There are a number of actresses who hover around the fringes of Elvira’s world. Kay Hammond,Valerie Taylor, Beatrix Thomson, Norah Balfour, Sunday Wilshin, Jeanne De Casalis etc. etc. all have at least some links with the circle. I think we might as well add Frances Doble to this ever-expanding list.
Frances was the elder sister of Georgia, who married Sacheverell Sitwell, and both belonged to the inner sanctum of the Bright Young People. Georgia ( 1906-1980) had been at school with Elvira, introduced her to Viva King and hence much of Chelsea Bohemia (see http://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/ ). She was in the iconic “aesthete” photographs, is present at the Impersonation party (as Edith Sitwell) and turns up in the memoirs of, among others, Anthony Powell and Frances Partridge.
Portrait of Georgia Sitwell by William Acton
Georgia Sitwell third from right —————————Georgia as Edith Sitwell
Georgia Sitwell by Cecil Beaton
Because of the revival of interest in the Bright Young People, Georgia is now the better remembered of the two siblings . However Frances (1902-1969) had the bigger impact in her day. She appeared in the film version of Noel Coward’s The Vortex and Basil Dean’s stage and film adaptations of The Constant Nymph and Nine Till Six. To me, that places her as the thespian embodiment of late twenties female modernity. The Vortex captured the mood of the period perfectly while The Constant Nymph was (as book and play) the most popular manifestation of the new sensibility. She also had a starring role in the farcically disastrous “Sirocco” in 1927 ( leading man Ivor Novello, written by Coward) and the much cited While Parents Sleep in 1932. All in all, there is barely a “younger generation” play that does not seem to have featured her. Not bad considering that her acting and dancing skills were never deemed to be more than adequate.
Frances Doble 1929
It is Nine Till Six (1930) that allows me to make a bid for Frances’ to be included in Elvira’s world. Less well remembered than the other plays listed above, its author and its all women cast give it a special place in the “theatrical” culture of the time. Written by Aimee Stuart, who was the centre of a London gay and lesbian salon culture that included figures such as Nerina Shute and Sunday Wilshin, it chronicled the lives of a group of women in the hitherto masculine world of work. Like most of Stuart’s plays it became something of a gay ” cult classic” .Its early stage and film incarnations starred the likes of Norah Balfour, Florence Desmond, Sunday Wilshin, Kay Hammond, Alison Leggatt, Jeanne De Casalis and, of course, Frances Doble. Elvira would have seen this play, would have known the actresses – who all tended to come from wealthy backgrounds – and would have taken pride in associating with any, if not all, of the players.
A significant number of Elvira’s female friends were divorced, separated or unhappily married. Frances had married Hugh Lindsay-Hogg in 1929 and Georgia had been Mrs. Sitwell since 1925, but both women are recorded as missing the “social whirl” of London. Both struggled with marriage, as did their husbands, and both continued to be part of the London party scene. That Elvira didn’t keep in contact with her old schoolmate and therefore her glamorous elder sister is inconceivable. Socially, temperamentally and professionally everything about Frances makes her someone Elvira would have wanted to hang out with.
Cecil Beaton and Frances Doble 1935
Frances’ marriage did not last: nor did her acting career. She disappears from public view in the years of Elvira’s decline. However one relationship, between 1938 and 1939, is of interest. Kim Philby, then attempting to prove his right-wing credentials while already in the pay of Moscow, has an affair with her. She was now in Spain, an ardent fan of Franco and Hitler, and her parties for Falangist officers in Salamanca are described as “lavish”. Many of the Bright Young People flirted with Fascism – some, like Brian Howard, moved to the left. The Sitwell set definitely leant to the right. Which way Elvira would have turned, had she lived, is anyone’s guess.
I would not place Frances particularly closely to Elvira but I doubt that they were strangers to each other. If Francis was part of Aimee Stuart’s entourage then the connection is far more likely. I will post on this fascinating but forgotten Scottish playwright shortly.