Archive for November, 2011

Elvira’s Little Sister

Peter Cotes and others point out the marked difference between Elvira’s 1928 wedding at Princes Row Register Office, to John Barney, and her younger sister’s far more spectacular affair, three years earlier, at St.Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey. For Cotes this shows the family’s disapproval of Elvira’s choice of partner and I’m sure this is correct. Princes Row was still a rather more fashionable venue than the comparison implies – it was popular with actors and shwbusiness types as well as for second marriages among the rich and titled – but it was no match for St.Margaret’s.

Society Wedding 1935

When you said “Society Wedding” in the 1920s or 1930s you meant a wedding at St.Margaret’s. The most written about and, in some ways, most representative occasion was probably Brian Guinness’ marriage to Diana Mitford in 1929. There was always great press and newsreel interest and the guest lists were carefully scrutinised by those interested in the highways and byways of Debrett’s. Who was there (and not there) was a cause of much conversation and kept the gossip-columnists in material for months.

Brian and Diana Guinness

Here is how the Times reported Avril’s great day


“The second marriage ceremony of Prince George Imeretinsky, eldest son of Prince and Princess Imeretinsky, and Miss Avril Joy Mullens, younger daughter of Sir John and Lady Mullens, of 6, Belgrave square, took place at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, yesterday. Prebendary Gough officiated, assisted by the Rev. H. J. F. Tringham and the Rev. H. E. Sexton. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of cloth of silver, embroidered with pearls, cabochon crystals, and diamante, with long, tapering sleeves, with gauntlets of old Charles II rose-point lace, the hem of the gown being flounced with a deep band of Arctic fox. She wore a diadem of pearls and diamonds, with clusters of orange- blossom, which was covered with a long veil of flesh-tinted d’Alençon tulle, bordered with seed pearls. The train, which was of silver gauze, suspended from the shoulders with pearl tassels, and embroidered with panels of old Spanish rose-point lace, was carried by Master John Henderson and Master Richard Paget- Cooke, who wore white satin breeches and waistcoats, edged with silver, and white and silver brocade coats. Miss Mullens carried a sheaf of Mary’s lilies, bound with silver ribbons. There were five child bridesmaids- Miss Patsy Chapman, Miss Jay Horne, Princess Tatiana Wiasemsky, Miss Tou Tou Chichester, and Miss Susan Perry. They wore dresses of white georgette, with silver lace coats and bonnets of silver lace and silver tissue, and carried branches of orange-blossom and oranges. The best man was Captain D. Eric Smith (late Grenadier Guards), and after the ceremony a reception was held at 6, Belgrave- square.”

6 Belgrave Square

“Among others present were : Lady Mullens, Miss Elvira Mullens. General R. Mullens., M. and Mme Lambert, Major and Mrs. W. H. Mullens, Mr. M. C. Adamson, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Adamson, Mr. Stewart Adamson, Colonel Rushton Adamson, Mrs. George Mullens, Miss Mary and Miss Gertude Mullens, Prince and Princess Blucher, Prince and Princess Wiesemsky, Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim, The Marchioness of Huntley, Mr and Lady Alice Mahon, Lady George Loftus, Lady Arthur Browne, Lady Ellen Hotough, Lady Montague of Beaulieu, Lord Wargrave, Lady Hawke with Mrs. William Lindsay, Lady Dunedin, Lord and Lady Aberconway, Lady Ashfield and the Hon. Marion Stanley, The Hon Mrs. Trevor Lewis, the Hon. Mrs. Gideon Murray, Captain and the Hon. Mrs. Dormer, Miss Cecilia Dormer, the Hon. Mrs. Patrick Macnaughton, Major and the Hon. Mrs. Sidebottom, The Hon. Mrs. Algernon Borthwick, The Hon. Mrs. Bailey, the Hon. Assheton and Mrs. Harbord, The Hon. Mrs. Edward Gully and Miss Gully, Sir Joseph and Lady White-Todd, Lady Kindersley, Lady Grayson and Mrs. Rupert Grayson, Lady (Alfred) Cooper, Lady McCallum and Miss McCallum, Baroness de Bush, Count Grixoni, Lady Alexander, Baroness Versen and Miss Versen, Sir John and the Hon. Lady-Hermiker-Henton, Sir John and Lady Rosa, Lady Glover, Sir Charles Stewart, Sir George and Lady Lewis, Sir Charles and Lady Walpole, Lady Watts, Sir Herbert Lush-Wilson, Sir John and Lady Pretyman-Newman, Sir Gerald and Lady Ryan, Brigadier-General Sir Henry and the Hon. Lady Croft, Lady Muir-Mackenzie, Field- Marshal Sir William and Lady Robertson and Miss Robertson, Lady Allen, Lady Harvey, Lady Gilbert, Sir Bindon and Lady Blood, Lady Smiley and Miss Smiley, Lady Aird, Lady North, Sir August Cayzer and Miss Cayzer, Sir Henry and Lady Buckingham, Lady Solomon, Sir Trevor and Lady Dawson, Mrs. Edgar Horne and Miss Horne, Mrs. Lionel Harris, Mrs. Reginald Chichester, Mrs. Seymour Hughes, Mrs. Ernest Deacon, Mr. Harold Deacon, Mrs. Probet. Mrs. Henry Harris, Mrs. Pragnell, Mrs. and Miss Eckstein, Mrs. Aylett Moore, Mrs. Graham, General and Mrs. Tuson, Mrs. J. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Tritton, Mrs. Roger Daniell, Mrs. Grinell-Milne, Mrs. Harry Higham, Mrs. Tixlall, Mrs. Hamilton-Wedderburn, Mrs. Alan Horne, Mrs. A. M. Carlisle, Mr. H. M. Carlisle, Mrs. and Miss Noble, Mrs. Ronald Henderson, Brigadier-General and Mrs. G. B. Stevens, Mrs. and the Misses Moyna, Canon Bowring, Mr. and Mrs. Bowring Hanbury, Mrs. Edward Huare, Miss Egerton Castle, Mrs. Wilfred Bowring, Mr. Ian Macpherson, Mrs. Aitken, Mrs. Henry Maine, Mr. and Mrs. Terence Eden, Mrs. and Miss Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Allen, Commander and Mrs. Louis Greig, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkings. Mrs. Simon Brand. Mrs Maia Brand. Mrs. Carnegie. Mrs. and Miss Stanton, Captain Mick Browne, Mme. Zerlie de Lusan, Mrs. Aidan Kirkwood, Mrs. Robert Webster, Mr. Ernest Garnett, Mr. Eveleigh Nash, Mrs. Guy Ridpath, Mrs. and Miss Cohen, Mrs. Claude Berkington, Mr. H. B. Hansell, The Misses Soames, Major and Mrs. Jepson Turner, Mrs. Lyne Sutyens, Captain and Mrs. Tudor Owen, Mr. and Mrs. George Perry, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Baker, Mrs. Arthur Harter, Captain and Mrs. Schweder, Mr. and Mrs. Berkeley, Colonel and Mrs. Cross, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Harcourt Gold, Mrs. J. G. Dug, Mr. and Mrs. Montagu Price, Mrs. Jack Michell, Mrs. Roland Soames, Mrs. Hugh Rayner, Mrs. Paget-Cooke, Mr. and Mrs. W. 0. Bentley, Commander and Mrs. Polhill, Mr. and Mrs. Candsie, Colonel Nay de Crot, Mr and Mrs. Temple Twining, Mrs. Lockett Agnew, Mr. and Mrs. Worraw, Colonel Peel, Rear Admiral and Mr. Ernest Taylur, Mrs. Francis Kennedy, Mrs. Ricardo, Mrs. Bolton, Mrs. Archie Channing, Commander Henniker Heaton, Mrs. Ernest Radmel, Mr. and Mrs. Montrose Clorte, Mr. Frank Bullen, Mrs. Francis Brenton, Mrs. Sharman-Crawford, Mrs de Rimmer, Mrs. Francis Crompton, Miss Elizabeth Vesey, Mrs. Andrew Wylie, Mrs. Collingwood Thompson, Mr Hamilton Lamplugh, Mrs. Arthur Franks, Mrs. Cyril Cubitt, Commander Galpin, Mrs. Puttenham-Gibson, Major and Mrs. Davidson-Houston, Mr. R. Synon, Mrs. Walter Synon, Mr. and Mrs. Del Stanche, Mr. N. Gladstone and General and Mrs. Basil Buckley.

The bride and bridegroom left later for a honeymoon abroad, Princess Imeretinsky, wearing a dress of royal blue velvet with a coat to match, embroidered with pale gold, and a velvet hat.”
(Times Oct 30 1925)

Prince George Imeretinsky

Apart from the comforting knowledge that people with names like Tou Tou Chichester and Lady Blood actually existed outside the pages of Waugh or Wodehouse, this list is a powerful reminder of the world that Elvira initially inhabited, then rejected and was eventually expelled from.Because it is so hard to think of the 1920s without the Bright Young People, it is easy to forget that respectability and adherence to convention remained the norm for the overwhelming majority of the well-heeled.

Avril, we are told, followed the correct conventional path. But can we be sure about this? Her marriage to a White Russian prince  had the right romantic ring ( in fact, some newspapers reported the Barney shooting with the headline “Princess’ Sister on Murder Charge”) but the marriage, the Prince’s second, was no more solid than Elvira’s and ended in divorce in 1932. Also, Avril was barely 16 on her wedding day which strikes me as a little less than “proper”  – Imeretinskywas 28.

Avril and Hugh Leveson-Gower 1934

Avril next emerges into public view with her marriage to Hugh Leveson-Gower,  part of an extensive military, aristocratic, Royalist and Tory dynasty, They had a daughter who featured in a Life Magazine spread which mentions Elvira.

Belgrave Babies 1937

It would be nice to know how Avril and Elvira got along in the intervening years. The only reference I can find is to a shared dinner with the photographer Broderick Haldane but he sheds no particular light on the matter, being primarily concerned with Elvira’s subsequent notoriety. In the absence of any other evidence of Avril, of the right age and looks, being part of the “fast crowd”, we must assume that she stayed within the bounds of “decent society”.  I doubt they were close, either in tastes or temperament. Significantly, there is not one mention of her attending the trial.

After the War, Avril’s second marriage collapsed and she remarried once more. This time it was to Ernest Aldrich Simpson.  If the name seems familiar it is because he had been the husband of Wallis Simpson, who famously left him for Edward, briefly King of England and  then Duke of Windsor. As Prince of Wales he had been something of a hero to elements within the Bright Young Set and his habit of dining at the Cafe De Paris would not have gone unnoticed by Elvira. Ernest became (and remains) the forgotten man in a scandal  which, unlike the Barney affair, really did  unsettle the established order.

Ernest Simpson

Simpson died in 1958. Twenty years later, Avril died in a car crash in Mexico. The smart money would have been on Elvira to suffer such a fate. Perhaps the sisters had something in common after all.

Many journalists and writers commented, pontificated and moralised , for the benefit of an apparently outraged nation, on the ramifications of the Barney affair. They included some the grandest of Fleet Street  columnists. Like their present day counterparts, but with greater  literary flourish, they all agreed that Mrs. Barney’s lifestyle proved that British society was “going to Hell in a Hand-cart”. Forget mass unemployment it was the cocktail party that were the real problem.

Gilbert Frankau covered the trial for the Daily Mail and suffered, presumably well-paid, agonies on behalf of Sir John and Lady Mullens. Viscount Castlerosse at the Daily Express was portentous  and pompous in equal measure. Sounding like some patriarch from the Forsyte Saga, he wrote of Elvira, “I am disturbed because she has been an unmoral woman and her disease is sweeping England like the black death.”

If this was not horror enough then, on behalf of his caste, he turned his attention to the threat to social hierarchies. “Society is an easy thing to sneer at and yet Society matters. It sets the fashion. The suburbs and so on take their tone from it. Is the younger generation going to allow Society to be prostituted?”

Speaking from the Left, Hannen Swaffer of the Daily Herald made the not dissimilar observation that  “Bright Young Things are a danger not only to their own class but to all the classes in the land. They hate law and order. The judge could see, with his wise old eyes, further than the dock. He could see the whole social order being undermined by a gang of pinheads., who because of the publicity they obtain really think their importance merits it.”

Gilbert Frankau, Viscount Castlerosse and Hannen Swaffer

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Swaffer that this “publicity” was largely generated by the very organisations he and the others wrote for. However, one writer, as unknown then as the above trio were famous, did highlight the role of the media.

C.L.R.James (1901-1989), the West Indian intellectual and author of the classic cricket book, “Beyond A Boundary”, is  these days a figure of renown. In 1932 he had just arrived in England to work for The Manchester Guardian and to look for a publisher for Minty Alley, his novel of Trinidadian working class life. While waiting to move to Nelson, where he was to lodge with Learie Constantine, he wrote a series of articles on London which were published in the Port of Spain Gazette.

C.L.R. James

James mentions the Barney case in his final “Letter from London”. He uses it to illustrate a growing distaste for much of actual English culture in comparison to his respect for the image of England and its literature,  which he had so thoroughly absorbed in Trinidad. For him the case was of no interest other than as an example of the  sensationalism of the popular press. He is every bit as censorious  and self-righteous as Castlerosse et al – in fact, his essay quotes Swaffer favourably, though in a different context. However. his target is the appetite for scandal rather than the scandal itself.

“The real basis of the Sunday intellectual meal is the stories  with a crime or sex interest. No one who has not experienced it can ever understand what the atmosphere of the Sunday reading is like. Let me give as imperfectly as I am able an impression of one Sunday’s newspapers. Open one newspaper. The piece de resistance, placarded on every hoarding, is an account by Mrs. Barney herself of her home life, with the man for whose murder she was tried – four or five columns.Open another paper. There you will read four or five columns of what purports to be the diary of the murdered man which he miraculously had sent to the newspaper just a few days before he was killed.”

He then goes on to talk about the other great outrage of the day – the defrocking of Rev. Harold Davidson, known to the public as The Rector of Stiffkey or, less respectfully, “The Prostitutes’ Padre”. The two cases were in fact often mentioned in tandem, disparate though they were.

The Rector of Stiffkey

For James, the lapping up of such sordid tales was a sign of a culture in decline. His disgust has a Puritan edge to it that even Frankau and Swaffer would have found hard to match. But he does hit on a key truth. The Barney trial was as much a media event as it was a murder investigation. With its combination of crime and sex in high society it was as juicy a story as any work of fiction. The press fed the public demand for tragic, fallen women, self-serving gigolos and long-suffering , dutiful parents – it was the most perfect melodramatic scenario.

This is why it can be hard to accurately assess any of the characters involved. They come down to us already shaped by the demands of  a well-established set of moral and generic rules. Each contemporary commentator simply added the spin appropriate to what he perceived as public expectation – plenty of salacious innuendo and lashings of moralising. After eighty years it is hard to unpick all these threads. To do so maybe impossible, it may even be to miss the point. The echoes of the fatal shot are in many ways more fascinating than the shot itself.

Note  James “Letters from London” are worth reading for his reflections on the London he encountered in 1932. It is a rather stiff, humourless text but his view of London and particularly his take on Bloomsbury are not without interest. Needless to say the world he portrays is very different to the one Elvira would have inhabited.

Hannen Swaffer (1879-1972), Gilbert Frankau (1884-1952) and Valentine Browne (Castlerosse) (1891-1943) were all fascinating figures in their own right and should not be lost to history. Frankau’s novels are unlikely to appeal to modern sensibilities but his autobiography, if you can cope with the excessive name-dropping, is very evocative of a lost world.    Swaffer’s journalism is still very readable and his writings on crime are excellent (if not always in accordance to the facts). In a long career, he was a songwriter, drama critic, short story writer and Socialist turned Spiritualist – Brian Howard’s friend Tom Driberg wrote a biography of him. Castlerosse was an eccentric figure and anecdotes about him and his rather adventurous wife adorn several inter-war memoirs.

For more on Harold Davidson see

A Gigolo’s Wardrobe

There was some dispute as to where “Michael” Scott Stephen was actually living at the time of his death. Elvira gave the police his parents’ address (Doubleton House, Penshurst, Kent) and the initial newspaper reports gave the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, as his residence.

The reading of the Will also gave Thomas William Scott Stephen’s address as the Park Lane Hotel. Given that his assets amounted to the princely sum of £5 one has to wonder how he afforded a room in one of the best and most fashionable hotels in London.

The Park Lane hotel, built in 1927, was (and remains) one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the Capital. There is a good article about it here . It featured a fine ballroom and I have no doubt that Elvira and her friends dined there and danced to the likes of Jack Hylton’s orchestra. However, I doubt Stephen spent more than the odd night there and am a bit puzzled as to the certainty that both the press and the Probate Office showed in giving that address. Had Stephen just booked in? Was this part of his attempt to leave Elvira? Or, could it be that this was a place he used for other assignations  – be they sexual or to do with his alleged gambling and drug dealing?

The police certainly did not waste time at the hotel. All Elvira’s disgruntled neighbours claimed that Michael lived at the Mews dwelling and all of Elvira’s friends said he lived on the  Brompton Road.  Detective Sergeant Scurr went to 178 Brompton Road and made a list of what he found in a room there. Assuming that he was as meticulous in this instance as he was in cataloguing Elvira’s magazine, his findings are worth noting. Apart from a useful insight into male attire in 1932 they do, I think, say something about Michael’s existence in the months leading up to his death.

“On the 1st June 1932, I went to 178 Brompton Road and searched a bedroom which had been occupied by the deceased man, Michael Scott Stephen. In that room I found a photo of Elvira Barney, one dress suit, one dinner jacket, one white dress waistcoat, one blue cloth waistcoat, light grey waistcoat and pair of trousers, one blue lounge suit, one pair grey flannel trousers, one mackintosh, three pairs of shoes, one pair of slippers, one dressing gown, two tennis shirts, one dress shirt, one or two day shirts, some ties, socks and handkerchiefs. There were no hats, night attire or underclothing. There were some testimonials referring to Michael Scott Stephen.”

178 Brompton Road 2010

Was there nothing else in the room? No other letters, no books or newspapers? If there had been anything else of interest we can be sure the good Detective Sergeant would have mentioned it.  It does not appear to be a place where Michael spent much time – essentially it is a changing room. The absence of underwear and nightwear would support the neighbours’ claims that he was indeed resident at 21a. Elvira was more keen to hide this fact from the world, and particularly her parents, than any other – which, incidentally, casts doubt on her status as a  rebellious non-conformist.

But it is the photograph of Elvira that interests me. It might have been there just for Elvira’s benefit, assuming that she visited this room. On the other hand, it may indicate genuine affection. It could be that Michael was fonder of Elvira than the press and later commentators have suggested. Many of the police interviewees said that he was as smitten with her as she was with him –  notably Dora Wright, the presumed object of Elvira’s jealousy. This is not usually given much credence – Elvira’s circle was keen to play down any history of discord between the couple – but it may well be true.

Anyway, it doesn’t appear to have been much of a “gigolo’s lair”. The range of clothing is just about the bare minimum a young man who enjoyed the sort of social life that Michael lived would have needed. It hardly speaks of great excess or extravagance. If, as is likely, his main source of income was Elvira then the bulk of the money was going elsewhere. It is not as if there was anything much of his at 21 William Mews (apart, one hopes, for some underwear).

Brompton Road itself is  a pretty good address but Michael only sub-let  one room – the ground floor was an antiques shop and there were other tenants, probably friends of Michael. The whole set-up is not exactly squalid but nor has it any glamour – even of the seedy sort that the press was keen to pursue.

Like most things concerning Michael Scott Stephen it is all a little sad, and bears a definite tinge of failure. The testimonials suggest that he was, or had recently been, looking for employment. He was borrowing from everybody, according to Arthur Streek,  and was not really going anywhere. Elvira said that their arguments were largely about his gambling debts and I’m inclined to think that there is some truth there. I can’t take seriously Cotes claim that he was a drug-pusher (at least not one of any competence). He most certainly was a drug-user but Elvira would have paid for that particular vice. If he lived off other men and women, as was claimed, he did not do that with any great acumen either.

No, this is a young middle-class, primarily gay man (“well -known in one particular section of London society” as the papers said), who wanted to enjoy  a Mayfair lifestyle on little or no income. He needed Elvira  – why else does he put up with her tantrums? But  what of that that photograph by his bedside? It holds some secrets, I am sure.

Patrick “Paddy” Crean

Paddy Crean (1910-2003) , from a well-to-do Dublin family, had a long and distinguished career in cinema and on the stage as a fight-choreographer and stuntman. He specialised in sword-fights and had been a competitive fencer. He was most famously Errol Flynn’s double in various swashbuckling adventure films but his technical contribution to stage sword-fighting is his greatest achievement – his ideas and theories are still dominant. With Rex Rickman he ran the Sophy School of Fencing in London where many leading actors learned to look convincing holding a cutlass or a rapier.

His entry into all of this came about because he successfully auditioned for an acting part in Erik Charell’s Casanova at the London Coliseum. The play ran for most of 1932 and features in Elvira’s  case because Denys Skeffington-Smyth was in it and Sylvia Coke and Anton Altmann had met Mrs.Barney and Michael Stephen at a “Casanova” party a few weeks before the cocktail soiree on the 30th May. My guess is that Paddy Crean was at both events.

Crean’s main motive in getting involved with the theatre appears to have been presence of so many pretty and personable actresses. Casanova, inevitably, was more than usually replete in that area.

From the Programme Casanova Coliseum 1932

With one of these beauties, Rosalie Corneille, he found himself mixing with the “fast-set”. In his autobiography he states

“Had I entered the profession somewhere else I would have missed a large slice of heady living and stage experience attributable to my engagement in Casanova; fabulous parties at Tallulah Bankhead’s Farm Street home: knowing beautiful Brenda Dean Paul who died tragically from drugs; Mrs.Barney, Mayfair hostess and central figure of a crime passionel )she shot and killed her lover but was acquitted); learning to drink vodka and sniff cocaine (neither of which appealed); pajama jaunts to Covent Garden with the Bright Young Things.”

It is a telling catalogue. Describing Elvira as a Mayfair hostess (nowhere else is she given that title) suggests that he knew her as such rather than simply as a fellow guest.Her “little gatherings” were seemingly rather better known than most sources suggest. Placing her in the middle of a list that reads Tallulah, Brenda and cocaine is equally significant. Crean is writing about a particularly “wild” phase of his life – Elvira is one of the key markers.

It is worth noting that Crean is quite unequivocal in his assertion that Elvira shot Michael and got away with it – was this popular consensus or inside information?

Rosalie Corneille, who must also now be added to our list of possibles, was apparently a Scottish actress who appeared in a number of West End productions in the 1930s. The most notorious was  Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant (1933) which starred Gertrude Lawrence and featured the black American singer Elisabeth Welch.

This sophisticated and daring musical – essentially about a woman’s quest to lose her virginity – was considered too daring by many. It even had a nude scene which was cut on condition that the lyrics of each song were left alone. Porter said it was his favourite show.

Rosalie Corneille is, I presume, somewhere in this picture from the London production. This was of course post-trial but I bet Elvira was in the audience.

Valerie Taylor

Here’s yet another actress who may in some way be connected to Elvira’s circle.

Valerie Taylor (1902-88) had a long career on stage and in film. She was best known at the time of the Barney case for her  six-year association with  John Balderston’s play “Berkeley Square“, in which she starred both in the West End and  on Broadway and eventually on film. Other triumphs included her 1929 role as Nina, opposite John Gielgud,  in Chekhov’s “The Seagull“. (Funnily enough,  Beatrix Thomson had played in “The Three Sisters”  a couple of years earlier.). Taylor, while remaining primarily attached to the theatre, would later appear in film classics such as “Went The Day Well?”  and “Repulsion“. Again, like the other actresses that I have posted about, she was also a writer  – and has one or two screenplay credits.

She had some strong Bloomsbury connections, which included correspondences with Clive Bell and an unlikely relationship with Eddy Sackville-West.  In Michael De La Noy’s biography (“Eddy”)  she is described as “simultaneously throwing herself at the feet of both Raymond Mortimer and Eddy’s cousin Vita”. Mortimer, who wrote so “colourfully” to Eddy about Arthur Jeffress’  Red and White Party, seems to have been briefly engaged to Valerie. These pairings-up of gay men and bisexual or gay women should by now be becoming familiar to anyone reading this blog.

She was also acquainted with the Mayfair/Chelsea crowd. Maurice Richardson, of whom more anon, recalls a party in 1929 where he “fell for Valerie Taylor in a gold evening dress. I thought I was going to make her but got brushed off later.” Brian Howard was also in attendance and, as a fight broke out later on, so, I would imagine, were some of our usual suspects. If Elvira ever met Valerie it would have been in this environment, as I just can’t picture Mrs.Barney at Knole or Charleston.

From 1930 onwards Valerie Taylor divided her time between England and America. She married Hugh Sinclair (who played “The Saint” in a number of fondly-remembered B-Movies). Taylor and Sinclair had acted together in the almost-openly lesbian play “Love of Women” by Aimee Stuart (whose friends included Sunday Wilshin and Nerina Shute). In Harlem they danced the night away with a young Lucille Ball and in Hollywood were friends with the legendary Mercedes de Acosta (reputedly the lover of both Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead).

She returned to England after the War and left Sinclair for a mining-engineer. Before the break-up they had a property in Perranporth, Cornwall, and she collaborated with Winston Graham (of “Poldark” fame) on the screenplay for “Take My Life” (1947). He, then aged 39 and she 45, describes her thus, “She was a highly strung, highly articulate, beautiful but rather overpowering young woman who was full of ideas.”  – which makes her sound pretty impressive to me.

She is not high among my candidates for a close friend of Elvira’s or as an attendee of the cocktail party. However, she would have known Howard and Gathorne-Hardy and most of Elvira’s theatrical friends. She is also, I suspect, someone whose career, on and off-stage, Elvira would have rather envied.