Wroxton College Professor Joseph Hone’s personal connection to ‘Mary Poppins’ author P.L. Travers

Professor Joseph Hone, whose younger brother Camillus was adopted by "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers, in his office at FDU's Wroxton College. He teaches creative writing as well as part three of the University Core program, “Cross-Cultural Perspectives." (Photo by Andrew Rose)

By Andrew Rose

Disney’s Mary Poppins is a perennial holiday favorite and the Mary Poppins books have been enjoyed by generations of children, but behind the smiles, the songs and the magic lies an altogether different story.

A new film in theaters this December, Saving Mr. Banks, explores the fractious relationship between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers — author of the Mary Poppins books — but omits the story of her adopted son, Camillus.

Professor Joseph Hone, a well-respected author, broadcaster, Wroxton College faculty member and brother of Camillus, sheds light on this part of her life.

Although Mary Poppins was the perfect nanny, Travers was far from the perfect mother.

Hone and his three brothers were born in London, England, abandoned by their parents and handed to their grandparents in Dublin, Ireland, who plainly couldn’t cope with raising four boys.

Travers adopted Hone’s younger brother, Camillus, but refused to also adopt Camillus’ twin brother, Anthony, in 1940. Travers had the twins' horoscopes prepared by an astrologer friend who firmly recommended that she take Camillus but leave Anthony.

The twins were separated and didn’t meet again until they were in their late teens.

Having somehow learned that he had a twin, Anthony turned up unannounced on Travers’ doorstep. Travers hadn’t told Camillus that he had a twin brother. He was under the misapprehension that she was his biological mother and that his father had been a wealthy sugar magnate who’d died of fever. The twins immediately went off ‘round the London pubs on a three-day drinking binge to celebrate their reunion.

Camillus and Anthony had experienced such different lives that their only apparent bond seemed to be an over-fondness for drinking. Thereafter, they only saw each other occasionally.

Hone was invited to stay with Travers in the late 1950s in the hope that meeting his more sensible elder brother would help Camillus get his act together. Camillus had been sent down from Oxford University for repeatedly gambling at illegal casinos and, at the age of 21, he was jailed for six months for a drunk-driving offense.

Hone says that Travers was “steely and self-centered” and believes that she should either have adopted both of the twins or instead, found a single baby from elsewhere. But he also says that he’s sure that Travers did her best for Camillus.

He was brought up in the lap of luxury and, materially, didn’t want for anything. Still, Camillus never quite forgave his mother for her deception, and Anthony never forgave Travers for having separated him from his twin brother. 

The twins continued to drink heavily all their lives. They both married women called Frances and had families of their own, but in the end, both succumbed to the tragedy of alcoholism. Hone is convinced that the twins chose their own path to self-destruction, but that Travers acted as the catalyst.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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