FACTexclusive: Prudence Leith and The Devil’s Discus

January 21, 2011

FACTexclusive: Interview with Prudence Leith, widow of Rayne Kruger, author of The Devil’s Discus and a sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir


Prudence Leith received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1989 and Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2010.

She was named Veuve Cliquot’s “Businesswoman of the Year” in 1990 for her successful restaurant, the Michelin-starred Leith’s in Notting Hill, which opened in 1969 and her cooking school, Leith’s School of Food and Wine. Prue is also the author of several celebrated cookbooks, including Prue Leith’s Dinner Parties, the industry-standard Leith’s Cookery Bible and five novels.

However, at Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) we think fondly of Prudence Leith as wife to Rayne Kruger (1922-2002), the South African author of The Devil’s Discus in 1964, which continues to this day to test the boundaries of censorship in Thailand, with a new Hong Kong edition in English in 2009 and an underground Thai translation published in 2010. Rayne married Prue Leith in 1974, ten years after The Devil’s Discus was published. She has been kind enough to share her memories of Rayne with us.

QUESTIONS FOR PRUDENCE

1) When did Rayne first visit Thailand? Did you visit there together?

Shortly after the new King Bhumiphol came on a state visit to England. I think it must have been about 1962?  No I was not with him. But did come later. *

2) How did Rayne become interested in the death of King Ananda?

He saw a newspaper mention of the mystery of the king’s death, prompted by the new king’s visit to London.

3) In reading The Devil’s Discus, it is apparent that Rayne had access to many Royals and Palace retainers, as well as contacts throughout Thai govt. Who facilitated these for him?

A woman  whose identity even I do not know. Rayne kept the secret for her safety’s sake. It is really important, even if you guess the truth, not to publish it.

4) Was Rayne aware that the controversy brewing in Thailand over the Ananda death case would result in the ban of The Devil’s Discus from its first edition in 1964?

No, but he very soon realised he was handling sensitive stuff.

5) Was Rayne a part of any discussions with Thai officials prior to publication regarding the banning of The Devil’s Discus?

No.

6) Was Rayne informed that he was persona non grata, barred from entering Thailand?

Yes, but I don’t know how he was told this.

7) Did he have interest in returning to Thailand?

He loved Thailand  but realised he could not return. He would have liked to adopt a Thai  baby, but he could not have gone there and then we heard of Li-Da, a Cambodian war orphan of 16 months living in Paris.

8) You and Rayne adopted a Cambodian child, who grew up to become successful film-maker Li-Da Kruger. When did you visit Cambodia and did you make any effort to visit Thailand?

Both Li-Da and I have visited Thailand, usually  before or after a visit to Cambodia, but obviously not with Rayne. Rayne died eight years ago and for some years before his death he did not like to travel, so even had it been possible, I don’t think he’d have wanted to go.

9) Was Rayne aware of the Japanese and Thai translations of The Devil’s Discus? Was he in contact with their translators?

Yes, he’d been sent various translations, but since he did not read  Thai or Japanese language, he has never read them.

10) Rayne’s obituary in The Times, January 1, 2003 mentions “In Thailand the book was banned, and the publishing company which illegally printed an edition burnt down.” Although our research has failed to find any evidence of this, it is a marvelous family anecdote to have! How did this story come about?

I have no idea. Rayne told the story, and he was not given to exaggeration or invention, so I assume it to be true. But maybe it wasn’t. Myths tend to have a life of their own.

11) Why did you sign FACT’s petition?

One day a few years ago I was in Bangkok and got talking to a highly educated guide/taxidriver as he drove me to the airport. We quickly got onto the current political situation, the reverence for the king, and then to King Ananda. He turned out, amazing co-incidence, to have read Rayne’s book, and to believe it likely that Rayne’s conclusions were right. He was very excited to meet me, and I realised that for today’s young people in Thailand this history is still casting shadows. So when I heard of the petition it seemed right to sign it.  Interestingly, he was reluctant to give me his name and contact details. Maybe he was nervous?

*An extract on The Devil’s Discus from Prudence Leith’s forthcoming memoir:

Rayne had recently finished his book, The Devil’s Discus, on the mysterious death of King Ananda of Thailand (then Siam). At 20 Ananda had been found dead in bed, a bullet through his head.

Few educated Thais believed the official story that two faithful royal pages and an ex secretary, who had served the Royal Family for many years, were the murderers. But the alternatives were even more unbelievable: that a demi-god-king would kill himself or a divine prince kill his brother-god, were unthinkable concepts — too dangerous to both the monarchy and the regime. So the three men, after ten years of trial, appeals and more trials, were finally executed, the story being that they had been complicit in the killing of the king at the behest of the democratic, reforming, Prime Minister Pridi, who had long since disappeared in the face of the Army’s seizing power.

Rayne was moved by the plight of the families of the convicted men who could not cremate their bodies while they remained unvindicated — the flames would not release their spirits to find Nirvana. And he was intrigued by the rumour that Prime Minister Pridi, accused of masterminding the killing, had fled to China. He decided to investigate and took ship for Bangkok.

On arrival he tried to get a rickshaw to take him to his hotel, but his inability to speak a word of Thai meant he had to go back to his ship and get an English-speaking Thai to write the name and address of his hotel in Thai characters. The incident revealed to him the utter madness of his mission. Imagine, he thought, that a Thai writer, without a word of English, should arrive in London set on discovering the truth about the killing of the Queen.

Without any hope of a result, he asked the receptionist at the hotel to put the word out that he needed an assistant who would have the following qualifications: good English; royal blood; charm and personality, disbelief in the divinity of kings; close acquaintance of the ruling elite; no political ties or allegiance to the current regime, able to travel, willing to work night and day, and completely free for the next month.

He then went for a massage and thought he might as well spend a few days seeing the sights and then go home. Two days later a young woman came to see him. She was a rare aristocrat, more socialist than royalist. She had been to university in the West, she was charming, beautiful, could type, was free to work, etc. Above all she was brave. Rayne would have liked to dedicate his book but to do so would have jeopardised her safety.

Between them they discovered that Ananda had fallen in love with a Swiss girl when at college in Switzerland. He knew he could not marry her and anyway he dreaded his future as a god-king. He was a teenager with no one to turn to. He had shot himself through the head.

Of course Rayne’s book was banned in Thailand, but it is still in print in underground versions today. When, twenty odd years after its publication, I went to Thailand to do a stint of “British Country House Cooking” in the Royal Orchid Hotel (which at that time belonged to the Oriental Group) the hotel manager was astonished at the stream of royals — usually patrons of the grander and older Oriental, who came to the less illustrious Royal Orchid to eat potted shrimps and treacle tart. I put it down to their husbands’ nostalgia for the spotted dick and custard of their English public schools, but it soon transpired that they were coming to peer at the wife of Rayne Kruger, the author of The Devil’s Discus.

Rayne had wisely told me to keep my mouth shut on the subject and I deflected questions by saying I’d not read the book.

FACT comments: It can easily be see how anyone, fascinated by Thai history and culture and monarchy, can unwittingly blunder into lèse majesté.

A reprint of The Devil’s Discus in English, banned in 1964, is available here: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&vci=1330729&an=&tn=devil%27s+discus&kn=&isbn=&x=0&y=0

We have recently seen printed books of กงจักรปีศาจ, published in 1974 but not banned until 2007, for sale surreptiously in Bangkok. กงจักรปีศาจ may be read or downloaded here: http://www.scribd.com/collections/2496420/The-Devil-s-Discushttp://www.scribd.com/collections/2801432/หนังสือหายาก, and http://www.scribd.com/collections/2690652/หนังสือหายาก.

König Ananda – Des Teufels Diskus, a 2009 German translation with extensive additional analysis and commentary by Mark Teufel, not banned yet, is available here: http://www.epubli.de/shop/showshopelement?pubId=2141.


3 Responses to “FACTexclusive: Prudence Leith and The Devil’s Discus”

  1. Emilio Says:

    There’s a Youtube videos on the subject of The Devil’s discus by Rayne Kruger here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HPlR78dQV8


  2. […] it is a classic account of regicide (also an account by a British pathologist). FACT now has an exclusive interview with Prudence Leith, Kruger’s widow, including an extract from her forthcoming book. Worth a […]


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FACT, Igor Christodoulou, freakingcat, Mr. Sweaty Foreigner, Igor Christodoulou and others. Igor Christodoulou said: "I realised that for today’s young people in Thailand this history is still casting shadows." http://bit.ly/e4EGHk via @facthai […]


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