David Bowie – Space Oddity album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: June–September 1969
Producer: Tony Visconti
Engineers: Ken Scott, Malcolm Toft, Barry Sheffield

Released: 14 November 1969

David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Keith Christmas: guitar

Available on:
David Bowie (1969)
Five Years (1969-1973)
The ‘Mercury’ Demos
Conversation Piece

Written about Hermione Farthingale, David Bowie’s partner and collaborator in 1968 and 1969, ‘Letter To Hermione’ laid bare his feelings of loss and sorrow after she ended their relationship.

I once wrote a letter I never sent to Hermione, who was a dancer with the Lindsay Kemp mime company. I thought I’d record it instead and send her the record. I think she’s in Greenwich Village now.
David Bowie
Disc and Music Echo, 25 October 1969

It was, along with ‘An Occasional Dream’, one of two songs on Bowie’s second album written directly about Farthingale, who was born Hermione Dennis in 1949.

That’s me in a maudlin or romantic mood. I’d written her a letter, and then decided not to post it. ‘Letter To Hermione’ is what I wished I’d said. I was in love with her, and it took me months to get over it. She walked out on me, and I suppose that was what hurt as much as anything else, that feeling of rejection.
David Bowie
David Bowie: Living On The Brink, George Tremlett

On 31 January 1968 Bowie and Lindsay Kemp appeared in The Pistol Shot, a BBC television adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s short story Vystrel. Bowie and Kemp were contracted to appear in a ballroom scene, and one of the other dancers was Farthingale.

I was a classically trained ballet dancer, and like many a dancer I continued training myself with ballet classes. So I was recruited, as people were, from the Dance Centre. It was an audition and we went along. Lindsay sort of snuck David in, because David wasn’t a trained dancer, so really he shouldn’t have been there. But it didn’t matter. It was only a minuet. It was about sixteen people doing a minuet around the room. And that’s where we met.
Hermione Farthingale
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg

Farthingale and Bowie were partnered for the scene, and got on well enough for him to walk her to the London Underground station afterwards. They began a relationship shortly afterwards.

We just started going out with each other, and I just fell head over heels. I think actually it was mutual; we were very much in love with each other. And as young love often does it sort of, you know, went wrong after about a year. I wrote this song really as a way of trying to communicate with her again.
David Bowie, 2000
Golden Years – The David Bowie Story, BBC Radio

In 1968 they formed Turquoise, a folk and mime troupe which also featured Tony Hill on guitar and vocals. Later that year they regrouped as Feathers, with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson replacing Hill. Bowie played guitar, sang and mimed in both acts, and Farthingale sang, played guitar and danced.

David Bowie and Hermione Farthingale

Bowie and Farthingale split up in 1969, when she was offered a role in the feature film Song Of Norway, for which she left London to work in Scandinavia.

Feathers were never destined to last, he never said, ‘let’s the three of us get really famous together’. It was a stepping stone.

But I also said to myself, ‘am I going to be with David for the rest of my life?’ and I didn’t think I was actually going to. He was clearly going somewhere and I didn’t think I was going to tread that path with him.

Song Of Norway was a big MGM spectacular which needed dancers for seven months or so. It was something no one in their right mind would turn down. I just thought, ‘yeah this is what I want to be doing’. I suddenly realised I had to pull out.

Hermione Farthingale
David Bowie: Finding Fame, BBC

Bowie was reportedly devastated by the split.

Oh yeah, it broke my heart. She was doing this funny romp in Norway with bits of ballet in it and she was cast in that. I didn’t get over that for such a long time, it really broke me up.
David Bowie
David Bowie: Finding Fame, BBC

In the video for 2013’s ‘Where Are We Now?’, Bowie wore a t-shirt bearing the words “m/s Song of Norway“. This was an unambiguous reference to the 1970 film Song Of Norway, although the prefix “m/s” refers to the motor ship cruise liner with which the film shared a name. The song weighed heavy with nostalgia, although lyrically it focused on his time in 1970s Berlin rather than London at the end of the previous decade.

Curiously, although Bowie’s ‘Letter To Hermione’ was left unsent, the pair did continue to wrote to one another for some time after their split. Bowie belatedly came to realise that they could have resumed their relationship during this time.

I had not realised until about four weeks ago, going through some of my old papers, that after we broke up she had started writing to me again about two months, three months later, which was the most extraordinary thing. I’d sort of blanked it out of my mind, but obviously we could have gotten back together again, I realised, having read all these letters.
David Bowie, 2000
Golden Years – The David Bowie Story, BBC Radio

Farthingale spent six months filming Song Of Norway before moving briefly to America. Unable to obtain a work visa, she returned to Britain and worked for Welsh National Opera and continued to dance.

I think David expresses himself beautifully. But they weren’t written and handed to me , there wasn’t any ulterior motive. Obviously they strike into the heart. They’re wonderful, wonderful love songs, whoever they’re for… To me, that’s just the David I know. Who was very personal. These weren’t works of fiction, they were just heartfelt songs.

In 2002 Bowie claimed to have met Farthingale once again in the early 1970s.

I was totally unfaithful and couldn’t for the life of me keep it zipped. Bad move on my part, as I’m sure we would have lasted a good long time if I’d been a good boy. She, quite rightly, ran off with a dancer that she had met while filming. Then, I heard, she married an anthropologist and went to live in Borneo for a while, mapping out unknown rivers … We met up again after I had become Ziggy, but it was gone. We spent a night or two together but the spark had been extinguished.
David Bowie, 2002

Farthingale, however, later denied that such an encounter had taken place.

Complete bollocks! You can quote me on that if you want. I was married by then. In 1972 I went to New Guinea, and I got married in New Guinea.

All the books say I became a cartographer, and then they make wonderful claims that I’ve mapped all the rivers of South America – which I’ve become quite proud of, because actually you could hardly walk them in a lifetime, could you? Let alone map them. It’s just such a brilliant thing to do. But I’m afraid I didn’t. I’m not a cartographer.

Hermione Farthingale
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg