In the 1960s, much against my inclinations, I found myself on the fringes of what still passed as ‘the debutante Season’ and formed a jaundiced view of the whole tawdry business. In my priggish way, I couldn’t fathom why my boss Peter Townend, a Northern card then editing Burke’s publications, elected to exercise his encyclopaedic knowledge gratifying the social aspirations of pushy debs’ mums and gormless debs’ delights instead of applying himself to serious genealogical scholarship. I remember shying away from his kind offer to put me on his ‘List’ of eligible escorts. Now, looking back from forty years on and having read Fiona MacCarthy’s perceptive, witty and stimulating social history of the deb Season, I realise that my narrow-minded prejudices and inverted snobbery may have cut me off from experiencing something of life’s rich pageant.
MacCarthy herself was among the final group of debs to curtsey to the Queen in 1958, but although her book is ostensibly devoted to chronicling that last Season, its scope ranges much further. The author, who took up her place at Oxford at the end of her Season and went