Tag Archive: Alec Waugh


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.

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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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Cocktail Parties

No phrase so instantly conjures up the  modernity and the anti-Puritanism of the 1920s as “cocktail party”. Even today, albeit massively devalued, the term still carries a certain sense of sophisticated hedonism. Back in 1932, even though the whole country was familiar with the ritual through magazines and the cinema, there was thought to be something slightly wicked and un-English about the whole phenomenon. Newspapers, while carrying adverts for cocktail recipes, tended to pronounce sternly on such parties and the people who attended them.

Stone’s Ginger Wine cashes in on the cocktail craze – late 1920s

Elvira’s front room had a purpose-built, curved cocktail bar in the corner. This was a source of fascination both to the police and the press, so I guess it must have been unusual. Plenty of theatres and clubs were commissioning cocktail bars in this time but domestic homes had not really picked up on the idea  – but then the “Love Hut” was hardly a typical domestic home..However, one of Elvira’s guests on May 30th, Ruth Baldwin, had in fact gone one better and converted her whole living area at 5 Mulberry Walk into a bar.

Alfred Thompson “A Modern Cocktail Bar” Saville Theatre 1931

The rise of the cocktail party is synonymous with the Bright Young People and The Smart Set. Like the sports car, it signified everything that was post-war, modernist, anti-Edwardian and young. The idea was American, emanating from St.Louis in 1917 and the cocktail itself grew in popularity because of the awfulness of much prohibition liquor.In Europe the situation was rather different and the cocktail party took on a set of connotations rooted in the more class-bound cultures of England and France. Its  “American-ness” was important and those who railed against creeping Americanisation cited it, along with jazz and the cinema, as a sign of national decline. However there were other factors that made the cocktail party of particular value in symbolising the upheavals and contradictions in English society in the years after the Armistice..

Most importantly, it was one of many signals of the changing role of women in society.Attractive women drinking (and smoking) is the image that occurs again and again in the many representations of cocktail gatherings. From cartoons, advertising and the cinema  the message is the same – here is something new, exciting but also slightly discomfiting. Although more men than women probably attended such affairs, the iconography is overwhelmingly female . Pubs were still very masculine and rather non-U places – it is telling how little they feature in BYP memoirs. Here, on the other hand, was a space were young women could “let themselves go” in a semi-public arena. It is no coincidence that the defining outfit of the era was Coco Chanel’s cocktail dress.

Coco Chanel Cocktail Dress 1926

The throwing of the first English cocktail party has been variously ascribed to three figures who have already featured in this blog, Beverley Nicholls, C.R.W.Nevinson and Alec Waugh. Waugh’s is the name most usually cited but he himself gave Nevinson the credit. The agreed year is generally 1924.If it was as late as that, then they caught the public imagination remarkably quickly for by 1926 they had become a byword for everything that constituted the generation gap – everything the old disapproved of and the young aspired to.  Cocktail parties changed the cultural landscape. It is even said that the highly mannered (and loud) vocal  intonations of  the likes of Brian Howard and Elizabeth Ponsonby were developed to carry over the noise of the gramophone and the animated chatter of other guests.

By and large, these parties were the province of the rich and the theatrical. Most English people never attended one and most never even tasted a cocktail until the 1960s – but everyone knew about them. They moralised and glamorised, exaggerated and embellished, above all they associated them with the new sexual freedoms – real or imagined.

Hence the delight that the newspapers took in placing Elvira’s party at the very heart of the affair. For who knows what sins a woman a woman who held cocktail parties on a Monday evening, in a house seemingly designed for such a purpose, might commit?

The time allocated to a cocktail party was important – generally between 6pm and 8pm. It was not Afternoon Tea nor was it Formal Dinner.It was not, in fact, formal at all. That was the key. Guests popped in and out, some danced, some just chatted. Above all it was a Prelude to other events – the theatre, a night club or a late party, perhaps all three. In this, Elvira’s gathering, unlike so much in her life, was typical.

Nor were the drinks and food elaborate. Elvira provided gin-based grapefruit cocktails, sherry and, thanks to a quick trip to an off-licence by Michael Stephens and, probably, Ruth Baldwin, some whisky. Sometimes there was caviare or smoked salmon sandwiches, sometimes no food at all. It was the sense of a meeting-point that mattered – remember, Elvira hosted or attended  two or three of these events a week. No formal invitations, a phone call or an verbal invite at the last such bash summoned the guests on May 30th. This combination of exclusivity and relaxed protocol made the cocktail party, to its devotees, such a statement. Everything conspired to say, “this is not how our parents’ did things”.

Claude Flight Cocktail Party 1936

What strikes me as peculiar is how the echoes of that original excitement linger still today. Whether in retro-party form or in cynical cheap drinks promotions, the mere word “cocktail” retains the traces of this original, and long vanished, context. Sadly, no amount of “Happy Hours” or absurdly titled concoctions can hope to emulate the sense of transgression the earlier incarnations embodied. They belonged to a very specific historical moment and remain beyond our grasp.