Tag Archive: Avril Joy Mullens

Avril Marries Leveson-Gower

This photo of Elvira’s younger sister (see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/elviras-little-sister/ )can be found at Other Images . The year is 1934.

In 1948 she married Ernest Simpson (of Duchess of Windsor fame) and was described in the press as a “sportswoman and socialite” (see Miami News 1948 ). I think Elvira would have rather envied such an appellation.

“Effie Leigh”

I am now almost certain that Effie Leigh is a pseudonym.For whom, unfortunately, I still have no idea.

Effie Leigh is thanked for her help with Peter Cotes’ The Trial of Elvira Barney. We learn that, apart from Lady Mullens, she was the.only person Elvira wished to see while awaiting trial. She must have been a friend of Elvira’s for a while as she provides the fullest account of the brutality with which Mr.Barney had treated his wife during their short-lived marriage.

“One day she held her arms in the air, and the burns she displayed – there and elsewhere – were, she insisted, the work of a husband who had delighted in crushing his lighted cigarettes out from time to time on her bare skin.”

So, we need someone who knew Elvira well, had done so for some time,was still alive in the early 1970s and was presumably now so respectable that she wished to remain anonymous.If it is someone whose name is already linked with Elvira, then Viva King is the obvious candidate. She knew Elvira and the way she lived, had done so for some years, and must have been a friend – as Elvira apparently left her what little possessions she still owned at the time of her death (the portrait, in particular).

The main problem is that Viva King never exactly courted respectability and is quite happy in her own autobiography to talk explicitly about Elvira.

If it was someone who was around on the night of the shooting then Irene MacBrayne is a possibility. The other (named) actresses were a little too young to have known Elvira in the late 1920s. By the 1970s, MacBrayne was, I think, Irene Holdsworth, a writer on pet cats and travel, so may not wanted to have identified herself too closely with the wildness of her youth.She was at three of the four social gatherings on the 30th May, so can reasonably be seen as a “group member”. But given that I’m not even sure I’ve got the biography correct then this does seem rather like clutching at straws.

Who else? Is there a clue in the name? There’s a Victorian novelist called Effie Leigh, are we looking for a writer? Of the party set, Marjorie Firminger was still about and thought of herself as an author (others would disagree). Again though, why would she wish to conceal her identity?

When you read about other cases involving scandalous females, Ruth Ellis or Christine Keeler for instance, the most reluctant witnesses tend to be women who later “married well”. The problem with Elvira’s world is that that applies to so many of her contemporaries as to be pretty meaningless.

I have one final candidate . Elvira was, by the end of her short and stormy life, pretty well disowned by her family, but this was not (quite) yet the case at the time of the shooting. Could the prison visitor have been her sister Avril? She lived until 1978, she was friendly enough with Elvira up to at least 1931 ( Broderick Haldane dined with them both that year) and Avril certainly married well, three times in fact (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/elviras-little-sister/ ). There is a logic about it and even Cotes’ description of the confidante as “one of Elvira’s friends” could be explained as part of the “pseudonymous” ruse. Of real evidence, however, there is not a whiff.

So, the search continues. Never mind. Blind alleys, false leads and red herrings have a charm of their own.




More about Cars and Women

Women and Fast Cars have begun to form an unexpected sub-section of this blog (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/ and others). In the light of this, the following passage seems worth mentioning.

The greatest motor-racing hoax of all time took place at Brooklands and the novelist Barbara Cartland and a group of her friends very nearly pulled it off. As women drivers became more successful, some wildly exaggerated claims were made about them in the media. Some, like Victoria Worsley, complained that they were continually being accused of ‘flirting with death’ and ‘dicing with their lives’. Even the least glamorous of them were described as “ravishing”, or they were ‘dark-haired, blue eyed beauties’ and everything they said or did was blown up out of all proportions. Victoria told one interviewer, ‘Actually, we are a modest, unassuming group of women, who just like driving fast cars and want to get on quietly with the job of doing so. Most of us are highly embarrassed about all the fuss being made about us. Their popularity, however, was looked upon with a certain amount of envy by some women, who longed to be like them and were envious of their celebrity status.”

Victoria Worsley in MG

“That was why in 1931 a group of ten society women arranged to be filmed taking part in their own private race at Brooklands, but without actually putting themselves at any risk. Barbara Cartland planned the event following a remark a male guest had foolishly made at one of her house parties. She persuaded some of her friends to take part in the event to show off their driving skills and even suggested that the Society Ladies’ Private Handicap might become a regular event at Brooklands. Ten MGs had been borrowed for the occasion, which was filmed by British Movietone News. Princess Imeretinsky was to be announced as the winner with Lady de Clifford acting as her racing mechanic, and they were filmed crossing the finishing line a few feet ahead of the Hon. Mrs Joan Chetwynd, who it was claimed was heavily handicapped because she was the only driver taking part who had previously raced at Brooklands. Third place went to Miss Paddy Naismith, who claimed the distinction of having driven the prime minister on several occasions.”

Paddy Naismith

“Barbara Cartland and her friends got the publicity they were seeking and their hour or two of glory, until Motor magazine in its issue of 1 December 1931 revealed what had really happened. According to the Motor report, when each competitor arrived at the track she was issued with some white overalls and asked to pose in front of a row of MG Midgets borrowed specially for the occasion.
The scene was then ‘shot’ several times by the newsreel cameramen and Barbara Cartland announced over the microphone that they were there to prove that women drivers were every bit as good as men. It was then decided that more still photographs should be taken of the competitors before they got into their MGs and drove off to the Railway Straight, where they were again filmed lining up on the starting grid. The handful of onlookers who happened to be there were rather puzzled that there didn’t seem to be any effort to handicap the cars if it was meant to be a proper women’s handicap, particularly as three of the MG’s, including the one driven by the Hon. Mrs Joan Chetwynd, were supercharged and at least one other was brand-new and one of the latest models.”

Mrs. Joan Chetwynd
“They were even more surprised when the starter’s flag fell and all the cars, with the exception of one, which stalled because its handbrake was still on, tore down the finishing straight and began cutting each other up in a most alarming fashion for the benefit of the cameras. Since a large section of the Members’ Banking was being repaired and there was barely enough room for one car to pass, even slowly, as soon as the cars reached that point they were forced to brake rather quickly. Princess Imeretinsky managed to get into a skid in doing so spun her MG completely round, giving her what she reported later to be ‘a delicious thrill’. Her passenger’s verdict when asked about the spin was that it was ‘too, too marvellous, my dear !’”

Dorothy, Lady De Clifford

“The first part of the filming being over, it was suggested that the race needed a close finish and so everyone returned to the Railway Straight, where they were restarted, and, with the cameras whirring away, shot across the finishing line bonnet to bonnet. Princes Imeretinsky was then hoisted onto the back of her car while the other drivers gathered round. A microphone was produced and she proclaimed to an imaginary crowd that she had ‘derived infinite satisfaction from winning the contest’.
The Motor’s report resulted in a spate of letters condemning the event.. Some blamed the Brooklands authorities for allowing it to take place, while others complained that it made women look foolish and was an insult to the genuine women racing drivers. One reader asked whether the ‘ so called society ladies’ had expressed shame over their silly Brooklands escapade.”

from John Bullock, Fast Women. The Drivers who Changed the Face of Motor Racing Robson Books ( 2002 )

There are still sources which dispute that this was a hoax, but, whatever the truth, the episode did not help the image of women racers of whom there were many and who had a keen following , not least among female sports fans such as Elvira.

Elvira had, of course, a more personal interest in this event as the “winner” of the race was her sister, Avril ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/elviras-little-sister/ ). Not only that, Princess Imeretinsky’s partner, Lady De Clifford, was Dorothy Meyrick, the daughter of “The Queen of The Night Clubs” and regular Holloway inmate, Kate Meyrick. I”m not sure if Elvira had much to do with the Meyrick clubs but she would have,at least, been an occasional visitor and was possibly acquainted with some of the daughters, all of whom seem to have married into “Society”.

Dorothy’s husband was a keen racing-driver and was the last person to be tried “by his Peers” in the House of Lords – after he had been involved in a head-on collision and the other motorist died. He was acquitted, but it rather ruined his public profile as the leading campaigner for the imposition of speed limits on the public highway. For more see http://everything2.com/title/Edward+Southwell+Russell%252C+26th+Baron+de+Clifford.

Kate Meyrick, daughters and friends, celebrate her release from Holloway

Brooklands, with its banked track was one of the iconic places of inter-war modernity. Women racing drivers who competed there epitomised everything associated with the changes in gender roles, actual and perceived, that is such a feature of the Bright Young Era. Here are a couple of Britis Pathe newsreels from the time. The Movietone film of the Barbara Cartland stunt is still in existence but does not appear to be on-line.

Brooklands Ladies Race 1931

Women Speed Queens 1932

Eve at the wheel

a good blog on the history of women racers is this one


Elvira’s Little Sister

Peter Cotes and others point out the marked difference between Elvira’s 1928 wedding at Princes Row Register Office, to John Barney, and her younger sister’s far more spectacular affair, three years earlier, at St.Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey. For Cotes this shows the family’s disapproval of Elvira’s choice of partner and I’m sure this is correct. Princes Row was still a rather more fashionable venue than the comparison implies – it was popular with actors and shwbusiness types as well as for second marriages among the rich and titled – but it was no match for St.Margaret’s.

Society Wedding 1935

When you said “Society Wedding” in the 1920s or 1930s you meant a wedding at St.Margaret’s. The most written about and, in some ways, most representative occasion was probably Brian Guinness’ marriage to Diana Mitford in 1929. There was always great press and newsreel interest and the guest lists were carefully scrutinised by those interested in the highways and byways of Debrett’s. Who was there (and not there) was a cause of much conversation and kept the gossip-columnists in material for months.

Brian and Diana Guinness

Here is how the Times reported Avril’s great day


“The second marriage ceremony of Prince George Imeretinsky, eldest son of Prince and Princess Imeretinsky, and Miss Avril Joy Mullens, younger daughter of Sir John and Lady Mullens, of 6, Belgrave square, took place at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, yesterday. Prebendary Gough officiated, assisted by the Rev. H. J. F. Tringham and the Rev. H. E. Sexton. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of cloth of silver, embroidered with pearls, cabochon crystals, and diamante, with long, tapering sleeves, with gauntlets of old Charles II rose-point lace, the hem of the gown being flounced with a deep band of Arctic fox. She wore a diadem of pearls and diamonds, with clusters of orange- blossom, which was covered with a long veil of flesh-tinted d’Alençon tulle, bordered with seed pearls. The train, which was of silver gauze, suspended from the shoulders with pearl tassels, and embroidered with panels of old Spanish rose-point lace, was carried by Master John Henderson and Master Richard Paget- Cooke, who wore white satin breeches and waistcoats, edged with silver, and white and silver brocade coats. Miss Mullens carried a sheaf of Mary’s lilies, bound with silver ribbons. There were five child bridesmaids- Miss Patsy Chapman, Miss Jay Horne, Princess Tatiana Wiasemsky, Miss Tou Tou Chichester, and Miss Susan Perry. They wore dresses of white georgette, with silver lace coats and bonnets of silver lace and silver tissue, and carried branches of orange-blossom and oranges. The best man was Captain D. Eric Smith (late Grenadier Guards), and after the ceremony a reception was held at 6, Belgrave- square.”

6 Belgrave Square

“Among others present were : Lady Mullens, Miss Elvira Mullens. General R. Mullens., M. and Mme Lambert, Major and Mrs. W. H. Mullens, Mr. M. C. Adamson, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Adamson, Mr. Stewart Adamson, Colonel Rushton Adamson, Mrs. George Mullens, Miss Mary and Miss Gertude Mullens, Prince and Princess Blucher, Prince and Princess Wiesemsky, Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim, The Marchioness of Huntley, Mr and Lady Alice Mahon, Lady George Loftus, Lady Arthur Browne, Lady Ellen Hotough, Lady Montague of Beaulieu, Lord Wargrave, Lady Hawke with Mrs. William Lindsay, Lady Dunedin, Lord and Lady Aberconway, Lady Ashfield and the Hon. Marion Stanley, The Hon Mrs. Trevor Lewis, the Hon. Mrs. Gideon Murray, Captain and the Hon. Mrs. Dormer, Miss Cecilia Dormer, the Hon. Mrs. Patrick Macnaughton, Major and the Hon. Mrs. Sidebottom, The Hon. Mrs. Algernon Borthwick, The Hon. Mrs. Bailey, the Hon. Assheton and Mrs. Harbord, The Hon. Mrs. Edward Gully and Miss Gully, Sir Joseph and Lady White-Todd, Lady Kindersley, Lady Grayson and Mrs. Rupert Grayson, Lady (Alfred) Cooper, Lady McCallum and Miss McCallum, Baroness de Bush, Count Grixoni, Lady Alexander, Baroness Versen and Miss Versen, Sir John and the Hon. Lady-Hermiker-Henton, Sir John and Lady Rosa, Lady Glover, Sir Charles Stewart, Sir George and Lady Lewis, Sir Charles and Lady Walpole, Lady Watts, Sir Herbert Lush-Wilson, Sir John and Lady Pretyman-Newman, Sir Gerald and Lady Ryan, Brigadier-General Sir Henry and the Hon. Lady Croft, Lady Muir-Mackenzie, Field- Marshal Sir William and Lady Robertson and Miss Robertson, Lady Allen, Lady Harvey, Lady Gilbert, Sir Bindon and Lady Blood, Lady Smiley and Miss Smiley, Lady Aird, Lady North, Sir August Cayzer and Miss Cayzer, Sir Henry and Lady Buckingham, Lady Solomon, Sir Trevor and Lady Dawson, Mrs. Edgar Horne and Miss Horne, Mrs. Lionel Harris, Mrs. Reginald Chichester, Mrs. Seymour Hughes, Mrs. Ernest Deacon, Mr. Harold Deacon, Mrs. Probet. Mrs. Henry Harris, Mrs. Pragnell, Mrs. and Miss Eckstein, Mrs. Aylett Moore, Mrs. Graham, General and Mrs. Tuson, Mrs. J. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Tritton, Mrs. Roger Daniell, Mrs. Grinell-Milne, Mrs. Harry Higham, Mrs. Tixlall, Mrs. Hamilton-Wedderburn, Mrs. Alan Horne, Mrs. A. M. Carlisle, Mr. H. M. Carlisle, Mrs. and Miss Noble, Mrs. Ronald Henderson, Brigadier-General and Mrs. G. B. Stevens, Mrs. and the Misses Moyna, Canon Bowring, Mr. and Mrs. Bowring Hanbury, Mrs. Edward Huare, Miss Egerton Castle, Mrs. Wilfred Bowring, Mr. Ian Macpherson, Mrs. Aitken, Mrs. Henry Maine, Mr. and Mrs. Terence Eden, Mrs. and Miss Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Allen, Commander and Mrs. Louis Greig, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkings. Mrs. Simon Brand. Mrs Maia Brand. Mrs. Carnegie. Mrs. and Miss Stanton, Captain Mick Browne, Mme. Zerlie de Lusan, Mrs. Aidan Kirkwood, Mrs. Robert Webster, Mr. Ernest Garnett, Mr. Eveleigh Nash, Mrs. Guy Ridpath, Mrs. and Miss Cohen, Mrs. Claude Berkington, Mr. H. B. Hansell, The Misses Soames, Major and Mrs. Jepson Turner, Mrs. Lyne Sutyens, Captain and Mrs. Tudor Owen, Mr. and Mrs. George Perry, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Baker, Mrs. Arthur Harter, Captain and Mrs. Schweder, Mr. and Mrs. Berkeley, Colonel and Mrs. Cross, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Harcourt Gold, Mrs. J. G. Dug, Mr. and Mrs. Montagu Price, Mrs. Jack Michell, Mrs. Roland Soames, Mrs. Hugh Rayner, Mrs. Paget-Cooke, Mr. and Mrs. W. 0. Bentley, Commander and Mrs. Polhill, Mr. and Mrs. Candsie, Colonel Nay de Crot, Mr and Mrs. Temple Twining, Mrs. Lockett Agnew, Mr. and Mrs. Worraw, Colonel Peel, Rear Admiral and Mr. Ernest Taylur, Mrs. Francis Kennedy, Mrs. Ricardo, Mrs. Bolton, Mrs. Archie Channing, Commander Henniker Heaton, Mrs. Ernest Radmel, Mr. and Mrs. Montrose Clorte, Mr. Frank Bullen, Mrs. Francis Brenton, Mrs. Sharman-Crawford, Mrs de Rimmer, Mrs. Francis Crompton, Miss Elizabeth Vesey, Mrs. Andrew Wylie, Mrs. Collingwood Thompson, Mr Hamilton Lamplugh, Mrs. Arthur Franks, Mrs. Cyril Cubitt, Commander Galpin, Mrs. Puttenham-Gibson, Major and Mrs. Davidson-Houston, Mr. R. Synon, Mrs. Walter Synon, Mr. and Mrs. Del Stanche, Mr. N. Gladstone and General and Mrs. Basil Buckley.

The bride and bridegroom left later for a honeymoon abroad, Princess Imeretinsky, wearing a dress of royal blue velvet with a coat to match, embroidered with pale gold, and a velvet hat.”
(Times Oct 30 1925)

Prince George Imeretinsky

Apart from the comforting knowledge that people with names like Tou Tou Chichester and Lady Blood actually existed outside the pages of Waugh or Wodehouse, this list is a powerful reminder of the world that Elvira initially inhabited, then rejected and was eventually expelled from.Because it is so hard to think of the 1920s without the Bright Young People, it is easy to forget that respectability and adherence to convention remained the norm for the overwhelming majority of the well-heeled.

Avril, we are told, followed the correct conventional path. But can we be sure about this? Her marriage to a White Russian prince  had the right romantic ring ( in fact, some newspapers reported the Barney shooting with the headline “Princess’ Sister on Murder Charge”) but the marriage, the Prince’s second, was no more solid than Elvira’s and ended in divorce in 1932. Also, Avril was barely 16 on her wedding day which strikes me as a little less than “proper”  – Imeretinskywas 28.

Avril and Hugh Leveson-Gower 1934

Avril next emerges into public view with her marriage to Hugh Leveson-Gower,  part of an extensive military, aristocratic, Royalist and Tory dynasty, They had a daughter who featured in a Life Magazine spread which mentions Elvira.

Belgrave Babies 1937

It would be nice to know how Avril and Elvira got along in the intervening years. The only reference I can find is to a shared dinner with the photographer Broderick Haldane but he sheds no particular light on the matter, being primarily concerned with Elvira’s subsequent notoriety. In the absence of any other evidence of Avril, of the right age and looks, being part of the “fast crowd”, we must assume that she stayed within the bounds of “decent society”.  I doubt they were close, either in tastes or temperament. Significantly, there is not one mention of her attending the trial.

After the War, Avril’s second marriage collapsed and she remarried once more. This time it was to Ernest Aldrich Simpson.  If the name seems familiar it is because he had been the husband of Wallis Simpson, who famously left him for Edward, briefly King of England and  then Duke of Windsor. As Prince of Wales he had been something of a hero to elements within the Bright Young Set and his habit of dining at the Cafe De Paris would not have gone unnoticed by Elvira. Ernest became (and remains) the forgotten man in a scandal  which, unlike the Barney affair, really did  unsettle the established order.

Ernest Simpson

Simpson died in 1958. Twenty years later, Avril died in a car crash in Mexico. The smart money would have been on Elvira to suffer such a fate. Perhaps the sisters had something in common after all.