was standing at the altar and it was only the presence of royalty that prevented him from calling a halt to the proceedings there and then. He later claimed that he had more fun chasing mice around the bedroom on his honeymoon than he did with his new wife and they were divorced within a few years.
On the 9th February 1949 he married his second wife Carmel, one of the five daughters of Mickey Maguire, sometime welterweight champion of Australia. They had a son together, but were divorced in 1952, apparently because the Earl discovered that his wife had been unfaithful. (The Earl himself admitted this was a trifle hypocritical.) Wife number three was Cynthia Westendarp, a farmer's wife whom he met at Newarket races. They were married in 1953 and divorced in 1961. It was during this marriage that the Earl sold the ancestral home at Kimberley explaining that "it was the easiest way to get rid of Cynthia. All I could think about was buying a new Aston Martin". Wife number four was Maggie Simons, a twenty-three year old fashion model. They were married in 1961 but "we both drank a fair amount and had fearful fights". The divorce subsequently came through in 1965. Number five was Gillian Ireland-Smith, whom he married in 1970 and divorced in 1982, this relationship being "a disaster from the word go" according to the Earl.
Last but not least was wife number six, Sarah Jane Consett, otherwise known as 'Janey', the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Christopher d'A P Consett, DSO, MC, and a former masseuse whom he had met on a beach in Jamaica. He married her on the 20th August 1982 and finally struck it lucky as they lived reasonably happy ever after.
The Playboy Peer
Known therefore as one of the greatest womanisers of his generation, he was referred to as "the brightest blade in Burke's", an earned a reputation as something of a London playboy, being one of the members of 'Society' who mixed with the likes of John Aspinall and Lord Lucan, and made regular appreances in the gossip columns of the day. Although as the Earl himself noted that "if you were as drunk as I was, it was hard to avoid". It wasn't all play however, as during the 1950s and 1960s, he ran a public relations business Earl of Kimberley Associates with clients such as Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner, Robert Mitchum and David Niven and once employed Nigel Dempster as his tea boy. He also managed the time to operate as a member of the British Bobsleigh Team from 1949 to 1958, although it has been suggested that this was simply an excuse to spend time in St Mortiz.
All this time however, through six wives, various business ventures and the bobsleigh runs at St Mortiz, the 4th Earl carried on drinking. His consumption of alcohol naturally resulted in some unfortunate lapses. He once tried to drive a car up the steps of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, and also ran over and killed a pedestrian in Piccadilly and made regular apperances at sundry magistrates courts up and down the land. Eventually the 4th Earl began to recognise the affect alcohol was having on his health, and in the 1970s he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and later became vice-president of the World Council on Alcoholism from 1982 to 1985 and a member of the National Council on Alcoholism. None of which actually stopped the 4th Earl from drinking, as he continued to down a bottle of wine a day, but regarded this a considerable improvement on his previous habits. He was nevertheless regarded as sufficiently sober by the Liberal Party to act as their spokesman in the House of Lords on such topics as aerospace, defence and voluntary community services. He was a member of the House of Lords All-Party Defence Study Group from 1978 to 1992 and its chairman thereafter, although he possibly received more public recognition for his work on the House of Lords All-Party Study Group on UFOs from 1979 onwards.
The drink of course eventually caught up with and he died of kidney failure on the 26th May 2002 at the age of seventy-eight. He was succeeded by his eldest son John Armine Wodehouse, the product of his second wife Carmel June Maguire. His autobiography The Whim of the Wheel - The Memoirs of the Earl of Kimberley was published by the Merton Priory Press in 2001, but owed a great deal to an East Anglian journalist by the name of Charles Roberts.
- The obituary of The Earl of Kimberley 28/05/2002
- Farewell to the colourful earl, Swindon Advertiser, Friday 5th July 2002
- The Whim of the Wheel, The Memoirs of the Earl of Kimberley
- The entry for KIMBERLEY from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition