Chez Henri, on the first floor of 8 and 9 Long Acre, was one of the more upmarket London night-spots. Barbara Cartland approved as it was one of those places where ” one always knew everyone”. Elvira and her friends were regulars there.
Leslie ” Hutch” Hutchinson, Billy Milton and Douglas Byng all played there but the resident for nearly nine years was the pianist and bandleader Charlie Kunz. Kunz was to become nationally famous for his skilful but sentimental “easy-listening” piano pieces, popular right through to the 1970s. In the late twenties and early thirties his band was more geared to dancing, though always displaying a restrained elegance. In 1928 he recorded “I’m Tired of Waiting For You”. This was written by Reg Batten and Hugh Wade and is as evocative of the period as anything you could wish for.
Hugh Wade is usually presented as something of a failure and an insignificant ne’er-do-well. His residencies at the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel are seen as somehow “seedy”. However,if he collaborated with Reg Batten, then he was a respected part of London’s dance-band scene. Batten was a member, violinist and sometimes leader of the Savoy Orpheans/ Savoy Havana Orchestra, the most accomplished and well-paid dance band of the era. Founded by Bert Railton , its illustrious leaders included Debroy Somers (whom Wade also wrote for), Caroll Gibbons ( who played at Elvira’s party in 1927) and the innovative Fred Eliziade. Based at the Savoy Hotel, by the late twenties, they were probably the best known dance outfit in Europe. They recorded all the popular hits of the day and occasionally sneaked in some jazz and latin stylings. One of their most popular pieces was an instrumental version of the Noel Coward song whose title is always appended to any recounting of Elvira’s tale.
Wade seems always to have written in collaboration with either a lyricist or another musician. One such joint-effort was with Collie Knox. Called “When the Swallows Fly Home” it was, presumably a follow up to Wade’s “hit” “When the Lovebird Leaves the Nest“. Mercifully, I cannot locate an audio file for this lost gem. Collie Knox was a columnist on the Daily Mail, best remembered for his patriotic wartime journalism (especially the book Atlantic Battle). He was a also involved in the theatre as a writer and producer. He was one of the young men whose career the flamboyant Ned Lathom had backed in the 1920s before the young Earl’s many indulgences bankrupted him. Although Knox was a household name in his time the others are rather better known today – they were Beverley Nichols, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello.
Collie Knox (1899-1977)
Knox was partly responsible for Brighton becoming the Gay capital of England that it is today. He moved there in the 1930s with the designer Peter Coats ( not the Peter Cotes of Elvira fame) and by the 1950s was part of an elegant and rather socially exclusive circle. Reminiscences of this group do not portray them in a very favourable light, but they are of interest in that they could easily be describing Elvira’s crowd twenty years on. Here are two examples (taken from Daring Hearts)
“Brighton has always had a gay mafia – all those expensive queens, you know, throwing cocktail parties, with art dealers and old actresses. It was a very closeted place, there was an awful lot that went on behind heavily brocaded curtains. Robin Maugham lived down here and had crowds of the camp coming to visit. Terence Rattigan had a house here. Collie Knox, Dougie Byng, Gilbert Harding, Alan Melville, Sir David Webster… And Godfrey Winn lived out at Falmer. And they’d all have these pink champagne and sherry dos – ‘Oh, we must invite Enid Bagnold’.”
“Sex and money was at the heart of the gay community in Arundel Terrace, Lewes Terrace and Chichester Terrace. It was an upper-class jungle. When I came here it wasn’t such a mixed social group as it is now. The terrace had a class thing about it, moneyed thing.
I would be invited to cocktail parties, which isn’t my thing. Gay males, rich, living in swanky, elegant – piss elegant – places, ghastly taste, actually, to my mind, with the interior decorator boyfriend. They considered themselves classy; worked in the Theatre, banking, stockbrokers. They had all these cocktail parties full, also, of what we called the bridge ladies who liked faggots. And theatrical lezzies. Nothing was worse than theatrical lezzies of that period. They were even more superficial than anyone. They quarrelled all the time, they drank too much. They were all refined and ladylike, as it were, and then suddenly you’d realise they’d just had too many gins, so they’d start on each other: snip, snip, snip, snip. Sad. I don’t think they liked me, really, because I wouldn’t play.”
Some of these folk may well have been veterans of the Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel, perhaps even Collie Knox.
Hugh Wade, in cap, next to Elizabeth Ponsonby in 1929 when his songwriting skills were in demand
8/9 Long Acre today