Filmmaker’s breakthrough in piecing together South Shields Baron’s story

Avro and Anne at their wedding at Kensington Register Office.
Avro and Anne at their wedding at Kensington Register Office.

Recently I reported how an appeal from local film-maker Gary Wilkinson for information regarding the Italian-born aristocrat Baron Avro Manhattan had brought a response from a family friend, now living in Germany.

The Baron, who was a friend of Picasso and George Bernard Shaw, and who ended his days here in Shields, was to have been the subject of a film by Gary.

Gary Wilkinson at Avro and Anne's grave in Durham.

Gary Wilkinson at Avro and Anne's grave in Durham.

To that end, Gary previously made an appeal for help in the Gazette, a call which prompted the overseas response from Gunda Kraepelin.

He wrote: “My memories of him [Baron Von Manhattan] will presumably come too late to be of use to Mr Wlkinson in making his film.”

As it turns out, the film has yet to be made, something which has delighted Mr Krapelin, as his email to Gary explains.

“Dear Gary Wilkinson, thank you so much for your kind mail,” writes Mr Kraepelin.

Avro's wife Ann presenting a bust of her husband to the South Shields Library.

Avro's wife Ann presenting a bust of her husband to the South Shields Library.

“I was most pleased about your statement that the documentary is still in production, and that you are still interested in obtaining more details about Avro Manhattan’s early life, when he called himself Teofilo Lucifero Gardini.

“I described briefly the background of my memories of Gardini, even though they are not too substantial.

“I was still very young in these years.

“It will be my pleasure, however, to provide you with additional information and documents, as far as I have them at my disposal.

“I am sorry not to have any information about Gardini’s parents, their origin, or what their names were.

“I knew him from his regular visits in Suna, where he was active as a painter in the late 30s and early 40s.

“When in Suna, he used to live with Paolo Troubetzkoy in the artist’s Cà Bianca. He called him his ‘uncle’.

“I do not know about other whereabouts he might have had at this time.

“I still have various amateur photographs of Gardini at my disposal, which I will be glad to send you in case you are interested in them.

“Two of Gardini’s oil paintings are in the possession of The Museo del Paesaggio, in Verbania-Pallanza.

“Gardini arranged several expositions of his paintings in the Museo, for the last time in 1945, shortly before his move to England.

“I shall be pleased to hear from you again. If in the course of your investigations you would become interested in Gardini’s oil paintings, which remained in Suna, I could send you photographs of them.”

Gary, who is still researching the life of the Baron, from his birth in Italy in 1914, through his aristocratic roots, to his writing over 50 books which sold worldwide, was quick to respond.

He wrote: “Dear Gunda, firstly thank you for your email, yes I would be very interested in any photographs or images that you have of Teofilo or Avro. His artwork too, that will be great.

“I have attached some images (which appear on this page) that you might like.

“One is Avro and Anne Cunningham-Brown getting married at the Kensington Register Office, in London, on November 4, 1986.

“Anne is wearing the furs that Avro bought for her in Russia. He had the money from the royalties off his books.

“The next is a photo of me taken last year at his and his wife’s grave in Durham, North East England, at the start of the research into his life. You may notice he has a number of titles.

“The third is taken in 1994 by professional photographer Alan White in the South Shields Library.

“The photo is of his wife Anne presenting a bust of Avro to the library, which is still there to this day.

“Hope you find these interesting, and if there is anything you would like to know about Avro’s life in the UK, I will do my best to help as I have researched many aspects of his life.”

So what happens next? I’ll keep you posted.