Tag Archive: Blue Lantern

Hugh Wade 1928-1935

The Hugh Wade of the years 1929-1935 is the one I first encountered a few months ago. It is Hugh Wade of  The Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel, of the jaunty cap and Bright Young parties, the “naughty boy” who symbolised Elizabeth Ponsonby’s fall from, if not exactly grace then social prominence and of course the Hugh Wade who gave evidence at Elvira’s trial.

On the surface Hugh seems to have abandoned composing for performing (and partying).As far as I can see, there is only one copyrighted tune to his name in the whole six years. It’s a good one though.

“Singing In The Moonlight” (1932)

This was recorded by Henry Hall and the BBC dance orchestra, Reginald Dixon (of Blackpool Tower Ballroom fame), The Melody Boys and Layton and Johnstone. There was also a French version (“Sous Le Clair De  Lune“)  which may be an indicator of the time he is supposed have spent living in Paris but is probably just a sign of the song’s popularity

The Layton and Johnstone version is of most interest to me as not only were they prolific recording artists but they were very much part of the “Smart Set” and its fascination with sophisticated black artists. I have posted about Turner Layton on more than one occasion (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/another-party-in-glebe-place/ ) and think he ought to be given the same prominence as Hutch in terms of 1930s musical culture.

“The Melody Boys” was a popular name and could refer to any number of acts, the most famous being Al Bowlly and his Radio Melody Boys. It’s unlikely to be Bowlly as he has been well served by discographers. As it is on Sterno, it is almost certainly an alias designed purely for that label. Sterno made good quality dance music, often quite jazzy, using London’s leading  dance-bands (Ray Starita, Tommy Kinsman etc.) often performing under alternative names.Sterno records were only available through Marks and Spencer and some are quite rare.See Sterno

The most widely circulated version would have been Henry Hall’s. His BBC Orchestra was heard in every home in England. Several generations of children grew up listing to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” but among the novelty music there were many romantic, if slightly formal, arrangements of the popular music of the day.  Each weekday at 5.15pm  a large section of the British public tuned into listen.”Singing In The Moonlight” is the title of one retrospective Hall CD and is the Wade composition most readily available these days.

Hugh’s co-writer was Edward “Eddie” Pola. An American, he would later achieve great success in the States  working with George Wyle (they wrote “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”). He was in England throughout the 1930s and acted in films as well as recording (by the standards of the day) slightly risque songs such as “I Want to Be A Nudist” and “The Gigolo’s Wedding“. He also performed comic monologues parodying various musical genres. There are some Pathe short films online – but I can’t get any sound on them.

Most of Hugh’s time was taken up with the long residency at the Blue Lantern. This is the Hugh whose fans included Tom Driberg and Frederick Ashton and who Jocelyn Brooke, wittily but rather acerbically, turns into a symbol of the “louche” set. However, I think there were other projects.

Hugh had been providing music for revues since 1928 (“Quicksilver” and “Miss 1928”) and continued to do so. It seems he collaborated with Billy Milton’s partner Billy Noble at some point. He also wrote music for Douglas Byng and may have accompanied him in his nightclub act and possibly on record. Wade composed a score for Byng’s lyrics in a one-off revue that also starred Ernest Thesiger. I think it was probably “Past Bedtime”, a charity cabaret ball at the Savoy Hotel. Attendees were invited  to “Come as we were when we were very young”, another example of that fondness for infantilism among some elements of the Bright Young Things.

Hugh had other residencies apart from the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel. A notice in Flight International 1932 reads  “Every Sunday evening a dance will be held, and everybody is cordially invited ; arrangements have been made for Mr. Hugh Wade to be at the piano until further notice”. This is likely to have been at the Brooklands Aero Club or the Stag Lane dance pavilion, both popular with motor car and plane enthusiasts, but I haven’t been able to  pinpoint the venue as yet. The Royal Aero Club which published Flight International  also met at the Hambone in Ham Yard (next to the Blue Lantern) so it might have been there.

So it was a rather fuller professional life than one copyrighted song might indicate. On to 1936 and two prestigious projects.


A Virgin in Mayfair

I hope this doesn’t mean that I am going to have to wade through the entire oeuvre of Dame Barbara Cartland but if this is not a description of  somewhere like the Blue Lantern then I’ll eat my Green Hat.

“We went to several clubs and then on to the most extraordinary place called the Blue Lamp Club, which was all done up with red, and steel chairs, against white concrete walls.

The only decoration on the walls was a huge fresco of a naked man and a woman, and everyone kept  saying how thrilling it was to be there, and how they ought not to have come.

I could not quite see why, for it seemed to me frightfully dull.

The band was good, but the women were all in tweedish clothes, mostly with berets on very straight hair, and hardly made up at all.

They seemed to take no interest in the men, who were quite amusing, for they had absolutely fantastic clothes – red or black shirts, and yellow spotted ties.

One who was in evening dress had a huge orchid in his button-hole, and the most lovely jewelled ring. But they all seemed rather languid – not half as gay as some of the places I had been to on London.”

If anyone asks you how the term “Gay” has mutated over the years, I suggest you show them this marvel of misapprehension.

Barbara Cartland 1901-2000

The above passage comes from the exquisitely, if, in the light of what we now know about the saintly Barbara, inaccurately entitled “A Virgin in Mayfair” which appeared in 1932, the year of Elvira’s trouble with the law. It is as badly written as prejudgement would lead you to suspect but does contain an array of detail and commentary. both incidental and accidental, which is highly enlightening.

The novel tells of the journey of a young debutante through London society sometime in the mid-Twenties. It makes a sharp distinction between Mayfair (fun but essentially respectable) and Chelsea (louche and sinister). The heroine is at home at The Embassy, Quaglinos and the Cafe De Paris, but distinctly ill-at-ease at Bohemian parties in Chelsea or in after-hours clubs off Piccadilly. Elvira’s “sin” was that, as with many of her circle, she made no such distinction.

Cartland, who served her time as a Gossip Columnist and whose early and books plays had been considered “borderline” immoral, knew something of the world she wrote about in these years. Whether that justifies her prefatory comments to the 1976 reissue  -” The Night Clubs and most of the people in the story were real and the atmosphere is correct.” – is open to question. Modesty, other than that of the sexual variety, was never her strong point.

Quaglino’s today

As Cartland’s Deb era was the early 20s, this would seem to discount the Blue Lantern as the inspiration for the “Blue Lamp” night-club. However “Quags” only got going in 1929, so she seems to have kept in touch with later developments and, yet again, those steel furnishings point towards the end of the decade. The description of the club’s regulars, though seemingly devoid of insight,  corresponds pretty well with the more knowing reminiscences of Jocelyn Brooke and Anthony Powell.

I’ll delve into other portions of the book later but for now I leave you to speculate as to who the real-life models of those be-tweeded and beret wearing women might have been and which young men on the night-club circuit wore such flamboyant outfits.

Clubs – Ham Yard

Ham Yard, opposite Great Windmill Street in Soho, holds a special place in the history of English club culture. Most famously, it housed the Scene club in the early sixties. The Scene was for many of that generation the Mod club, much written about and still fondly remembered.To a Drinamyl-driven audience, Guy Stevens, the DJ, played the mix of Soul and R&B  that comprised the essential Mod soundtrack and, through his involvement with Sue records (UK),  acted as proselytiser and publicist for the music.  Along with the Flamingo on Wardour Street (blacker, jazzier) and Le Duce on D’Arblay Street (gayer, more Motown-oriented), the Scene was one of those essential spaces that permanently altered the musical and social landscape of post-War England.

However, for all the much vaunted newness of the Modernist movement, the Scene was actually just another phase in Ham Yard’s long connection with clubs, drugs and nocturnal subcultures.In the 1950s, The Scene had been Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club. Although Trad Jazz gets pretty short shrift in most studies of “youth culture”, it was important (Skiffle and the Blues revival came out of it) and Cy Laurie’s club was as Bohemian and free-spirited as you could wish for. This was partly because it was very dancefloor-oriented and partly because of its popularity with St. Martin’s College Art Students. The police saw fit to raid it on a number of occasions.

For more on Cy Laurie see Cy Laurie’s Club

The story goes that both the Scene and Cy Laurie’s were on the same site as the Hambone, which takes us back to Elvira’s era. Here the street numbers become rather confusing.  Ham Yard is always given as the site of the Scene and very often for Cy Laurie’s, but the given address for both clubs was 41 Great Windmill Street , which as Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms and Mac’s Dancing Academy had been around since the 1920s. Curiously, London’s early Modern Jazz venue, Club 11, was in Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms (briefly Moffats Club). Club 11′s existence was short-lived (1948-50)  due to a much-publicised drugs raid. I assume it was the same space but jazz histories give the address as 44 Great Windmill Street. The whole area is so small and a bomb in World War 2 had damaged one side of Ham Yard so we are probably talking about one place –  but it is all a little puzzling.

Club 11 1949

Things get even more complicated when we get back to the 20s and 30s. Ham Yard was apparently  home, simultaneously, to at least ten (!) clubs. Apart from the Hambone (15 Ham Yard) and the Blue Lantern (14), these included  Freddy Ford’s New Avenue, The Pavilion,The Top Hat, Mother Hubbard’s,The Morgue, The Oak ( according to James Laver) The Last Club and the Windmill (according to Horace Wyndham) and, according to one account, Douglas Byng’s The Kinde Dragon.All of these places had live music and most were open all night. Heretical as it might seem to die-hard Mods, the true golden age of Ham Yard night-life appears to be sometime around 1929-1932 – the era of Elvira’s party set.

The Hambone was the earliest, most prestigious and in many ways the  most salubrious of these clubs. Founded in 1922 as a Bohemian cabaret club, its original membership was almost exclusively drawn from the Arts. Founder member and presiding figure was, inevitably, Augustus John. I posted earlier that Freddy Ford was the owner but I don’t now think that is the case – at least not in the club’s halcyon years. An early review characterised it as “a futurist den”  and instead of the usual “Dancing and Cabaret” it advertised itself as offering “Special Artistic Entertainment”.  Dancing there certainly was though, Radclyffe Hall was fond of stepping out there, which must have surely been something to behold. In the latter half of the decade it had fallen into line and had a regular band, Alec Alexander played there before becoming long-term resident at the Gargoyle. Ethel Mannin also danced there and recalled the place as “chronically Bohemian”. She found it hard to believe that the small and densely packed dance-floor had allowed for anything as expansive as the Charleston.

Ethel Mannin

By the mid-twenties the Hambone started to attract writers and journalists as well as a group of heartier, sporty types. Elvira’s fiance, Charles Graves straddled all three categories and it was on his return from a late night drink at the Hambone that the incident with Elvira arrived with the gun (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/charles-graves/ ) . The De Haviland Aero Club held its annual dinner there and hack-novelist Peter Cheyney made it the base from which he observed the Mayfair-Soho connections that feature in many of his books. The club was now officially “Ye Olde Hambone Club” with suitably retro-furnishings (a mock-Adam fireplace) but it remained known as the Hambone. It still valued its original clientele as, unusually it had a graded membership policy.Artists, authors and journalists paid One Guinea, actors Two and business men Three. There was an entrance fee as well but this was cheap compared to  High Society haunts like The Embassy or Uncles, where membership was Eight Guineas plus entrance fee.

The Blue Lantern opened next door in the late twenties (1929?), perhaps to woo some of the younger element away from what was in danger of  becoming a rather masculine venue. It seems to have pitched itself as quintessenially “Modern”, being one of the first clubs to install Thonet steel tubular furniture. It also very quickly got a reputation as catering for the “more dissolute” elements among the Bright Young People. This meant, as it usually did, Elizabeth Ponsonby and her pals, one of whom was the club’s pianist, Hugh Wade.

Breur Thonet Chair 1929

Barbara Ker-Seymer, Freddie Ashton and Billy Chappell were regulars, Eddy Gathorne-Hardy seems to have spent part of most nights there, Tom Driberg loved the place (incidentally,he too refers to Hugh Wade as Hetty Wade), Jocelyn Brooke, Brian Howard, Terence Skeffington-Smythe and Arthur Jeffress were all members. Elvira and Michael were often seen there. Hutch’s lover  Zena  Naylor brought along Evelyn Waugh one night (“very squalid” he wrote in his diary) and Anthony Powell met Tallulah Bankhead (briefly) at the club. All in all, it does seem to merit the status that D.J.Taylor gives it in “Bright Young People” as one of the key hedonistic spaces of the era.Furthermore, given the inter-changeability of the clientele, I’m sure the Blue Angel was in some way an offshoot of the Blue Lantern.

But what of the other establishments in Ham Yard?

Firstly, although Roger Gardiner recalls seeing Hutch perform at the “Kind Dragon in Ham Yard”, this club, run by Douglas Byng, was almost certainly in St Martin’s Lane.” – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a guest spot at the Blue Lantern he was referring to. Like Hutch, Byng was a favourite of the BYP and may also have had a residency or played in Ham Yard.

But probably not at The Morgue.  According to Jerry White, this was a venture run by “Dalton Murray” after Murray’s club on Beak Street closed temporarily. The owners of Murray’s were Percival “Pops” Murray and Jack May so I’m not sure about “Dalton”. Kate Meyrick’s first club was Dalton’s on Tottenham Court Road so there may be some collapsing of names here. White also mentions a club in Great Windmill Street, The Blue Peter, decked out like a battleship. (White London in the 20th Century). The Morgue sounds even more startling the with the receptionist dressed as a nun, coffins for tables and the waiters sporting devils’ horns. All very proto-Goth and disappointingly tacky – I’d like to think Elvira and her crowd stayed well clear.

Of the rest, Freddy Ford’s New Avenue Club was the most notorious. Known as the Havinoo  to its patrons, it was essentially a hang-out for Soho’s army of criminals, prostitutes and wide boys. The club and its owner feature regularly in court cases throughout  the period – fights and the contravention of licensing laws being the norm. Ford, depending on which account you read, was either an affable rogue or a putative “King of the Underworld”. His long career included convictions for  burglary and receiving stolen goods, but it was as a club-owner and a renter of rooms for prostitution that he made his fortune. At some time or other, he had a share in all the clubs around Ham Yard and may have owned The New Hambones, as the Hambone became in the Second World War.  Significantly, the club was found to be breaking licensing laws in that period.

Racetrack Gang including various Sabinis, Billy Kimber and the MacDonalds

The fact is that Ham Yard generally was a centre of villainy. Throughout the 1920s a series of fights took place there. These, all known as “The Battle of Ham Yard” were to settle disputes between which London gang would have first pickings of the many illegal and semi-legal businesses that bloomed in Soho, not least because of the plethora of night-clubs. Various Sabinis and Cortesis, Billy Kimber’s Brummagem Boys, gangs from Hackney, Kings Cross, Paddington, Hoxton and Elephant and Castle all settled scores with coshes and razors in Ham Yard.

All of which begs the question as to what overlap was there between the louche but largely Upper Class Overground world of the Bohemians and the real Working Class Criminal Underworld? By and large, the two groups would have kept to separate venues but the proximity is interesting. Some of the predilections of the Smart Set would have been of advantage to the Soho gangs. Most forms of betting were then illegal and we know that Michael Stephen was a heavy gambler (and he was surely not the only one). Cocaine and other drug use might also have been a point of crossover. Homosexuality (and its concomitant terror, blackmail) would have played a part.  As far as Soho’s most famous vice is concerned, perhaps he “Piccadilly tart” who arrived with Elizabeth Ponsonby for a drunken weekend at her parent’s house was first encountered in Ham Yard.

Elizabeth Ponsonby and husband

Then there was the “Arminian”  cafe,  a Bohemian haunt on the corner of Great Windmill Street (Epstein dined there) which was also used by gangsters and prostitutes. The same was true of the “Harmony” (the same place, I’m guessing) in the 50s. Modernists and Trad Jazzers argued the respective merits of Dizzy Gillespie and Kid Oliver while the dangerous Jack Spot looked on. Clubland and Criminality have never exactly been strangers so it seems not unreasonable to assume more than a passing glance  took place between the wilder young things and the extensive Wide  community that dwelled in, if not the same precise space, then the club next door. Kate Meyrick boasted that gangsters and lords sat next each other at her clubs. She exaggerated – but not perhaps by much.

Hugh “Hetty” Wade

I am currently reading, with much enjoyment,  Julie Kavanagh’s biography of the dancer and choreographer, Frederick Ashton.

Ashton, though reputedly less wild than many, was part of the Chelsea Bohemian crowd and could number Edward Burra, Barbara Ker-Seymer, Billy Chappell, Marty Mann and Olivia Wyndham among his friends and acquaintances. He also danced the Charleston with Brenda Dean Paul and met Brian Howard in Toulon. He, therefore knew a goodly number of Elvira’s party crowd and this is borne out by an anecdote concerning  Hugh Wade and, of all people, W.B.Yeats.

In 1935, Yeats was entering a final phase of creative energy, supposedly brought on by various rejuvenation treatments. He was also worried about his spoken delivery, and  believed Ashton, who had been working with Yeats’ then girlfriend, the actress Margaret Ruddock (aka Margot Collis), could help him.

Ashton was palpably unenthused by the whole encounter and found Yeats’ poetic diction forced and generally beyond redemption.On at least one occasion, after he had pointed out Yeats’ shortcomings, only for the great poet to begin again, Ashton admitted  that “he would be “bored stiff” and impatient to join his friends at the Blue Lantern  in Ham Yard, a popular club which had a dance floor and Hugh (Hetty) Wade playing the piano.” (Secret Muses p179)

This is a delightful snippet and indicates that the Blue Lantern was still going strong in 1935 ( I had thought otherwise) and that Ashton was very much part of the Blue Lantern (and hence Elvira’s) circle. Let us remind ourselves of Jocelyn Brooke’s description of the clientele

“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) .

It also tells us that Elvira’s friend Hugh Armigel Wade, to whom the adjective “epicene” is customarily appended, was known as Hetty to his mates, which I find strangely endearing. If it refers to Hetty King, then it is even better, summing up what Nerina Shute called the “ambisextrous” world they all inhabited.

Hugh Wade and Elizabeth Ponsonby

Hetty King was the most talented of the male impersonators that thrived in the last great days of Music Hall. She was particularly popular in World War One and we know that part of Hugh Wade’s repertoire was a medley of sentimental songs from that period, the horrors of which were probably responsible for the whole, and thus reactive, Bright Young culture. Less seriously, Hetty King’s most famous song was “All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor”, which was to become the inter-war camp equivalent of “It’s Raining Men”.  Sailor and Matelot outfits were, unsurprisingly, the most popular “Drop of a Hat” fancy-dress costumes for “Smart Set” parties of the period.

I’ll post more on Frederick Ashton soon, as he seems a likeable fellow and the importance of Ballet and Dance to the Modernism that Elvira’s set embraced has been under-estimated – Diaghilev, Bakst et al being every bit as significant as Eliot and Pound. But a couple of connections/coincidences relating to Yeats are worthy of immediate mention.

Yeats’ rejuvenation treatments relied on the quackery of Serge Voronoff (monkey-gland transplants) and Eugen  Steinach (vasectomy). Voronoff  had been briefly married to “Jo” Carstairs ‘ mother ( Carstairs was allegedly at the William Mews cocktail party, her girlfriend Ruth Baldwin definitely was).

Margot Ruddock, Yeats’ young lover (she was 28, he 69) was a tragic figure – a manic-depressive whose periodic breakdowns culminated in suicide at the age of 44. Though a muse and collaborator, her relationship with Yeats was short-lived and she was replaced in the poet’s affection by the usually sensible Ethel Mannin.

A horribly neglected author, Mannin’s books (she wrote over a hundred) contain some of the earliest and best analyses of the Bright Young People and, for the time, very frank debates around the issue of  female sexuality ( check out Confessions and Impressions or Young In The Twenties). She knew Brian Howard and Nancy Cunard but, though very much a Bohemian, represented a much more politicised and less aristocratic strand than that pertaining to Elvira’s world, with which she would have had little sympathy. Not all elements of Bohemia overlap, much as I would wish it so.

Ethel Mannin (by Paul Tanqueray)

To return to Ashton, it says a lot, I think, about the insouciance, arrogance and generational solidarity of the Bright Young People that the lure of the Blue Lantern should be greater than that of the company of the man who was probably the most distinguished and talented poet of the age. I just hope “Hetty” was on form that night.

Freda Roberts

About the time that Michael moved into 21William Mews another ill-fated match was taking place in London, this time between the singer Al Bowlly and the night-club hostess Freda Roberts. Al Bowlly was starting to make a name for himself through his recordings with Ray Noble and his work with Roy Fox at the Monseigneur restaurant, a favourite haunt of Elvira’s.

Freda Roberts was working at the Bag O’Nails, 9 Kingly Street, and other clubs. She had a “wild” reputation and, according to one source, was introduced to Bowlly at the Lyons Corner House ( where Hugh Wade ended up most nights). Trumpeter Nat Gonella made the introduction, describing Freda as “the hostess with the mostest”. She was red-haired and beautiful and something of a legend among the dance-band musicians (nearly 60 years later Gonella remembered her as “a really tasty bird”). Bowlly may in fact have already known her from the Bag O’Nails as he preferred the “jazzier” after-hours vibe of the place to the standard West End clubs. Some of the surviving Bright Young Things also found the club to their liking and Anthony Powell included it in his novel “Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant”.

The marriage did not begin auspiciously, as, in an echo of Elvira’s honeymoon, Bowlly found Freda in bed with another man on their wedding night. Within two weeks the relationship was over.

Bowlly went on to become the vocalist of the Dance Band era and a star performer at the Cafe De Paris.He had been sitting in with Ken “Snakehips” Johnson  in the weeks prior to the bombing that killed the bandleader and put the final full stop on that venue’s inter-war reign as the premier meeting place for the upper-class “out on the town”, of whom Elvira had been the most notorious example. Bowlly himself was another Blitz victim when his apartment was also hit shortly afterwards.

Freda’s subsequent career involved a descent into drug addiction and some fame as the media’s “working-class” version of Brenda Dean Paul. Her rueful confessions appeared in the press and in books like J.A. Buckwalter’s sensationalist but once influential “Merchants of Misery” (1956).

There is perhaps a closer connection to Elvira’s world in Freda’s story than simply a metaphorical reminder that not only rich girls strayed from the path of morality and acceptable social behaviour in the 1930s. In Charlotte Bresse’s biography of Hutch, she quotes John Gardiner, a “rich young man” and almost certainly an associate of the “fast set” at the time of the trial. On his, seemingly, nightly round of clubs and restaurants such as Romano’s and the Blue Train, Gardiner accompanies Hutch to the Kind Dragon in Ham Yard – “and from the club next door we used to collect Freda Roberts, a beautiful hostess who married Al Bowlly, the renowned singer, who was bisexual of course.”

The best known club with hostesses in Ham Yard was the Blue Lantern, resident pianist Hugh Wade with members and regulars that included Terence Skeffington-Smythe, Eddie Gathorne-Hardy, Arthur Jeffress and Elvira Barney.All in all, Freda’s world of night-clubs, drugs, promiscuity and bisexual men does not sound a million miles away from the lifestyle of 21 William Mews.

It is worth noting that the Bag O’Nails was a jazz club in Soho and not to be confused with the pub of the same name near Buckingham Palace. The latter would have been more familiar to many of the male “members” of Elvira’s circle as it was the premier place for the picking up, by rich homosexuals, of Guardsmen, much favoured for their availability and discretion. The Soho Bag O’Nails, a key part of British jazz history, is now best remembered for its sixties’ connection with Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones et al, who probably thought they were pioneers in the fields of excess and decadence but were in fact merely continuing a well-established tradition.