Tag Archive: Blue Angel


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.

Advertisements

Hugh Armigel Wade

Hugh Wade (1908-1949) was one of the two guests at Elvira’s to attend court as a witness (Arthur Jeffress was the other).  His answers in court are so brief and add nothing to the case (for prosecution or defence) that it is unclear why his presence was deemed necessary.

His police statement is much fuller and is considerably more informative. It is protective of Elvira and markedly evasive about the later party at Arthur Jeffress’ home.

Described by the police as a composer, Wade stated that he was “a professional pianist at present employed at the Blue Angel night club” (no mention of the Blue Lantern). He had been a paying guest at 64a King’s Road (Leonie Fester’s home) but was now living at 9 Rupert Street.

He had first met Elvira at a party at her parents’ house in 1927 and had known Michael Scott Stephen since 1928. He remembers first seeing them together in October 1931 and from then fairly regularly at first nights,plays and at both the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel. He insists that they were always friendly and affectionate to each other. He cites Terence Skeffington Smyth and Leonie Fester as Elvira’s “special friends”.

Hugh Wade with Elizabeth Ponsonby

 

He had first visited 21 William Mews about six weeks earlier, having been invited by Elvira, at The Blue Angel, to come back for a late night drink. Michael Scott Stephen was not there but about eight of Elvira’s friends (included Leonie Fester and her daughter) drank whisky and played the gramophone. Wade says, “It was a very quiet party” – a view not shared by other residents of the Mews.

He then gives the fullest guest list that we have of the Monday  30th cocktail party. He adds a detail or two not mentioned elsewhere, including caviare sandwiches and the presence of a “servant”, and seems undecided as to whether Eddie Gathorne Hardy was actually in attendance.  On leaving the party he went to the Command Performance at the Palladium but failed to get in and so visited the Pavilion before his Blue Angel gig, which started at 10.45.

Pavilion Theatre on the right

He uses the terms “normal and composed”  to describe Elvira at the Blue Angel adding, “She was quite sober”. The former description may have been true, the latter was definitely a lie. His first statement omits any mention of going on to Arthur Jeffress’ residence but Wade was called back to correct this “memory slip”.  This reluctance to mention Jeffress’ gathering and the police’s great interest in who was there (given that neither Elvira or Michael were present) gives, to say the least, some grounds for speculation. He ended the night, very late, at Lyons Corner House  in Coventry Street – then and for many years later – open 24 hours a day and with unofficial sections reserved for prostitutes and the denizens of Soho’s gay community.

Hugh Wade gets fairly short shrift in Taylor’s “Bright Young People“, which is, I feel, a little unfair. His only role is as the marker of Elizabeth Ponsonby’s fall from, if not grace, the higher echelons of the Bright Young coterie. Undoubtedly, Elizabeth’s mother disapproved and her eager reporting of John Strachey’s description of a party held by the then newly-wed Pelly’s has Hugh firmly placed at the debauched centre.

“He had never seen so much drink consumed in his life. Every woman was painted and most of the men – especially a young boy Hugh Wade (I have heard of him from Elizabeth) who had a painted, luscious mouth. He never saw such a “naughty boy”  or so many “naughty boys” or so many people drunk. They carried on till 4am.”

“Naughty Boy” though he was, he did keep faith with Elizabeth, long after others had abandoned her. When she died (of drink) in 1940, one of her few un-hocked  possessions was a piano, which she left to Hugh. Hugh had only eight years left of his life to enjoy it – another of many early deaths in this circle.

His musical career was, in fact, a little more substantial than “night club pianist” might suggest. Aged 19, he had burst on to the late twenties’ equivalent of the “pop scene” with a string of reasonably popular hits. “Like A Virginia Creeper (I’ll come Creeping Back to You)” and “When the Love Bird Leaves its Nest”  (Does it Fly to the East or West?)” may not exactly resonate today but they sold well as sheet music and were much recorded. (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/hugh-wades-early-career/ )

Rosalie - Old sheet Music by FeldmanWade, Hugh. When the love-bird leaves the nest [music] : does she fly to the east or the west? - Front Cover

He never repeated this success, athough he did write music  for films in the 1930s (“The Tenth Man” 1936). Occasional songs still popped up and his final effort was a musical show intended as a comeback vehicle for Jessie Matthews, “Maid to Measure” (1947). It was not a hit and his music,a little dated even by 1930, has now disappeared off the cultural map completely. If he is known at all today it is as the “epicene” ,”naughty boy” who played Body and Soul on the organ at Arthur Jeffress’ Red And White Party. (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ )

9 Rupert Street was until very recently home to the exclusive members club, Rex – whose decor had a, very appropriate, 1930s theme.

Blue Lantern at 14 Ham Yard,Soho

The Blue Lantern nightclub features as one of D.J.Taylor’s “dozen definitive venues” for the Bright Young People. His reasoning is based largely on Anthony Powell’s autobiography, “Messengers of Day”. Powell describes the place as “fairly seedy”. “below the Gargoyle” in status but, nonetheless bearing a “faintly intellectual tinge”. Powell then goes on to celebrate the night at the club when Tallulah Bankhead asked him to dance with her.

File:Augustus John mit Tallulah.jpg

Taylor is , I think right, but his evidence is fairly thin. He does note that Hugh Wade played piano there, but he sees Wade as a very minor figure in the Bright Young saga. Elvira, who did go to the Blue Lantern regularly,according to Taylor, “was not and never had been a Bright Young Person”. For Taylor, “The Blue Lantern” represents the slightly dodgy lower end of BYP night-life and is a condensed symbol for a number of daring, and  generally short-lived, Soho clubs.

A much more vivid (and probably accurate) picture of the Blue Lantern can be found in the work of Jocelyn Brooke, as I posted earlier. To recap, in “Private Lives” (1954) he writes of the regulars that they

“belonged for the most part to the raffish fringes of that pseudo-smart Bohemia which was perhaps the most characteristic (and almost certainly the nastiest) social unit of the period.” (Brooke “Private View”  (1954) p87) .

and

“Hugh Wade, the pianist, accompanied by drums and a saxophone, was discoursing the half-forgotten, nostalgic tunes of the first war period; the dance-floor was crowded with painted and twittering young men whose partners, though technically of the females sex (for the lantern was rather fussy about such conventions), appeared for the most part to be a good deal more virile than their cavaliers.”

I do wonder about the longevity of The Blue Lantern. It features in the London phone directories for 1930,1931 and 1932 – no mention before or after. Hugh Wade told the police he was the pianist at The Blue Angel. Had The Blue Lantern just closed,say in early 1932, to re-open in another guise as the Blue Angel? It would explain both clubs being mentioned by witnesses but also the newness of membership claimed by the likes of Jeffress and Skeffington-Smyth. The Blue Angel never features in the phone directories suggesting either a brief existence  or its “underground” status.

Although Taylor is right in his use of the Blue Lantern as an emblematic marker, it is doubtful whether the actual  Blue Lantern was really a Twenties’ club central to the BYP experience. In that decade, Ham Yard boasted several drinking, gambling and dancing clubs of varying degrees of respectability. The most stylish evocation of that era comes from the pen of Mark Benney, a Soho burglar and wide-boy turned author, whose 1936 autobiography “Low Company” goes into great detail about Soho after dark.

The best known club in Ham Yard, by some way, was the Hambone, run by the popular rogue Freddie Ford. Patronised by everyone from Augustus John to the Sabini brothers, it was arty,respectable and risque in about equal measures. Charles Graves had been drinking there the night that Elvira, brandishing gun, lay siege to his flat.The Hambone lasted from the early twenties to about 1936.

Ham Yard remained a key site for post-war club life. In the 1950s Cy Laurie’s jazz club was the centre of the “trad jazz” scene and had a rather wilder reputation than other similar venues. Cy Laurie’s became The Scene in the early 60s, an iconic Mod club where Guy Stephens played the best in Motown and R&B for the newest generation of hedonistic youth.

The Blue Lantern had long gone but its spirit lived on.

Terence Skeffington-Smyth

The longest statement taken by the police was that of Terence Skeffington-Smyth. He was also asked to return and provide a second statement. Why this should be is matter for speculation as he had nothing especially insightful to add to the police’s knowledge of the case.

However, he does appear to be central to the dynamics of Elvira’s social world and is a character of some interest in his own right.

Terence  (1906-36) was one of three sons, the others were Noel (b1909) and Denys (b1911), of  Lieutenant Colonel Skeffington-Smyth. The father was a military man through and through, serving with distinction in the Boer War, He was also an early advocate of the then heretical idea that motorised units should and would replace cavalry battalions.

Early display of military motors – organised by Skeffington-Smyth.

The family were part of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, wealthy and very well connected. At the time of his interview T.  Skeffington-Smyth was living off a large inheritance from his mother. Between October 1930 and May 1931 he had been on safari with his father in Africa and since then had divided his time between holidays in the South of France and London night life. Although living at 19 Orchard Street – near Selfridges – he often stayed at the International Sports Club in Upper Grosvenor Street.

He had met Elvira at Cannes (probably at the Majestic Hotel) in August 1931 and told the police ” I have seen quite a lot of Mrs. Barney since then. I know her very well indeed, she is a very good friend of mine.” That he was a friend rather than simply an acquaintance is borne out by other witness statements.

Lobby of the Majestic

He describes Elvira’s William Mews cocktail parties as regular events , usually very small gatherings and always between 6.30 and 9. He also mentions occasional bridge parties, which are worth noting as Elvira cites Stephen’s gambling as a source of conflict between them. Oddly, Elvira did not play bridge.

From his statement we can visualise the social life of Elvira and Michael Scott Stephen. He talks of seeing them together at Ciro’s (where Elvira was a member), the Cafe De Paris, Monseigneur’s, The Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel. He also refers to their attendance at football matches and greyhound tracks.

Terence held a cocktail party at his flat on the 26th and it was there that most of the invitations to Elvira’s party were made. This explains why the majority of guests seemed to know Skeffington-Smyth better than they did Elvira. Skeffington-Smythe did not attend the Mews party, arriving from Paris at about 7pm then catching up with everybody at The Blue Angel before going on to Arthur Jeffress’ home.

His closeness to Elvira can be seen by the fact that after the shooting she rang him up. This was at 5am and she asked him to come over as “something terrible has happened”. He said he could not, Elvira then pleaded with him to get a doctor as she was having trouble contacting hers. He persuaded her to persist in trying and enquired as to  exactly what had happened. Elvira replied “I can’t tell you it all right now.”

Skeffington-Smyth saw Elvira at her parent’s home on the 31st where she described the events of the night in exactly the same words she used in her police statement. One irrefutable fact about this case is the absolute consistency of Elvira’s re-telling of the incident.

The police recalled Skeffington-Smyth two weeks later. Firstly, to assure them that he had not been at the party (one of the guests, Hugh Wade, had mentioned his presence) and secondly to describe an earlier occurrence at 21 William Mews when an hysterical Elvira had locked herself in the bedroom and was shouting and screaming. Skeffington-Smyth had fetched a ladder to  make sure Elvira was not in danger. This was one of the several earlier disturbances mentioned in court by the neighbours.

Why was Skeffington-Smyth interviewed at such length?One can only assume that the police thought he knew more than he was letting on. He was aware that there was another woman at the centre of the rows ( Dora Wright – although S-S does not mention her name). It is also possible that Skeffington-Smyth was thought be the source of the drug use that the police knew hovered around this circle.

Two years later Skeffington-Smyth married Isobel McLean the daughter of society hostess, Loudon Maclean.

Isobel MacLean by Madame Yevonde

On a world cruise in 1936, Skeffington-Smyth collapsed and died in his hotel bedroom in the Broadway Mansions Hotel, Shanghai. The Straits Times reported,

“Shanghai Tragedy

Peer’s nephew dies after visiting opium dens

Shanghai Mar 19 1936

The death of a young Briton after a round of visits to opium dens and night clubs was investigated at the inquest here today on Terence George Randall Skeffington-Smyth, a nephew of Viscount Galway and son of Lt.Col G.H.J..Skeffington-Smyth, who was found dead in bed in a Shanghai hotel on Mar 9th.

A nightclub bar-tender testified that on the previous night he visited opium dens in company with Mr.Skeffington-Smyth who smoked about five pipes of drug and went home after daybreak.

The inquest was adjourned.

Mr.Skeffington-Smyth and his wife arrived in Shanghai a few weeks ago on a world tour.”

Art Deco masterpiece, Broadway Mansions Hotel, Built 1934

Elvira died on Christmas Day in the same year.

More on The Blue Angel

Apart from the Barney case , “The Blue Angel” (52 Dean Street)  doesn’t appear to feature in any reminiscences or reports of the period. It seems so close in atmosphere to the Blue Lantern (Ham Yard) that I initially assumed  the former was a fictitious version of the latter. However, they were definitely two real and separate places. They shared much of the same membership, Hugh Wade was the resident pianist at both clubs and every recorded statement about the “Blue Lantern” is applicable to the “Blue Angel”.

Jocelyn Brooke on the “Blue Lantern”

“Hugh Wade, the pianist, accompanied by drums and a saxophone, was discoursing the half-forgotten, nostalgic tunes of the first war period; the dance-floor was crowded with painted and twittering young men whose partners, though technically of the females sex (for the lantern was rather fussy about such conventions), appeared for the most part to be a good deal more virile than their cavaliers.”

Here, one can’t help thinking of Ruth Baldwin or Heather Pilkington dancing with Eddie Gathorne-Hardy or Hugh Wade himself.

My guess is that “The Blue Angel” was a fairly short lived affair. It was modelled on the success of “The Blue Lantern” – louche but with a certain Bohemian air –  perhaps it was slightly more overtly “gay” but  essentially attracted the same crowd. All the Barney set  with membership had taken up their subscriptions fairly recently (early in 1932) and by 1934 the same space had become “The Ace of  Clubs”, a place where the braver West End socialites rubbed shoulders with East End villains.

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=47205

52 Dean Street is today, depressingly, a Subway sandwich bar. However for many years it was the home of Casa Pepe , the first authentic Spanish restaurant in London (c1939-1969). Better still, the actual club space has been, from 1966 onward, the home of Gerry’s, considered by many to be the last “real” Soho drinking club, Named after the owner, Gerald Campion, who some will remember as Billy Bunter in the early days of television (1955-1961), Gerry’s was/is the last port of call for drunken Sohemians.

Just before the smoking ban a remarkable series of photos was taken which captures the place in its full sleaziness/glory.

http://www.williamcorbett.com/Home/Pages/Gerry-Go-Round_2006.html

I can’t see Arthur Jeffress or Brian Howard approving but it certainly would appeal to Elvira’s “nostalgia de la boue”. It does also seem to be a long way from Francesco Bartolozzi , the engraver who lived at 52 in the late C18th.

But, then again, perhaps not.