Tag Archive: Bright Young People


Voices

In the 1969 Sunday Times colour supplement article on the murder of Lord Erroll in Kenya, which would eventually beget the book and film “White Mischief”, Cyril Connolly began his contribution thus,

“One morning, in the last summer of peace, I was lying in the sun at Eden Roc. I used to swim out to the rocks of the Villa Eilen, across the water and then recuperate on my mattress, hired for the season with its coffin sized slab of limestone. Round the corner, invisible, were other slabs and mattresses, each with their locataire, regulars from the villas or the Cap D’Antibes or the hotel.

A woman’s voice floated over the escarpment, one of those never to be forgotten voices, husky, yet metallic, almost strident, a voice of the period, a touch of Tallulah,or, if anyone remembers her,Brenda Dean Paul.”My God, I hate men,” she was saying, “I’d trust my dog more than any man. I’d tell my dog things I’d never tell a man.”

The voice was that of June Carberry, hard-drinking member of the “Happy Valley” set and one of the central characters in the celebrated murder case.

Connolly’s evocative and perfectly fashioned paragraphs have got me thinking about a number of things – among them, the similarities between the “Happy Valley” crowd and Elvira’s world, the importance of the South of France to the mythology of the period and the observational acuity of the rather sidelined author himself. More on all these matters shortly, but for now let’s concentrate on the voices.

Accents, linguistic codes, neologisms and tone of voice were all used by the Bright Young People to distinguish themselves from the “mainstream”. This is a feature of all sub-cultures, high and low. In the BYP’s case these mannerisms became prime markers, more important in some ways than actual behaviour.They are familiar to us today primarily through the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, the writings of Nancy Mitford and the plays (and persona) of Noel Coward.

The high-pitched loudness of the men, the camp theatricality, the baby-talk, the italicised stress on certain words, the fondness for invention and over-emphasis can be found in every representation of the group, from serious novels to the captions below Punch cartoons.Even Cecil Beaton, hardly possessed of the most understated of tones, complained about the exaggerated squeals and shrieks of the men and women who arrived at his home one afternoon – at their centre was, inevitably, Brian Howard.

According to Viva King, Elvira (“Always in Love, My Dear!”) favoured a variant which included a slight faux-Cockney intonation. This, though surely as execrable as it suggests, was not uncommon and was to proliferate in the 1950s among the group of public school miscreants known as the “Chelsea Scallywags”. Derek Raymond’s first novel “The Crust On Its Uppers“(1960)  is written entirely in an unlikely mixture of Etonian argot and Cockney rhyming slang that takes the trend to its limit.

The “husky” affectation is one of the more memorable and long-lasting manifestations. Fenella Fielding carved a whole career in the 1950s and 1960s out of it, enlivening innumerable British comedy films with her innuendo-laden pastiche.Sophistication and sexiness were the aspects that Fielding emphasised, a direct legacy from Tallulah and her epigones.

The metallic harshness has other origins.Upper class authority plays a part, think barking at native servants or the hapless policemen abused by Elvira and others.Mostly, it, and the throatiness, were products of endless cigarettes, gallons of gin and, in some cases, drug use (hence Brenda Dean Paul).

Brenda Dean Paul 1950s

One example that seems to me to capture both the linguistic mannerisms and the requisite vocal timbre appears in Jocelyn Brooke’s Private View. The setting is The Blue Lantern in the early thirties and the character speaking (to the male narrator) is Veriny Chrichton-Jones, a composite of many women inhabiting what Brooke calls “pseudo-smart Bohemia”, including,possibly,Elvira. –

“My Dear,” she exclaimed, in her fashionably husky voice, “it’s utter heaven to see you. That monster Bertie Westmacott was meeting me, and I’ve been waiting here at least a thousand years, and I’m madly depressed. Do buy me a drink – here’s some money,I know you’re broke – and please introduce me to your boy-friend at once. I think he’s a perfect lamb, and I’d like to eat him, do you think he’d mind?” –

Brief as it is, this strikes me as just about as perfect a summation of character through dialogue as you could wish for. The insertion of “fashionably husky voice” seals the deal.

Jocelyn Brooke

I have mentioned Brooke before and will do so again as his absence from the canon of BYP chroniclers puzzles me. I think a post on Eden Roc is also in order.

Update on The Red and White Party

I posted something on Arthur Jeffress’  Red and White Party a while back ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ ) ,

In John Montgomery’s “The Twenties” (1957)  there is a slightly more detailed account of the revelries than that found in D. J. Taylor or Alec Waugh’s account of the night. It does not provide names (Brenda Dean Paul, Arthur Jeffress and Sunday Wilshin were all still alive when the book appeared) but it does give a good sense of the extravagance and excess of the occasion.

Arthur Jeffress and Pals

“The last hectic party of the twenties, the party to end all parties,  surpassing even the Wild West party and the Court party, the final fling of the “Bright Young Things”, started at eleven o’clock on the evening of November 21, in the house of the dancer. Maud Allan, although it was not her party.

The invitation cards had been sent out a foretnight earlier, and were much in demand. Many were stolen from chimney pieces and were later presented  by uninvited, unwanted guests. The wording on each card, engraved in white on a brilliant scarlet background, requested guests to confine their costumes and clothes to the colours red and white. It was to be a red and white party, a “monster ball”, as the young men of the West End called it.

Some 250 cards were sent out, but nearly 400 guests arrived. Their host greeted them in the hall, wearing a modified sailor suit of white angel-skin with red trimmings, elbow length white kid gloves loaded with diamonds and rubies, two diamond clips and a spray of white star orchids costing about£2 a bloom. He posed for photographs holding a muff made of white narcissi, which  newspapers reported had been flown from North Africa, but which had been bought that afternoon in Chelsea. A pair of red leather shoes completed the ensemble.”

White and Pink Star Orchid

“The food at the party was entirely red and white – red caviare, lobsters, salmon, ham, apples (but no pears), tomatoes (but no lettuce), pink and red blancmanges, trifles and jellies. Everything was of the best, and cigarettes were contained in red and white boxes.

The upstairs rooms of the house were empty, and a rope across the stairs indicated that guests were not expected to leave the ground floor. However this did not prevent many people from disappearing upstairs, to descend, later, covered in dust.

Guests arriving at the house found the entrance guarded by Metropolitan policemen, who solemnly examined all invitation cards but let anyone in whether they had cards or not. In those days off duty policemen could be hired for private parties. inside, after being greeted by their host, guests walked over a long red carpet through a vast hall towards three large rooms, en suite, with big double-doors leading from one to the other.The centre and largest room was hung with broad strips of scarlet and white bunting.Banquettes were covered with red velvet. Dancing took place here to a negro orchestra – a sine qua non in those days – each musician wearing white tails with scarlet fittings. The two slightly smaller rooms were hung respectively with white and red bunting, the white room being a vast bar. The red room, furnished with red-covered mattresses, was for sitting-out.”

Red Caviare

” What began as a reasonably formal, although distinctly eccentric, gathering soon developed into a noisy and hilarious free-for-all. Hired servants, dressed in scarlet double-breasted coats with large white buttons, struggled among the seething, jostling, swaying, shrieking mass of dancers and drinkers. The orchestra, overwhelmed by the noise, played louder and louder; the rooms became thick with smoke and the smell of scent.

No whisky was available, only champagne, white or red win, or gin. There were plenty of bottles for everyone. The kitchen was stacked high with crates of liquor and boxes of hired glasses. Some guests mixed the drinks and gulped them down; then mixed their dancing partners. The huge room became a medley of red and white sailor suits, white dresses and sashes, red wigs, long  white kid gloves, pink hats, and even false red noses. Red and white “nuns” danced with men dressed as exotic birds with elaborate feather head-dresses, men danced stripped to the waist, wearing red sailors’ bell-bottom  trousers; a man dressed as Queen Elizabeth, wearing a red wig, sat in the hall solemnly playing Abide With Me on the organ.”

” At about half past one a girl had to be prevented from pulling the hair of another woman who was attempting to get herself a drink. Half-full glasses and bottles stood all around, under chairs, behind curtains, under tables. The girl was wearing only a choker of pearls ansd a large red and white spotted handkerchief  fixed around her middle by a thin white belt. People wearing more clothes found it  almost unbearably hot.

Hair Puller  – Brenda Dean Paul

Hair Pullee – Sunday Wilshin

The party finished with the dawn, long after the last policeman had finished guarding the doors and had gone home. It was afterwards estimated that the evening had cost about £500.”

Though it takes a suitably moralistic tone and reads like something cobbled together from a mixture of newspaper reports and  imaginative licence, there is a hint of insider knowledge here. I don’t know much about John Montgomery apart from the fact that he wrote a lot of books. This one is dedicated to Hugh Wade’s sometime musical collaborator, Collie Knox (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/hugh-wade-the-savoy-orpheans-and-collie-knox/ ) and there was an old chap who was supportive of the Gay Liberation Movement in Brighton in the 1970s of that name.  I think he might have been an attendee.

The £500 (£25,000 today) is, if anything,  an under-estimate. The most prominent “Negro” orchestra in London at the time was Noble Sissle’s outfit, resident at Ciro’s, and they alone would have cost a few bob. I presume Queen Elizabeth was Hugh Wade but hope not – Abide With Me is rather naff in comparison to Body and Soul, a rendition of which Wade is supposed to have performed on said organ.

If nothing else, I like this piece because the room for “sitting-out” is the earliest example I know of a “Chill Out Space”, the presence of which has greatly enhanced the club scene since the 1980s. As for the political and moral implications of this event, I will leave that for future discussion.

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.

Blackbirds Revue of 1926

Throughout the inter-War period moralists, puritans and prudes found much to deplore. The objects of their opprobrium were often reduced to key symbols of decadence, the very mention of which sufficed to demonise a whole series of, often though not always, innocent activities.

Elvira’s trial saw this process go into overdrive. Every phrase associated with her world  became a symbol of waywardness. As we have seen  “Cocktail Party” was one useful catch-all term for the new degeneracy (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/cocktail-parties/ )  . Equally, the very word  “Nightclub ” carried with it a sense of wickedness much exploited by the press and popular literature. As what would now be called “Gender Roles” caused endless worry and the term “Flapper” had been imported to indicate all that was untoward regarding that particular social crisis. “Bright Young Thing” had largely replaced that term by 1932 but the meanings, as far as the strictures on female behaviour were concerned, remained little altered. A closely associated panic developed around  “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”, of whom Elvira’s gang had more than its share.

Most famously,Clothes and hairstyles became highly politicised in the era. Every visible sign  was mined for its contribution to “Immorality”, by which was meant sex, newly invented apparently. Even the seemingly neutral term “Youth”, not for the last time in the twentieth century, became a suspect category. And let us not forget drug use, specifically “Cocaine,” any hint of which was guaranteed to strike vicarious frissons of terror among the respectable classes.

But there was one word that managed to encapsulate all that was deemed disruptive, chaotic , dangerous and modern in the above fears and fantasies. That word was “JAZZ”. Jazz became the short-hand signifier of everything that worried mainstream society and thus, inevitably, acquired a glamour and a mystique among those who saw themselves as part of the “New Age”.

We don’t actually know what music was played at Elvira’s parties but all the accounts assume that “Jazz music blared out from the record player”, annoying the neighbours and presumably frightening the ghosts of the horses that had previously inhabited the Mews. In the Dance Band era any arrangement with a whiff of syncopation  counted as Jazz – so it is no surprise that artists who appeared to be, or actually were, “the real thing” became heroes among the young record-buyers,  party-goers and dancers of the time.

Jazz  incorporated not only all that might be deemed “New”, it added the twin “evils” of race and rampant sexuality to the mix. No matter how “refined” the arrangements of Debr0y Somers,  Bert Ambrose or Carroll Gibbons might have been, somewhere underneath could be detected the rhythms of an alien culture. However much the disguise – Jazz was  ineluctably  “black” – or in the language of the day Negro or Coloured. In a country still very much defined by Empire and “The White Man’s Burden”, that a musical form associated with “the inferior races” should provoke such hostility amongst the many-  and such adulation amongst the rebellious  few is hardly surprising.

The year of the General Strike, 1926, is of particular importance regarding this relationship between black music and white audiences. In January the first journal devoted to dance-bands and “hot” music appeared, in the spring a painting was exhibited and then withdrawn from the Royal Academy and in the autumn a show arrived from New York that was to become an essential part of Bright Young mythology.

The journal was Melody Maker and for much of its long life it was the only place for musicians and fans to find out about Jazz. It also, from its earliest days, encouraged fierce debate regarding the merits of the music and, indeed, the very definition of “Jazz”. Its combative editor, Edgar Jackson held some peculiar ideas about music and race and was initially, oddly perhaps given the paper’s future promotion of Ellington, Armstrong et al, keen to distance his notion of “hot” music from any association with the “primitive” sounds of Black America.

John Bulloch Souter The Breakdown 1926

The controversy surrounding a painting at the annual RA show particularly exercised Jackson. The Scottish artist John Souter presented “The Breakdown” for exhibition at what was then still an important event within the British Art world. The painting shows a black musician playing a saxophone (and therefore jazz) to a naked, ghostly white woman. He is sat on the broken statue of Classical art, which his music is presumably deemed to have destroyed. Whatever Souter intended, and this work is not typical, he captured in the most melodramatic manner many of the cultural and moral fears of the time. Its themes are those of many a contemporary editorial.

Jackson was not alone in his fulminations. After much outcry, the picture was quickly withdrawn. According to one account  this was on the orders of the Colonial Office which brings an interesting political (and Imperial) dimension to the affair.

On a far more positive note, in September the” Blackbirds Revue of 1926″ opened at the London Pavilion. Starring Edith Wilson, Florence Mills, Gwendolyn Graham and featuring The Plantation Orchestra with its virtuoso trumpeters Pike Davis and Johnny Dunn, the show ran for 276 performances and had the same impact on fashionable London society that the Revue Negre and Josephine Baker had had on Paris a year earlier.

Gwendolyn Graham and Dancers, roof of London Pavilion

Florence Mills

The success of the show, which was not the first black show on the 1920s London stage, was due in no small part to its patronage by the Prince of Wales. A keen fan of dancing and “hot” music he attended, it is said, “night after night”. Very quickly the Blackbirds were taken up by the Bright Young People, attending parties, having flings and in some cases forging lasting friendships.Spike Hughes and Constant Lambert were ardent devotees and Evelyn Waugh, although he would later offer a cynical and rather unpleasant take on the whole phenomenon, was also a “repeat” attendee. A still very young Brenda Dean Paul fell completely for Florence Mills and declared she wanted  more than anything to be “a coloured dancer”. With a nice touch of diplomatic flattery, Florence told Brenda that “she could have been born in Harlem” so well did she dance. For Olivia Wyndham, Blackbirds and other similar shows were the beginning of a journey that would see her live for the best part of 40 years actually  in Harlem.

A version of the revue toured England in 1927 and a new show returned to the West End in 1928 .This introduced Adelaide Hall to an English audience and she would stay in London, living in Mayfair, running a night-club and performing at The Florida, The Cafe De Paris and other Elvira-friendly venues. Other musicians from both (and similar) shows would stay in Europe  becoming part of the pre-war club and popular music scene in ways that remain under-appreciated.

The revues were not without their critics. Plenty of newspapers deplored the perceived “cult of the Negro” that their success generated. In recent years the criticism has been rather different, pointing out the exoticising and primitivist impulses behind much of the white audience’s fandom. The shows themselves relied heavily on a number of crude racial stereotypes which are uncomfortable to modern sensibilities. They have also been somewhat written off by Jazz historians – being seen as lacking authenticity. Fortunately, although no singers recorded, the band made four sides while in London, so we can get some idea of what so thrilled Hughes and Lambert etc.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3YIwCXeW14&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyqqYjVNANI&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G2cLeGWZuU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENK54mmc3Lc

I’ll write more on this topic in a while but, in the meantime, two books are worth seeking out – Jim Godbolt’s A History of Jazz in Britain – an idiosyncratic but entertaining exercise and Catherine Parsonage’s more scholarly The Evolution of Jazz in Britain.

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.