Tag Archive: cars


Arthur Jeffress’ 1933 Rolls Royce

I have mentioned this a  while back but this link has additional information.

Arthur Jeffress 1933 Rolls-Royce

I have rather neglected Arthur Jeffress of late, but I will return to him soon. It has occurred to me that he has been too easily dismissed in various accounts relating either to Elvira’s trial or his place in London social and cultural life. As with Hugh Wade, he could do with a bit of a reappraisal .Fortunately, someone much better qualified than myself is currently working on that very project.

It is true that his vast wealth and extravagant spending do not always make for comfortable reading. However, other aesthetes such as Stephen Tennant and Lord Berners are viewed as merely eccentric and somehow endearing for their indulgences – and there is no reason why Jeffress should not be seen in a similar light.

Arthur Jeffress, Audrey Grace Denison (née Bowles), Michael Sherard, Budge Fraser – the photograph was taken by White Party host Sandy Baird.

His post-War contribution to the Art world, as connoisseur, collector, gallery owner, funder of other galleries and supporter of artists, particular those working in neglected or unfashionable genres, has been sadly undervalued. The list of artists who exhibited at his gallery in the 1950s is both impressive and wonderfully eclectic.His bequest to Southampton City Art Gallery gives you some idea of his taste and individuality and is well worth checking out.

Arthur Tilden Jeffress by Graham Sutherland

 

More about Cars and Women

Women and Fast Cars have begun to form an unexpected sub-section of this blog (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/ and others). In the light of this, the following passage seems worth mentioning.

The greatest motor-racing hoax of all time took place at Brooklands and the novelist Barbara Cartland and a group of her friends very nearly pulled it off. As women drivers became more successful, some wildly exaggerated claims were made about them in the media. Some, like Victoria Worsley, complained that they were continually being accused of ‘flirting with death’ and ‘dicing with their lives’. Even the least glamorous of them were described as “ravishing”, or they were ‘dark-haired, blue eyed beauties’ and everything they said or did was blown up out of all proportions. Victoria told one interviewer, ‘Actually, we are a modest, unassuming group of women, who just like driving fast cars and want to get on quietly with the job of doing so. Most of us are highly embarrassed about all the fuss being made about us. Their popularity, however, was looked upon with a certain amount of envy by some women, who longed to be like them and were envious of their celebrity status.”

Victoria Worsley in MG

“That was why in 1931 a group of ten society women arranged to be filmed taking part in their own private race at Brooklands, but without actually putting themselves at any risk. Barbara Cartland planned the event following a remark a male guest had foolishly made at one of her house parties. She persuaded some of her friends to take part in the event to show off their driving skills and even suggested that the Society Ladies’ Private Handicap might become a regular event at Brooklands. Ten MGs had been borrowed for the occasion, which was filmed by British Movietone News. Princess Imeretinsky was to be announced as the winner with Lady de Clifford acting as her racing mechanic, and they were filmed crossing the finishing line a few feet ahead of the Hon. Mrs Joan Chetwynd, who it was claimed was heavily handicapped because she was the only driver taking part who had previously raced at Brooklands. Third place went to Miss Paddy Naismith, who claimed the distinction of having driven the prime minister on several occasions.”

Paddy Naismith


“Barbara Cartland and her friends got the publicity they were seeking and their hour or two of glory, until Motor magazine in its issue of 1 December 1931 revealed what had really happened. According to the Motor report, when each competitor arrived at the track she was issued with some white overalls and asked to pose in front of a row of MG Midgets borrowed specially for the occasion.
The scene was then ‘shot’ several times by the newsreel cameramen and Barbara Cartland announced over the microphone that they were there to prove that women drivers were every bit as good as men. It was then decided that more still photographs should be taken of the competitors before they got into their MGs and drove off to the Railway Straight, where they were again filmed lining up on the starting grid. The handful of onlookers who happened to be there were rather puzzled that there didn’t seem to be any effort to handicap the cars if it was meant to be a proper women’s handicap, particularly as three of the MG’s, including the one driven by the Hon. Mrs Joan Chetwynd, were supercharged and at least one other was brand-new and one of the latest models.”

Mrs. Joan Chetwynd
“They were even more surprised when the starter’s flag fell and all the cars, with the exception of one, which stalled because its handbrake was still on, tore down the finishing straight and began cutting each other up in a most alarming fashion for the benefit of the cameras. Since a large section of the Members’ Banking was being repaired and there was barely enough room for one car to pass, even slowly, as soon as the cars reached that point they were forced to brake rather quickly. Princess Imeretinsky managed to get into a skid in doing so spun her MG completely round, giving her what she reported later to be ‘a delicious thrill’. Her passenger’s verdict when asked about the spin was that it was ‘too, too marvellous, my dear !’”

Dorothy, Lady De Clifford


“The first part of the filming being over, it was suggested that the race needed a close finish and so everyone returned to the Railway Straight, where they were restarted, and, with the cameras whirring away, shot across the finishing line bonnet to bonnet. Princes Imeretinsky was then hoisted onto the back of her car while the other drivers gathered round. A microphone was produced and she proclaimed to an imaginary crowd that she had ‘derived infinite satisfaction from winning the contest’.
The Motor’s report resulted in a spate of letters condemning the event.. Some blamed the Brooklands authorities for allowing it to take place, while others complained that it made women look foolish and was an insult to the genuine women racing drivers. One reader asked whether the ‘ so called society ladies’ had expressed shame over their silly Brooklands escapade.”

from John Bullock, Fast Women. The Drivers who Changed the Face of Motor Racing Robson Books ( 2002 )

There are still sources which dispute that this was a hoax, but, whatever the truth, the episode did not help the image of women racers of whom there were many and who had a keen following , not least among female sports fans such as Elvira.

Elvira had, of course, a more personal interest in this event as the “winner” of the race was her sister, Avril ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/elviras-little-sister/ ). Not only that, Princess Imeretinsky’s partner, Lady De Clifford, was Dorothy Meyrick, the daughter of “The Queen of The Night Clubs” and regular Holloway inmate, Kate Meyrick. I”m not sure if Elvira had much to do with the Meyrick clubs but she would have,at least, been an occasional visitor and was possibly acquainted with some of the daughters, all of whom seem to have married into “Society”.

Dorothy’s husband was a keen racing-driver and was the last person to be tried “by his Peers” in the House of Lords – after he had been involved in a head-on collision and the other motorist died. He was acquitted, but it rather ruined his public profile as the leading campaigner for the imposition of speed limits on the public highway. For more see http://everything2.com/title/Edward+Southwell+Russell%252C+26th+Baron+de+Clifford.

Kate Meyrick, daughters and friends, celebrate her release from Holloway

Brooklands, with its banked track was one of the iconic places of inter-war modernity. Women racing drivers who competed there epitomised everything associated with the changes in gender roles, actual and perceived, that is such a feature of the Bright Young Era. Here are a couple of Britis Pathe newsreels from the time. The Movietone film of the Barbara Cartland stunt is still in existence but does not appear to be on-line.

Brooklands Ladies Race 1931

Women Speed Queens 1932

Eve at the wheel

a good blog on the history of women racers is this one

http://speedqueens.blogspot.com/

Elvira’s Delage and Albemarle Street

Among the items that the police catalogued in Elvira’s bathroom (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/elviras-reading-matter/ ) was a business card from J.Smith and Co Motor Agents.  They operated from 28 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, and held the concession for the importation of the French luxury cars, Delage. Given Elvira’s love of her model and her regular scrapes and crashes, she was undoubtedly a very valued customer.

The Delage was a very apt car for Elvira to own. Everything French, to Elvira and many of her set, signified pleasure and panache. Paris, Cannes and Toulon were Elvira’s regular haunts and French style, in shows, fashion or design, was a matter of wonder and worship. The Delage cars were both fast and chic (as well as being reassuringly expensive). The car had come to prominence partly through a 1920s’ motor-racing rivalry with Hispano-Suiza (whose London agents were also in Albemarle Street) and partly through a series of seductive Art Deco adverts in the fashionable magazines of the day

.

J. Smith and Co. capitalised on this and, being situated where they were, were ideally placed to market the vehicles to Mayfair and Knightsbridge’s wealthy inhabitants. I don’t suppose their turnover was enormous but then it would not need to have been. Exclusivity was part of the charm.

I can’t be absolutely positive of this, but Delage cars do seem to have had a particular appeal for female drivers. Many of the photographs from the 1930s show the car next to a pretty young woman but, unlike the more familiar “cheesecake” models of the 1950s and 1960s, many of these women look as if they might actually own the car. The combination of privilege, social freedom and sexual independence discernible in these images is not , I think, accidental.

In England, some of these associations might be down to a woman whose exploits Elvira (a keen sports fan) would have certainly followed. About the time Elvira purchased her Delage, the Queen of Brooklands was the diminutive Kay Petre, then the best known female racing-driver in the country. In the early thirties, the much-photographed Petre drove a Delage.

Kay Petre (1903-1994)

Here are some more examples. The emphasis is on glamour and modernity in equal measure. The wealthy young woman in a sports car is a key iconic image of the inter-war years and Delage, who essentially fitted racing-car quality engines into luxury bodies, enthusiastically fed, and fed upon, that image.

The gender and class politics of the relationship between women and automobiles in the eras before mass car ownership are complex and fascinating. Machines and technology generally were then, as to a great extent they are now, seen as belonging to the male domain. Women in charge of powerful cars  presented a challenged a whole series of accepted hierarchies. This resulted in some very recognisable “new” stereotypes.On the one hand you have the “masculine women” – figures such as Elvira’s friends Joe Carstairs and Heather Pilkington – then you have the “Iris Storm” characters, whose taming of the “male beast”, the car, symbolised their own (hetero)sexual freedoms but also hinted at voraciousness and promiscuity. Funnily enough, Elvira can make claims to represent aspects of both “tendencies” These and other matters are discussed in two books on the history of women and the motor car

Eat My Dust -Early Women Motorists

The Car and British Society – Class, Gender and Motoring 1896-1939

I ought to mention that one aspect of Delage’s English advertising campaign was that the car was both fast and safe. In Elvira’s case, this obviously fell on deaf ears.

For more on Elvira and cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/ and https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/princess-karolyi-and-more-car-crashes/

Albemarle Street has other connections with Elvira, some actual and some coincidental. Staying with the motor trade for a moment, Sir Malcolm Campbell had a car sales venture there in the early 1920s, during which time one of his financial backers was Joe Carstairs.

The nightclub “Uncle’s” was situated in Albemarle Street. Known as “Nunky’s” to the Bright Young People, who  had an annoying fondness for infantilising the language, it was a favourite watering-hole of Charles Graves and he would have doubtless taken Elvira there during their ill-fated engagement.

Uncles Club 1929

An earlier sexual scandal, one which still resonated among Elvira’s friends, had started at the Albemarle club (No.13). This was where the Marquis of Quensberry left his calling card for Oscar Wilde (“the posing somdomite”), thus provoking the libel action which was to destroy Wilde’s career. Other literary connections could be found at Murray’s (No.50), publishers of Lord Byron and later John Betjeman.

Brown’s Hotel is also on the street (No.33). The remarkably unchanged Brown’s was the real-life inspiration for Agatha Christie’s  At Bertram’s Hotel  in which the murderer is a young woman named Elvira. All very psychogeographical, I feel.

Brown’s Hotel

UPDATE I’ve just come across these pictures of Josephine Baker. Baker was an artist much loved by the Bright Young People. Elvira saw her shows in Paris. The cars are, of course, Delages.

Countess Karolyi and More Car Crashes

Elvira’s behaviour after the trial rapidly turned her, in the public eye, from a figure of some sympathy into an object of scorn and disapproval. Rumours of a party at the Berkeley Hotel on the day of the acquittal did not help nor did the photographs of her smiling broadly on her return, the following day, from a hairdresser’s appointment. Her beloved and expensive car also seems to have caused offence.

More damaging was a ghost-written article, promising to be the first in a series, which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on July 10th. A lurid piece, printed together with what purported to be Michael Stephen’s diary, it opened with the phrase “I write in tears” and went downhill from there. It said much about her great love for the deceased but did not allude to the “wild” lifestyle that the public wanted to hear about and which it saw as at the bottom of the tragedy. Elvira was simply not contrite enough nor did she admit to breaking any moral codes. The backlash was swift, questions were asked in Parliament and no more articles appeared.

Elvira left for St.Raphael in France at the end of the month. She could not, however, keep out of trouble.Drunken scenes on the ferry and in a hotel were followed by a serious car crash on the road to Cannes. On July 30th or 31st she collided with the car of Countess Katrina Karolyi, the wife of the exiled Hungarian Prime Minister, and herself a glamorous figure on both the French and English social scene.

Mirror Photograph of Countess Karolyi by Andre Kertesz

The Countess, variously known as Catherine, Katrina or Katinka, received injuries to her arm as her car was shunted 50 feet across the road and into a telegraph pole. An unnamed man in Elvira’s car was cut about the face and arms.Elvira was arrested but not immediately charged. As ever her main concern was her mother’s reaction. Fortunately the Countess was not, as first thought, critically injured and the story was rather buried at home – although the overseas press gave it maximum coverage.

Some months later Elvira was given a nominal fine for (wonderful term) “furious driving”. She was however forced to pay considerable costs and damages. Elvira was not present at the hearing. She was according to her parents recuperating in a nursing home after an emotional breakdown.

This, after the murder trial and the barely avoided scandal of the events surrounding the mysterious suicide of Gertrude Gamble (post forthcoming), was, for Lady Mullens, the last straw. Elvira was from now on kept at a distance and on a considerably reduced allowance. She divided her time between Paris and West End hotels and possibly attempted a change of name.

Occasional touches of defiance remained; she is believed to have told the dancers at the Cafe De Paris “Yes, go on and stare. I’m the woman who shot her lover”.  The drinking and drug-taking continued. However, her moment in the public eye, first as the unfortunate victim of an immoral lifestyle then as the personification of that immorality, had passed. Her death in 1936 went largely unnoticed.

The Karolyis continued in exile in France and then London. Katrina became known as “The Red Countess” – both she and her husband had moved politically to the Left, to the extent of being denied entrance to the USA. She died in 1985.

for earlier incidents involving cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/

Of Cars and Car Crashes

Expensive,fast cars – particularly when driven by expensive,fast women – are an enduring symbol of the Jazz Age in the USA and the Bright Young Things phenomenon in England. From the Futurists onward cars epitomise modernity. When driven by women they represent freedom but also danger and excess. They also, given their price, represent ostentatious wealth.

The photographs of Elvira stepping into her fashionable Delage, the day after her acquittal, is the one that most caught the popular imagination. The common interpretation  was that this woman, neither humble nor contrite, was about to step into her luxury automobile to re-commence her wild and immoral life. The fact that she nearly crashed into her successful  (but unthanked) defence lawyer, Sir Patrick Hastings,two months later on a road in France, merely confirmed the image of supreme and selfish egotism.

Elvira was no stranger to car crashes. She had been arrested in 1930 after an incident in Croydon – where she had furiously berated the poor arresting officer – reminding him of her high station in life and threatening to get him sacked. (This behaviour was repeated on the night of the shooting – “You bloody swine, how dare you threaten to take me to a police cell -do you know who my mother is?”.)

In June 1931 – just before Gordon Russell’s  fatal accident (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/arthur-streek/ ) Elvira was involved in a collision in Piccadilly Circus -breaking her jaw and losing a tooth. Her passenger was Brian “Napper” Dean Paul, brother of the most famous addict of the Bright Young People, Brenda Dean Paul.This incident went unrecorded at the time but was resurrected by The Times just before the trial – thus linking Elvira to the much more high profile Brenda – whose exploits and excesses the press had been documenting for years.

Brenda and Napper

In Vile Bodies  the character Agatha Runcible (very much a portrait of Elizabeth Ponsonby) suffers a nervous breakdown after her escapade in a racing car. The sense of ever accelerating speed ending in disaster becomes a metaphor for Waugh’s vision of the inevitable disaster and downfall that will be the fate of the Bright Young Generation. Speed, on land or sea, was glamorous and newsworthy ( Brooklands,  Cobb and Campbell, Cunard Liners and,not forgetting Joe Carstairs). The frequency of car crashes – the inter-war statistics are mind-boggling considering the general level of car ownership – was the dark underside of the new freedoms brought about by modernity.The new freedoms of the road also symbolise new sexual and social freedoms and the car-crash here takes on a particular moral significance. Additionally, post-Wall Street 1929 – the term “crash” acquires even greater resonance.

Elvira’s choice of a Delage was significant. Chic, French and with very rapid acceleration, Delage cars were closely associated both with motor-racing and high society in the 1920s.  Like many enterprises, the economic conditions of the 1930s saw the company’s commercial decline. Hers probably cost a £1,000 or so ( the average house price in 1930 was £590).

For expensiveness and exclusivity however, the Delage couldn’t touch her cocktail party guest Arthur Jeffress’ 1933 purchase – a personalised drop-top Rolls Royce. This one-off is, for those who might be able to afford it, currently for sale.