Tag Archive: cafe de paris


Clarice at The Cafe De Paris

So universally admired are the forms of design and fashion lumped together, nowadays, as Art Deco that it is easy to forget a) that Bevis Hillier’s 1968 book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s was the first to popularise the term and b) that not everyone associated with the era was as fond of it as might be supposed. It was the variants of the style that found their way into the “Suburban” home that came in for most criticism.

Here is Ethel Mannin, in the course of a discussion on her own house and furnishings. (She had moved into Oak Cottage, Burghley Road, Wimbledon in 1929).

” The “hideous Modernism of the late Twenties’ home” was illustrated in a book entitled Interiors by Margaret and Alexander Potter; there is depicted an ugly square-tiled fireplace, a round table supporting a cocktail shaker, a standard lamp consisting of a stell tube surmounted by a square shade, a jazz-patterned rug, on the arm of a chair an ashtray fastened to a strip of leather, a completely hideous settee, a bowl suspended from the ceiling for a centre light, a two-coloured pouffe beside the settee, a dado round the ceiling, under the picture-rail, and studying the whole ensemble you know that the colour-scheme would have been orange-black. “Modernism” interpreted by Suburbia was quite horrible; the dance room at the house of the willow tree was not like that, but rather raffish – or designed to be – though there was the jazz-patterned rug, to be sure, and the pouffe, brought back like the Egyptian runners from some cruise or other. Standard lamps, too, were all the rage, and a cocktail shaker, of course, as essential a piece of equipment for the home as a cabinet gramophone and a collection of dance-records.”

To me, on the evidence above, there doesn’t exactly seem to be a continental divide between Raffishness and Suburbia.

Paul Tanqueray and Ethel Mannin, Wimbledon 1932 – Raffish or Suburban?

If there is one person who today is particularly associated with the arrival of Modernism in Suburbia it is Clarice Cliff. Thanks to “Flog It”, “Bargain Hunt” et al, Clarice Cliff is a better known name in this century than she was during her most creative period (from 1925 to 1935). But her range of ceramic tea sets and figurines did sell well at the time and are synonymous with Ribbon Development chic, of the type Mannin is somewhat dismissive towards. Her designs were inexpensive (then, not now) and perceived to be thoroughly Modern.

Furthermore, if the following anecdote is to be believed, the Cafe De Paris played its part.

“When they arrived at the Café de Paris Clarice was helped from the cab by a top-hatted doorman. She glanced back from Colley to the brightly lit portico of the building. Colley took her arm and steered her through the foyer where the warm aroma of tobacco and scent greeted them. Her fur wrap was taken and she went to the powder room where she adjusted her hair and make–up. Looking at herself in the mirror, she could still not really believe that this was her: Clarice Cliff in London with the boss of the factory she had joined as a lithographer in 1916. She took a small elaborate glass bottle from her purse, dabbed an oriental fragrance onto her wrists, and then headed back to the foyer. Colley beamed at her as she approached. Being much taller he always seemed so completely confident, and she was glad of his arm on hers as they entered the ballroom.

A mass of tables surrounded the dance floor, mostly with just a couple at each, and the hubbub of conversation and cigarette smoke filled the air. Many of the women were wearing the longer slinky dresses that had recently become fashionable; all the men were in evening dress. A stage with iridescent curtains was at the opposite end of the room. An attentive maitre d’ seated them at a ‘reserved’ table.”

(more, in this rather breathless, Barbara Cartland vein, at Clarice Cliff Age of Jazz Archive )

Anyhow, the upshot was that while watching the dancers strutting their stuff to the Harry Roy Orchestra and at the prompting of Mr. and Mrs. Havenhand ,who had joined Colley Shorter and Clarice, the idea for a set of figurines on a Night Club theme was conceived. These were to become the Age of Jazz pieces, as emblematic, if not as practical, as any in the Bizarre range that Cliff’s reputation is largely founded upon. (Bizarre was the name of the line and not adjectival, although some might beg to differ. It was pronounced  Bizz-Air apparently.)

Clarice Cliff (1899-1972)

Given that the inspiration is also said to have come from a Vanity Fair cover of 1926  (by A.H.Fish) and/or from Robert Lallemant’s 1929 Parisian collection, I think we can be a little skeptical about this tale but it has a certain charm to it.

Happy as I am to simply envisage Clarice Cliff at the Cafe De Paris, with Harry Roy providing the music,  the future Merle Oberon and Lady Docker as dance hostesses (as they would have been in 1930), plus whoever else, famous or infamous, was in the audience (was this the night that the Prince of Wales forewent his reserved table in deference to Ethel Waters?), I am also vaguely intrigued by yet another collision between the prohibitively exclusive and the mere popular that this anecdote illustrates.

Merle Oberon (Queenie Thompson in her Cafe De Paris days)

Putting, momentarily at least, issues of social class aside, we surely have here another illustration of the complicated relationship between English culture and modernity.”The English”, we are told, rejected Modernism tout court. The Punch lampoons of Jacob Epstein and the many pastiches of vers libre attest to this. However, away from the Eliot/Pound axis and Bloomsbury in general, the notion of High Modernism versus Mass Culture is hard to sustain.

I know I bark on about this with dismal regularity, but it remains a fact that Modernity and Modernism can be found in all strands of English culture in the twenties and thirties.  High and Low, Elite and Mass, Avant-Garde and Everyday inter-acted throughout the period.Dance bands that originally played only to the very rich, would shortly broadcast from Mayfair Hotels, thanks to the the BBC ,and became the pop stars of the day. Designs for the ballet and the theatre became home furnishings. Avant-Garde artists designed posters and illustrated books. Cross-fertilisation was the order of the day. I offer you the Shell Guides, written by John Betjeman and illustrated by John Piper as perfect examples.

Which brings us back to Clarice Cliff,  a working-class woman from Stoke-on-Trent,  who occasionally enjoyed a night out at the Cafe De Paris and who attended short courses at the Royal College of Art, picking up on Sonia Delaunay and Parisian visual design. These influences and experiences  she  then transformed  into decorative objects for the first-time buyers who populated Metroland and its provincial equivalents. As such, I see her as not untypical of artists of the period for whom Modernism and the Market were not quite the strangers that cultural historians would sometimes have us believe.

 

I’ve linked to British Pathe before but thought I’d mention these two items in the Clubs and Cabaret sequence , as they are of particular relevance.

In 1933 Pathe’s Eve “magazine” ran a series on Outer London Clubs – these included the Bell at Beaconsfield, The Ace of Clubs off the Kingston  By-Pass and the Showboat at Maidenhead.

The one I’ve chosen is the Hungaria River Club at Maidenhead. As stated in earlier posts Maidenhead and Bray were very much part of the West End scene and, in the summer months especially, were popular weekend destinations for both Mayfair and Showbusiness types. The centre of the British Movie business was around there, which gave an added glamour to these excursions.

It’s an excellent clip even if it does feature the obligatory  female contortionist. Pathe was obsessed with them, for obvious reasons. If you only had the newsreels to go on, you would imagine that folk mainly went to Night Clubs to witness these acts (mind you, some possibly did).

The Hungaria was pretty upmarket, and I presume it was owned by the very fashionable Hungaria Restaurant in Regent’s Street. I’m also assuming it’s the old Murray’s River Club under new management. The underlit glass dance floor and the setting look right. Jack May, who ran Murray’s (based in Beak Street) had apparently been deported in 1930 – although a respected and long-established figure on the London club scene he had a reputation as a drug-dealer and something of a gangster.

Anyhow, the Hungaria looks very respectable. The outdoor swimming pool is very 30s rather than 20s and there are the requisite celebrities in attendance. Note a rare glimpse of Eric Maschwitz, who would shortly write the two most achingly beautiful “Mayfair” ballads, “These Foolish Things” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” . The blonde “starlet” is Jean Colin, much seen on stage and screen at the time. Claude Hulbert was, to me anyway, the unaccountably popular “silly ass”  type in innumerable British films of the 1930s. Like his brother Jack, he was an early example of a career founded on success with the “Cambridge Footlights”

Jean Colin

The “Maurice” who leads the orchestra might possibly Maurice “The Sweetest Sound This Side of Heaven” Winnick, a society favourite but is more probably the lesser-known Maurice Raymond.

Hungaria River Club, Maidenhead

A number of London clubs opened out-of-town venues in the period. The most prestigious was the Hotel De Paris at Bray. Fausto Stocco and Martin Poulsen, proprietor and Maitre D’  respectively of the Cafe De Paris, launched it in 1928. They also had Poulsen’s Club at nearby Datchet. The Hotel De Paris was suitably exclusive and offered the same acts that played the Coventry Street venue. There’s a nice piece on its history here, complete with a marvellous brochure from the 1950s. I doubt Elvira stayed there, as she had her own weekend cottage close at hand, but she would certainly have sampled its delights.

Hotel De Paris, Bray

The other clip I want to post is from Ciro’s  in 1932. Again there is too much time devoted to the Cabaret but you get a good picture of the seating arrangements and the clientele (Elvira was a member).The Matelots and general French theme is very much of its time but the best bit is the fashion parade, which is very evocative.

Cafe De Paris 1932 – La Boite A Matalots

Finally, for no other reason except that it amuses me, here is an advert for “Pom” instant-potato made in 1946 by Claude Hulbert and his wife Enid Trevor (also in the earlier clip).  I doubt that Pom would have gone down well at the Hotel De Paris or the Hungaria.

Pom-Tiddley-Om-Pom

Night and Day

Between July and December 1937, a weekly magazine called “Night and Day” attempted to find a niche in a crowded market. It modelled itself loosely on the New Yorker –  although its editorial tone leant towards flippancy and it exuded Englishness in every article. The editors were Graham Greene and John Marks. Greene was already held in high regard by his peers but not yet the household name he was to become. Marks was a Times journalist and translator (of Celine, in particular). Both were, of course, Oxford graduates and the magazine’s air of erudition worn lightly is a familiar one.

Graham Greene

It was not a Bright Young People venture (bit late for that anyway) but with articles by the likes of Patrick Balfour, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly,Peter Fleming, Christopher Hollis, Christopher Isherwood, Constant Lambert, Osbert Lancaster, Anthony Powell, Maurice Richardson, Christopher Sykes and Evelyn Waugh much of its output reads like the 20s’ generation in adulthood – not exactly in their pipe-and-slippers phase but definitely grown-up, wordly and detachedly bemused by the changing cultural and political climate.

Constant Lambert by Christopher Wood

The over-all list of contributors was, in fact, terrifying. Of the regulars, Waugh did the book reviews, Greene reviewed films, Osbert Lancaster handled art criticism, Constant Lambert wrote on music, Elizabeth Bowen went to the theatre, Hugh Casson surveyed trends in architecture and Peter Fleming was the motoring correspondent. Two columns that have a special period charm were Herbert Read’s weekly round-up of new detective novels and A.J.A. Symons restaurant. reviews. Foreign correspondents included Alastair Cooke and William Empsom. Chuck in Pamela Hansford Johnson and Antonia White and illustrations by Felix Topolski and Edward Ardizzone and you have a fair cross-section of what once counted as English “Life and Letters”.

Despite this abundance of talent (and the list could be a lot longer, I assure you), “Night and Day” did not thrive. Sales were reasonable, but advertising revenue fell short of expectations and the magazine’s mixture of humour and critical commentary somehow failed to click with the public. There was a costly court case after Graham Greene had suggested that some of Shirley Temple’s middle-aged male fans were less than innocent in their appreciation of the precocious infant. Equally damaging, was a fashion review that was less than flattering about a company whose adverts featured elsewhere in the journal. After six months the plug was pulled.

So Britain did not get its own New Yorker. In the following year Picture Post did manage a very successful (and very English) version of Life, but it had a far more coherent editorial policy and was much more soundly financed. Night and Day was a (not ignoble) failure but,sadly, if it has any contemporary historical purchase it is only as a small footnote to a number of otherwise triumphant careers.

Topolski cover

Fortunately, you can get a flavour of the magazine from an excellent compilation, edited by Charles Hawtree (1985), which is well worth hunting down. A particular highlight and an element dear to the heart of this blog is the “What’s On” style entertainments run-down.Art Galleries, Theatres, Cinemas, Sport, Restaurants, Cabaret Clubs and Bottle Parties are all listed with brief, helpful comments. Sport apart, the focus is not just exclusively London, it is exclusively West End and thus gives a useful snapshot of how the educated and well-to-do Londoner might have spent their leisure time that year.

I’m particularly interested in three sections – Restaurants, Supper Dance and Cabaret, and one called Bottle Parties. The restaurants listed are A L’Ecu De France,Antoine’s, Au Petit Coin De France, Berkeley Buttery,Boulestin, Cafe Royal, Chez Victor, Cumberland, Kempinski, L’Aperitif, Le Coq D’Or. Le Perroquet, L’Escargot  Bienvenue, Le Trianon, Majorca, Monseigneur, Overton’s, Prunier’s, Quaglino’s, Quinto’s, Salzburg Grill, Savoy Grill, Simpson’s In The Strand, Sovrani and (featuring floodlit animals and the Bamd of His Majesty’s Guards) the Zoological Garden’s Restaurant. Quaglino’s appears to be the priciest (Theatre Dinner ten shillings and six pence) whereas the Petit Coin (in Carnaby Street) is said to be “very inexpensive”. Lunch at the Cafe Royal, a mere three and six, looks a good bet too.

Many of the above establishments are iconic and you will find them mentioned in novels, memoirs and biographies of the period.  Some specialised in luncheon fare, some were cocktail bars (L’Aperitif) and some catered mainly for theatre audiences . Elvira’s favourite, The Monseigneur is remembered today for its music and cabaret so it is important to note that it was first and foremost a place to eat.

London Casino 1938

The Supper Dance and Cabaret entries are as follows  – Berkeley (“goes down with everyone from a debutante to a maiden aunt”), Cafe Anglais (“informal, stage people”), Cafe De Paris (“sophisticated atmosphere, good supper”), Dorchester, Grosvenor (featuring “stunt banjoists”) Hungaria, London Casino (Paris style stage revue -“conversation superfluous”), Mayfair, Quaglino (“midnight Cabaret – Dress”), Ritz (“crowded with the fearfully smart”), San Marco, Savoy  and Trianon. Unfortunately there are no prices listed but most of these places would have required both membership and an entrance fee.

Then we have the Bottle Parties ( “The Private Party system operates at the undermentioned. Order drinks 24 Hours in Advance.”) – Cocoanut Grove (“South Sea Island setting”) , Four Hundred  (“favourite haunt of the rich after 2a.m. Very subdued lighting, supper menu includes Chinese food”), Frisco (“the genuine pulse of Africa, migrating via Paris and Harlem – this is the real thing”), Havana (Cuban band, Rumbas – Breakfast”), Paradise and The Old Florida (“eminently respectable, supper menu and cabaret”).

All in all fair range to keep you busy from morning until very late at night, even if there are fewer fashionable spots than there would have been in Elvira’s heyday. The Nest, The Shim-Sham and other low dives are, of course, not mentioned – Frisco’s is as near as you get. Nonetheless, I am grateful to Night And Day for leaving us with this ephemeral but informative selection of venues. Magazines and journals have been under-used as a source of research into the past but they can sometimes capture an era more effectively than any other medium.

Incidentally,Elvira’s preferred “Entertainment Guide” was the very popular Bystander,  which carried extensive listings alongside reviews and fiction (Daphne Du Maurier got her start in its pages). The Bystander was one of the magazines Greene and Marks hoped to compete with. They may have dented its sales as it merged with the Tatler a year or so later.

Night And Day took its name from the Cole Porter song. In London it was particularly associated with Leslie Hutchinson, who sang it at several of the above restaurants, hotels and clubs. He was still bashing it out at Quaglino’s into the 1960s, but here he is at his peak, in 1933.

Another Party in Glebe Place

There were a number of parties thrown, by various Bright Young Things, in honour of the first Blackbirds revue. Oliver Messel, David Plunkett Greene and Anthea Carew’s brother, Patrick Gamble, organised three of the earliest. One that has found its way into several books took  place on March 10th 1927.

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Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb 1929

In Evelyn Waugh’s diaries he records going to a party given by “Layton the black man” at the studio of an artist called” Stuart Hill”. He comments “All very refined -hot lobster, champagne cup and music. Florence Mills, Delysia, John Huggins, Layton and Johnstone and others sang songs.” At this time Waugh was infatuated with Olivia Plunket-Greene, who in her turn was much taken with Blackbirds and black musicians and singers. Waugh was also seeing a lot of the free-wheeling Zena Naylor and thus her lover Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson. Contrary to some accounts, Waugh enjoyed the music. He was less keen on the social and sexual liaisons between black and white,  which he lampoons (ineptly, I’ve always felt) in “Decline and Fall“.

The diary entry is worth unpicking a little. Layton was Turner Layton, who enjoyed great success in England, firstly with his partner Clarence “Tandy” Johnstone and later as a solo artist. Though his name is rather forgotten today, he was a significant figure and his compositions “Dear Old Southland”, “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” and, particularly “After You’ve Gone” are still performed today.

“After You’ve Gone” (1918) was a big hit for both Sophie Tucker and Marion Harris. They were the first white singers to make credible jazz records – Harris may actually be the first artist to have recorded a Blues. Marion Harris had a long residency at the Cafe De Paris in 1931 where Elvira would surely have seen her. She performed (she was briefly in Ever Green ) and recorded in London from 1931 to 1934 and remained in London throughout the decade, having married theatrical agent Leon Urry. Urry, depending on which account you read, was either the floor manager at the Cafe De Paris or the leading dance host there (his name has also been linked to Cafe hostess and soon-to-be film star, Merle Oberon). Urry and Harris’  London home was hit by a V1 rocket in 1944. She returned to America but died shortly afterwards – asphyxiation, she fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Layton himself became something of a fixture at the Cafe De Paris (and Monseigneur’s Restaurant).  Layton and Johnstone had first played the Cafe De Paris in 1924.Although  they were initially known were known for more uptempo numbers (Way Down Yonder, Bye Bye Blackbird), it was Layton’s sophisticated balladeering  that earned him a place in the hearts of Mayfair socialites. His style was similar to Hutch’s and the two are often confused. However, he lacked Hutch’s sexual charisma and concomitant notoriety. His partner Johnstone did become involved in a major scandal, through a much-publicised affair with the wife of Palm Court violinist, Albert Sandler. Layton and Johnstone found themselves being booed, particularly by provincial audiences, and Layton terminated the act, Johnstone returning to New York and obscurity. Layton proved even more popular as a solo act and was a great radio favourite in the War. He retired in 1946 but continued to live in London until his death in 1978.

Turner Layton

Sandler, another musician in danger of slipping into oblivion, was a pioneer of the much loved and later much-parodied “Palm Court” sound – a mixture of light classical pieces and popular tunes played in a refined classical style.It was he who popularised Boccherini’s Minuet in E, used to great effect in the original, Ealing version, of “The Ladykillers”.

Albert Sandler

Turner Layton’s party was held at 41 Glebe Place, Chelsea in the studio of Alexander Stuart-Hill. This was two doors down from Olivia Wyndham’s mother’s London residence which was to be the setting for a rather wilder “Freak Party”  two years later (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/freak-party-chelsea-1929/  ).

Alexander Stuart-Hill (1888-1948) was a Scottish portrait painter who achieved some success in the inter-War period but is chiefly remembered for a secret engagement to Princess Louise of Battenberg, the future Queen Consort of Sweden and brother of Louis, Lord Mountbatten. Her parents vetoed the engagement pointing to the unsuitablity of the Princess marrying a known homosexual. All of which is slightly ironic, given the rumours about Louis (not to mention Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s long affair with the bi-sexual Hutch). Stuart-Hill had recently painted Turner Layton (I can’t find the image but it was exhibited at the RA spring show) and on the night of the party he asked Florence Mills (the undisputed star of Blackbirds) if he could also do her portrait. The result was this –

Florence Mills by Alexander Stuart-Hill 1927

The picture lacks something of the exuberance and ability to spread joy contemporary reports ascribe to Florence Mills, but it is elegant and dignified. It is also markedly free of the caricature and stereotypical motifs associated with the representation of black people in that period. This I find quite find quite refreshing and I rate it highly (I’m getting rather fond of “conventional” 20s’ and 30s’ portraiture).

Johnny Hudgins, Florence Mills rehearsing on Pavilion Theatre roof, 1926

The other names on Waugh’s list are deserving of elaboration, too. “John Huggins” has got to be Johnny Hudgins (1896-1990), the male comic lead from Blackbirds. He was a legend in Harlem and in France became known as the “Black Charlie Chaplin”. He was often called “The Wah Wah Man”  because of  his ability to vocally mimic the archetypal muted trumpet  sound of 20s’ jazz. After London he worked with Josephine Baker in the celebrated Revue Negre. The reason for his absence from most musical histories may be down to the fact that he performed in “Blackface”. By the 1920s most singers and dancers did not, but comic turns were still expected to.

Fortunately we have a striking visual record of Hudgins as he starred in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi comedy, directed by none other than Jean Renoir (of Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game renown). Sur Un Air De Charleston (Charleston Parade) was made in 1927. It starred Renoir’s wife Catherine Hessling, a noted silent  screen actress who had been a model for Matisse and Jean’s father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the great Impressionist artist.

The film is truly odd and its themes of race, female  sexuality and the future of civilisation would keep a whole conference load of academics, semioticians and cultural theorists busy for a fortnight. Fortunately, it is on Youtube – watch and be amused/amazed/perplexed.

Hudgins was also the subject of a painting, also from 1927. It is more well-known and more controversial than the Florence Mills picture.

Kees Van Dongen Le Chanteur Negre 1927

I am going to post on Van Dongen separately, so will just leave you with this image as yet another reminder of the huge impact that Black performers had on European Art and Culture in the 1920s.

The last person mentioned by Waugh, “Delysia”, was a French actress, Alice Delysia (1889-1979), who was hugely popular on the English stage in the 1920s. C.B.Cochran (who else?) brought her over from Paris towards the end of the First World War. She sang in English with a strong French accent that London audiences found irresistible. They also loved her daring costumes. The Lord Chamberlain took a dimmer view and there were frequent early censorship battles.When the Morning Post disapprovingly commented, “Never can an actress have worn so negligible a dress”, her success was ensured.

She appeared in Cochran’s  Mayfair and Montmartre (1922) but it was her performance of Noel Coward’s Poor Little Rich Girl in Noel Coward’s On With The Dance (1925) that confirmed r heas a heroine for the Bright Young People.She continued to be successful throughout the 1930s, worked for ENSA and supported the Free French Forces. After the War she married a French  Consul before ending her days in a Brighton rest home. Ethel Mannin mentions her in her autobiography as epitomising both the sophistication and the naive sentimentality of her generation of young women (“We loved Delyssia, all diamante and ostrich feathers singing sweetly.”)

Delysia – Mayfair and Montmartre 1922

So, quite a gathering. It is a pity that Waugh did not name the other singers. I think we can assume that Edith Wilson (who the  hard-core jazz fans, such as Spike Hughes, Constant Lambert and Edward Burra) preferred to Florence Mills, was there, and a number of musicians. Such an array of talent – and lobster and champagne too!

Let’s close with party host Turner Layton nine years later. He is introduced by Bert Ambrose and the clip is from the 1936 film “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” . This is the kind of thing they lapped up at Monseigneur’s and The Mayfair Hotel (where I think this is shot),

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.