Arthur Streek (b1900) attended Elvira’s cocktail party with two American friends, a Mr. Sherrill and a man whose first name was Milton. Streek lived for the entire inter-war period at 26 Sackville Street, sharing the flat with Sir George MacPherson Grant, 5th Baronet of Ballindalloch (1890-1951). We know a fair bit about MacPherson Grant (the family own Ballindalloch Castle and connoisseurs of Scottish beef and/or quality malt whisky will have come across the name) but Arthur Streek casts a much fainter shadow. His police statement, however, is singularly revealing.
Firstly, unlike most of the guests, he had known Michael Scott Stephen longer than he had known Mrs.Barney (three years as opposed to two). Secondly, he had been introduced to both by Gordon Russell of 36 Sydney Street,Chelsea
. This confirms my suspicion that the Barney cocktail crowd were pretty much the same set who make up the “loucher circles” that Elizabeth Ponsonby gravitated towards after her marriage to Denis Pelly. This “descent” from the”upper echelons of The Bright Young People” is charted carefully by D.J.Taylor in “Bright Young People”, in the course of which Elizabeth Ponsonby becomes the tragic heroine of his tale.
Gordon Russell was the driver of the car which overturned at high speed on July 5th 1931 outside Maidstone. Elizabeth was thrown out of the car but was not too seriously hurt. The car belonged to J.Ludovic “Ludy” Ford and was taken without his permission.Ford and Russell (both described as “perverts” by Elizabeth’s father) had accompanied her to”The White Party” at Sandy Baird’s family home at Faversham. Baird was a “flamboyant Old Etonian”, a permanent and much be-powdered feature of Bright Young parties.Ford and Russell had fought several times during the course of the evening, apparently over Elizabeth, and at the time of the crash Ford was in hot pursuit in a lorry. Where the lorry came from is rather obscure. There was an inquest and also a trial of Ford, but all witnesses, including, Elizabeth, denied that anyone was less than sober and the inquest returned a verdict of accidental death while Ford was acquitted of “being drunk in charge of a lorry”. The public, quite correctly, and the incident was a key moment in the fall from grace of the Bright Young Set.
Taylor sees people like Ford and Russell as belonging to a much lower social order than “proper” Bright Young People. Gordon Russell is a “minor actor” and Ford dismissed as a “garage owner”. In fact Ford’s family owned land in Scotland and The West Indies and Ford’s garage arose out of the fact that he was that most glamorous of pre-war sportsmen – a Le Mans and Brooklands racing-driver. Both lived in Chelsea and also, at some point, shared a country home in Kent (“Goodtrees” at Cowden). Not aristocracy, certainly, but not quite from the lower depths.
Ludy Ford and mechanic at Le Mans
Streek’s statement contains further revelations. Of Michael Scott Stephen he says ” I do not know what he did for a living. He was always short of money. I have on occasions lent him money and once gave him money to pay his fare to Paris.” Stephen’s lack of money and his reputation as a sponger and possibly a gigolo did much to sway the jury in Elvira’s favour.
His account of Elvira and Michael together follows the general pattern – affectionate, often seen at “the Monseigneur restaurant, Cafe De Paris, Blue Angel and Blue Lantern nightclubs.”. He does, more openly than most, admit that they were prone to rows after drinking and refers to Stephen arriving at his Sackville Street flat in the early hours of the morning and staying on his sofa. At Skeffington-Smyth’s subsequent cocktail party he notices that Stephen has “the remains of a black eye”.
In addition he names “the other woman” alluded to by some witnesses. She is Mrs.Dora Wright. Streek first met the two together at Elvira’s flat and Streek tells of late night phone calls to him from Stephen, telling of Elvira’s jealousy that “he had been out to cabarets and clubs with Mrs.Wright.”
Streek’s account of the couple – jealousy and drunken fights, coupled with Stephen’s constant borrowing of money – is probably as accurate a picture of what led up to the shooting as any on record.
26 Sackville Street,Mayfair today