Lady Chatterley's FIRST LOVER; He Was the Suave Italian Who Began an Affair with DH Lawrence's Wife and Inspired a Literary Furore. Now Angelo Ravagli Is Brought to Life by Maurice Roeves, an Actor Whose Own Life Is Just as Dramatic

Daily Mail (London), June 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Lady Chatterley's FIRST LOVER; He Was the Suave Italian Who Began an Affair with DH Lawrence's Wife and Inspired a Literary Furore. Now Angelo Ravagli Is Brought to Life by Maurice Roeves, an Actor Whose Own Life Is Just as Dramatic


Byline: by Alan Chadwick

COULD it really be that a dapper Italian captain who served in one of Mussolini's elite army units was the model for Mellors, the rough, surly gamekeeper who became Lady Chatterley's Lover?

Maurice Roeves is in no doubt that Angelo Ravagli, who had a torrid affair with author DH Lawrence's wife Frieda, was the inspiration for the controversial novel.

Roeves, one of our most accomplished actors and still much-loved for his role in TV comedy Tutti Frutti, plays Ravagli in a one-man comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.

Just A Gigolo is the final part of a trilogy of plays about Lawrence written by Stephen Lowe. It is based on claims made in John Worthen's 2005 biography of Lawrence, The Life Of An Outsider, that Lady Chatterley's Lover was inspired by the real life love affair between Frieda and Ravagli. Worthen arrived at his conclusions partly from studying letters from Frieda to her mother, stored in archives at the University of Texas.

Roeves says: 'Angelo was a very mischievous and flirtatious character, full of life, who loved dancing. I like to think the play treats him with a lot of respect and understanding. I certainly don't think he's the villain of the piece.

'He had a lot of faults like everybody else but he was faithful to Frieda and what I hope comes across in the play is that his relationship with her was a lot stronger than people thought, and he was not just a gigolo.'

The Lawrences first met Ravagli, an officer in Mussolini's Bersaglieri sharpshooters, in the summer of 1925, when the couple rented a villa near Florence.

Lawrence, who was suffering from TB at the time, taught the captain English. Married Ravagli began an extra-marital affair with Frieda and this, according to Worthen, provided the template for Lady Chatterley's Lover.

He suggests the sickly Lawrence saw himself as the impotent, war-crippled Sir Clifford, with his wife as Constance and lusty Ravagli as her lover, the energetic gamekeeper Mellors.

When Lawrence died in 1930, Frieda, who was from aristocratic German stock and a distant relative of First World War fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, asked Ravagli to collect his ashes from France and join her at the novelist's ranch in Taos, New Mexico.

The Italian left his wife and three children and remained as her partner, and finally third husband, until her death in 1956. In her will she left him a quarter of her estate, including the rights to Lady Chatterley's Lover. This made him a wealthy man after a ban on the book was finally lifted in 1960.

Sunderland-born Roeves, who moved to Scotland when he was six and was brought up in Glasgow, focuses on Ravagli's time with the Lawrences in Just a Gigolo.

'Lawrence knew what was happening between Angelo and Frieda but being Lawrence he turned a blind eye,' says the actor, who has had to learn some Italian for the part.

'Lawrence was dying at the time and he and Frieda had a sort of free will open marriage as it was. Angelo was with her almost twice as long as she was with Lawrence. Frieda was about 15 years older than him. But there must have been something solid there.

'He wasn't a home-wrecker. He worked hard. When he went to Taos, the ranch was dilapidated and nothing worked.

'He built everything and did everything for her and looked after her. But he was always constantly in the background, like some sort of sad butler. As he says in the play: "I put food on the table. But I'm invisible. Nobody sees me because the ghost of Lawrence is too strong". But he wasn't bitter. He and Frieda had a great love.'

Lady Chatterley's Lover was first published privately in Italy in 1928. Famously banned for its graphic sexual content and the use of thenunprintable words, it would not become openly available in the United Kingdom until 1960, 30 years after Lawrence died at the age of 44. …

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Lady Chatterley's FIRST LOVER; He Was the Suave Italian Who Began an Affair with DH Lawrence's Wife and Inspired a Literary Furore. Now Angelo Ravagli Is Brought to Life by Maurice Roeves, an Actor Whose Own Life Is Just as Dramatic
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