Family Pages
Janet Mary Rance, journalist, died of cancer on December 18th 1996 aged 68. She was born on March 24, 1928.
written by Ysenda Maxtone Graham for Victoria Walker, 'The Times'.

"From her mother Jan Struther, Janet Rance inherited wisdom, zest and eloquence which made friends long to ring her up and ask advice about anything from how to deal with a crying baby ("Earplugs") to how to write a book. As Janet Graham she was a journalist for The Reader's Digest for 30 years, producing extensively researched articles on travel, art and architecture while bringing up seven children in a small house in Streatley. An intrepid traveller with a taste for exoticism and variety, she explored the Iron Curtain countries posing as a housewife, managed to get a tax allowance for two contrasting sets of clothes when sent to write about Iceland and the Algerian Sahara, and succeeded in selling hitch-hiking and ballooning as "sports" to Sports Illustrated. "The Digest", as she familiarly called it, were delighted with her but frequently cut her articles in half and removed much of the fun. "Cry all the way to the bank" was her advice to friends who complained about their treatment by sub-editors.

Her mother was the rebellious and romantic author of Mrs Miniver; her father, Anthony Maxtone Graham, was a golfing laird whom Janet thought snobbish, conventional, extravagant and annoying. When in 1951 she became engaged to Patrick Rance, now well-known for his definitive books on British and French cheese, her father made her postpone the wedding so that the rhododendrons along the drive in Perthshire would be at their best. This was the kind of social nicety Janet couldn't stand. She loathed Scotland and decided it could only be of interest if you liked hitting balls or killing things. When she and Patrick (a monocled ex-regular Army major) started running the village shop in Streatley, Berkshire, her father and aunts were disapproving: it wasn't the done thing for a laird's daughter to marry a shopkeeper.

Janet and Pat Rance lived over the shop, in a house called Jessamine Cottage, which became known as Decibel Cottage because of the seven children. Over the years the house began to smell more and more strongly of cheese. The shop, Wells Stores, continued to be a general grocer's but little by little the baked beans and sellotape were pushed aside to make more and more room for chèvre and Cornish yarg. The shop became a haven for cheese-lovers from all over the Thames Valley and beyond.

Janet shut herself away while the children were at school and wrote her articles. She worked in what she called "a Bach-lined room". Though she was too much of a questioner and a rebel to be a textbook Christian, she thought of Bach as a "hotline to heaven". It seemed to her perfectly all right to have classical music playing as wallpaper in the background. "I know musicians say one should listen to music intelligently, but it must be so exhausting to listen intelligently." She was such a Radio 3 addict that she used the Radio Times page as her diary, scribbling engagements in between concert programmes.

Her journalistic career began in America, where she had lived from 1940 to 1945 with her mother, who was giving highly influential lectures and consulting on the film of Mrs Miniver which helped to bring America into the War. Aged 14, Janet was given a typewriter from her mother as a reward when the Atlantic Monthly published her poem about air raids. Returning to New York in 1947, Janet became a secretary on Good Housekeeping, and from this humble post quickly made her way to be assistant editor. Her Good Housekeeping past was slightly difficult to imagine when one visited her: though an excellent cook, she was not a much of a cleaner, and the stain experts at Good Housekeeping would have been brought up short if they had seen the surface of her stove. Though particular about the quality and temperature of cheese, Janet was far from being a wine or mineral-water snob: "It's Chateau Robinet this evening," guests would be told as she turned on the tap.

Wells Stores was taken over by a son, Hugh, but was sold during the recession. Patrick wrote his book on French cheese and this involved fascinating visits with Janet to cheese-making monasteries all over France, where the standard of plainchant was judged just as strictly as the standard of cheese.

Janet had her first of five attacks of cancer 25 years ago. "Cancer is curable," she believed, and she became a source of consolation-by-example to friends who were suffering from it. She was, by nature, someone who liked to read in bed; and as the cancer gradually and inevitably returned, her bedside table became piled higher and higher with books and Times Literary Supplements. She was a great clipper and was forever cutting bits out of the papers to send to relatives and friends about their particular interests. Her small bedroom-cum drawing-room in South Kensington, lined with grimy books thickened with bookmarks and clippings, was bound to contain the very quotation you were looking for when you came to her for help."