When I posted on Albemarle Street (see
), I failed to mention two important nightclubs. Both were expensive and catered for the “after hours” crowd. One was the 500, which cultivated a laid-back, relaxing atmosphere, the other was The Bat, an altogether livelier affair.
The Bat features in several reminiscences of the period, including those by Barbara Cartland and Margaret, Duchess of Argylle. It was very “Mayfair” rather than “Chelsea” but it had a rather “racy” reputation which met with some disapproval. Its initial fame came about through its patronage by the actress and cabaret star, Teddie Gerard. She liked to sit in with the band on drums (something The Prince of Wales was also wont to do)
Teddie Gerard (1890-1942)
Gerard (born Teresa Cabre, in Buenos Aires) was, in some ways the original version of the wilder women of the 1920s. Virginia Nicholson describes her as “a hard drinking, promiscuous adventuress with a drug habit”. She had shocked and thrilled Broadway audiences in 1915 by wearing on stage a very revealing, backless dress. She was a regular on the London theatrical circuit throughout the 1920s and became a friend and a kind of role-model to Tallulah Bankhead. Others in her set included Dolly Wilde and Gwen Farrar.
The Bat encouraged this intimate relationship between audience and performers by booking what were, by the standards of the day, risque cabaret acts. The best known of these was Dwight Fiske, a Harvard drop-out who played very accomplished piano over which he performed a series of monologues consisting entirely of sexual innuendo. These were much nearer to the knuckle than the work of Douglas Byng who also was a favourite of the BYP. However, like Byng’s insufferably twee campness, they have dated badly and come across today as simply juvenile. Nonetheless, at the time they were considered deliciously naughty and helped launch the forgotten phenomenon of the “Party Record” – a private subscription disc service which served to enliven many a cocktail party and late night gathering.
Dwight Fiske by Carl Van Vechten 1937
The well-connected Fiske’s success at the Bat Club was ensured by the support of Tallulah Bankhead who was a regular in the audience during his residency – and where Tallulah went many followed. But the real coup for the club was the securing of Harry Roy as the regular bandleader.
Harry Roy 1900-1971
Harry Roy was born Harry Lipman in Stamford Hill. Like so many of the West End Dance Band leaders and musicians, his family were Jewish. He played at all the right places – The Cafe De Paris, The Embassy and the Mayfair Hotel (all favourites of Elvira) and by the early 30s was a big star. At the Bat Club (as Harry Roy and his Bat Boys) he could play more “hot” music than elsewhere and his versions of “Tiger Rag” and “You Rascal You” became better known than the originals. He still had an eye on what the crowd wanted and what the crowd at the Bat wanted was, to put it bluntly, smut.
Roy’s Bat Club outfit released a number of jazz pieces on the label Oriole. This was set up by Levy’s of Whitechapel to cater for the small but growing audience for genuine “hot” music. Oriole also issued, privately in 1931, the Bat Club’s unofficial anthem. the puerile and very rude ”My Girl’s Pussy”. This was apparently sung with much gusto by the whole audience on certain, more “carefree” nights. It is rubbish but in its own way remarkable and shows the licence that was granted to certain sub-sections of “Society”, once out of sight of the general public. Do not click if you are offended by double entendre,casual sexism (or banality, for that matter) but here it is -
Harry Roy was a particular favourite among High Society women. In 1932, at a Mayfair cocktail party, he met Elizabeth Brooke, the most wayward of three wayward daughters of the “White Rajah of Sarawak”, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke and the Ranee, Lady Sylvia. Having been presented at court, Elizabeth (known to the press as “Princess Pearl”) had become part of the “fast” crowd – attending clubs, partying and drinking all night. She also enrolled at RADA, which might make her a contemporary of Sylvia Coke et al. After flings with such high-profile figures as Jack Buchanan, Elizabeth settled on Harry Roy and the couple married, to much public fanfare, in 1935.
This “pop star weds society beauty” was an unusual event and there was some unfavourable comments – many as motivated by racial as class issues. It is a sort of precursor of a number of factors we normally associate with the 1960s and beyond. For a few it proved that jazz, cocktail-parties and night-clubs were indeed a threat to social hierarchies – for most it was simply thought of as highly romantic.
For more on the White Rajahs and Ranees of Arawak see “Sylvia, Queen of The Headhunters” by Philip Eade
Sylvia Brooke 1930 – her elder sister was “Brett” of D.H.Lawrence and Bloomsbury fame
Roy’s Bat Club days were well behind him and the club closed in the mid-thirties. . He still made the odd “blue” record – (She Had to Go and Lose It at the Astor) but they were much milder than the material performed earlier.
Some of Elvira’s friends would have thought of the Bat as a bit “hearty” and Hooray Henry-ish , but it would certainly have been one of her many ports of call. Given her evident fondness for all things late night and a little off-colour, I can easily picture her, in 1931, singing along with gusto.