Tag Archive: Aimee Stuart

I think it is safe to assume that all of the attendees at Arthur Jeffress’  Orchard Court party went there from the Blue Angel (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/30th-may-1932-parties/ ) and that it was therefore a fairly impromptu gathering. Elvira and Michael were invited but Elvira declined, claiming tiredness, which was unlikely given the descriptions of her as being “in high spirits” and “excitable” while at the club. In the light of subsequent events, it was not exactly a wise decision to return home.

Barbara Waring

The inclusion of Barbara Waring (Born Barbara Waring Gibb 1912-1990)  among Jeffress’ late night guests is further evidence of the importance of the theatre and young actors and actresses to West End club and party life. Who was she with that evening? It is unlikely that she went to the Blue Angel alone, so fellow actress Irene MacBrayne is the most probable companion. Lester Empson Lucas (21), who is proving a little elusive, is another possibility.

She was younger than most of the Monday night revellers (19) and was appearing in Noel Coward’s Cavalcade at the time (as, I suspect, was MacBrayne). She was a close friend of Sylvia Coke’s (they had been at RADA together) and may be the unnamed actress who attended the earlier Mews cocktail party with Miss Coke – although that does not fit with the statement Sylvia gave the police.I would doubt that she knew Elvira or Michael very well, if at all.

However through her friendship with Sylvia Coke and Angela Worthington she would have met many of London’s fashionable and “fast” characters. Her son’s obituary lists Noel Coward and Ivor Novello as friends of his mother and Angela Worthington cites John Heygate, Ewart Garland, Michael Sieff (of Marks and Spencer fame) and the disreputable Gussie Schweder as part of the young actresses’ circle. Belgravia-born Schweder was gay, dissolute and an inveterate party-giver at his Knightbridge flat. I’m sure Gussie would have had more than a passing acquaintance with Michael and/or Elvira.

Cavalcade itself is an even more appropriate cultural marker of the demise of the Bright Young Things than the Barney trial. An extravagant and over-blown historical tableau, it turned Coward from darling of the sophisticates into a “national treasure” and respectable figure of the establishment almost over-night. Though Coward, by 1931, was already the highest paid author in England, his plays still were considered somewhat racy and all had problems with the censors.Cavalcade, a sentimental pageant charting the lives of two families (one rich,one poor) through the events of the first thirty years of the century, struck just the right patriotic and nostalgic notes and a nation reeling from the Depression and the recent humbling abandonment of the Gold Standard took it to its heart immediately. Royal approval was given by the appearance at the second night of the King and Queen, the Daily Mail serialised it and it ran (to full houses) for over a year. The Conservative party even credited it with bolstering the middle-class vote and ensuring that the “Radical” thirties remained largely under their stewardship.

Gladys Calthrop 1931

The play’s impact on the West End was equally impressive. As it featured over 400 actors and behind the scenes workers, it provided much employment and for young hopefuls (like John Mills and Barbara Waring) was their first experience of a really successful long-run. Mention must be made of the elaborate sets and the wide range of costumes used in the course of the show. These were designed by Gladys Calthrop, Coward’s costumier,set-designer and confidante from The Vortex onward she was a member of the upper-echelons of lesbian Bohemia – her lovers included Mercedes De Acosta and Eva Le Gallienne, themselves indirectly linked to the Barney circle (through Tallulah Bankhead and Jo Carstairs).

Cavalcade does hint at the tensions caused by the twenties’ moral , sexual and cultural upheavals and closes in a noisy night-club with “jazz-age decadents” and a female character singing “Twentieth Century Blues” , but as Philip Hoare points out “the overwhelming impression of the production was of nostalgic national introspection and sentimentality”. The endless  patriotic speeches and chestnuts like “Keep The Home Fires Burning” ensured that tradition triumphed over modernity.

Barbara Waring continued her association with Noel Coward but her next real impact was in cinema rather than on the stage. She appears in small roles in three of the best British war-time films – Noel Coward’s “In Which We Serve”, Powell and Pressburger’s “A Canterbury Tale” and Leslie Howard’s “The Gentle Sex”. The latter is of particular interest as it features dialogue contributions from playwright Aimee Stuart (whose own proto-feminist, discreetly-gay, Bohemian circle overlaps at times with the Chelsea Set)  and an uncredited acting part for Peter Cotes,  the author of “The Trial of Elvira Barney”. When Cotes writes that at certain times in his life he encountered many who knew Elvira then the set of “The Gentle Sex” is probably one of those occasions. Thirteen years earlier, Waring had appeared in Stuart’s “Nine Till Six”,with its all female cast a key play for both actresses and audiences of Elvira’s generation.(see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/georgia-and-frances-doble/)

The film itself is a mixture of, hopefully ironic,  condescension  and, for the time, quite progressive views about women. It remains oddly moving. Waring, like the whole female cast, is excellent as a rather unpleasant and aloof dancing- teacher who is forced to re-examine her prejudices.

Barbara Waring, whose father was a Doctor, had married the theatrical agent Laurence Evans in the late 1930s. As seems de rigeur for every woman this blog mentions, the first marriage was short-lived. In 1947 she married Geoffrey Cunliffe, son of Baron Cunliffe and Chairman of British Aluminium. Her creative career was not quite over though. A play of hers, “The Jaywalker” – religious in theme, was due to be performed at Coventry Cathedral in 1967.

The music was by Duke Ellington. A mutual friend of Ellington and Waring, Mrs. Lesley Diamond made the introduction. As Renee Gertler (niece of the artist Mark Gertler), the future Mrs.Diamond had been one of many young English fans who had lionised and met Ellington on his first triumphant tour in 1933.  Given this jazz and art connection it would be nice to place Renee Gertler in the Bohemian world of the Blue Angel etc. but she was actually a 13 year-old schoolgirl at the time. In the 1950s, however, her Park Lane home became Ellington’s favourite London retreat – a place to write and relax.

I’m not sure what happened to the production of “The Jaywalker” but the music is available from Storyville Records

One of the reasons Arthur Jeffress invited everyone back to his place, that night at the Blue Angel, was so he could play them some of the “hot” records he had brought with him from his recent trip to New York. I wonder if these included any Duke Ellington sides. It is not unlikely as he was already a favourite of the London cognoscenti (the hard-partying Constant Lambert being a particular fan).Anyway, I like the image of a young Barbara Waring  nodding away appreciatively to the Ellington Orchestra in the early hours.

Georgia and Frances Doble

There are a number of actresses who hover around the fringes of Elvira’s world. Kay Hammond,Valerie Taylor, Beatrix Thomson, Norah Balfour, Sunday Wilshin, Jeanne De Casalis etc. etc. all have at least some links with the circle. I think we might as well add Frances Doble to this ever-expanding list.

Frances was the elder sister of Georgia, who married Sacheverell Sitwell, and both belonged to the inner sanctum of the Bright Young People. Georgia ( 1906-1980) had been at school with Elvira, introduced her to Viva King and hence much of Chelsea Bohemia (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/ ). She was in the iconic “aesthete” photographs, is present at the Impersonation party (as Edith Sitwell)  and turns up in the memoirs of, among others,  Anthony Powell and Frances Partridge.


Portrait of Georgia Sitwell by William Acton

Georgia Sitwell third from right  —————————Georgia as Edith Sitwell

Georgia Sitwell by Cecil Beaton

Because of the revival of interest in the Bright Young People, Georgia is now the better remembered of the two siblings . However Frances (1902-1969) had the bigger impact in her day. She appeared in the film version of Noel Coward’s The Vortex and Basil Dean’s stage and film adaptations of The Constant Nymph and Nine Till Six. To me, that places her as the thespian embodiment of late twenties female modernity. The Vortex captured the mood of the period perfectly while The Constant Nymph was (as book and play) the most popular manifestation of the new sensibility. She also had a starring role in the farcically disastrous “Sirocco” in 1927  ( leading man Ivor Novello, written by Coward) and the much cited While Parents Sleep in 1932. All in all, there is barely a “younger generation” play that does not seem to have featured her. Not bad considering that  her acting and dancing skills were never deemed to be more than adequate.

Frances Doble 1929

It is Nine Till Six  (1930) that allows me to make a bid for  Frances’  to be included in Elvira’s world.  Less well remembered than the other plays listed above, its author and its all women cast give it a special place in the “theatrical” culture of the time. Written by Aimee Stuart, who was the centre of a London gay and lesbian salon culture that included figures such as Nerina Shute and Sunday Wilshin, it chronicled the lives of  a group of women in the hitherto masculine world of work. Like most of Stuart’s plays it became something of a gay ” cult classic” .Its early stage and film incarnations starred the likes of Norah Balfour, Florence Desmond, Sunday Wilshin, Kay Hammond, Alison Leggatt, Jeanne De Casalis and, of course, Frances Doble.  Elvira would have seen this play, would have known the actresses – who all tended to come from wealthy backgrounds – and would have taken pride in associating with any, if not all, of the players.

A significant number of Elvira’s female friends were divorced, separated or unhappily married. Frances had married Hugh Lindsay-Hogg in 1929 and Georgia had been Mrs. Sitwell since 1925, but both women are recorded as missing the “social whirl” of London. Both struggled with marriage, as did their husbands,  and both continued to be part of the London party scene. That Elvira didn’t keep in contact with her old schoolmate and therefore her glamorous elder sister is inconceivable. Socially, temperamentally and professionally everything about Frances makes her someone Elvira would have wanted to hang out with.

Cecil Beaton and Frances Doble 1935

Frances’ marriage did not last: nor did her acting career. She disappears from public view in the years of Elvira’s decline. However one relationship, between 1938 and 1939, is of interest. Kim Philby, then attempting to prove his right-wing credentials while already in the pay of Moscow, has an affair with her. She was now in Spain, an ardent fan of Franco and Hitler, and her parties for Falangist officers in Salamanca are  described as “lavish”. Many of the Bright Young People flirted with Fascism – some, like Brian Howard, moved to the left. The Sitwell set definitely leant to the right. Which way Elvira would have turned, had she lived, is anyone’s guess.

I would not place Frances particularly closely to Elvira but I doubt that they were strangers to each other. If Francis was part of Aimee Stuart’s entourage then the connection is far more likely. I will post on this fascinating but forgotten Scottish playwright shortly.

Valerie Taylor

Here’s yet another actress who may in some way be connected to Elvira’s circle.

Valerie Taylor (1902-88) had a long career on stage and in film. She was best known at the time of the Barney case for her  six-year association with  John Balderston’s play “Berkeley Square“, in which she starred both in the West End and  on Broadway and eventually on film. Other triumphs included her 1929 role as Nina, opposite John Gielgud,  in Chekhov’s “The Seagull“. (Funnily enough,  Beatrix Thomson had played in “The Three Sisters”  a couple of years earlier.). Taylor, while remaining primarily attached to the theatre, would later appear in film classics such as “Went The Day Well?”  and “Repulsion“. Again, like the other actresses that I have posted about, she was also a writer  – and has one or two screenplay credits.

She had some strong Bloomsbury connections, which included correspondences with Clive Bell and an unlikely relationship with Eddy Sackville-West.  In Michael De La Noy’s biography (“Eddy”)  she is described as “simultaneously throwing herself at the feet of both Raymond Mortimer and Eddy’s cousin Vita”. Mortimer, who wrote so “colourfully” to Eddy about Arthur Jeffress’  Red and White Party, seems to have been briefly engaged to Valerie. These pairings-up of gay men and bisexual or gay women should by now be becoming familiar to anyone reading this blog.

She was also acquainted with the Mayfair/Chelsea crowd. Maurice Richardson, of whom more anon, recalls a party in 1929 where he “fell for Valerie Taylor in a gold evening dress. I thought I was going to make her but got brushed off later.” Brian Howard was also in attendance and, as a fight broke out later on, so, I would imagine, were some of our usual suspects. If Elvira ever met Valerie it would have been in this environment, as I just can’t picture Mrs.Barney at Knole or Charleston.

From 1930 onwards Valerie Taylor divided her time between England and America. She married Hugh Sinclair (who played “The Saint” in a number of fondly-remembered B-Movies). Taylor and Sinclair had acted together in the almost-openly lesbian play “Love of Women” by Aimee Stuart (whose friends included Sunday Wilshin and Nerina Shute). In Harlem they danced the night away with a young Lucille Ball and in Hollywood were friends with the legendary Mercedes de Acosta (reputedly the lover of both Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead).

She returned to England after the War and left Sinclair for a mining-engineer. Before the break-up they had a property in Perranporth, Cornwall, and she collaborated with Winston Graham (of “Poldark” fame) on the screenplay for “Take My Life” (1947). He, then aged 39 and she 45, describes her thus, “She was a highly strung, highly articulate, beautiful but rather overpowering young woman who was full of ideas.”  – which makes her sound pretty impressive to me.

She is not high among my candidates for a close friend of Elvira’s or as an attendee of the cocktail party. However, she would have known Howard and Gathorne-Hardy and most of Elvira’s theatrical friends. She is also, I suspect, someone whose career, on and off-stage, Elvira would have rather envied.