Archive for June, 2012


Anthony De Bosdari

Anthony De Bosdari and Babe Plunket-Greene feature prominently in the various anecdotes concerning “Bright Young People”. Both are seen as belonging to the disreputable end of the set and while this is not exactly untrue, they have, I think, been the victims of some rather unpleasant snobbery, then and now. Bosdari becomes “the bogus Sicilian Count” and Babe “the gold-digging daughter of a bookie”. As with others we have encountered, the truth is a little more complicated. It is also proving rather hard to unravel.

Tallulah Bankhead and Tony Bosdari

Tony Bosdari  (b 1899) was one of three brothers born to Maurizio De Bosardi. All three were entitled, apparently, to call themselves Count, which is, to say the least, confusing. Although much emphasis is put on their foreignness , Anthony was educated at Winchester and seems to have been the model English public schoolboy, winning prizes for Latin, editing the school magazine and, most importantly, excelling at cricket. He topped the batting averages in his final year in a side that included future England captain, Douglas Jardine (of “Bodyline” notoriety).

In the 1920s he became known as a man-about-town, a polo player of some repute and, take your pick, a “confidence trickster”,” a wheeler-dealer”, a “venture capitalist” or simply a “business man”. What is certain is that he worked for Brunswick’s UK branch and had a great impact on the “Bright Young People”, but not in the ways usually mentioned.

In 1926 he organised a demonstration of Brunswick’s “Panatrope” radio/gramophone ( fittingly,at the Cafe De Paris). This early “music centre” was considered a major leap forward in home sound-technology and was a key part of 1920s dance and cocktail party culture.

This from Gramophone, November 1926

“The Panatrope
The relationship of wireless and gramophone reproduction has decidedly taken a step into the limelight of the gramophile’s stage with the Panatrope. This American invention was described pretty fully a year ago (October, 1925, Vol. II., p. 226) under the heading “The Coming Revolution?” and though it has taken a good while to reach this country, there is no reason to doubt that it opens up all the vista of future development which was then indicated. The combination of wireless, films and gramophone in the home is now appreciably nearer, and though only wealthy modernists can take more than a detached interest in the matter for some time to come, the whole subject is one of vast interest to all speculative minds.

The Café de Paris

Our representatives had the privilege of attending the first demonstration of the Panatrope at a hmcheon given by the British Brunswick Co. at the Café de Paris on October 4th. Count Anthony de Bosdari, who introduced the Panatrope with a very clever speech, deprecated the idea that it was intended in any way to compete with the gramophone. He left it to the Daily Telegraph to call it a “super gramophone” ; in fact, he claimed nothing for it except what was abundantly justified by the subsequent records played upon it.
An American Report

A propos, one of our readers, Mrs. Caesar Misch, of Providence, Rhode Island, writes: “Last week I put a band record on the Panatrope, using the second stage of amplification. The windows of the music-room were open and I soon saw my chauffeur run to the front of the grounds, thinking a band was passing! The sound had to travel 125 feet back to the garage where he was working, and that through windows at the front of the house, and that with only the second stage. This seems to me a significant comment on the ‘real-ness’ of the reproductions.”

The tune is one of the hits from Blackbirds of 1928

At the same time Bosdari was putting jazz on the UK map. Said to be the “best dancer in London”, he was one of the first to pick up on Fred Elizalde’s Quinquaginta Varsity jazz band and persuaded the Savoy to book the young composer as resident band-leader – he then arranged for him to record  for Brunswick. Elizalde’s work is still considered the most sophisticated and jazz-oriented of UK dance bands of the era. (see Fred Elizalde)

Bosdari  also  secured Society favourites Bert Ambrose’s Mayfair Hotel Orchestra for Brunswick. He would also have had a say in Brunswick UK releasing “hot” music by the likes of Red Nichols, King Oliver and Irving Mills’  above-mentioned Hotsy-Totsy Gang. Therefore the Count played a significant part in providing the soundtrack for the jazz-mad party set of the period.

Just prior to this, he had been working in Selfridge’s marketing department ( he was a friend of fellow Wykehamist, Gordon Selfridge Junior). It was Bosdari who had introduced John Logie Baird to the store  in 1925, thus giving the public the first real viewings of “television”. The equipment was so provisional and ramshackle that it was not a great success but it does show a remarkable sense of foresight on Bosdari’s part. Bosdari obviously had a feeling for all things modern, he appears to have had dealings with the German film company UPA  and Klangfilm, pioneers of film sound equipment.

He must have continued his association with Selfridge’s too and appears to have tried to get Brian Howard a job there as a display designer (unsurprisingly, for Howard, nothing came of it).  Howard also mentions a company called First International Pictures, another Bosdari project, for whom he was to work on set design. I think this is First International Sound Pictures – but can find little information – again, nothing materialised.

v

However these aspects of the Count’s career have been largely buried. It is as a playboy and in particular as the lover and fiance of Tallulah Bankhead that he lives in the history books.Bosdari’s engagements, affairs and (possible) marriages are not easy to follow. He was briefly engaged to the actress Enid Stamp Taylor in 1926, was even more briefly married to Josephine Fish, an American heiress, in 1928, and then  for six months until May 1929 was engaged to Tallulah. In 1931 a forthcoming marriage to the Duchess of Croy (formerly Helen Lewis, another American) was announced but whether it took place or not I can’t ascertain. Then, according to Bright Young People annals, he married Babe Plunket Greene.  Countess Marguerite Bosdari is, I presume ,Babe and is on the electoral role in 1932 but I can’t find much more as yet . With so many Counts and Countesses Bosdari (even Tallulah termed herself such for a while) it gets rather confusing

Countess Bosdari 1934 (is this Babe?)

Anthony De Bosardi seems to fade into obscurity (perhaps under something of a cloud) from the mid-1930s onwards. There is some useful material at this fascinating website Levantine Heritage but there are still plenty of questions remaining (as ever). Alec Waugh, who knew him well in the 1920s, says Bosdari was interned by the Germans in World War 2. The Levantine site suggests that he then lived in either North Africa or South America. He is an intriguing figure and I’m sure there is much more to unearth.

I’ll post next on Babe Plunkett-Greene, in many ways an equally puzzling character.

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Michael Scott Stephen’s elder brother, Francis, was the only member of the Stephen family to be interviewed by the Police. He was two years older than Michael and was a solicitor, then residing  in Putney.He was questioned very briefly at the trial and at rather greater length at the inquest. This is from the inquest.

Coroner “Where did he live?”

FS  “I can’t say. I don’t know. I believe he had rooms somewhere’

(The coroner’s officer, interposing, said he believed he had rooms in Brompton Road.)

FS  “Yes, that may be so. I know he had rooms round there, somewhere.”

Coroner  “Had Your brother any occupation?”

FS  “I dont think so, lately.”

C  “Had he had one?”

FS  “Yes, he was a dress designer in Paris.”

C  “When did he give that up?”

FS  “It is very difficult for anybody to say that.”

C  “Was he right-handed or left-handed?”

FS  “Right-handed.”

C  “How was he supporting himself? Was your father making him an allowance?”

FS  “I think my father had ceased making him an allowance.”

C  “Do you know when?”

FS  “My father ceased to make him a regular allowance at least two years ago – I think it was when he went to Paris as a dress designer. That would be about three years ago. Whenever he was in  financial difficulties he was helped out by my mother I think.”

C  “Did he apply to you for money too?”

FS  “Yes.”

C  “Did you lend him any?”

FS  “Not during the last nine months.”

C  “I suppose you got tired of lending him money?”

FS  “Yes. He did not have a great deal from me, but I got tired of it.”

C  “Do you know anything of the relationship which existed between him and Mrs. Barney?”

FS “Yes”

C “What was it, Mr.Stephen?”

FS  “When I last saw him it was about that. I asked him and Mrs. Barney to come to my office, and I told him that my father did not approve of the association. My brother was very angry, so I  just asked them to leave my office.”

C “Your father wanted them to separate?”

FS “Yes. They tried to give us the idea that they would get married when she got divorced, and we pointed out that this was not the best way of setting about it.”

C “Did he become abusive or did she, or both?”

FS “He more or less said “Don’t be so tiresome” or something like that. She rather tried to restrain him.”

C “He got impatient?”

FS “Yes, we left it at that.”

C “You ordered them out of the office?”

FS “I asked them to leave.”

C “Were they living together then?”

FS “He denied it at that interview, but I had a different impression but no grounds, except that when I wanted to speak to him I telephoned to her address in William Mews.”

C “What sort of physique had  your brother?”

FS “He was very delicate.”

What were his habits as regards alcohol?”

FS “I cannot say that I know.”

C “He was in no position to marry?”

FS “Not without a job.”

C “How tall was he?”

FS “About 5 foot 9.”

C “Do you know whether he possessed a revolver?”

FS “I have never heard of it.”

C “Had you any letter from him recently?”

FS “No.”

C “Your communications ceased six months ago?”

FS “Yes.”

There is a difference between this statement and the court one regarding Michael’s physique. In court Francis says that Michael was physically strong but in poor health – he also answers a question by agreeing that he would be considered good-looking. Given that the prosecution case depended heavily on Elvira’s supposed jealousy and the unlikelihood of a woman wrestling the gun off a man – it may be that Francis had been briefed accordingly.

Why does Francis switch to the plural in describing what happened  at the office? Had Michael and Elvira been summoned at the request of the father? If his father had already disowned Michael, as is often suggested, why was he so worried about his son’s relationship with Elvira? If Michael was already firmly established as a wastrel then what did it matter that he was living off the income of the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in London? Was this just good old middle-class respectability (with a touch of Scottish puritanism) or was Elvira’s reputation already a matter of concern? Incidentally, why was Elvira even there? It does have something of the the appearance of a “family crisis” meeting.

The other point worth noting is that it is Elvira who tries to calm Michael down. This runs counter to any other anecdote about Elvira’s general behaviour and possibly gives some credence to the notion that there was more than one volatile person in the relationship.

After his brief moment in the public eye, Francis Richard Stephen continued his career in the law. I’m not absolutely sure but I think he was a solicitor in Nairobi after the Second World War moving to Somerset in the 1960s.If he is the same Francis Richard Stephen who died at Bath in 1995 aged 90 then he had a much longer and, hopefully, less troubled life than his unfortunate brother.