Tag Archive: Beverley Nichols


P.G.Wodehouse and Elvira

On August 13th 1932, P.G.Wodehouse wrote to his old school friend Bill Townend. Wodehouse was living at Auribeau-sur-Siagne, just north of Cannes in the South of France. Much of the letter is about the iniquities of the British and American tax system, something of an obsession with the hardly down-at-heel Wodehouse – it is why he spent so much time “abroad”. However, there is some gossip too. Amongst which  is this vitriolic gem,

We now have Mrs.Barney in our midst! I haven’t seen her, but I’m told she haunts low bars  in red pyjamas and talks to everyone at the top of her voice. I can’t see what it matters whether she actually slew the young drug-fiend or not, – they ought to have hung a woman like that on principle.”

Whether “in our midst” means that Elvira was also in Auribeau, or was in the general area (probably Cannes) is unclear, although the footnotes to the letter do claim that Elvira had just moved to Auribeau.

Auribeau

What is more significant is the hostility to both Michael and Elvira. Michael is a “drug-fiend”, whose death is practically welcomed. Where did Wodehouse get “drug-fiend” from? The trial reports hinted at debauchery and dissolution but stopped short of that accusation. Rumours did abound, especially among those “in the know”. Wodehouse was well acquainted with Beverley Nichols, who was happy to tell all and sundry that Michael was a “pusher of cocaine”, so maybe that’s the source.

As to his take on Elvira, it firstly shows how quickly she had become demonised. Remember, just one month previously a large crowd had greeted her acquittal with jubilation and a quick burst of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. Again, it is her lifestyle that is deplored, not whether she committed murder or not. I do wonder where Wodehouse picked up the authentic-sounding detail about “red pyjamas”. These would have been beach pyjamas, very much the thing in the South of France in the early thirties. Red then, as it does now, carried very definite overtones of sexual availibility.

Anyway, inappropriate dress, a loud voice and a fondness for low dives are obviously grounds for hanging (for a woman,anyway). Wodehouse may not have been speaking absolutely literally, but he was not being ironic. Supreme comedic writer that he was, there is barely a grain of humour in any of his letters. He was simply voicing what was becoming a general revulsion at Elvira’s all-too-public behaviour.

It is not easy to find anything redeeming about Elvira’s demeanour or personality. On the other hand,perhaps perversely, comments such as Wodehouse’s rather make me side with her. Beloved though he is, and I am a big fan of his writing, his own career in France was not, when all is said and done, exactly blameless.

 

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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

Cocktail Parties

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

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

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

Alfred Thompson “A Modern Cocktail Bar” Saville Theatre 1931

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

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

Coco Chanel Cocktail Dress 1926

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

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

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

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

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

Claude Flight Cocktail Party 1936

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

Arthur Tilden Jeffress (Part One)

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.

Michael Scott Stephen

One can’t help feeling sorry for the luckless Michael Stephen. Not simply because he lost his life, accidentally or otherwise, at the early age of 25, but because nobody, apart from Elvira, seems to have been too bothered by his passing. It is often the case that the victims of violence receive less attention than the perpetrators but it is not so much that sad fact- in this instance, there is a coldness about attitudes towards the dead man that is a little troubling.

Reading the witness statements, press-reports, reminiscences and case-histories , it is clear that the majority view was that somehow Mr. Stephen deserved his ignominious end. Not so much victim as architect of his own downfall. No-one  appears to be on his side. There is no outraged call for justice and no public attempt to counter the very unfavourable image the media, the defence and (it has to be said) even the prosecution painted of the object of Elvira’s desire . A  picture of a feckless, immoral and slightly sinister  “gigolo”  has remained largely unchallenged for eighty years. The best that has been said about him is that he was probably no worse than Elvira – hardly a ringing endorsement.

It is clear that Michael Stephen was not really an insider in this set. Of the cocktail party guests, only Hugh Wade, Terence Skeffington-Smyth and Arthur Streek admit to knowing him well. Streek counted him as a friend but his only real piece of information is the fact that Michael was constantly borrowing money. Irene MacBrayne was presumably a friend as he had personally invited her to the party that morning, but again she has little to say on his behalf. The guests all agree that Michael and Elvira were very fond of each other and all downplay (or deny) the many rows between the couple. However, this probably says more about their loyalty to Elvira than anything else.

The “other woman”, Dora Wright, does speak fondly of Michael and attests to his devotion to Elvira  – but she was a lone voice and, anyway, her opinion was never made public. If there was another Michael, who was not simply an idler,a sponger and a general scoundrel, we have little print evidence for such a re-evaluation. Besotted with him as Elvira undoubtedly was, her frustration with this low-level philanderer seems to have been shared by more than a few of his peers. He died pretty well alone and unmourned.

Although only a couple of years younger than Elvira, his good looks (as opposed to Elvira’s rapidly fading beauty), his lack of employment and his relative lack of social status made him an easy figure for the press to demonise. The Sunday Dispatch even produced a supposed autobiographical essay where he bemoaned his easy success with women and gave a tittillating account of various shady residences where all sorts of immoral acts took place, in which he was both participant and observer. This was an obvious fake – why would an unknown man conveniently leave such a condemnatory account  of his own life with a national newspaper just days before his untimely (and,one assumes) unexpected death? Still it added to the generally critical view of Michael and  served to reinforce the consensus  that the handsome corpse was really the villain of the piece.

But  what do we really know about Michael? Well, he wasn’t called Michael, for a start. His name was Thomas William Scott Stephen and he was born in Elgin in 1908. His father was Thomas Milne Stephen who had worked his way up from clerk,then accountant to Bank Manager for a London branch of the North of Scotland Bank. Moving from branch to branch along the promotion ladder, Stephen pere had found a wife in Croydon in 1903. She was Elizabeth Park, a callisthenics teacher and daughter of a Tax Collector. So came into being a solidly middle class family, three sons and one daughter. By 1932 they were living, in some comfort, at Penshurst in Kent.

“Michael” and his two male siblings were all educated at Shrewsbury and his elder brother, Francis, had then become a solicitor. It was to him that the police turned to for information. Francis’ statement is curt and decidedly unsympathetic. He gives Michael’s profession as a “dress designer” ( an occupation that the trial judge found worthy of scorn) and said that he had been unemployed recently. Whether Michael was a dress designer or not is unknown. Terence Skeffington Smyth states that when he met him first in Paris (with a Mr.Firmin) Stephen was seeking out contacts in the industry. Incidentally, Michael Sherard, a friend of Arthur Jeffress’ and someone probably known to Michael, was in Paris at the time learning that trade.

Outfit by Michael Sherard, 1949

As to his brother’s relationship with Elvira, Francis states, ” He has been associated with Mrs. Barney for the past two years and has known her here since about last November. Prior to that he had known her in Paris” . He confirms that  Michael’s father had severed all relations with him, though his mother had kept in touch. He adds ” He is of a roving disposition and I do not think the quiet life at Penshurst suited him”. I think we can safely conclude that the elder brother shared the father’s view of Michael. For a family  built on the probity of Scottish banking, Michael’s profligacy (financial and sexual) was beyond the pale.

Denied an allowance by his father, Stephen, so we are told, turned to gambling and his fine features to keep him in spending money. However, he was always broke – so not much of a “player” in any sense – perhaps he was simply too fond of gambling and not too fond of work. We can assume that he was bi-sexual ( who in this group wasn’t?), was it this rather than his lack of a respectable career that caused the family rift? In all likelihood, yes, as not only was the money stopped but he was denied access to the family home.

Michael has often been cited as both a user and a “drugs pusher”. Peter Cotes quotes Beverley Nichols on the subject, “He was a very unpleasant little gigolo, who once offered me cocaine, which I threw back in his face.”

Beverley Nichols

If this is true, apart from adding “the” original Bright Young Person to Elvira’s circle, it is noteworthy. However Nichols was not always a reliable chronicler of his youthful career and had a tendency to turn against erstwhile friends. His reaction betrays a sense of moral outrage out of character with his early persona (though quite in keeping with his elderly one). Even if the incident took place, which it probably did but not quite as reported, it does not convince me that he was a “pusher” in any obvious sense. “Pushers”  have a variety of recognisable traits, being constantly penniless is not one that I have noticed.

I think it is safe to say that Michael used drugs and was quite happy to trade on his good-looks with either sex. He liked the card table, night clubs and the party life. In that he was no different to most of the people to whose social circle he aspired to belong. I think “aspiration” is the right word as Michael is patently not quite one of the elect. Middle rather than Upper class, with no inheritance or allowance to pay for the nightly round of pleasure, he seems a little out of his league.

He may well have mistreated Elvira, but on every occasion that the police are called he is the one that appears in greater danger – with blackened eye, threatened with a gun, sober when Elvira is drunk – he hardly looks the part of the manipulative and controlling gigolo. His main concern always appears to be Elvira’s safety and state of mind. He may have been just protecting his investment but, if so, he displayed acting skills which outmatched by far any of his other discernible talents.

I think Michael Scott Stephen was essentially a waster – nothing more worthy or sinister than that. He had rejected his parents’ bourgeois world and in turn been cast out. He had found himself a more amenable subculture and had tried to become part of it. What he lacked was money. He lived by borrowing and on the goodwill of others. His misfortune was to meet a person desperate for love but possessive and unstable. Much has been made of Elvira’s need for him but perhaps he also loved and needed her. Let’s face it, most folk would have run a mile after the first of Elvira’s drunken outbursts. I can’t see him as calculating; amoral, yes, and lacking in fidelity or fortitude of any sort but no evil genius.

Had he not met Mrs.Barney in Paris he would have been just one of many kicking their heels around the West End looking for the next assignation or party invite.

Michael Scott Stephen’s death turned him into an ideal target for much of what “Middle England” felt was wrong with young men between the wars – effeminate,superficial, lacking in responsibilty, generally dissolute and, above all,  unlike their fathers. Well, Michael was all of these – with a few other vices thrown in.

Twenty years later it had become customary to compare this generation unfavourably not just with an earlier and more properly masculine type but with the next group of young Englishmen  – those who fought so bravely in the Second World War. By a marvellous coincidence  the Stephen family provides a perfect example of this contrast.

The youngest of the Stephen brothers, who was 16 at the time of Michael’s death, became one of that  legendary group of men – a Spitfire pilot. This was none other than Harbourne McKay Stephen, credited with downing eight German planes in a day and one of the best known and most honoured of Battle of Britain airmen. He later became a managing director at the Daily Telegraph (he had been a journalist before the War).

Mannock

Harbourne Mckay Stephen

The contrast between the two careers could not be greater.

Michael, of course, would have been only 31 when the  War broke out  – but by then he and the world he unwittingly came to symbolise had been consigned to Ancient History.