Tag Archive: Arthur Jeffress


David Hicks

While trying to get my head around the world inhabited by Simon Fleet and Nicky Haslam (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/simon-fleet/ ) I stumbled upon this list, taken from the 1998 obituary of interior designer David Hicks. I’m assuming this refers to the 1950s  – Hicks was born in 1929.

“Other friends were mainly of the more sophisticated world, headed by Bunny Roger, Arthur Jeffress, Barry Sainsbury and those veteran, inveterate matchmakers Chips Channon and Peter Coats.”

Typical David Hicks design

Apart from my satisfaction in seeing Bunny Roger and Arthur Jeffress in the same sentence ( I’m told the two knew each other from the time of the Red and White party (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ ) it made me wonder about the unbroken link between pre-War and 1960s  “Dandyism”, as typified by Mayfair and Kings Road boutiques like “Mr. Fish”  (see

Dandy in Aspic ).

This ought to (but won’t) lead to a questioning of the myth of the democratic and egalitarian origins of “Swinging London” and the sixties in general. In Chelsea and Belgravia, A wealthy, often gay, High Bohemia held cultural sway, much as it had done in Elvira’s day.Even some of the names are the same – Hicks was married to a Mountbatten, Mary Quant to a Plunket Greene. I don’t want to downplay the impact of Vidal Sassoon,David Bailey et al but for every Chris Stamp there was a Kit Lambert (son of Constant). The figure of Christopher Gibbs is every bit as emblematic of the period as any member of the new rock star-aristocracy.

Alexander Plunket Greene

Off topic, but perhaps not really, two of the Beatles (George and Ringo) briefly lived in William Mews in the mid-sixties, just a few doors down from Elvira’s former residence.

More on post-War Mayfair and a few Chelsea “Scallywags” in a forthcoming post.

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Arthur Jeffress’ 1933 Rolls Royce

I have mentioned this a  while back but this link has additional information.

Arthur Jeffress 1933 Rolls-Royce

I have rather neglected Arthur Jeffress of late, but I will return to him soon. It has occurred to me that he has been too easily dismissed in various accounts relating either to Elvira’s trial or his place in London social and cultural life. As with Hugh Wade, he could do with a bit of a reappraisal .Fortunately, someone much better qualified than myself is currently working on that very project.

It is true that his vast wealth and extravagant spending do not always make for comfortable reading. However, other aesthetes such as Stephen Tennant and Lord Berners are viewed as merely eccentric and somehow endearing for their indulgences – and there is no reason why Jeffress should not be seen in a similar light.

Arthur Jeffress, Audrey Grace Denison (née Bowles), Michael Sherard, Budge Fraser – the photograph was taken by White Party host Sandy Baird.

His post-War contribution to the Art world, as connoisseur, collector, gallery owner, funder of other galleries and supporter of artists, particular those working in neglected or unfashionable genres, has been sadly undervalued. The list of artists who exhibited at his gallery in the 1950s is both impressive and wonderfully eclectic.His bequest to Southampton City Art Gallery gives you some idea of his taste and individuality and is well worth checking out.

Arthur Tilden Jeffress by Graham Sutherland

 

I thought a reminder of the cocktail party might be in order as I have posted a few items now and can’t expect people to back track through all of them. So, forgive the repetition but here we go.

On Monday, May 30th 1932 Elvira Barney and Michael Scott Stephen held a cocktail party between 6pm and 10pm at 21 William Mews (off Lowndes Square).Elvira had lived at the Mews since January 1931 and the small front room was designed with Parties in mind. The main two items of furnishing were a cocktail bar and a large gramophone.

21 William Mews and Elvira’s Delage

She held cocktail parties about twice a month. They were informal affairs and always took place early in the week. The invitation process seems to have consisted simply of telling people she met at a party in someone else’s house that she was doing the same next week so “do drop in”. In addition, Michael or Elvira would ring round on the morning of the party and invite others. In the case of the 30th May, many (if not most) of the guests had been invited at Terence Skeffington-Smythe’s cocktail party (the previous Wednesday or Thursday) at 19, Orchard Street. Michael also made some phone calls on the Monday.

Over the course of the evening, between 25 and 35 people came and went. Some were close friends, some were regular attendees, some had only met Elvira at Skeffington-Smyth’s and some had never met her at all. Her two closest friends at the time, Leonie Fester and Terence Skeffington-Smyth were invited but didn’t make it. They turned up at the Blue Angel later on.

Hugh Wade and Elizabeth Ponsonby ( Olivia Wyndham and possibly Heather Pilkington behind railings)

Hugh Wade, the resident pianist at the Blue Angel and The Blue Lantern, knew Elvira well. He was among the first to arrive. Also early was Irene MacBrayne of 88 Brompton Road, an actress. Irene was a regular at Elvira’s parties.

Sylvia Coke, of 4 Carlyle Square, came with a “very great friend” who she was unwilling to name. She didn’t know Elvira well but had met her at various parties over the last couple of months. Brian Howard came with Toni Altmann (and,presumably,Eddie Gathorne-Hardy). All three were living at 39 Maddox Street. Howard had known Elvira by sight for some five years but had only properly spoken to her at Skeffington-Smyth’s. Gathorne-Hardy was not a friend but knew Elvira as a regular at the Blue Lantern. Toni Altmann didn’t know anybody very well. He had recently gone to a party held by performers in the play “Casanova” with Sylvia Coke and had met Elvira there.

Denys Skeffington-Smyth (17 Southwick Street) was in Casanova so that may be the connection (or the Terence S-S cocktail party may have been for the cast). Denys was at the Monday cocktail party and had met Elvira at various gatherings over the past couple of years, but did not consider himself a friend. Arthur Streek (26 Sackville Street) did, and seems to have been more aware of the rows between Elvira and Michael than other guests (or at least more than they would admit to the police). He arrived with two Americans – a Mr.Sherrill and someone called Milton.

Ruth Baldwin and Olivia Wyndham were there. Olivia was visiting from America. They were holding their own “soiree” later,  at 5 Mulberry Walk. If they knew Elvira at all, it would have been through Heather Pilkington, a mutual friend who might also have been in attendance. Someone identified as “Mrs.Butterworth” was there too, but I can’t work out who she was.

Arthur Jeffress

The last guest to arrive was Arthur Jeffress. He had just got back from America and seems to have been the closest to a “guest of honour” that the evening held. He described himself as a “good friend” of Elvira’s and spent much of the rest of the evening with her and Michael.

The party does not seem to have been at all “wild”. The gramophone played and there was dancing. The guests drank sherry, cocktails (gin, grapefruit juice and soda water) and, after Michael and a guest (named as Joe Carstairs by a Mews resident) had been dispatched to an off-licence, whisky. Given Michael and Elvira’s reputation, there may well have been cocaine on offer but there is no evidence to support such a claim.

Only Hugh Wade and Arthur Jeffress appeared at the trial. Toni Altmann, Brian Howard,Irene MacBrayne, Sylvia Coke, Denys Skeffington-Smyth, Arthur Streek, along with Leonie Fester and Terence Skeffington-Smyth, gave police statements. Joe Carstairs sent, through her solicitors, a very forthright letter denying that she was present.

Brian Howard

The police either failed to find the other guests or perhaps, given that all the early interviews told pretty much the same story (everything was fine between Elvira and Michael), they just didn’t see the need. Cotes reports that one guest rang the police offering information but he never materialised. This might be John May, who rang round a number of people on the Tuesday. He was the first to inform Jeffress of the shooting, which suggests that he knew who had been where the night before. A neighbour told the police that he counted fifteen men arriving at the flat before he gave up. Why he counted only the men is anyone’s guess.

Earlier accounts claim that several prominent people were very keen to deny any association with the evening or with Mrs.Barney generally, but this is more likely to be press speculation than actual fact.

And that’s about it. I’ll leave the last words to Sylvia Coke,

“I went to Mrs. Barney’s party at 21 Williams Mews at about 7pm on the 30th May. I should think there were about 25 to 30 persons present. We were given cocktails to drink and there was sherry for those who wanted it, The gramophone was playing and we danced to it. It was a very gay party and everybody, including Mrs,Barney and Mr.Scott Stephen, seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.”

Edward Burra Jazz Fans

Just about my favourite image of what I imagine to be the world in which Elvira moved (or aspired to move) is this pen and ink study by Edward Burra.

It is entitled “Jazz Fans” and is apparently from 1928 or 1929. Most internet references locate it in New York but I think it is London because Jane Stevenson’s biography states that Burra didn’t get to America until 1933. If it is London then some of the figures in this delightful drawing have probably already made an appearance on this blog.  Hugh Wade told the police that the prime reason for ending the evening of the 31st May at Arthur Jeffress’ flat was to listen to his newly acquired records. This is a different occasion but the sense of  pleasure and “In Crowd” exclusivity is surely similar.

Vinyl (or Shellac) Junkies from several eras will recognise this scene and the presence of a female DJ/Selecta  is a bonus.

 

 

Update on The Red and White Party

I posted something on Arthur Jeffress’  Red and White Party a while back ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ ) ,

In John Montgomery’s “The Twenties” (1957)  there is a slightly more detailed account of the revelries than that found in D. J. Taylor or Alec Waugh’s account of the night. It does not provide names (Brenda Dean Paul, Arthur Jeffress and Sunday Wilshin were all still alive when the book appeared) but it does give a good sense of the extravagance and excess of the occasion.

Arthur Jeffress and Pals

“The last hectic party of the twenties, the party to end all parties,  surpassing even the Wild West party and the Court party, the final fling of the “Bright Young Things”, started at eleven o’clock on the evening of November 21, in the house of the dancer. Maud Allan, although it was not her party.

The invitation cards had been sent out a foretnight earlier, and were much in demand. Many were stolen from chimney pieces and were later presented  by uninvited, unwanted guests. The wording on each card, engraved in white on a brilliant scarlet background, requested guests to confine their costumes and clothes to the colours red and white. It was to be a red and white party, a “monster ball”, as the young men of the West End called it.

Some 250 cards were sent out, but nearly 400 guests arrived. Their host greeted them in the hall, wearing a modified sailor suit of white angel-skin with red trimmings, elbow length white kid gloves loaded with diamonds and rubies, two diamond clips and a spray of white star orchids costing about£2 a bloom. He posed for photographs holding a muff made of white narcissi, which  newspapers reported had been flown from North Africa, but which had been bought that afternoon in Chelsea. A pair of red leather shoes completed the ensemble.”

White and Pink Star Orchid

“The food at the party was entirely red and white – red caviare, lobsters, salmon, ham, apples (but no pears), tomatoes (but no lettuce), pink and red blancmanges, trifles and jellies. Everything was of the best, and cigarettes were contained in red and white boxes.

The upstairs rooms of the house were empty, and a rope across the stairs indicated that guests were not expected to leave the ground floor. However this did not prevent many people from disappearing upstairs, to descend, later, covered in dust.

Guests arriving at the house found the entrance guarded by Metropolitan policemen, who solemnly examined all invitation cards but let anyone in whether they had cards or not. In those days off duty policemen could be hired for private parties. inside, after being greeted by their host, guests walked over a long red carpet through a vast hall towards three large rooms, en suite, with big double-doors leading from one to the other.The centre and largest room was hung with broad strips of scarlet and white bunting.Banquettes were covered with red velvet. Dancing took place here to a negro orchestra – a sine qua non in those days – each musician wearing white tails with scarlet fittings. The two slightly smaller rooms were hung respectively with white and red bunting, the white room being a vast bar. The red room, furnished with red-covered mattresses, was for sitting-out.”

Red Caviare

” What began as a reasonably formal, although distinctly eccentric, gathering soon developed into a noisy and hilarious free-for-all. Hired servants, dressed in scarlet double-breasted coats with large white buttons, struggled among the seething, jostling, swaying, shrieking mass of dancers and drinkers. The orchestra, overwhelmed by the noise, played louder and louder; the rooms became thick with smoke and the smell of scent.

No whisky was available, only champagne, white or red win, or gin. There were plenty of bottles for everyone. The kitchen was stacked high with crates of liquor and boxes of hired glasses. Some guests mixed the drinks and gulped them down; then mixed their dancing partners. The huge room became a medley of red and white sailor suits, white dresses and sashes, red wigs, long  white kid gloves, pink hats, and even false red noses. Red and white “nuns” danced with men dressed as exotic birds with elaborate feather head-dresses, men danced stripped to the waist, wearing red sailors’ bell-bottom  trousers; a man dressed as Queen Elizabeth, wearing a red wig, sat in the hall solemnly playing Abide With Me on the organ.”

” At about half past one a girl had to be prevented from pulling the hair of another woman who was attempting to get herself a drink. Half-full glasses and bottles stood all around, under chairs, behind curtains, under tables. The girl was wearing only a choker of pearls ansd a large red and white spotted handkerchief  fixed around her middle by a thin white belt. People wearing more clothes found it  almost unbearably hot.

Hair Puller  – Brenda Dean Paul

Hair Pullee – Sunday Wilshin

The party finished with the dawn, long after the last policeman had finished guarding the doors and had gone home. It was afterwards estimated that the evening had cost about £500.”

Though it takes a suitably moralistic tone and reads like something cobbled together from a mixture of newspaper reports and  imaginative licence, there is a hint of insider knowledge here. I don’t know much about John Montgomery apart from the fact that he wrote a lot of books. This one is dedicated to Hugh Wade’s sometime musical collaborator, Collie Knox (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/hugh-wade-the-savoy-orpheans-and-collie-knox/ ) and there was an old chap who was supportive of the Gay Liberation Movement in Brighton in the 1970s of that name.  I think he might have been an attendee.

The £500 (£25,000 today) is, if anything,  an under-estimate. The most prominent “Negro” orchestra in London at the time was Noble Sissle’s outfit, resident at Ciro’s, and they alone would have cost a few bob. I presume Queen Elizabeth was Hugh Wade but hope not – Abide With Me is rather naff in comparison to Body and Soul, a rendition of which Wade is supposed to have performed on said organ.

If nothing else, I like this piece because the room for “sitting-out” is the earliest example I know of a “Chill Out Space”, the presence of which has greatly enhanced the club scene since the 1980s. As for the political and moral implications of this event, I will leave that for future discussion.