The Blue Lantern nightclub features as one of D.J.Taylor’s “dozen definitive venues” for the Bright Young People. His reasoning is based largely on Anthony Powell’s autobiography, “Messengers of Day”. Powell describes the place as “fairly seedy”. “below the Gargoyle” in status but, nonetheless bearing a “faintly intellectual tinge”. Powell then goes on to celebrate the night at the club when Tallulah Bankhead asked him to dance with her.
Taylor is , I think right, but his evidence is fairly thin. He does note that Hugh Wade played piano there, but he sees Wade as a very minor figure in the Bright Young saga. Elvira, who did go to the Blue Lantern regularly,according to Taylor, “was not and never had been a Bright Young Person”. For Taylor, “The Blue Lantern” represents the slightly dodgy lower end of BYP night-life and is a condensed symbol for a number of daring, and generally short-lived, Soho clubs.
A much more vivid (and probably accurate) picture of the Blue Lantern can be found in the work of Jocelyn Brooke, as I posted earlier. To recap, in “Private Lives” (1954) he writes of the regulars that they
“belonged for the most part to the raffish fringes of that pseudo-smart Bohemia which was perhaps the most characteristic (and almost certainly the nastiest) social unit of the period.” (Brooke “Private View” (1954) p87) .
“Hugh Wade, the pianist, accompanied by drums and a saxophone, was discoursing the half-forgotten, nostalgic tunes of the first war period; the dance-floor was crowded with painted and twittering young men whose partners, though technically of the females sex (for the lantern was rather fussy about such conventions), appeared for the most part to be a good deal more virile than their cavaliers.”
I do wonder about the longevity of The Blue Lantern. It features in the London phone directories for 1930,1931 and 1932 – no mention before or after. Hugh Wade told the police he was the pianist at The Blue Angel. Had The Blue Lantern just closed,say in early 1932, to re-open in another guise as the Blue Angel? It would explain both clubs being mentioned by witnesses but also the newness of membership claimed by the likes of Jeffress and Skeffington-Smyth. The Blue Angel never features in the phone directories suggesting either a brief existence or its “underground” status.
Although Taylor is right in his use of the Blue Lantern as an emblematic marker, it is doubtful whether the actual Blue Lantern was really a Twenties’ club central to the BYP experience. In that decade, Ham Yard boasted several drinking, gambling and dancing clubs of varying degrees of respectability. The most stylish evocation of that era comes from the pen of Mark Benney, a Soho burglar and wide-boy turned author, whose 1936 autobiography “Low Company” goes into great detail about Soho after dark.
The best known club in Ham Yard, by some way, was the Hambone, run by the popular rogue Freddie Ford. Patronised by everyone from Augustus John to the Sabini brothers, it was arty,respectable and risque in about equal measures. Charles Graves had been drinking there the night that Elvira, brandishing gun, lay siege to his flat.The Hambone lasted from the early twenties to about 1936.
Ham Yard remained a key site for post-war club life. In the 1950s Cy Laurie’s jazz club was the centre of the “trad jazz” scene and had a rather wilder reputation than other similar venues. Cy Laurie’s became The Scene in the early 60s, an iconic Mod club where Guy Stephens played the best in Motown and R&B for the newest generation of hedonistic youth.
The Blue Lantern had long gone but its spirit lived on.