I hope this doesn’t mean that I am going to have to wade through the entire oeuvre of Dame Barbara Cartland but if this is not a description of  somewhere like the Blue Lantern then I’ll eat my Green Hat.

“We went to several clubs and then on to the most extraordinary place called the Blue Lamp Club, which was all done up with red, and steel chairs, against white concrete walls.

The only decoration on the walls was a huge fresco of a naked man and a woman, and everyone kept  saying how thrilling it was to be there, and how they ought not to have come.

I could not quite see why, for it seemed to me frightfully dull.

The band was good, but the women were all in tweedish clothes, mostly with berets on very straight hair, and hardly made up at all.

They seemed to take no interest in the men, who were quite amusing, for they had absolutely fantastic clothes – red or black shirts, and yellow spotted ties.

One who was in evening dress had a huge orchid in his button-hole, and the most lovely jewelled ring. But they all seemed rather languid – not half as gay as some of the places I had been to on London.”

If anyone asks you how the term “Gay” has mutated over the years, I suggest you show them this marvel of misapprehension.

Barbara Cartland 1901-2000

The above passage comes from the exquisitely, if, in the light of what we now know about the saintly Barbara, inaccurately entitled “A Virgin in Mayfair” which appeared in 1932, the year of Elvira’s trouble with the law. It is as badly written as prejudgement would lead you to suspect but does contain an array of detail and commentary. both incidental and accidental, which is highly enlightening.

The novel tells of the journey of a young debutante through London society sometime in the mid-Twenties. It makes a sharp distinction between Mayfair (fun but essentially respectable) and Chelsea (louche and sinister). The heroine is at home at The Embassy, Quaglinos and the Cafe De Paris, but distinctly ill-at-ease at Bohemian parties in Chelsea or in after-hours clubs off Piccadilly. Elvira’s “sin” was that, as with many of her circle, she made no such distinction.

Cartland, who served her time as a Gossip Columnist and whose early and books plays had been considered “borderline” immoral, knew something of the world she wrote about in these years. Whether that justifies her prefatory comments to the 1976 reissue  -” The Night Clubs and most of the people in the story were real and the atmosphere is correct.” – is open to question. Modesty, other than that of the sexual variety, was never her strong point.

Quaglino’s today

As Cartland’s Deb era was the early 20s, this would seem to discount the Blue Lantern as the inspiration for the “Blue Lamp” night-club. However “Quags” only got going in 1929, so she seems to have kept in touch with later developments and, yet again, those steel furnishings point towards the end of the decade. The description of the club’s regulars, though seemingly devoid of insight,  corresponds pretty well with the more knowing reminiscences of Jocelyn Brooke and Anthony Powell.

I’ll delve into other portions of the book later but for now I leave you to speculate as to who the real-life models of those be-tweeded and beret wearing women might have been and which young men on the night-club circuit wore such flamboyant outfits.

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