We are told that when Priestley lived at Brook Hill the working day would start with a huge breakfast, with hot dishes of kidneys and kippers on the sideboard at a stated hour, after which Priestley would disappear into his study until lunchtime, to re-emerge for fierce tennis on a private court, tea on the terrace, cocktails, and a late, lavish dinner. At night, the great man would challenge his guests that they could look at the lights of Bournemouth and ‘thank God you’re not there.’

In 1953 he was in his late 50s and most of his important writing was behind him; Literary projects completed at Brook Hill included nine plays, including Dragon’s Mouth (1952). Here he wrote the rumbustious satire Festival at Farbridge (1951), set in a claustrophobic local community preparing for the Festival of Britain. It targets pomposity and village rivalries. Tom Priestley recalls how: We didn’t often walk down to the village, JBP did not drive and so we were quite isolated. He was community-minded in spirit and had local friends. We ‘stubbed our toes’ on class in the Island. My father, not being ‘County’ meant he was not much liked. We were friendly with the Mew family, he was the Master of Foxhounds and Alfred Noyes was another IOW friend.

It was while they were living at Brook Hill that the Priestleys’ marriage broke down. Both JBP and his wife remarried, with Jack marrying Jacquetta Hawkes in 1953. Jacquetta was a distinguished archaeologist and had been awarded the OBE in 1952. Her first major discovery was a Neanderthal skeleton in Palestine and she was archaeological adviser to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Her widely acclaimed book A Land combined her archaeological knowledge with her poetic imagination. In the Isle of Wight she excavated the Neolithic longbarrow at the Longstone with Jack Jones, then County Archaeologist, assisted by her son Nicolas Hawkes and Mr Frank Hayles, the gardener at Brook Hill. Jacqetta believed in making use of all forms of mass media to popularize archaeology, and in the late 1940s produced an innovative film about pre-history, with an Iron Age site reconstructed at Pinewood Studios. During the 1950s she frequently appeared on the popular BBC television programme Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. Jacquetta also wrote poetry and plays, collaborating with JBP on several pieces. In 1957 Jacquetta and JB Priestley and a number of friends, including Canon John and Diana Collins, founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and she was often to be seen leading the famous Aldermaston marches. In 1958 she organised a major public meeting in Sandown Pavilion to promote the campaign on the Isle of Wight, which coincided with the local, successful campaign against a proposed nuclear power station at Newtown.

Despite his famed grumpiness, Priestley was known as ‘Jolly Jack’ to his close friends: When Jack Priestley was there, those were gay days. We celebrated New Year’s Eve by a special party. Jack had a special bottle of drink concealed under his chair. We had a string quartet playing high grade stuff.

Jack and Jacquetta Priestley entertained many guests at Brook Hill, including such well-known figures from the arts and sciences as Leon Goossens, Iris Murdoch, Julian Huxley, Mortimer Wheeler, Compton Mackenzie, Dilys Powell, Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray, Marghanita Laski, and John and Diana Collins. Parties included poet Louis MacNiece, historian A J P Taylor (who lived in Yarmouth), Gerald Abraham, Professor of Music at Liverpool, Jack and Johanna Jones, when he was Curator at Carisbrooke Castle, Dr Richard and Mary Sandiford and the Rev. Robert Bowyer, Vicar of Brook and Mottistone and his wife Elisabeth. Nicolas Hawkes, Jacquetta’s son described a New Year’s Eve party in 1953 in his diary: a great event for this teenager! Guests: The Abrahams, Revd and Mrs Bowyer (vicar of Mottistone) the Hutchinsons plus Jugoslav student, the Sandifords, the Taylors, and important new friends Jack & Johanna Jones, of Carisbrooke Castle Museum plus 4 of us. Miss Pudduck prepared a magnificent supper, which was eaten standing. Games brilliantly organized by JBP: 1. Miming Game (like Washing the Elephant) in 2 teams; 2. The acting Titles Game in 4 teams of 4 each; 3. Fortune-telling, in which each person dropped a spoonful of molten lead into cold water, the resulting, often fantastic, shape was used by JBP to tell the person’s fortune. Much merriment! Finally Bishop, or mulled port, was served to see the New Year in. There was NO Auld Lang Syne, GSTQ, kissing etc. They preferred it that way.

Professor Abraham, alongside J B Priestley, famously organised concerts of chamber music at Brook Hill House, inviting such brilliant ensembles as the Dartington Quartet and soloists Leon Goossens and Reginald Kell. In his diary Nicolas Hawkes describes the music concerts: The large central hall at Brook Hill was ideal, with excellent acoustics and the guests sitting on the wide staircase and on the gallery above. Audiences were about 150 and it was always a capacity house with the long approach drive choked with slow moving vehicles. 11-13 Sept 1953 The New London Quartet with Erich Gruenberg, Lionel Bentley (violins), Keith Cummings (Viola), Douglas Cameron (cello). Leon Goossens, the world famous oboeist and Eric Harrison (Piano) also played. In January 1954 Harrison and Goossens returned for a single concert and in September 1957 The Robert Masters Piano Quartet played; RM (1st violin), Nannie Jamieson (viola) and Muriel Taylor (cello). Jack Jones recalls how: Priestley would introduce the players and programme, after which he would disappear into the large drawing room where he would enjoy the music from the depths of an armchair, and the aroma of cigar smoke would be discernible.

When the Priestleys left Brook Hill in 1959, it was not without regrets: If we were so happy up there at Brooke Hill House why did we sell, pack up and leave the Island? It was all very well for us living there, but our family and friends had to keep getting to and from the Island. This was not very easy in winter with its sudden blinding fogs cutting us off from the mainland… So we took pity on our family and friends and moved somewhere more accessible. But I am not sure we were right.