Tag Archive: Arthur Jeffress


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.

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Arthur Jeffress spent most of the 1930s based in London, still at 30a Orchard Court. The latter end of the decade finds him residing at Marwell House, Owslebury – near Winchester.

 

He was still travelling regularly to Italy and America, sometimes in the company John Deakin, then just an aspiring  photographer and not yet the terror of Soho bars and clubs that he would become in the 1950s. Even so, it still seems an unlikely alliance.By 1941 Jeffress is in Hollywood  – at 1354 Miller Place – but not, as I’m afraid that  I had first assumed, because he was running away from the conflict in Europe.

Anecdotes concerning Jeffress and the military are usually no more than a series of lewd references to his  predilection for sailors.So it is worth noting that Jeffress’ war service was extensive and involved much danger and bravery. There was also  an opportunity for creative expression, one example of which I find both revealing and amusing.

Jeffress volunteered for the American Field Service as an ambulance driver. This was prior to America’s entry into the war and in April 1941 he found himself on the Zamzam,  bound for Egypt. The bulk of the passengers were American missionaries heading for Africa. On April the 17th the Zamzam was shelled by the German ship Atlantis (a mistake, apparently). The ship went down, the survivors were captured and a major diplomatic incident ensued. There is a website that tells the tale in some detail ( http://zamzamship.net/ ).

Some of the passengers spent the rest of the war in internment, but Jeffress managed to negotiate his way to freedom and was able to take up his duties and become part of the North Africa campaign.

“Art Jeffress”, seated on the left ,North Africa 1942/43

He became part of the North Africa  campaign, rose in rank from second lieutenant to captain, and moved through Egypt into Libya and thence to his beloved Italy, where he was at the forefront of the Allied advance. Though a non-combatant, his was a vital and active role. He also maintained his reputation as a provider of fun by being involved with the AFS entertainment committee. He wrote and directed a musical comedy, for which the cast list survives

The Sixteenth Unit of the AFS presents:

TUCKERMAN FORBID

An Original Musical Comedy
Written, Produced and Directed by
Edward Fenton and Arthur Jeffress

Characters in the order of their appearance:

Telephone Girl Caleb Mime
               Ambulance Drivers
First Boy William Wallace
Second Boy Richard Barrett
Third Boy LeMoyne Billings
Fourth Boy Loftus Cuddy
Fifth Boy Harry Blackwell
Sixth Boy Dennis Weaver
Mr. Wallace William Emslie
Grafton Cabot Lowell Lodge, III Vincent Bowditch
Benny Benson Percival Gilbert
Guitarist Peter Brooks
Marine Major John Hutchinson
Barman Eccleston Johnston
Pepe Le Jerko Howard Weisberg
Mother Spanish Fly Arthur Jeffress
               Les Girls
Kous Edward Welles
Zam-Zam Frederick Myers
Feenamint . James Atkins
Pi-Pi Antonio Stewart
Little Fatima Nicholas Madeira
Veronica Shake Richard Edwards
               The Six Singing Musette Bags:
Peter Brooks Richard Fallow
Newell Jenkins Grima Johnson
Edward Seiber Peter Van derVliet
ACT ONEScene 1. 60 Beaver Street (any day of the year)
Scene 2. On board S. S. PierceACT TWOScene 1. A Street in Cairo
Scene 2. The Parlour. The Establishment of Mother Spanish Fly.Book and Lyrics by Arthur Jeffress and Edward Fenton
Music by all the best Composers
Musical Arrangements by Edw. LeBoutillier and Newell Jenkins
Music Director — Newell Jenkins
Women’s costumes and wig designed and executed by Dana Richmond
Other Costumes and Accessories by Abercrombie & Fitch and Brooks Bros.
Dances arranged by James Atkins
Stage Manager — Lester Collins
Asst. Stage Manager — Carleton Richmond
Sets & Stage Properties planned & executed by Eccleston Johnston
Posters by Arthur Moffatt
Publicity & Prompting — Holbrooke Davis Synopsis of Musical Numbers Act 1. Scene 1.1. The Saga of Benny…..Benny & Ensemble
2. Buckle Down, Field Service. Grafton & “Act 1. Scene 2.3. Friendship…..Grafton & Benny
4. Tuckerman Forbid …..Six Musette Bags
5. Bored, Bothered & Bewildered…..Guitarist & Boys
6. Drink It Down…..EnsembleAct 2. Scene 2.

7. Everything I’ve Got…..Mother Span. Fly
8. Ballet…..Les Girls
9. Reprise. Everything I’ve Got…..Mother Span. Fly
10. Finale: Reprise:
Buckle Down Entire Company

The Management wishes to express its gratitude to Mrs. Vaering for the kind loan of valuable properties.

The choice of the soubriquet “Mother Spanish Fly” and the unmistakeably “camp” ambience  0f the piece serve as testimony to Jeffress’ humour and overall character. I doubt that the play aspired to anything that could be called Art – but a certain wit and erudition pervades even the playbill – and no doubt the play as well.

Edward Fenton is probably this chap,  whose obituary appeared in the New York Times,1996 –

“Edward Fenton, whose books for young readers included “The Refugee Summer” and “The Phantom of Walkaway Hill,” died on Dec. 24 in Athens. He was 78 and had homes in Athens and in Galaxeidion in Greece.Mr. Fenton was born in New York City and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts. From 1951 to 1955 he was a curator in the prints department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He moved to Greece in 1963 after marrying Sophia Harvati, a Greek teacher and child psychologist. Initially Mr. Fenton wrote poetry, short stories and novels for adults. His adult works include the novel “The Double Darkness” (1947), a thriller set in Greece, and “She Waits” (1974). But the bulk of his work was written for children, beginning with “Us and the Duchess” (1947), about a lost English setter that takes over the life of a family in New York.”

Whether Jeffress met up with any of the old Chelsea set during the War, I can’t say. Eddie Gathorne-Hardy was in Egypt at the time and Jocelyn Brooke served in the medical corps in North Africa and Italy, so it is a possibility. If they did, the picture of these veterans of the Blue Lantern, swapping tales of former friends (perhaps including Elvira) over a gin and tonic or ten, while the war raged around them, is one I find quite alluring.

Because the AFS largely recruited from a pool of wealthy and very educated young American men, the wartime diaries and reminiscences are extensive and accomplished. They are often illustrated with drawings, photographs and poetry and are well worth a look (see http://www.ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/AFSletters/lettersTC.html ) . Tuckerman Forbid is mentioned a few times – as a ” risque musical extravaganza” and “A witty travesty”. Arthur would have been pleased.

To me, decoding  this portrait is the key to the whole story of Elvira Barney. How much can we legitimately read into this image? Elvira becomes magical, alluring, sinister, cruel, symbolic – depending upon what weight we place on any aspect of the picture. If the background is to be trusted then, arguably, Elvira is almost the embodiment of an era.  Ignoring the background,  then ,with her mink and her tribal jewellery, she exudes a sense of mystery and p0wer. As I’m sure she would have wished, this version of Elvira exudes a dangerous sexuality. Notice the ring – it is not a wedding ring. Nothing in the picture is devoid of resonance – but how are we to make sense of it?

Is it pure fantasy?  Certainly, no photograph of Elvira  corresponds to this portrayal. Nor do they convey anything of the combination of strength and sensuality herein displayed. One is entranced but also skeptical – as Viva King says “this is the image of herself that she wished the world to see.” .

But even if it is romanticized and idealized – that in itself is very suggestive. What role did Elvira have in this painting? Is it her self-projection or what Eliot Hodgkin saw in her?

Sadly, I have no idea what the actual painting looks like.  The content, though rich in detail, is perhaps distorted by the black and white reproduction.  Hodgkin’s  colours were generally very light and decorative.  His was a very gentle, very English take on modernism.

The painting below, from the same period, offers us something to compare and to contrast. It also raises a few questions of its own.

Portrait of Douglas Fitzpatrick by Eliot Hodgkin 1930

Here is what the catalogue says of this portrait.

“Portraits are not common in Eliot Hodgkin’s oeuvre, as he is most well- known for intricate tempera still life paintings which he made from the 1950’s onwards. However, records of Hodgkin’s work show that he was more experimental in his early years and, although there are few known portraits by him, as an artist trying to establish himself he would have most likely looked for commissions.”

 

Eliot Hodgkin

“It is highly likely this portrait was commissioned by the sitter, Douglas Fitzpatrick or Hodgkin’s friend Henry Thomas Upcher. Eliot Hodgkin was a friend of Thomas Upcher from Harrow School where they were both in West Acre House between 1920-1924 . Thomas Upcher serves as the link between Hodgkin and Douglas Fitzpatrick. According to letters from the Upcher estate at the Norfolk Record Office, Thomas Upcher and Fitzpatrick travelled Europe together during the 1930’s and lived together at both Bradfield Hall in Suffolk and later Sheringham Hall in Norfolk, which Upcher inherited in 1954. It can be assumed that the pair were life-long companions and lived together for majority of their adult life.”

Have we found more members of Elvira’s circle? Arthur Jeffress was at Harrow at about the same time.  We know that various Skeffington-Smyths became Fitzpatricks at the drop of a hat – and the picture surfaced in California, where both Jeffress and Denys Skeffington-Smyth lived for a time – could it even be Denys Skeffington-Smyth?

Actually, it couldn’t. Douglas  Fitzgerald (1906-1986) was a real person in his own right. He was, in fact, a cousin, by mariage, of Olivia Wyndham. He also is,apparently,  the man who taught Douglas Bader to fly. He is best known  as a vintage car enthusiast, owner of the “Metallurgique” -a 1907 car that could still do 120 mph in the 1960s. Locals at Bradfield and Sheringham  remember him buying drinks for the assembled company in exchange for push-starting this beast.

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=716

Tommy Utcher (1906-1985) belonged to a wealthy and long-standing Norfolk family and was largely responsible for Sheringham Hall’s current  reputation for as fine a display of rhododendrons and camellias as that county can boast.He was more of a London socialite than Douglas and his friendship with Hodgkin is definite. I think they both knew Jeffress well – but were probably not close to Elvira. Nonetheless, it is interesting how relatively under-explored the Harrow-Cambridge set, as opposed to the Eton-Oxford  glitterati,  has been in any writings on the Bright Young People.

Whatever. It is a certainty that there is more work to be done here. Where is the painting of Elvira now?  I would love to see it – or even a colour reproduction. Anyone have any ideas?

As the person who had spent the most time with Elvira and Michael on the 30th of May, Arthur Jeffress was  the first witness interviewed by the Police. He had been at the cocktail party, then at the Cafe De Paris and The Blue Angel. He does not mention the late night party at his Orchard Court flat, to which Elvira was invited but declined to go

His statement is brief and relatively uninformative. He claimed no knowledge of any friction between the couple “beyond the ordinary tiff” and states that both were “quite sober and responsible” when they left The Blue Angel. He had known Elvira for five years and describes her as a “good friend”. Rather unnecessarily, one would have thought, he denies that there was any “intimacy” between them.Michael he had  “known of” for a similar length of time, but only knew him to speak to since his relationship with Elvira had begun. some six months earlier. Jeffress had met him about six times at William Mews, always at cocktail parties.

Arthur Jeffress 

For Jeffress, the Monday night was primarily a chance to catch up with people, as he had just returned from a three month trip to Italy and America. That he chose to spend the bulk of the evening with Elvira suggests that she was not simply someone he bumped into during the endless round of parties and social functions that made up his London life in the period. His willingness to appear in court also indicates that he was keen to support a “good friend”.

Commentators on the case, at the time and later, have taken his self-description as “of independent means” to dismiss him as one of an army of idlers that surrounded Elvira in her pursuit of  general dissolution. However, there was a bit more to Jeffress than that.

He was the younger son of a very rich Virginia tobacco merchant. His family were American but he was born in England (1905) in Middlesex and was educated at Harrow and Cambridge. His father died in 1925 and Arthur, I assume, inherited a considerable fortune, which he took great delight in spending. His extravagance knew few bounds and the adjective that keeps cropping up in reference to him is “flamboyant”.  His Red and White party of 1931 (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ ) is the most notorious example of his excesses but his lifestyle generally is one for which the word “lavish” might have been invented. A personalised Rolls-Royce, a taste for Charles Xth  furniture and a penchant for rare artworks were just some typical Jeffress traits.

Arthur Jeffress’ Rolls-Royce

To include Jeffress in Elvira’s crowd is to add another dimension to  this particular “Gay Bohemia”. If Howard and Gathorne Hardy represent  literary London,  Wyndham and Ker-Seymer photography, the various actresses – stage and cinema, then Jeffress’ friends belong more to painting and fashion design.All of which indicates  that this tiny group of people were involved in pretty much every aspect of the Arts in 1930s London, which seems to me quite remarkable. If Frederick Ashton and Billy Chappell also knew Elvira, which is more than possible, then we can chuck in ballet too. Decadent they certainly were but they left a distinctive mark on English cultural life between the wars.

Jeffress may have played some part in the commisioning of the above portrait of Elvira, by Eliot Hodgkin. This painting, which is so evocative of the era, was analysed (and eventually owned) by their mutual friend,Viva King ( see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/  ). It was probably Viva King who introduced Elvira to Jeffress and Jeffress who introduced Eliot Hodgkin to Elvira.

There is a strong likelihood is that Elvira would have met all the people in the series of photos of Arthur and chums in the National Portrait Gallery archive ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/gay-young-people/    ). If they were not all actual attendees at either the cocktail party or The Blue Angel then they are at least representative of the young men who were.

Jeffress, Hodkin and friends

Jeffress also knew Beverley Nichols and many years later  they reminisced about the Barney affair at a lunch with Peter Cotes. Nichols made some disparaging statements about Michael Scott Stephen but it is unclear what knowledge Jeffress imparted . He was, according to Cotes, “both witty and wistful”. The meeting would have taken place some fifteen years before Cotes’ book came out but given that he states that Jeffress was “a mine of information” about the case it is a pity that it is impossible to identify exactly the extent of his contribution to “The Trial of Elvira Barney” (Cotes 1974) .

Jeffress died in Paris in 1961, exactly 25 years after  Elvira’s death in the same city. The intervening years were full of incident, anecdote and, unlike so many of Elvira’s peers, achievement. I will touch on a few of these in an upcoming post.

John E. May and Clarence Belisha

Both Hugh Wade and Arthur Jeffress heard about the shooting from a friend who rang them in the early afternoon of the next day. Wade does not name the friend but Jeffress does. He was John E. May (yet another man “of independent means”). He lived at Claridge House, 32 Davies Street. My guess is that it was he who also rang Wade. May must have known either Elvira or Michael Scott Stephen (probably both). He must also have known that Jeffress knew them and it does not seem unlikely that he was aware that Jeffress was with them both on the previous evening. It is also, then, at least possible that he was present himself, either at the cocktail part at William Mews, The Blue Angel or Arthur Jeffress’ late session – maybe all three. Claridge House is no more than a drunken stagger from Jeffress’  Orchard Court residence.

Claridge House, built in the 1920s

I can’t find anything much about John E .May (1909-1964) but he does seem to have travelled about a lot with one Clarence Belisha (1898- 1964). Belisha was a stockbroker who also lived at Claridge House. The two of them are together on passenger lists to Australia and New York in the early 1930s. I think we can reasonably add them both to Jeffress’ circle and possibly Elvira’s as well.

Contemporary reports talk of someone who rang the police on the same day, but who proved reluctant to put in an appearance at Gerald Road police station. Could this have been May?

I was initially hoping that John May would be Jack May, the notorious manager of Murray’s (Beak Street) and other clubs. Jack May was a major supplier of cocaine to the 1920s party set. Sadly, this is not the case.

Murray’s River Club, Maidstone