In Lawrence Durrell’s Livia (1978) there occurs this short passage. Two of the characters are discussing history and how one should memorialize the inter-War London world.

Lawrence Durrell 1935

“I would have gone about it differently myself.”

“Tell me how.”

“I should have enumerated other things like school ties, huge woollen scarves, Oxford bags, college blazers, Brough Superiors a la T.E. Lawrence, racing cars with strapped bonnets, Lagonda, Bentley, Amilcar…The flappers had come and gone but the vamp was present in force with her cloche hat and cigarette holder.”

1926 Amilcar

“I had forgotten that.”

“It is the small things that build the picture.”

“London.”

“Yes, and the places we frequented in London most of which have disappeared – wiped out one supposes by the bombings?”

“Like the Cafe De Paris?”

“Yes and Ciro’s and The Blue Peter, The Criterion Bar, Quaglino’s, Stone’s Chop House, Mannering’s Grill, Paton’s, The Swan…”

“Good, Robin, and then the night-clubs like The Old Bag O’Nails,  The Blue Lantern, The Black Hole and Kiki’s Place…. we simply never slept.”

“The music of shows like Funny Face (“Who Stole My Heart Away?”), Charlot and the divine Hutch smoothing down the big grand piano and singing in his stern, unemphatic way, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.””

Fred and Adele Astaire 1928

“Just before dawn Lyon’s Corner House, everyone with yellow exhausted faces, whores, undergraduates, all-night watchmen and workers setting off on early jobs. The first newspapers appearing on the icy street.”

Lyons Corner House (somewhere on the left), Coventry Street looking towards Piccadilly

This to me is an interesting exchange. Most of the the symbolic markers (cloche hats, racing cars) have appeared on this blog somewhere. I don’t actually think Who Stole My Heart was from Funny Face but the rest has the proper ring to it.  Durrell was part of Fitzrovia in the early thirties, before he left for Greece in 1935 and thence to Egypt during the war. In between he spent some time in Paris – hence the Henry Miller and Obelisk Press connection. In Cairo, he was a staunch supporter of Eddie Gathorne-Hardy, forever in danger of losing his job over one indiscretion or another. Sadly, Durrell was not always so noble – especially towards his wife.

Lawrence and Nancy Durrell 1934

Of the places he mentions, some are iconic and some quite obscure. I suspect there is a strong autobiographical element here, particularly regarding the eating places. Certainly,The Blue Peter is included because Durrell was the resident “Jazz” pianist there, from about 1930 onwards.

“Well, for a time I had a small allowance. I lived in London. I played the piano in a nightclub—the “Blue Peter” in St. Martin’s Lane, of all places —until we were raided by the police.” (Durrell in Paris Review)

I don’t know if this is the same Blue Peter whose decor was that of a battleship. That one was supposed to be in Great Windmill Street, but I’ve found these addresses to be rather fluid. It also might be the club that became Douglas Byng’s Kinde Dragon, which was in St.Martin’s Lane (although some accounts place it in Ham Yard –  see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/ham-yard/ ).

I haven’t read much by Durrell, I’m afraid, so I don’t know if there are other such reference points in his work. It’s the centenary of his birth this year, so there might be be some readily available information emerging in the coming months.

In the meantime here’s the aforementioned Hutch

and Jack Buchanan and Binnie Hale

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