Archive for June, 2012


At the end of a long and distinguished career, Sir Travers Humphreys wrote A Book of Trials (1953). He had been involved in some of the most celebrated trials in English history – Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement, Crippen, Haigh etc. – so it is perhaps surprising that he chose to end the book with a chapter on Elvira.

Part of the reason for this was the widespread rumour that Humphreys had been surprised by, and not a little appalled, by the verdict. In this chapter he (partially) refutes this and offers, in the guise of a review of Patrick Hastings account of the trial, an analysis of the issues involved. It is a fascinating and cogently argued piece and sheds light not only the dynamics of the case but on the English judicial process as it then operated.

“I have been reading, not for the first time, the account of the trial of Mrs. Elvira Dolores Barney to be found in the book by the late Sir Patrick Hastings entitled Cases in Court. The trial took place in 1932 at the Central Criminal Court, and it happened that I was the judge. The chapter devoted to this case may be recommended to all young practitioners at the Criminal Bar, and to any other reader who may be interested in studying the method of approach by a master in the art of defending prisoners to a series of facts, most, if not all, of which would, each by itself, be insufficient to justify a conviction on the charge against the accused, namely murder, but which, taken together, clearly struck Sir Patrick as presenting a most difficult task to counsel for the defence.

I have not the least intention of re-telling the story of a trial in which the woman accused was acquitted upon the facts by a jury, and I should prefer not even to comment on the case if I thought that anything I wrote might seem to suggest that I disagreed with the verdict.The fact is that to me the most intriguing part of this chapter of the book was the difference between Sir Patrick and myself in the views which we formed of the strength of the case for the prosecution – as it appeared on the depositions taken at the Police Court, that is, the case as it reached me a few days before the trial.

I need scarcely say that we approached the matter from essentially different standpoints. Hastings was concerned to find answers to certain, undoubtedly awkward, pieces of evidence; my object was little more than to learn something of the nature and length of the case, since I made it  a practice not to read newspaper or other unofficial reports of proceedings at Police Courts in cases likely to be committed for trial which might ultimately come to be tried by myself.I now know that Sir Patrick had been briefed at the Police Court, though he wisely refrained from cross-examining the witnesses. To that extent he had the advantage of me. The following short facts are taken from Sir Patrick’s book.

Mrs.Barney was a spoilt child of fortune. The daughter of wealthy parents, she had early drifted into an atmosphere of idle luxury. She was married but did not live with her husband, had no interests except those to be found in night clubs, drank far too much and occupied a flat in London where she lived with a young man named Michael Stephens. He had no money, no regular occupation and was content to live on the money provided by Mrs. Barney. There were repeated quarrels and noisy parties, so that the pair were a constant source of annoyance to the respectable inhabitants of the mews in which they lived.

On the night of May 31st a doctor in the neighbourhood was called on the telephone by Mrs. Barney. “Doctor, come at once/ There has been a terrible accident.” He went to the flat. Mrs. Barney was in a state of extreme hysteria. Stephens lay dead upon the stairs. On the floor was the revolver belonging to the woman, with which the man had been shot. To doctor and police Mrs. Barney, though too frenzied to give a coherent account, repeated again and again that there had been a quarrel, that she had threatened, as she had often done before, to commit suicide by shooting herself with a revolver which she always kept in a drawer beside her bed. Stephens had tried to prevent her carrying out her threat; in the struggle the pistol had gone off, shooting him through the body. She was taken to the police station, where she repeated the story once more, and there being no other information she was released and allowed to go home with her mother.

The police, of course, continued their inquiries, which led to them finding fresh witnesses, not indeed witnesses to the actual shooting, but, as Sir Patrick considered, witnesses whose evidence, if accepted, would make the theory of attempted suicide much more difficult to establish. The Director decided that Mrs. Barney must stand her trial, and she was arrested and later committed for trial.

The further evidence above referred to may be considered under four heads.

a) Evidence that two shots were heard on the fatal evening. These witnesses were not very satisfactory and their evidence as to the number of shots heard by them was even contradictory. It seemed not unlikely that they had learned that the police had found the mark of a second bullet in the bedroom. Mrs. Barney accepted the latter fact and explained it. She said that on previous occasions she had threatened suicide and had fired in the room to frighten Stephens, not at him nor, indeed, near him.

b) A witness who heard the fatal shot and who added that he heard Mrs. Barney shriek, “I will shoot you”, just before he heard the sound of the shot. The obvious answer to that was put forward by Sir Patrick in suggesting that the words were, “I will shoot”, referring to killing herself, not her lover.

c) The inhabitants of a flat lower down the mews spoke of having heard the sound of a violent quarrel at the flat some days earlier and saw Stephens leave the building and walk away; as he did so Mrs. Barney opened the upper window, screaming, “Laugh, baby, laugh for the last time” – she then produced a revolver and fired, as they alleged, at him from the window. Nothing more was heard of this occurrence, and no one apparently thought it necessary at the time to inform the police. In those circumstances no one would quarrel with the decision to arrest Mrs. Barney in order that the death of Stephens could be more fully investigated.

d) Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the eminent pathologist, and Mr.Churchill, the well-known expert gunsmith, had expressed opinions, sensible enough in themselves, as to the improbability of the deceased having, during the course of the struggle for the pistol, himself pulled the trigger, but improbabilities do not as a rule count for much in a murder trial – at least that is, and was, my experience in the matter. My view, after reading the deposition, was expressed to my clerk, at that time the late Mr. Winckworth, much as follows:

“This case should not last very long. The woman gave an account at the time when, according to the doctor, she was not in a condition to invent or concoct a defence. She has throughout stuck to that story. Unless she breaks down in cross-examination,  or the prosecution can satisfy the jury that her story cannot be true, they will never convict her of murder. If the charge were manslaughter the case would be very different. Patrick Hastings is defending her and if anyone can get her off altogether he is the man to do it, but if Percy Clarke, leading for the prosecution, stresses the manslaughter I don’t think he will succeed.

At the trial Hastings defended her brilliantly and, what in this case was much more important, with consummate tact. There was no attack made on any witness for the prosecution but each incident was made to fall into its place in the picture of attempted suicide. As he himself has written: ” The whole scheme of the defence was to bring all the evidence into line with the possibility of attempted suicide. That would be sufficient to justify his defence to the charge of murder, since murder in such a case consists in unlawful killing with the intention of at least seriously injuring the deceased man.

Mrs. Barney made as good a witness as could be expected of any woman in her position. She was restrained and kept her emotions under control. It was not a case in which the jury were likely to feel much sympathy for either the dead or the living, but at least she said nothing to increase the prejudice against her caused by the story of her wasted life.

“Upon the whole,” writes Sir Patrick, “she was not much shaken by her cross-examination.” The defence had in their favour one unusual piece of luck, or, should I say, they took full advantage of an error on the part of the policeman first called to the scene of the tragedy. No attempt had been made to examine the revolver for finger-prints until it had been handled by several people, and the defence were entitled to say to the jury that had the precaution been taken the finger-prints of the deceased might have been found on, or near, the trigger. As it was, the examination when made showed many blurred and unidentifiable prints, the only one clearly defined, being that of one of the detectives in the case.

There remained the question of manslaughter. Sir Patrick states, and I assume he must be right, that nothing had been said by Sir Percival Clarke as to manslaughter in his summing-up to the jury of the case for the prosecution. If so, I am sure that theremust have been some good reason in his mind for the omission, though I do not profess to understand it. As a matter of law,the more the theory of attempted suicide was stressed the more clearly would it appear that the deceased man was killed as the direct result of the unlawful act of the accused.

In such a case the onlyaccident in the matter would be that she killed, not the person whom she attempted to kill, but an innocent person who was trying to prevent her carrying into effect her unlawful design. If Clarke did not refer to the matter, naturally the defence would not do so. I directed the jury as I was bound to, upon the law, but if neither counsel had argued the question it is not surprising that the jury should have concentrated their attention upon the one charge mentioned in the indictment, viz. murder, and having found as I think rightly, that the charge was not proved, have returned as they did a simple verdict of Not Guilty. I have known such a thing to happen on at least one other occasion.”

Thanks to the comedic tradition exemplified by A.P.Herbert and others we tend to have a view of judges as well-meaning but hapless old buffers. The above gives the lie to that stereotype. There is a wealth of insight here, into the case, into Establishment thinking and into the legal process. There is also a considerable amount of carefully concealed self-justification. A couple of things seem apparent to me – firstly, the prosecution case was marked by complacency and ineptitude, and secondly there is no justification, under English law, for Elvira to be termed a Murderer, as she still, routinely, is. As to the truth of what really happened that night – well, that is still, and likely to remain, a mystery.

Time May Change

We left Hugh Wade enjoying a “hit record” in 1946  (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/let-it-be-soon/).

His life-style, in many ways, had resumed its pre-war pattern. He still lived in the heart of theatre and club-land. Between 1945 and 1948 his address was 80 Long Acre (before the war he had lived at 73 Jermyn Street).He continued to be involved with providing music for Pantomime and Revues and, although I can find no hard evidence, was almost certainly playing piano at late-night clubs. Although his health was fading, he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1948, William Wade’s photographs suggest that he was, to the end, a recognised figure on the club circuit.

Around this time, he collaborated with the actor/producer Leigh Stafford in the musical comedy “Maid to Measure”. This provided him with his second post-war success. This show was intended to be a comeback vehicle for Jessie Matthews. Matthews had been the most glittering of pre-war British stars but her career had been disrupted by scandal and controversy (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/evergreen-jessie-matthews-and-buddy-bradley/). She also had a reputation for unpredictability and suffered more than one breakdown.

The show was not the triumphant return its producer had hoped it would be. It opened in Edinburgh to mixed reviews, toured, was very well received at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith but failed to take off at its most prestigious venue, the Cambridge Theatre. Its West End run was only 36 performances.Part of the problem was Jessie’s health but mostly it was the overall structure of the musical, whose flaws a strong cast (including a young Miriam Karlin) could not quite overcome. What was universally agreed was that the highlight of the show was a song, sung by Matthews, “Time May Change”. This was Hugh’s main contribution to the endeavour and, happily, took on a life of its own , becoming one of the major hits of 1948.

Early review of Maid to Measure

“Time May Change” is a trademark late Hugh Wade piece. Sentimental, wistful and with a distinctly nostalgic tone. The lyrics are functional, maudlin in print but effective when sung well, and the melody has an elegance to it,old-fashioned (even for the time) but full of emotion.

“Time may change the secret of the ocean

Time may change the language of devotion

Who knows what fate may have in store for us

Let’s make it more for us than ever before

Time may change the colour of the pages

Rearrange the tempo of the ages

These changing years may disappear from view

But time won’t change my love for you”

As with Hugh’s other compositions, some of the leading acts of the day recorded it. Again we see how the dance-band leaders from Elvira’s day – Ambrose, Geraldo, Joe Loss, Lou Preager – still held sway in post-war popular music.

Anne Shelton Jun-48 Decca F8898

Anne Shelton
Archie Lewis with The Geraldo Strings Jun-48 Parlophone F2294

Archie Lewis

Geraldo


Rita Williams Jul-48 Columbia FB3407

(Rita Williams sang with Lou Preager in the 1940s – she later formed the Rita Williams Singers who performed in innumerable variety shows on radio and TV in the 50s and 60s)

Lou Preager
Joe Loss and his Orchestra (Howard Jones) Aug-48 HMV BD6015

Joe Loss
Jack Simpson and his Sextet (Dave Kydd) Sep-48 Parlophone F2309

( Jack Simpson had been the drummer in Ambrose’s orchestra. A multi-instrumentalist, had he not concentrated, very lucratively is it happens, on the now despised xylophone he would be rememembered as the first great English jazz vibraphonist.)

Though I have a fondness for Simpson’s version, it is the recording by Archie Lewis that was the most popular and, in retrospect, the most significant. Lewis is a sadly neglected singer and deserves to be re-instated as one of the important black artists in the London musical landscape of the period. A baritone, he was known as “the Crosby of the Caribbean” or “the black Bing Crosby” and had a string of hits with a rather lugubrious take on a number of ballads that appealed to the immediate post-war audience. The best known and most typical is “In the Land of Beginning Again” which captured the mood of the time perfectly.

In many ways he represents the last in a line of sophisticated black cabaret artists that includes the BYP favourites Hutch and Turner Layton. “Time May Change” was tailor-made for him. However, it would have been Geraldo, a friend of Hugh’s, who would have chosen the song. That it was a sensible decision is evidenced by this early review in Gramophone,

“”Time May Change”, from ” Maid to Measure,” looks like becoming one of the hit tunes of the year, and Archie Lewis made a good choice in being among the first to record it. Full marks on all scores for this side.”

The song was indeed chart-bound, reaching number 4 (on sheet-music sales) and registering in the top twenty for 14 weeks. Sadly, by the end of its run on the Hit Parade Hugh was in steep physical decline.He was to have one more successful composition with “Souvenirs De Paris”, before his premature demise on the 10th of April 1949.

Here is a short clip from the end of Paul Rotha’s MOI film West Indies Calling (full version available on YouTube). The musicians backing Archie Lewis are some of the mainstays of the West End club scene and would have been familiar to Hugh and his associates.

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Jessie Matthews did not record Time may Change ,unfortunately. She has been treated rather harshly in some histories of popular culture and is yet another in need of a little revisionist appreciation. A useful site is this one – Jessie Matthews.

The Jack Jackson and Archie Lewis versions of TMC are available as downloads from Amazon etc.

The following is a picturesque and evocative snapshot of Bright Young rituals circa 1926-28.

“The 1920s were a good period for eccentrics. Self-expression was the note of the day;the rich had more money than ever before, and less inhibitions about what to express. Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies have been taken as satirical fantasies, but they describe a real manner of life with total accuracy. In those years I saw a great deal of another cousin, Elizabeth Ponsonby, who exemplified her period perfectly.The waste of time which took place was prodigious. One was always, in the silly world I moved in at the age of seventeen, dressing up for a party; indeed, one travelled with a dinner jacket and a matelot’s uniform, which we had found out to be the quickest and simplest form of fancy dress.”

Matelot Dress Pattern 1934

“Night after night, there was Elizabeth, often starting our evening with half a dozen of our friends in the Grosvenor Square house of Arthur Bendirs (whose beautiful and silent daughter Babe Bosdari – much photographed by Cecil Beaton – shook our cocktails and helped us zip up our disguises) before we went on to Florence de Pena, or Gracie Ansell, or whoever was the hostess of an evening which inevitably took in a stop at the Cafe Anglais, where Rex Evans sang at the piano, and an eventual eclipse at an unassuming nightclub behind Piccadilly Circle, the Blue Lantern.”

Cafe Anglais 1949

This passage  is taken from The Bonus of Laughter, the autobiography of the writer and long-standing editor of the TLS, Alan Pryce-Jones . It’s a joy to read and has exactly the right feel about it, though one or two of the specifics are a little odd. Babe would not yet be Bosdari and if she was much photographed by Beaton, I can’t find any examples.

Nonetheless, the picture of Babe, pretty, quiet and slightly in the background, corresponds to other reminiscences.Evelyn Waugh, no fan at all, says much the same and Tom Driberg recalled her as, in comparison to Elizabeth Ponsonby, “much more placid, round-faced and innocent-looking, with very little expression in her face, but very beautiful in a way”.The one dissenting voice comes from Elizabeth’s mother, who blamed Babe for some of Elizabeth’s excesses and was none too pleased about Babe’s marriage to and hasty divorce from her nephew David Plunket Grene. Dorothea Ponsonby described Babe as looking like “a forty year old procuress”, a phrase as striking as it was probably inaccurate.

However, as time went on, I’m not sure the Bendir daughter stayed too much in the shadows. Although no innovator, chronicler or artist, she exemplifies a certain mode of existence as well as any of her set.

Babe played a significant part in producing and cementing the image of the BYP as far as the press, the public and her contemporaries were concerned.She achieved (if that is the right word) this through her friendships with other women, her fleeting marriages and her attendance at, and her role in organising, the many parties that still remain central to our view of the whole phenomenon.

Her close female friends, Elizabeth Ponsonby ( a cousin by marriage), Olivia Plunket Greene (sister-in-law) and the incomparable Sylvia Ashley, personified Bright Young Womanhood and Babe was their equal in her dedication to the hedonistic cause. I will say something about Babe’s relationship to all three, but particularly Elizabeth, in the next post. .Her marriages, and her unusual husbands, will also be dealt with later.

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Sylvia Ashley

For now, let’s just concentrate on a couple of parties.It is as one of the quartet who organised the Bath and Bottle Party that she earns her place within the BYP elite. Held at St.George’s Swimming Baths on Buckingham Palace Road from 11pm onward on Friday 13th July, 1928, it was the quintessential Bright Young gathering. Guests wore bathing costumes, a black jazz orchestra provided the music and, as D.J.Taylor reports, its “novelty and notoriety” surpassed all of the (many) other costume and “freak” parties. Moralists and gossip-columnists had a field day. If there was a single Bright Young highpoint, this was it.

Brian Howard

A few months later there occurred the other defining party of the period, Brian Howard’s overly-ambitious Great Urban Dionysia. This event, intended to be the ultimate in decadent glamour, was something of a failure, the reality falling far short of the concept. Guests were to come as characters from Greek mythology and were advised to research their designs at the British Museum. Willy King, Viva’s husband, worked there and helped Howard and others choose appropriate costumes. Viva was Sappho, Olivia Wyndham Minerva, Ernest Thesiger Medusa, John Banting Mercury, Mary Butts a Caryatid and so forth. Babe dressed in blue, her outfit modelled on a Nymph from a Greek vase. Her look was a success but many other outfits were over-elaborate and ponderous. Even worse, some were considered tawdry and, in a comment designed to give Howard nightmares, the whole affair was deemed by one columnist to be rather “suburban”.

The 16 inches long invitation, reproduced in Portrait of a Failre, with its list of Howard’s likes and dislikes is very revealing, but even that manages to both pretentious and rather adolescent. What tends to be overlooked is the name of the actual host.

The Dionysia Will Occur this Year

At 1 Marylebone Lane, Oxford Street

(Behind Bumpus’s) on the 4th of April 1929

At 11pm. Celebrated by

BABE PLUNKET GREENE

in honour of the 24th Birthday of

Brian Howard

and because the New Athens is sorry that

David Tennant

is going to Acadia”

This would suggest that, although the occasion was very much Howard’s endeavour, Babe was fairly integral to proceedings. I wonder whether she financed the event, as Brian’s income never quite matched his ambitions. Did she have any creative input? Probably not,but in later  life she was a patron to certain artists and a collector, so to assume that her presence was merely decorative is possibly a mistake.

False Dawn by John Tunnard (owned by Babe)

It is unlikely that Babe invested the “freak” parties with the sort of status Howard envisaged for them (early “Happenings” almost). But that she relished the mixture of outrage and aestheticism they aspired to is given added weight by the fact that not only was she involved in these two famous examples but that she, along with Elizabeth Ponsonby, had organised one of the early White Parties (white outfits, white decor, white food) that crop up throughout the period.If the Bright Young People are largely remembered in popular culture for the parties they threw then  Babe, with her fondness for dancing and cocktails, is, through her presence at and her participation in some of the era’s signature events, no background figure at all. The best known lines in Vile Bodies are these,

“Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity … Those vile bodies.”

This, without Waugh’s disapproving note, is the world Babe inhabited and helped create.

Incidentally, Bumpus’s, mentioned in the invitation, was one of the great London book stores, loved by bibliophiles, Bloomsbury and the more literary of the “smart set”. There are some splendid images of the place here  – Bumpus 1930  .

Babe Plunket Greene (part one)

Of the four figures who organised the Bath and Bottle Party in 1928 and therefore, according to a host of commentators from Viola Tree to D.J.Taylor, constituted the inner-core of the Bright Young Set, Babe Plunket Greene has received the least attention.

Brian Howard has long since passed into legend – in literature and in anecdote. Jacqueline Lancaster’s still-fascinating biographical scrapbook “Portrait of a Failure”  is as detailed a portrait as anyone could wish for.

Apart from the many contemporary references, Hugh Wade’s friend Elizabeth Ponsonby recently became pretty well the central female character in Taylor’s “Bright Young People“,  while Eddy Gathorne-Hardy has a smaller but significant space reserved for him in most chronicles of (and about) the times.

Elizabeth Ponsonby

“Babe” hasn’t fared quite as well. True, she doesn’t seem to have done much apart from giving and attending parties and getting involved in a series of short-lived marriages. But in that she was no different to several better known Bright Young Females (and not a few Males).

The name, though wonderfully resonant, doesn’t help. She sometimes gets confused with Teresa “Baby” Jungman  (see The Jungman Sisters) and/or her sister-in-law, Olivia Plunket Greene. Both of these women were unrequited loves of Evelyn Waugh, Olivia inspiring some of his best-known female characters ( Julia in Brideshead Revisited is partly based on her).

I also think that a certain snobbery surrounding  her background has had a lasting effect. At the time, she was seen as not quite out of the top drawer.Inevitably, Evelyn Waugh is an early commentator on her supposed  lack of social status. Waugh’s take is unsurprising. Whether a modern historian ( Julia Byrne in the generally excellent Mad World) should simply dismiss her as “the gold-digging step-daughter of a prominent bookie” is perhaps another matter.

I’ve no idea whether she was a gold-digger or not and, anyway, I’m not sure the term carries much meaning in the context of the 1920s marriage market. That she was the step-daughter of a bookmaker is true, but that intended slight does not tell anything like the whole story.

Her parents were Richard Murray McGusty, a member of a family of Dublin solicitors and himself a government agent in Canada, and Ernestine Marguerite, known as “Margot”. Margot was Scottish and her maiden name was Erskine. She was from a military family, her father was the second son of the Earl of Killie.  Babe’s birth name was Enid Margot or Marguerite Enid. I think she was born in 1907, although some sources say 1905 – she is listed in the 1911 census as Enid, aged 3. The dates are important as in 1907 Richard sued for divorce, naming Arthur Bendir as co-respondent. The divorce was granted in 1908. Margot married Arthur Bendir, but not until 1921. Babe therefore grew up as a child of a divorced (and presumably somewhat disgraced) single mother. There must also be the possibility that Arthur was her actual father.

Portrait of Mrs Bendir 1926 Sir William Orpen

Arthur Bendir is the “bookie”. He was in fact Chairman of Ladbrokes which he essentially founded in 1902. Evelyn Waugh writes in his diary of Babe’s “common father” and, indeed, he was of humble origin, having been born in Lambeth. By the 1920s he was immensely rich.He had a house at 43 Grosvenor Square and also owned Medmenham Abbey, a place of some historical notoriety. In the eighteenth century it had been the venue for some of the more outrageous antics of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (see Hellfire Club).

Medmenham Abbey

Ladbroke’s in the period that Bendir was in charge was a very different creature to the high street and on-line organisation we know today. The laws around betting were both very strict (and somewhat arcane) until 1960. Off-course betting was basically illegal but if you had a bank account and membership you could place bets by telephone. In essence, this meant that the well-to-do could gamble legally, while the man and woman in the street were reliant on illegal street bookies. Arthur Bendir devoted his attention to the Gentleman’s clubs of Mayfair and the West End. It is said that he drew his clients exclusively from the pages of Debrett’s. This is a slight exaggeration,Ladbroke’s had a very successful on-course presence, but it is substantially true. The fact that Ladbroke’s headquarters were in Hanover Square and then Old Burlington Street gives you some idea of the milieu and sought-after image.

Up to the Second World War this made Bendir the real king of bookmaking. He added to his fortune by becoming the major investor in the innovative (and very lucrative) Irish Sweepstakes – the National Lottery of its day. His own wealth can be gauged by the fact that the salary he paid his on-course manager, uniquely a woman – the legendary Helen Vernet, £20,000 a year. However, given the English caste-system, wealth and respectability were not the same thing. In the inter-war years racecourse gambling meant the Sabinis or the Brummagem Boys ( both of whom, incidentally, had interests in Kate Meyrick’s clubs) – a world of razor gangs and protection rackets.

If you want to explore the strange world of pre-1960 betting, Carl Chinn’s book is invaluable.

So Marguerite “Babe”  McGusty came to adulthood as a wealthy young woman but with a certain stigma surrounding the source of that wealth. This was not helped by a scandal in 1924 over a horse, nominally owned by her mother. The Kildare Nationalist website says this,

“”For the 1924 Lincolnshire Handicap Margot Bendir’s Condover was backed to win thousands, but ran inexplicably badly. Reappearing in the Newbury Spring Cup, Condover was backed from 100/7 down to 4/1, winning easily. The press went mad. ‘Public betting is not the haphazard thing that it used to be – the man in the street is by way of being an expert – but when he is palpably outwitted and finds all his logical conclusions unexpectedly scuttled he is inclined to think that the game is not as nice as it ought to be.’

Margot Bendir and Wilfred Purefoy fell compelled to institute libel proceedings. A sensible jury found in their favour, but awarded them just one farthing in damages. Moreover, they were not granted costs.”

Whether Babe was troubled or affected by any of the above is a matter for speculation but she emerges on the London social scene at this time, not yet eighteen but with a definite penchant for everything associated with the hedonism of the Bright Young People. Evelyn Waugh’s 1925 diary entry records her as “quiet, good-natured and pretty and well dressed with round eyes and rather a shiny nose”. For the next few years she is at the heart of the fast set, hosting two of the era’s most famous parties, constantly seen about town with her friend Elizabeth Ponsonby, marrying the likeable but luckless David Plunket Greene  and generally making herself the subject of much gossip and rumour.

William Acton, Margot Bendir, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Harry Melville, Babe Plunket Greene at David Tennant’s party 1928

I will look at this phase of her life in the next post.

UPDATE  Thanks to GH for spotting this – the birth of one Enid Margot Bendir is registered for November 1907  (London, Marylebone), which seems to settle the matter of parentage. Why she is Babe McGusty in Waugh’s diaries and Marguerite McGusty on her wedding to David Plunket Greene is open to question.

Brenda Dean Paul

This is a guest post from Chris Hallam. Chris is working on a major project, examining British drug sub-cultures and the authorities’ responses to them from the 1920s to the 1950s. This work will shed light on a hitherto neglected history, taking us from the era covered by Marek Kohn in “Dope Girls” up to the much more extensively documented Sixties’ drug “explosion”. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to contribute this piece about the iconic Miss Dean Paul, whose exploits have hovered around the edges of this Blog since day one.

Tony de Gandarillas,“Napper” Dean Paul, Marjorie Firminger, Brenda Dean Paul and Jane Carlys – Chelsea 1929

 

“Saint Brenda


On Brenda Dean Paul- for ‘Cocktails with Elvira’


Brenda Dean Paul, baronet’s daughter and Bright Young Person, was born in Kensington, West London in 1907, three years after her brother Napier (‘Napper’ Dean Paul). She would become (in)famous as the ‘society drug addict’ whose court cases blazed a trail of aristocratic decadence across the 1930s, 40s and 50s, dying in 1959 from- improbably enough- natural causes. Her drug using career, which was followed with avid interest by the national press, linked the aristocratic Bohemias of the 1930s- the sort of ‘set’ explored throughout these pages- to the jazz scene and beat subcultures of the 50s, when post-war affluence brought forth a flourish of new youth cultures.


Brenda’s drug use probably began with the regular use of alcohol and those ‘pick-me-ups’ available over the counter at pharmacies; she first used heroin in Paris in the late 1920s at a party held at an artist’s studio. This artist may or may not have been Jean Cocteau, enfant terrible of French culture, who came to be regarded as second only to Thomas de Quincey as drugs-corrupter-in-chief of gilded English youth. In her autobiography, Brenda tells us that a round of dissipation in the night clubs of Paris led to a collapse in her health, and that she acquired her celebrated habit while undergoing treatment with morphine in a Parisian clinic. Either way, whether by medicine or pleasure, Brenda appears to have been one of those individuals for whom opiate drugs represent a vocation, a kind of calling. Once called, Brenda never looked back. In the early years, there were many attempts at cures, it is true; countless times she would suffer the agonies of withdrawal in a string of nursing homes across London and the shires. But the cures did not take, and she always returned to her syringe and her drugs.

Brenda and Napper


It’s important to understand that the use of hypodermic morphine was prevalent in parts of the elite classes of England in the early twentieth century. Historian Virginia Berridge reminds us of the case of Lady Diana Cooper who, together with Katharine Asquith (the prime minister’s daughter-in-law), lay ‘in ecstatic stillness through too short a night, drugged in very deed by my hand with morphia’. Although the police cracked down on the street trade in cocaine in the capital during the Great War and the 1920s, they left the aristocracy alone. If the upper classes got into trouble with their drug use, they attended one of a number of private nursing homes that would treat their withdrawal symptoms with gentle reduction cures, bed rest and champagne. Lady Diana, though, was an occasional user. ‘I hope she won’t become a morphineuse’, wrote her husband Duff Cooper, soon to be Britain’s ambassador to Paris: ‘It would spoil her looks.’

Brenda in the 1950s

It did not spoil Brenda’s looks, though- she remained in possession of a singular beauty throughout her life; but her existence was to become difficult as the British state, which had hurriedly criminalised drug use under the ubiquitous Defence of the Realm Acts (and formalised this status in the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act), began a remorseless pursuit of Brenda Dean Paul and her small circle of associates. This pursuit did not really begin until the early 1930s, when that circle included her brother Napier, her close friend and lover Anthea Carew, and various other members of a network which came and went, while Brenda sailed on, steadfast in her narcotic orbit.
As early as 1931 the Metropolitan police had her under almost continual surveillance. Brenda’s first drug prosecution occurred in late 1931, after her father had visited Scotland Yard to beg the police to stop his daughter obtaining drugs. By this time, a warrant had already been issued for her arrest on seven counts of receiving dual supplies of morphine (addicts could be supplied with heroin, cocaine or morphine by their doctors, but Brenda had gone to several doctors at once, which was frowned upon).

Detective Sergeant Griffey of Scotland Yard was tasked with arresting Brenda, but discovered that she had vanished from London. Enquiries traced her to Devon, where she had spent her childhood. On a cold November night, as Brenda waited in her motor car outside the local doctor’s surgery while her maid collected her morphine script (that’s how it was done in those days), a torch flashed in Brenda’s face. ‘Are you Miss Brenda Dean Paul?’ asked a harsh voice. ‘I am an Inspector Sergeant from Scotland Yard and I would like to speak to you…’ The detective issued her with seven summons to appear at Marlborough Street Police Court (as magistrates’ courts were then known) under the Dangerous Drugs Act. Later that night, Anthea Carew drove her back to Chelsea through the pouring rain as they frantically tried to prepare for the case, which might easily result in a prison sentence.

Brenda outside court 1933


In the event, she was bound over by the magistrate and ordered to stay at a London nursing home, and later at the home of her doctor, Dr Fleming, the latest in a long list of medical men (the term was current) to oversee her treatment. While she was unhappily incarcerated at Fleming’s Regents Park house, she was visited by Anthea Carew and other drug using friends. It was Fleming who informed the Home Office that he believed Anthea was smuggling drugs and syringes in for Brenda, and a warrant was in turn issued for her arrest. She left immediately for Devon; like Brenda, she had grown up there, her father being the Dean of Exeter cathedral. She sped off in a hired Daimler, for which the cheque later bounced. These women liked to travel in style.
The two had stayed together in the Park Lane Hotel, but the hotel management did not take kindly to hedonistic goings on within its hallowed interiors. The night porter was called to Anthea’s room and found the pair in a state of advanced intoxication, one in bed, the other sitting on the bed ‘in an almost nude condition’. The women were told that they were ‘not regarded as suitable guests and were informed that…their room was required’. They promptly shifted their base of operations to the Dorchester. While the years between the wars saw a growing acceptance of contraception and of the value of sex within marriage, marginal forms of sexuality remained tightly policed.


It is notable that authorities such as hotel managers and pharmacists were keen to collaborate with the Met in their surveillance of Brenda’s network; their drug taking and erotic practices transgressed cultural norms and created an ongoing scandal in interwar Britain. A series of inter-related court cases in the summer of 1932 saw both feature heavily in national and even international newspapers; in the US, Brenda was viewed as an example of the ‘Decaying Aristocracy’, those blue-bloods who ‘had drunk too deeply of life’s pleasures’ and now cut pathetic figures.

Brenda and Anthea Carew leaving court


Both Brenda and Anthea Carew served sentences in Holloway prison. For a tiny band of cultural subversives, they drew an amazing amount of attention from Britain’s authorities- from the Home Office, the police and courts, and the newspapers, largely because, as Marek Kohn has pointed out, drugs came to stand as a symbol for those aspects of social change which the conservative order found threatening and alarming.”