COULD life with the Lyons really be as they present it on their immensely popular radio show? When I saw that they were due back on the air next week I determined to find out and let you know.
And so I set out for their home near Marble Arch, which was open house to the Services during the war. It was known to the boys as the House with the Blue Door, and now here I was with my finger on the bell. Suddenly the blue door was open and Richard Lyon greeted me.
“Hiyah,” he said, smiling. “The folks are upstairs. I’ll be right back.” In I went — and off he went, shutting the door after him with a crash that shook the house.
Ben’s voice came from above. “Who’s just gone out? Richard?” No one answered. “Why can’t he learn to shut the door quietly!” roared Ben, I walked along the hall past the gallery of photographs marking Bebe and Elen’s long career from Hollywood to Broadcasting House. At the foot of the stairs I paused. A portly, comfortable figure was making its descent — backwards. The descent was slow and dignified.
The figure reached the bottom safely — turned, looked at me and breathed: “It’s my legs, dear. I always come downstairs that way. It’s my legs, see?”
I saw, I nodded, then went upstairs — frontwards. Such was my brief encounter with the daily help.
Ben greeted me in the living room. “Hallo, there. Bebe is upstairs — she’ll be down in a moment.” Ben was wielding a spray-gun. “Say, you’re just the person to help me. I saw a moth fly under this armchair. Now, if I tip it forward, will you hold it? That’s fine. Dam that moth!” And Ben sprayed vigorously.
A cloud rose. I sneezed. Ben sneezed. Bebe walked into the room. “Hallo, you two. What’s going on?”
“Moths,” sneezed Ben.
“Well,” said Bebe, “that’s a fine way to get rid of them—sneezing on them.'”
We put the armchair back in position and sat down.
Peace at last
Bebe was holding some papers. A new Life With The Lyons script? Yes — Bebe started working on the new series after their holiday in July; and it is true that she often works far into the night.
“Sometimes,” said Ben, “I get worried about her.”
“You needn’t, dear,” said Bebe. “I work better that way. The house is quiet; the telephone doesn’t ring; Barbara and Richard don’t keep bursting in and out; and someone doesn’t come to me to tell me the iron is broken.”
“Is Bebe as scatter-brained and as vague in real life as she is on the air? ” I asked Ben.
“No,” said Bebe.
“Yes,” said Ben.
“Well, sometimes,” countered Bebe.
“Quite often,” said Ben with finality. “I’ll tell you. One day, Bebe locked up a trinket box, then she locked the keys in a cupboard — then she lost the keys of the cupboard!”
But their light-hearted approach to life is combined with one of the most successful and happy husband-and-wife home and business partnerships.
As Bebe and Ben talk, you realise that Life With The Lyons is very true to their lives. “We just exaggerate it,” says Bebe.
Does Ben get into as much trouble at home as he does on the air?
“Yes,” said Bebe, “especially when he starts fixing things.”
So realistic is their show that after one programme, when Ben got into a mess trying to fix the sink, a plumber sent round to ask if he could be of any help.
Presently, Barbara joined us. Her greeting of “Hi” was followed by the phone ringing. “I’ll get it,” said Barbara, and she returned to announce: “It’s for Richard. Where is Richard?”
As if in answer, the door downstairs crashed like thunder. Bebe winced, Ben closed his eves.
“Your brother,” said Ben with slow deliberation, “has just come in.”
The personalities of the Lyons seem to fill the house. Richard breezes in and out; Barbara wanders around with account books.
“Bebe and I gave the kids a choice of looking after the accounts or shopping,” explained Ben thoughtfully. “Barbara chose the accounts — Richard the shopping.
“We wanted them to get a real sense of the value of things and money. For a time, like most kids, they imagined money came out of a tap. But they’re learning fast — and enjoying it.”
Family of cooks
The Lyons are great home lovers. Over lunch we talked about food. The entire family can cook.
“You should taste my hamburgers,” said Richard.
“I taught you how to make them,” Ben claimed.
“I know, Pop,” agreed Richard, “but do you remember the day you left the angel cakes in the oven…? ”
“That’s enough. Richard.” retorted Ben. “Everybody makes mistakes.”
Barbara laughed. “Now my angel cakes.” she began…
Ben looked pained. “Can’t we forget angel cakes?”
I had wondered about Richard and Barbara — were they spoiled through their fame on the radio ? I can answer that right away: they are not.
Barbara is an extremely pretty girl who bubbles with good humour. When she laughs everyone laughs. She is smart in her choice of clothes and knows the meaning of “grooming.”
Sophisticated? Only in the sense of being up-to-date. One of her great assets is inherited from her father and mother — natural charm and sincerity.
And Richard? You feel he, too, has a personality that is heading in the right direction. He is alive with questions, eager to listen and learn, eager to discuss his views.
In the dark
One of his interests is photography. Keen to show me this achievement he swept me down to his basement darkroom.
“What do you think of this?” he said, “isn’t it great!”
“Great,” I replied, “except that I can’t see a thing.”
“You’re not meant to — I painted the windows black and lined the door with felt. I bet you can’t see a pinprick of light.”
“Not a pin-prick,” I agreed.
“Now,” said Richard, “look!” And he switched on the light to reveal negatives hanging from bent wire coat-hangers, huge brown bottles containing chemicals, and a lot of developing equipment. “Would you like me to take your picture?” he asked.
“Very much,” I replied, and I was swept up to his attic studio — and photographed.
Another member of the household is Skippy, the Siamese cat.
One day another cat came into Skippy’s life.
“It was a little tabby,” explained Bebe. “The poor little thing was so hungry, we fed it and let it stay. We realised, too, she was going to have kittens.
“One morning, Barbara came down late for breakfast — looking, her father said, as if she had been up all night.
“‘I have, daddy,’ said Barbara, ‘with the little tabby. She had her kittens.’
“Then on top of that, Barbara bought herself a poodle. So we had a poodle, two cats and three kittens,” said Bebe.
What happened to the kittens?
“Barbara and Richard got friends to adopt them,” explained Bebe, “but the tabby stayed with us.”
The family is involved in another exciting venture. Life With The Lyons is to be filmed. Preparations were in full swing. Bebe had to choose some new clothes for the event. Would I care to go with her?
On the way. Bebe gave me some of her views on the subject. “I like dresses to have an elegant and simple line—no fussy bits.” She loves tailor-made suits.
What did she think of the new Dior hemline?
“Well,” and Bebe laughed, “I always choose hemlines that suit me. I guess many women do the same thing.”
That front door!
It was a busy afternoon. Back at the house again, we sank into armchairs and drank tea. Ben and Richard were out.
Barbara joined us — she had been studying the script for the coming film.
“This is my first film,” she told me, “and I want the family to be really proud of me. Richard has been in pictures before — in Hollywood.”
Without any warning, the front door slammed.
“Richard?” I asked.
“No, Ben,” replied Bebe. “He bangs the door louder than Richard. Ben!” she called loudly.
“Yes, honey?” called back Ben.
“Nothing, dear — I just wanted to make sure it was you, that’s all.”
Then we heard another noise—a dull thud and a plaintive cry of “Help!” followed by the sound of Ben racing down to the kitchen.
“What’s happened?” exclaimed Bebe, and we went down to investigate.
“Don’t come in here,” shouted Ben, “you’ll get smothered.”
We stood at the kitchen door. It was like a snowstorm — with white clouds everywhere.
“Everything happens to us!”
Ben was grappling with a fire extinguisher spurting foam. The “daily” stood in the middle of the kitchen shrouded in white.
“I only tried to move the thing,” she wailed, “and it slipped out of my hands and went off — look at it all over everything.”
Ben at last got the spurting extinguisher into the garden, then came back and looked round.
“Everything,” he sighed, “happens to us — and we’ve just had the kitchen painted.”
“Never mind, dear,” said Bebe, “at least we know the dam thing would have gone off if we’d ever had a fire.”
There was a crash from the front door. Bebe winced. Ben closed his eyes.
“When,” he roared, “will Richard learn to shut that door quietly?”
When I left I shut the door with hardly a sound. That probably startled the Lyons more than any crash.