It’s difficult enough to find people who admitted to knowing Elvira. With the less well-connected Michael Scott Stephen, the problem is even greater.
Michael Scott Stephen
Apart from the witness statements and Beverley Nichols’ unflattering portrait, I have only been able to find one example . However, it is an interesting one as the person in question is H. Montgomery Hyde. Tucked away in one of his many books on crime and the law is the following observation regarding the Barney trial, “The case had a particular interest for me as some time previously I had met the unfortunate young man who lost his life at Mrs. Barney’s hands.”
This seems little enough, but given Montgomery Hyde’s later prominence it affords us some room to speculate – more about Hyde than Stephen, it must be said.
Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery Hyde
Harford Montgomery Hyde (1907-1989) was a barrister, an Ulster Unionist MP and a prolific author. On the surface (and probably underneath) he was about as far removed from any “Fast Set” as it is possible to be. He was a man of the Protestant establishment and destined for a career that would be both respectable and highly rewarded. And so it very nearly proved to be. He will always be admired for his many books, a series of popular, well-researched histories and biographies, but his name is more instantly recognisable as that of a high-profile Member of Parliament who was unceremoniously deselected by his own constituency party.
For Montgomery Hyde, though no radical in most matters, held a number of surprisingly liberal opinions. He was an opponent of capital punishment, not exactly the dominant view in the circles in which he moved. More controversially, he was an outspoken advocate for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts and for the rights of homosexuals generally. It was his refusal to stay silent on this issue and in particular his very public backing of the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report that led to him being ousted by his North Belfast branch in 1959. In a long and bitter campaign, one of the participants in which was a young Ian Paisley, Montgomery Hyde was portrayed as immoral and a traitor to traditional Conservative and Unionist values.
Many of Montgomery Hyde’s books had dealt with high-profile trials involving homosexuals and even his more general writings on crime devote a fair amount of space to the injustice and absurdity of the laws regarding sexual behaviour. His dismissal did not deter him and books and articles continued to appear throughout the 1960s, the most significant being his work on Roger Casement (which managed to offend traditional Republicans in the same way that he had alienated Loyalists) and his “History of Pornography” – a text much borrowed from public libraries at the time.
On account of his literary endeavours and his political stance, questions were raised about his own private life, the assumption being that nobody would dare raise their head above the parapet if they were not themselves homosexual.Montgomery Hyde, who was married three times, dismissed this and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. His friends did say he was very interested in sex particularly while at Oxford (whatever that means) and he once light-heartedly referred to a night where he shared a hotel room with Guy Burgess (Hyde was in Intelligence during World War 2).
Which brings us to the question – under what circumstances did he meet Michael Scott Stephen? They were both the same age, single and living in London but that is all they appear to have in common. Montgomery Hyde was academically-minded, studious and preparing to be called to the Bar whereas Michael was already firmly set on a life of empty-headed dissipation. Yet meet they did. Discussing the trial, Montgomery Hyde refers to Michael as “having early developed wild and extravagant habits. He had been turned out of his house by his father and now occupied a bed-sitting room in Brompton Road”. These facts could have been gleaned from available sources but the “bed-sitting room” was not mentioned at the trial and the “turning out” by the father is generally implied rather than, as here, boldly stated.This could suggest a more personal acquaintance with Michael – but I wouldn’t want to push it further than that.
As to Elvira’s social circle , Montgomery Hyde’s view was suitably conventional, “Both Mrs.Barney and the victim belonged to the gay set that gallivanted round London between the two World Wars, and whose members were known as the Bright Young People. They drank far more than was good for them, tore about the town in bright-coloured sports-cars and even brighter-coloured clothes, played absurd and sometimes unkind practical jokes, indulged in riotous parties, as well as promiscuous sexual intercourse, and generally made nuisances of themselves.” All of which would seem to rule out the trainee barrister as a regular attendee at Elvira’s cocktail evenings.
Montgomery Hyde contributed greatly to promoting a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in British society. Although his scholarship has been questioned he is still worth reading and his analysis of the legal process is as good as any of his era. His major work is probably The Other Love: A Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality (1970) but his biographies are all enjoyable. As to his meeting with Michael and his own sexual orientation, no concrete evidence exists to confirm what might appear to be the obvious inferences.