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14 February 2006
Whitney Iveagh St.James
Character created by M. Mitchell Marmel & EO Costello
Image by Kjartan
Backstory on Whitney Iveagh St. James (1893-1936)
The character of Whitney Iveagh St. James is largely based on Valentine Castlerosse, a rather impoverished Anglo-Irish peer (Earl of Kenmare) who, after being grievously wounded in World War I, took up journalism. He was one of the first of the major gossip columnists, and had a significant career in the 20s and 30s with the London Evening Standard, until his relatively early death (caused by alcohol problems) in the late 1930s. An affectionate portrait of Castlerosse can be found in David Low's autobiography. Low had worked with Castlerosse when the former was the editorial cartoonist in residence, and indeed Castlerosse is caricatured in a number of Low cartoons.
(The character's name is in part taken from the Iveagh family, the family that owned the Guinness brewery in Dublin; as many no doubt know, the main brewery is at St. James' Gate.)
Whitney Iveagh St. James ("Whitney" from here on), a bulldog by species, was a younger son of an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family whose fortunes had largely been frittered away by the gambling and poor business decisions of his forebears, combined with the land upheavals in the Ireland of the second half of the 19th century. For all that, Whitney had an authentic love for Ireland, and made a point of attending Trinity College, Dublin, instead of Oxford or Cambridge. (Somewhat remarkably for a Protestant, he also attended Clongowes Wood College before going to Trinity: this Jesuit-run school may well be remembered for having James Joyce as a student in the late 1880s. [Footnote: also the school my father attended in the 1950s])
After graduating from Trinity, Whitney joined the Irish Guards, and was thus sent over with the BEF in 1914. Whitney's combat career was rather short. Like his real-life counterpart Castlerosse, who had a wrist badly shattered by a sniper's bullet, Whitney suffered serious injuries in the retreat from Mons. A grenade exploded near his head, costing him his sight in his right eye. Further wounds to his face were averted, at the cost of losing his ring finger and pinkie on his right paw (leaving him his thumb, index and middle fingers). In spite of all that, he led his men to safety, and was awarded the Military Cross.
Whitney decided to take up writing as therapy, willing himself to be able to use not only his shattered right paw, but his left paw as well. His efforts came to the notice of Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook), who was just then mixing a career in politics with a burgeoning newspaper empire. He saw the promise in a bright, charming young canine with social connections, and hired him as a society reporter.
Whitney, while gratefully taking the job, had ideas that were perhaps slightly at odds with the vision of his employer, and he was soon enmeshed in intrigue. He stumbled across a scheme to poison the bread supplies of the French Army with ergot, and had collected a number of coded messages that he believed contained the plot. It was then that he stumbled across Franklin Stagg. Or rather, the latter across the former, since Whitney was at that point being held at bay in a Geneva hotel by a group of German spies, the very ones carrying out the plot. Stagg unraveled the telegrams, and the plot, foiling the enterprise and earning Whitney's admiration.
For the next number of years, the paths of Whitney St. James and Franklin Stagg occasionally crossed; in addition, Whitney's paths crossed with two other of Stagg's good friends, Henri-Charles Grandcerf and Allan Minkerton III. This was because Whitney St. James had a distinct taste for mixing his high society reporting with social crusading, especially when the latter could spring from the misdeeds of those in high society. The case of the blackmailer murdered while trying to practice his profession on the daughter of the French Ambassador to the US in 1924, is a case in point. That case involved all three of Stagg's closest friends bringing him in to unravel not only a dinner jacket, but a murder as well.
Whitney loyally stood by his friend when the latter was put on trial for his life in 1932. Naturally, he caught the classical allusion Stagg made in his final speech to the court, and returned it in kind. Whitney was badly beaten for his pains, but had no regrets about his actions.
As a result of his reporting, the London Observer, under the ownership of the Duchess of Strathdern, hired Whitney away in early 1933, putting him full time as a crusading reporter. Domestic malfeasance gave way to reporting from the march to war in Manchuria and Ethiopia. It was his final reporting that was a measure of the fur's bravery. He infiltrated the Japanese Mandates in mid-1936, to report on the military buildup there. He was spotted, and though grievously wounded, he managed to get away, at least in the short term.
It was to the Spontoons he headed, knowing that was where his close friend was. Stagg was alerted to his arrival at Island Hospital, but Whitney Iveagh St. James died of his wounds on the operating table. He was just 43. Stagg could only get a final, silent paw squeeze in farewell.
Whitney Iveagh St. James is buried far from the green hills where he was born. His tombstone, perhaps surprisingly (or not) has an epitaph written in Irish ["Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer"].
(NB: references to the Duchess of Strathdern are with the permission of J.T. Urie. All other references are to historical figures, or to characters (c) E.O. Costello.)
General physical description:
In spite of Whitney's wounds, and perhaps even because of them, he cuts a rather dashing figure. He is slightly smaller than both Grandcerf and Stagg, and taller than Minkerton; he is approximately 6' 00" and about 180 pounds, a fair amount of it muscle. He is very broad-shouldered, and has managed to keep the fat off with vigorous exercise (some of it horizontal jogging). His overall fur colour is a light cream. He has a thin, black pencil mustache. His headfur is short, wavy and black, and parted at the left. He has an eyepatch over his right eye. Unlike many bulldogs, he does not have an overly jowly face; it's fairly trim by the standards of his species and breed. He smiles and laughs very readily. His right paw is usually covered by a black kidskin glove, except when wearing evening dress, in which case the glove is white. When wearing evening dress (which he finds many excuses to do), he will wear his medals (in his case, most notably the MC, along with the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre). He dresses quite well, largely at the sufferance of tailors on two continents and in five countries.
His smoke of choice is Havana cigars. His tipple of choice is Pol Roger champagne. These are usually enjoyed at the expense of others, especially Henri-Charles Grandcerf and the London Observer.
Description and Character created by M.Mitchell Marmel & EOCostello