Tag Archive: Audrey Carten


More on the Cartens

I have posted on the remarkable Carten siblings before (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ and elsewhere).

Waveney and Audrey Carten

Here are a few extra snippets concerning them.

Audrey and Kenneth Carten, along with Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar, formed one element of the wilder and more mischievous wing of the Bright Young People ; Elizabeth Ponsonby  and her close friends another. Both groups overlapped at times and both were acquainted with Elvira and/or her associates.

I felt I hadn’t done justice to Kenneth Carten, seeing him as a minor actor, primarily linked to Noel Coward’s revues. The reason his acting career is fairly low-key was, I now realise, because he abandoned performing and became a Theatrical Agent. He achieved great success in this latter calling and had a long career. His clients included Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward and Googie Withers. He also “discovered” and represented the much loved Peter Sallis. In the 1940s, Carten was a London representative for the very powerful and influential  Myron Selznick corporation, which put him at the heart of British film and theatrical life.

Googie Withers 

(Before becoming one of the most popular film stars of the 40s, Withers had been a dancer at the Kit Kat and Murrays as well as appearing in Midnight Follies at the Mayfair Hotel)

It was from Selznick’s office, in early 1949,  that Kenneth Carten wrote to the ailing Hugh Wade. It is a fascinating letter, upbeat, full of references to stars of the day (Jessie Matthews, Patricia Roc, Stewart Grainger) and some waspish (but accurate) comments concerning the quality of certain  performances (Margaret Lockwood in the lamentable Cardboard Cavalier). He casts doubt on the likely success of Terence Rattigan’s new play Adventure Story, and was to be proved right. Kenneth is solicitous towards Hugh (“if there’s anything you want just ask” etc.) but the general tenor is one of friendly gossip between two showbiz “insiders”.

For many years Kenneth lived ,with his sister Audrey,at Paultons House, on the corner of King’s Road and Paultons Square. Paultons House was where Jean Rhys wrote the beautiful but, at the time, neglected, Good Morning, Midnight. Rhys had left No.22, to begin her long sojourn in  alcoholic obscurity by the time Kenneth moved into No.5 (and sometimes 6) .There was a third resident throughout the 1940s, the aristocratic socialite and actress,Lady Caroline Paget.  A beautiful and captivating free-spirit, who is often seen in photographs with Cecil Beaton, she was perhaps best depicted in a number of exquisite portraits by  a love-struck Rex Whistler (see Rex Whistler).

Unfortunately for Rex, she appears to have preferred Audrey, the two becoming “close friends and travelling companions” for a number of years. Caroline’s cousin, David Herbert, who (inevitably) knew all parties involved, has this to say,

“Caroline had made a number of new friends during her days in the theatre, the most important being Audrey Carton (sic), who many years before had written a play with Sir Gerald Maurier called The Dancers. It was in this play that Tallulah Bankhead made her first London appearance. As we all know, Tallulah went from strength to strength and became one of the foremost actresses of that period. Audrey faded into the background as a figure in the theatre, but owing to her beauty, intelligence and caustic wit remained a great personality in that particular world.

 

She was a bad influence on Caroline: they set up house together in Panelton (sic) Square. Caroline drifted away from her own world and, apart from the family, saw only a small group of friends, chiefly women. I suspect that Audrey was the real love of her life, though she had many affairs with men. Eventually she married my cousin, Michael Duff. This was an arrangement beneficial to them both.”

Audrey Carten c1929

Audrey, although never quite fulfilling her early promise as an actress, did find success throughout the 20s and 30s  as a playwright, working in partnership with her sister Waveney. However her later years were unhappy. After Caroline married, it appears that, the already rather eccentric Audrey became increasingly unstable and house-bound and was very dependent on Kenneth to take care of her.

“Late One Evening”  Audrey and Waveney Carten 1933

Waveney, known as “George” according to some sources, was married in 1922 to Ronald Trew, a singer. He earns his place in the marginalia of twentieth century history for two reasons. Firstly, it is alleged that he got Tallulah pregnant at a party held on the Thames in a boat belonging to “Jo” Carstairs (whose then girlfriend would have been Gwen Farrar). Secondly he is the man that the psychotic murderer Ronald True gave as an alibi/doppelganger/mortal enemy in one of the 1920s’ most notorious trials (see Ronald True ) . Waveney remarried in 1932. Her husband, Vladimir Provatoroff,  was an SOE operative in the Second World War. The couple lived firstly in Portland Place and later in Harley Street. They were still married at the time of his death in 1966.

Kenneth’s friendship with Tallulah remained undiminished over nearly forty years. He gives her residence as a forwarding address on his various travels to America in the 1950s. The two would have had some choice tales to share about the “party years”, of that I have no doubt.

 

 

 

Tallulah Bankhead

 

I’m sure that there is much more to be uncovered about this decidedly unconventional trio. There are copies of  “Happy Families” (1929) by Audrey and Waveney and their translation (for Noel Coward) of Deval’s “Mademoiselle” still knocking around, but not much else. The BFI has a copy of Birds of Prey (1930) a crime film directed by Basil Dean which starred Audrey (sometimes spelt Audry). Kenneth’s legacy is even more intangible but fans of “Wallace and Gromit” or “Last of the Summer Wine” may want to raise a glass to his memory.

Audrey Bicker Caarten (1900- 1977) d. Hastings

Waveney Bicker Caarten (1902-1990) d. Sandwich

Kenneth Bicker Caarten (1911-1980) d. Kensington

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Gwen Farrar

Gwendoline Farrar (1898-1944) appears in so many inter-War reminiscences and autobiographies  that I am surprised that nobody has deemed her worthy of a full length biography. Talented, eccentric and independent, she was as distinctive a character as any associated with Upper-Bohemia or The Bright Young People. Her connection to Elvira cannot be proved but, given that she was a hard-partying Chelsea resident and very close to Audrey Carten, Jo Carstairs and Ruth Baldwin, she moved in similar circles.

The upper echelons of the Bright Young People, Waugh’s beloved but, to me, rather unappealing “Guiness Set”,  rather dismissed her as she was a little older than them and too much part of “popular culture”. Zita Jungman, sounding rather like the Victorian matriarchs her generation are supposed to have rebelled against, recalled, “Gwen Farrar was someone one saw on the stage… one didn’t see her socially.” – a statement as generally untrue as it is snobbish.Plenty of the 20s’ set saw her “socially”, at parties at her London address or out on the town, often accompanied by her friend and fellow free-spirit, Tallulah Bankhead.

Born into wealth and privilege, her father, Sir George Herbert Farrar, had South African mining interests, she had no more need to seek employment than Elvira or the Jungman sisters. In 1915 she inherited (along with her five sisters) a fortune that would allow her to purchase 217 King’s Road and a country house in Northamptonshire. She studied classical music and was taught cello by Herbert Walenn, England’s leading exponent of the instrument. She also developed a remarkable baritone speaking voice which she  was to use to great effect in her future career.

 Herbert Wallen by Elise Muriel Hatchard

During the First World War she joined Lena Ashwell’s company, entertaining the troops in France and Belgium. This forerunner of ENSA was established to bring high-culture to the ordinary soldiers but included lighter interludes. Elvira had a natural gift for comedy and began to develop an “act”. She met pianist and singer, Norah Blaney, and they formed an on and off-stage partnership that thrived in the early twenties. By 1925 , both were household names. Their duets, usually renditions of hits of the day, were often masterpieces of innuendo, Blaney taking the “female” role and Gwen  the “male”. Completely heterosexual lyrics were cleverly subverted. Most of the public remained innocent but those in the know “knew”, as it were.

Norah Blaney

They appeared in newsreel shorts, on early sound film experiments, in revues and West End shows, Music Hall and on the radio.

Away from the stage, Gwen Farrar was becoming known for hosting parties where serious drinking was the order of the day. She moved in several distinct but occasionally overlapping Lesbian subcultures. She knew Radclyffe Hall, Teddie Gerrard and from 1923 was very close to Jo Carstairs, who named her speedboat Newg  after her. She was also taken up by Tallulah Bankhead and took part in one of the early Bright Young Thing treasure hunts with her – ferried around London by Carstairs’ all-female chauffeur service. With Audrey Carten, she was arrested for punching a policeman who tried to stop her parking outside the Savoy and she seems to have had her share of (apparently obligatory) drunken car-crashes after various parties and nights out.

The partnership, professional and otherwise, with Norah Blaney ended in 1924, although they had several reunions. Her next major collaborator was the unjustly neglected pianist-composer Billy Mayerl, whose composition “Marigolds” was the most over-played piano piece of the inter-War years. Mayerl’s mixture of classical training, his incorporation of jazz stylings and his fondness for comic pastiche suited Gwen well and she also started writing revue material at this time.

Meanwhile, 217 King’s Road was becoming somewhat notorious. The location is significant. Part of a block of three houses, it was home to two other high-profile women. Lady Sybil Colefax lived at 213 and Syrie Maugham at 215.  Both were interior designers –  in fact both were the interior designers of their day. Sybil Colefax was a specialist in modernising upper-class living and drawing-rooms while Syrie, wife of Somerset Maugham, is the person who is largely responsible for the white interiors that remained dominant through to the Art Deco era.

Left        Room by Sybil Colefax                              Right        Syrie Maugham

Both women were great “society hostesses” and also rivals for the most prestigious guests. Their luncheons featured the literary, artistic and aristocratic “stars” of the day. Gwen’s luncheons and her other gatherings, though sprinkled with famous names, mainly featured alcohol and “high jinks”.

One of those who had access to all three establishments, the ubiquitous Beverley Nichols, described Gwen as “grotesque but endearing” and it may have been at 217 that he rejected Michael Stephen’s offer of cocaine. Drug use was certainly part of Gwen’s social world and by the late 1920s she was host to the racier Chelsea set, which may have included Elvira, but certainly included Olivia Wyndham, Ruth Baldwin and Audrey Carten.

213,215,217 King’s Road

Though she continued to perform and write throughout the 1930s, alcoholism had now set in. Her home was said increasingly to resemble a bar. The parties continued. At one in 1937, while Gwen and other guests were listening to a boxing match on the radio, Ruth Baldwin died of a heroin overdose. In the same year Gwen fell in love, as everyone seems to have done at some time, with Dolly Wilde who lived with her until 1939. It says something for Farrar’s lifestyle that Wilde’s former lover Natalie Barney was greatly worried about the deleterious effects on Wilde, another heroin/morphine addict, that Farrar’s endless partying was having.

Gwen Farrar died in 1944. Hers was one of the voices of the 1920s and her looks made her probably the most public “Lesbian” icon within the popular culture of the era.Her fondness for alcohol, her closeness to Tallulah Bankhead, her love of sport (she was an expert horsewoman) and her general attitude to life would all have appealed to Elvira. Farrar’s dry humour and keen intelligence may not have made such feelings mutual but I am certain that their paths often crossed.Even if they didn’t, Farrar deserves to be better known today than she seems to be . I find her both fascinating and rather likeable.

She Shall Have Music [VHS]

In the 1930s she made a few cameo appearances in British films – here she is in the fairly awful Jack Hylton feature “She Shall Have Music”. She played Miss Peachums, a stage-school “headmistress” in charge of a group of nubile young actresses. It was a role that I imagine she found amusing.

and here she is in her prime

Some of her work – with Norah Blaney and Billy Mayerl can be found on this invaluable CD also available as download at Amazon etc.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Gwen Farrar was one of the first people to broadcast on television – an indication of her popular appeal. Her 20 minute slot in 1937 was entitled “Sophisticated Cabaret”   which is very fitting. Details can be found here

Radio Times January 1937

Audrey and Kenneth Carten

After the initial rejoicing at Elvira’s “Not Guilty” verdict the  public started to turn against her. Reports of her continued recklessness and high-living, and a distinct absence of grieving or remorse, began to turn her into something of a pariah. She was even seen as a possible threat to the stability of the country. Her behaviour , at a time when much of the nation was suffering severe hardship, was in danger of tarnishing the good standing of  the already-rattled  ruling classes. Commentators from the Left and the Right drew, from very different motives, very similar conclusions. Elvira was a menace to “Society”.

A welter of rumours, some already simmering leading up to the trial, started to do the rounds. Letters to editors and the police hinted at collusion and corruption in high places. “One Law for the Rich…”  was the phrase on many a lip. Worse still, the  barely concealed “sex and drugs” aspect of Elvira’s lifestyle  started to emerge more openly. Some of the tales told were fanciful and exaggerated, some were other people’s scandals appended to her name (Brenda Dean Paul’s particularly). One story,with a ring of truth about it, was, however, too scandalous to see the light of day.

In August 1932 a woman called Gertrude Gamble, but known as Barbara E.Graham, committed suicide (see forthcoming post).Her inquest was brief and concluded that Miss Gamble, a registered drug-addict, had thrown herself from her hotel window while “of unsound mind”. Sir John and Lady Mullen attended the inquest, ostensibly because a suicide note had mentioned Elvira Barney. But there was more to it than that.

Lady Mullens

Two weeks earlier Gertrude/Barbara had sent both Elvira and Lady Mullens angry, but coherent, letters which detailed the events of the Elvira’s  journey at the end of July to France. This was to “recuperate” and Miss Gamble was there in some sort of unspecified carer’s role. On the very first night, in what Gamble described as a “filthy” hotel, Elvira had engaged in a drunken and drug-fuelled orgy with Audrey Carten and her brother, Kenneth (see    https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/chelsea-sandwiches/  ) . In two sentences she catalogues a scene of cocaine-use,drunkenness, sexual perversion and incest. At the centre of which is a woman supposedly in deep mourning for her recently deceased lover.  Scandalous is barely the word.

Somehow these letters found themselves in the hands of the Police and at least one newspaper, but no-one wanted to know. The police, quite sensibly, felt that with Gamble dead there was no point opening this can of worms – although the fact that the copy the police received was heavily annotated suggests they gave the later some credence. The newspapers’ motives are less clear but, in this era, scandals that were too damning to the upper echelons tended to stay locked away  unless absolutely unavoidable.

Who were these two bedmates of Elvira? In 1932, Audrey Carten would have been the better known of the pair. Gertrude Gamble explained to lady Mullen that Audrey was ” One of the best known Lesbians in London” but the public would have known her as an actress and promising playwright.

Audrey Carten 1929

She was born  Audrey Hare Bicker-Caarten into large  middle-class family living in Blomfield Road, Maida Vale. Her younger sister Waveney was born in 1903 and Kenneth arrived in 1911. By 1920  Audrey Carten was on stage and making a name for herself by investing some of Shakespeare’s heroines with a little verve and spirit. There was a humour and style about her performances that marked her out as “Modern”.

Her real breakthrough came in 1923 when she played Una Lowry  in Gerald Du Maurier’s “The Dancers”, at the Wyndham Theatre. Critics praised her “delicate, eerie,sensitive”  portrayal of, by happy coincidence – given the concerns of this blog, an aristocratic woman who had become “an erratic and neurotic nightbird”. But what made “The Dancers” the sensation of the season was the casting of the character Maxine. For it was in this part and in this play that Tallulah Bankhead burst upon the London stage and launched her eight year reign as the queen of all things exciting and outrageous about the 1920s.

Tallulah Bankhead in The Dancers

It is impossible to recapture the impact that Bankhead made, firstly on stage and then on the night-life of London. The Bright Young Generation worshipped her and she was as much its inspiration as any Oxford aesthete. Her army of devoted female fans have become a thing of legend and no book of the period is complete without at least one anecdote of Tallulah misbehaving at a party or a nightclub. Elvira was one of those fans and remained loyal, keeping a photograph of Tallulah at her bedside while on remand in Holloway. Whether she was more than just a fan, we don’t know. Audrey Carten  became a very close friend – that much is certain.

Tallulah in 1928

The two were together at parties, restaurants and various functions throughout the decade. A memoir of Lady  Caroline Paget recalls her being introduced to Tallulah and her “friend and travelling companion” Audrey Carten, probably in 1930.(Caroline Paget was a leading socialite of the 1930s and her name too was to be linked with Carten’s). Even if Elvira never met Tallulah, to be intimate with her “travelling companion” would have thrilled her immensely.

Caroline Paget by Rex Whistler 1936

Another extrovert who was very much part of Carten’s life in the mid-twenties was Gwen Farrar. Unlike the omniverous Tallulah, Farrar was a strict Lesbian, who by presenting herself on stage as a comic turn –  one much favoured by the BYP, was able to present a masculine image to the world at large that must have been the envy of many at the time. She was one of the great stars of the period – on stage, on records and in cinema shorts. Off stage she was the lover of Barbara “Joe” Carstairs and Dolly Wilde among others. Carten was now mixing with the inner circle of wealthy and artistic Lesbian London.

Gwen Farrar

In 1925, in an act that Elvira would quite likely have  approved of, Farrah and Carten were arrested for assaulting a police officer. The poor constable had objected to them parking their car directly outside the Savoy Hotel. Carten had “obstructed” while the more direct Farrar had thrown a punch. The case caused more mirth than censure and charges were eventually dropped.

Farrah, Bankhead and Carten became fixtures of the party scene and enjoyed a reputation for excess and mischief. One often told tale added a fourth person to the group, Carten’s younger brother, the 17 years old  Kenneth. In 1928, during Aimee Semple McPherson’s much publicised (and parodied) evangelical crusade in England, a less than sober Bankhead invited the American to her home where her “gang” tried to get the preacher to admit that she was human. This involved the four telling all the worst things that they had ever done in the hope that McPherson would at least let slip some indiscretion in return. Seasoned hustler that she was, McPherson didn’t break.

Aimee Semple McPherson (Mrs.Melrose Ape in Vile Bodies)

By the end of the decade Carten was beginning to think of herself more as a writer than an actress. Teaming up with her sister, Waveney, she wrote a number of successful plays such as “Late One Night”, “Fame” and (believe it or not) “Gay Love” which was filmed in 1934. It was during this creative period that the night of passion with Elvira took place-  but they were obviously well-acquainted before that. Audrey and Kenneth were not at the cocktail party on May 30th – they were in America – but they probably attended the trial. The rendezvous  in France was pre-arranged so we can reasonably include Carten in Elvira’s circle. Given that Ruth Baldwin would have been a friend of Carten’s (through Joe Carstairs) and probably Olivia Wyndham too, the distance between Elvira and the openly lesbian guests at her party starts to evaporate.

Audrey and Kenneth seem to have spent much of the thirties crossing the Atlantic. Her plays were produced on Broadway as well as in London. On one return journey there is an interesting fellow-passenger, Ida Wylie.I.A,R. Wylie was a popular Australian romantic novelist and a long-time friend of the best-known lesbian couple in England – Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge – whom she was no doubt on her way to visit. Her presence on the ship  may be a coincidence but she and Audrey would not have wanted for conversation.

In the year that Elvira died (1936) Audrey and Waveney enjoyed another success. Noel Coward produced their adaptation of Jacques Deval’s “Madamoiselle”  which introduced a new star in Greer Garson and ran for 147 performances. That it was at Wyndham’s, where she had starred with Tallulah 13 years previously, must have given great satisfaction. Their adaptation remained popular for some years and is the only work by the sisters that seems to be easily locatable.

Waveney and Audrey

Audrey Carten died in Hastings in 1977 and Waveney in Sandwich in 1990. As for Kenneth, he became an actor too, in various smallish roles on the West End stage. His most notable achievement lies in the fact that he was part of the cast that first sang “The Stately Homes of England” (Operette 1938). The Coward connection continued to prove useful to the Cartens.

Kenneth Carten (far left) in Operette 

As did the relationship with Tallulah Bankhead. She appears to have employed him for a while and also recommended him to various American studios. Not much came of it but Tallulah retained an obvious affection for the man she had first met as a teenager in London.

In her will she left him $10,000 dollars and the portrait that Peter Shiel painted of her in 1962. It is now in the V&A.

Things would have been very different for all concerned had the Gamble accusations been published. I’m, somewhat hypocritically, rather pleased they weren’t. Anyway the truth or otherwise cannot now be proven. Personally, I am quite sure Elvira and Audrey had sex and probably not just in France. And we know that Elvira was very fond of bisexual young men. The incest I doubt – although Audrey, like Elvira, had a reputation with both sexes. Most famously, she had had an affair in the mid-twenties with the actor Gerald Du Maurier, Daphne’s father. By a nice coincidence, in 1925, in the middle of Gerald and Audrey’s liaison,  the 18 years-old Daphne had developed a “pash” on Gwen Farrar and sent her a very gushing letter, much to her parents’ annoyance. Small world, eh?

Chelsea Sandwiches

Apart from Peter Hitchens and the people who post in the Daily Mail’s comment sections, very few people still believe that sexual promiscuity only started in the 1960s. However the extent to which “middle class morality” was flouted by both Bohemia and “The Smart Set” in the inter-war years, if it no longer shocks, remains a thing of wonder, and occasional surprise.

 

Ham Spray 1932

When I first read about Elvira Barney, she was presented as a possessive but heterosexual woman who was unfortunate enough to fall for a bisexual and philandering ne’er-do-well. While the description of Michael Scott Stephen  may be  accurate enough, we can say with some confidence, that Elvira shared with Michael exactly the same characteristics, plus the dangerous addition of jealousy and instability.

However, the  retrospective label of “bisexual” , when applied to the Blue Lantern crowd, needs some explaining. Looked at from today, I think most of the figures in this landscape would be seen as homosexual  – and Elvira’s cocktail party as essentially a gathering of male homosexuals and lesbians, with one or two heterosexual  (but adventurous) young actresses thrown in. That these various adherents of “alternative” lifestyles should find themselves thrown together is very much part of  a specifically English moral geography.

Unlike Paris or Berlin, there were no exclusively “Gay” public spaces in London. Predominantly  gay clubs, such as the Florida, The Rumbaba, the Apollo and the Caravan club, advertised themselves as catering for the “theatrical crowd”. Basically they had to have a mixed clientele to keep their licences. Elvira’s favoured late night haunts, The Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel, though packed with a “gay” crowd would not have  tolerated anything so outre as same-sex dancing. This meant that the gay men and women of the time  formed a mutually beneficial alliance that perhaps happens rather less in the modern world. Add to this a certain class exclusivity, genuine bisexuality and the purely (or impurely) sexually curious and you get a remarkable adult example of  Freudian ” polymorphous perversity”  – displayed on the dance floors of Soho, parties in Knightsbridge and, in particular, throughout Bohemian Chelsea .

Inevitably, some rather interesting sexual encounters ensued.

The incorrigible Billy Milton ( see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/tag/billy-milton/ ) uses a term that I was previously unfamiliar with, “The Chelsea Sandwich”, to describe one aspect of this sexual co-mingling. Milton  is the cabaret artist who arrived, so he says, one day too late to attend Elvira’s party. Of an earlier Bohemian encounter, he reports,

“One hot summer afternoon I was passing the courtyard that leads to the London Palladium. Taking the air was a perfect specimen of manhood. wearing a short white and gold tunic and breastplate, his magnificent brawny, brown body made him look to me like a Greek god. I was transfixed and willingly answered his call to have a chat, sitting with him on a prop basket. I told him a few things about myself and learned he was the principal dancer of the Marion Morgan Dancers from America. This meeting led to many experiments in the sexual sphere that could parallel Noel Coward’s Private Lives.”

Marion Morgan Dancers 1927

“He and his wife opened the door to a tumult of lovemaking and encouraged me to explore the many facets of sex: the one great gift that nature has bestowed on all of us. They believed that the lack of courage to explore love-variations caused the failure of many marriages. Their antidote was the threesome, or “Chelsea Sandwich”, and I subsequently learnt that I was just one of many to come between them.”

Typical Billy Milton – always an ear for a good punchline  – but there is a purpose to his mischievous tale. He both describes real events (the male dancer was Vincenzo Loucelli – famed for his performance, believe it or not, in Le Coq D’Or), and offers both manifesto and justification for his youthful excesses.

Milton, in the late twenties, was a neighbour of Oliver Messel in Chelsea as well as being a friend of Elvira. The  key point of his anecdote is that this was not a unique episode.

Billy Milton

Billy Milton

The best fictional version of the Chelsea Sandwich comes courtesy of Jocelyn Brooke’s  Private View.  This semi-autobiographical piece tells the story of the hapless, repressed homosexual Gerald Broadhurst, whose downfall commences at The Blue Lantern where he meets the amoral and hedonistic Veriny Crighton-Jones. Veriny is  a Bright Young Person and a voracious pursuer of young men. She is undoubtedly a composite of (Brooke’s jaundiced vision) of the women who populated that club in the early thirties. Elvira would have been one such example. Broadhurst and Veriny have a doomed marriage, marked by absolute drunkenness on both sides. What finishes the relationship off, however, is Gerald’s discovery of Veriny in bed with two military men. The narrator’s very camp informant , Bertie Westmacott – think Gathorne-Hardy or Brian Howard  – relates the episode with some relish,

“Well I do rather see Gerald’s point, don’t you. Cuckolded fore and aft, so to speak, and by the Black Watch , my dear…And after all, three in a bed is a bit of a crowd, and it was Gerald’s bed anyway. But oh”  and here Bertie drew a long sigh and raised his eyes to the ceiling – ” but oh, my dear, isn’t our little Veriny a lucky girl.”

A letter to Lady Mullens from the enraged Gertrude Gamble, just before her suicide – shortly after Elvira’s trial, accused Elvira of an even more scandalous sexual threesome. Elvira’s mother was given the, presumably unwelcome, information that her supposedly distraught daughter had sought post-verdict solace in a night of passion with Audrey Carten and her brother Kenneth. Carten, an actress and playwright, was a well known Chelsea lesbian and an erstwhile girlfriend of Gwen Farrar. One wonders if this was the first time Elvira had been involved in such behaviour.

Indeed one wonders whether the rows about sexual partners, between Elvira and Michael, were all solely to do with Michael’s indiscretions. After all, one of Elvira’s letters to him does ask for him to be less jealous and more understanding. Finally, is it too fanciful to wonder whether the despised other woman (Dora Wright) had at one time also partaken, with Michael and Elvira, of  the delights of the Chelsea Sandwich?

For, as later generations were to discover, “permissiveness”  is not necessarily a guard against that most destructive of demons – The, age-old and ageless,  Green Eyed Monster.

Ruth Baldwin

On Friday June 13th 1930 Evelyn Waugh’s diary entry refers to a party he attended organised by Olivia Wyndham and Ruth Baldwin aboard a Thames steamer.

“It was not enough of an orgy.Masses of Lesbian tarts and joyboys. Only one fight when a Miss Firminger got a black eye. Poor old Hat (Brian Howard) looked like a tragedy queen.”

Marjorie Firminger was the author of “Jam Today” ( see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/mary-ashliman-heather-pilkington-and-the-blue-angel/). The black eye may well have been delivered by Ruth Baldwin , although both she and Olivia had form here.

Both were at Elvira’s cocktail party and both were key figures in the “Lesbian Bohemia” of the time.I will post more about Olivia Wyndham shortly but let us for the moment look at the remarkable, but largely forgotten, Ruth.

Born in America in 1905, Ruth was the wildest of a wild set. Whether she herself was wealthy or not, I can’t ascertain, but, as Joe Carstairs’ lover and secretary, she spent freely and lived very much for the moment. She was a notoriously heavy drinker, converting her Mulberry Walk kitchen into a bar and I imagine that it was her, doubtless appalled at the choice of sherry or cocktails at Elvira’s party, who left with Michael Scott Stephen, returning with whisky. Apart from a prodigious appetite for drink, Ruth Baldwin used both cocaine and heroin.

She was big (her nickname in some quarters was “Fatty”), “immensely powerful”  and with “a moon face,bold,naughty eyes and thick,auburn hair”.

Promiscuous and possessive in equal measure, her  penchant for fighting  inspired fear but her exuberance  was a source of genuine affection. Edward Burra adored her and his description of what seems to me, a rather terrifying scene, at 19 King’s Road,  is typical.

“Ruth was quite drunk and kept rushing at B (Barbara Ker-Seymer) and biting her. However after a bit more crashing and screams they went off.” Far from condemning this assault on his closest female friend, Burra continues, “Ruth Baldwin is my beau ideal.I think I like them fat. I can’t resist anyone that goes about with an aeroplane in diamonds where there ought to be a tie.”

Ruth was the great love of Joe Carstairs’ life. (See https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/5-mulberry-walk-chelsea/). Apart from her gift of the totemic doll, Sir Todd Wadley, she described Ruth, in many ways a very kindred spirit, as “The first person who ever meant anything to me.” The tears Joe shed on hearing of Ruth’s death were apparently the first time she had ever cried.

The lesbian subculture  that Ruth moved included Marty Mann, another American, who nearly died of drink but went on to become an early member of AA – and in the fifties the movement’s most public figure. Mann’s autobiography mentions endless cocktail parties in London in the early 30s – were Elvira’s some of them?

Other notable figures of the London scene (Paris and Cannes are important too)  were Dolly Wilde (Oscars niece), musician and comedienne Gwen Farrar, the above-mention Barbara Ker-Seymer and Audrey Carten. Carten , an actress and playwright, was rumoured to have had a bizarre fling with Elvira shortly after the trial – bizarre because the night of passion, it was claimed, also included Carten’s brother,Kenneth. This circle generally was more arty than either Elvira or Ruth ever claimed to be but there is undoubtedly considerable overlap because of a shared sexuality and a common liking for intoxicants of various types.

It was at Gwen Farrar or Dolly Wilde’s London flat that Ruth succumbed to a drug overdose and died aged only 31 (1937). Fittingly the assembled guests were listening to a Boxing Match on the radio. Her ashes were taken to Carstairs’ Bahamas island of Whale Cay, where a shrine cum small church was built. On Carstairs’ death in 1993 – the ashes of both women along with those of the doll, Wadley, were interred together.

It is unlikely that Ruth and Elvira were close but they did have friends in common and possibly lovers too. The least one can deduce from Ruth’s presence at the cocktail party was that much of Elvira’s world  was held together by a mixture of narcotics,alcohol and what would have been seen at the time (especially post-Radcliffe Hall) as dangerous and deviant sexualities. This is what the papers and the police knew and pruriently hinted at.What is remarkable about the trial is that the defence managed to downplay all of this and the prosecution failed to exploit it.

The above information comes from “The Queen of Whale Cay” by Kate Summerscale and “Edward Burra -C20th  Eye” by Jane Stevenson