Billy Milton (1905-1989) had a remarkable career that began with entertaining fellow students at Lancing with the latest “hot” tunes and ended with a series of small parts in TV sitcoms such as “The Good Life”, “Till Death Us Do Part” and “Love Thy Neighbour”. After Lancing (where he was bullied by the one and only Tom Driberg) he became a feature of the London cabaret scene for the next twenty years. A talented pianist and composer, it was as a very “English” light leading man that he achieved his greatest success – in British films and in upmarket nightclubs in London,Paris and New York. His brother Harry seemed also destined for similar success but his involvement in the various scandals around the marriage and divorce of Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale destroyed his career.Billy Milton bore a striking resemblance – in looks and acting style – to Hale. These pre-war music stars all fell out of favour after World War 2. Hugh Wade’s last musical effort was a comeback revue written specifically for Matthews.Unlike many of that era Billy Milton remained ebullient and optimistic and in 1976 wrote a funny, irreverent and at times scurrilous autobiography, “”Paradise Mislaid”.
“In 1932 Milton was featured with the Carroll Gibbons orchestra in” Bow Bells” at the London Hippodrome – also starring Sonnie Hale”
Openly and proudly bisexual, Milton’s connection to the Barney case is as follows-
He was a performer, as part of Carroll Gibbons orchestra and alongside Leslie (Hutch) Hutchinson, at the party at the Mullens residence where Elvira met John Barney of the vocal trio the Three New Yorkers. Gibbons led the Savoy Orpheans , the favoured dance-band for the smart-set while Hutch was the sensation of the town with residencies at Ciro’s, The Malmaison and Chez Henri – all establishments that Elvira would have known well (she had a membership at Ciro’s). Hutch is, of course, also renowned for his many affairs with the aristocracy – both male and female (Lady Mountbatten being the best known.)
Milton claims it was he who explained to Barney just what a wealthy young woman Elvira Mullens was and before he knew it they were married. That Milton believed there was little love between the couple is shown by this tasty morsel of gossip (from the autobiography)-
“The marriage did not work out. It was said she spent their wedding night with her girlfriend and he went to a Turkish Bath”.
Milton then goes on to recount how he met Elvira and Michael Scott Stephen in 1932 in a bar in Paris. Having been warned by a resident palm-reader- did Paris bars boast such an amenity? – to steer clear of the young man, he was invited by Elvira to one of their regular cocktail parties back in London. He got the wrong date and arrived the following day to find the police and a murder investigation. He also claims that on the night of her acquittal Elvira held a celebration party at the Berkeley Hotel in Mayfair.
How much truth there is in any of this is open to question (Elvira was on the town that post-trial night – Peter Coke met in an after-hours club).Milton did move in society as well as showbiz circles and was friends with Napper Dean Paul, equally dissolute brother of the best known drug-addict amongst the Bright Young People – Brenda Dean Paul. In one of Elvira’s many car crashes, her passenger was Napper.