Tag Archive: Cecil Beaton

Mrs. Butterworth

One of the attendees at Elvira’s cocktail party is named as “Mrs.Butterworth”. She was not interviewed by the police  and I have no real idea who she was. I know who I’d like her to have been, though.

Working on the assumption that we are looking for someone relatively unconventional, living at a fashionable and/or Bohemian address and with some connection to the “faster” aspects of pre-war culture then I offer you Elizabeth Werner Butterworth as a possible candidate.

She was born in 1907 and was the daughter of the publisher Thomas Werner Laurie. T.Werner Laurie Ltd.  was a very successful company. Its mainstays were books like T.Francis Bumpus’ Cathedrals of series but their catalogue included Oscar Wilde (when he was still a taboo name), Guy de Maupassant ( considered rather racy) and they were the first English company to pick up on Upton Sinclair’s hard- hitting The Jungle. Less nobly, but very profitably, they employed the services of George Riley Scott, whose books boasted titles such as Curious Customs of Sex and Marriage: An Inquiry Relating to All Races and Nations from Antiquity to the Present Day, A History Of Corporal Punishment: A Survey of Flagellation in Its Historical, Anthropological and Sociological Aspects and A History of Torture, all of which inevitably found a sizeable niche market.

Elizabeth, known as Betty, and her younger sister Jean, grew up in a peculiar household. Both parents were petty much alcoholic and her father, a cultured man but a philanderer and something of a tyrant, eventually set up home with a much younger woman with whom he fathered a further four children.

In 1929 Betty married Reginald Butterworth. The couple had met in a pub near to the hospital where, allegedly,  they were both receiving treatment for venereal disease.

Reginald “Reggie” Butterworth will be known to students of Wisden as the cricketer R.E.C. Butterworth.One of the finest amateur all-rounders of his era, he was captain of Harrow School and played for Oxford University and Middlesex. He was also a regular member of Sir Julien Cahn’s XI, the great private team of the age and one as well known for its champagne teas, post-match parties and fashionable female followers as its cricket. He is described as “very handsome and an absolute bounder” by Dick Laurie and Aidan Crawley remembers him at Harrow as a frequent after-hours returnee to his rooms.  Crawley, a cricketer, M.P. and co-founder of ITV, cites Butterworth  along with Cecil Beaton as the two most instantly recognisable boys in the school.Arthur Jeffress and Eliot Hodgkin would also have been contemporaries.

Bev Lyon, R.E.C. Butterworth and Learie Constantine

The Butterworths lived in Chelsea throughout the 1930s,  firstly in Bywater Street and then Paultons Square. At some point Betty moved to France to live with a married doctor and then went to the States where she became a photographic stylist for Good Housekeeping. Her sister,Jean,was a Knightsbridge resident,she never married and  latterly shared a home in Cadogan Street with a woman called either Eirne or Ioani Edwards. Reginald was killed in action in 1940.

Jean Werner Laurie by Ethel Walker 1927

If the name Werner Laurie rings a bell, it is probably on account of Betty’s half sister, Joan. Joan was a journalist and reviewer (books and magazines seem to have been in the Laurie genes) and the first editor of the influential women’s  periodical She (1955 onwards).Equally notably, she and Nancy Spain were the nearest the 1950s got to an “out” Lesbian couple.  Nancy Spain was one of the best known personalities in the post-war media, known to millions as a TV panellist (What’s My Line, Juke Box Jury etc.) and her weekly column in the Daily Express. She also wrote a series of detective novels with a strong gay subtext,for those in the know (see Nancy Spain ).  My favourite work of hers is The Nancy Spain Colour Cookery Book (1963) which, unselfconsciously, evokes the spirit of the early sixties in the same gauche way that old Shadows or Eden Kane records do. Nancy and Joan’s story is told with much relish in Rose Collis’ charming biography “A Trouser Wearing Character – The Life and Times of Nancy Spain.

Nancy Spain with Denis Norden

By a happy coincidence, in the early 1950s Nancy and Joan shared a house in William Mews. It was at Number 20, which was just a garage in 1932. So they were either next door to Elvira’s old abode or it could even be the same address.

Betty lived to a ripe old age. As I said at the beginning I have no real indication that she was around on the fateful night, but I have a feeling that she inhabited a not dissimilar social space and any excuse to mention cricket and early television personalities suits me fine.

Cecil Beaton and sisters at Eton versus Harrow match, 1926


For Whom the Cloche Tolls

As Ethel Mannin, rapidly becoming my favourite commentator on the period, states in Young In The Twenties,

“The cloche hat has become almost a symbol of the Twenties; it came down to our brows, almost enveloping us, but it was not unbecoming, I think, and we liked it; it stayed with us a long time; we wore it with our sacks of dresses and with our mannish suits; we wore it in town and in the country, and at tea dances, and in our own homes at luncheon parties.”

Louise Brooks

The cloche hat reigned for about ten years (1923-1933) and is indeed ever present in  contemporary photographs and illustrations . It had been around since 1908, but it was particularly suited to the new lines in clothing and, especially, hairstyles.Noel Coward’s friend Edward Molyneux has as good a claim as any for making it so popular but something about it (brimmed or brimless) so fitted the spirit of the age that every leading fashion designer promoted it.

Monte Carlo 1920s

It is appropriate then that the wittiest and most delightful pastiche of the modes and mores of the 1920s should be entitled “For Whom The Cloche Tolls”.Although regularly reprinted, this charming satire has slipped somewhat from popular consciousness  but I urge you to seek it out. It is a joy to read – witty, occasionally acerbic and superbly camp.

For Whom The Cloche Tolls: A Scrapbook of the Twenties” appeared in 1953. Its author was Angus Wilson, a novelist whose star has rather faded.The early fifties in English Literature were dominated by authors such as William Cooper, John Wain and Kingsley Amis, whose anti-Dandyism and hostility to all things Bright and Young has been well documented (particularly by Martin Green in his much maligned but very rewarding Children of the Sun). Angus Wilson was once grouped together with these writers but his agenda (and aesthetic) differed considerably.

Always essentially a satirist, Wilson, in Cloche, shows himself a master of pure comedy. It is a light-hearted affair, full of in-jokes and innuendo. The narrative is Gay in both senses of the word. The premise is that of a series of reminiscences about a recently deceased, rich, American woman (Maisie) and her adventures in London and Paris in the 1920s, accompanied by her debutante daughter (Bridget) and her epicene son (Tata). Every iconic marker of the period is mentioned – the Blackbirds Revue, Mews Parties, Bohemians and booze, cocktails and cocaine. It is determinedly nostalgic and very funny.

Equally entertaining are the “photographs” that accompany the text. These are, in fact, cartoons/illustration by the French aesthete and collector, Philippe Julian. Whether recording a Mah Jongg game or Josephine Baker at the Bal Negre, they capture the mood perfectly and have a louche decadence to them that gives the book a certain bite.

Philippe Julian is another name that appears to have been largely forgotten. He does have a “cult” following and there is a very good article on him (and Cloche) here

Connoisseur of the Exotic.

Among his many works, he wrote an informative biography of Violet Trefusis and his book on Symbolist artists, Dreamers of Decadence, almost single-handedly reminded British art-lovers of the existence of that movement. If you see a copy, grab hold of it, it is everything you want a book on Art to be.

There is a drawing in For Whom the Cloche Tolls of Edith Thompson in the dock. This accompanies a passage deploring Maisie’s constant pursuit of younger men.  The great trials that I have been posting about are briefly covered in the text, employed to cruel comic effect while indicating their significance as symbols of the times.

“I suppose when one thinks of some of the tragedies that infatuation with younger men brought in those days – those stupid, passionate letters of that poor feather-brained Edith Thompson and later Mrs.Rattenbury (I remember how upset I was to think how easily she might have been one’s own neighbour – shopping at Harrod’s and staying at quite a smart residential hotel with her own chauffeur).And of course Mrs.Barney, who was quite a friend of Maisie’s. (Such different backgrounds, and yet not one of them disreputable. I’m afraid the horror of the First War affected us all a great deal more deeply than we realized.) When, indeed, I think about some of Maisie’s friends, I’m amazed that things did not turn out worse than they did.”

Mrs. Barney

For me, of course, mention of Elvira is a bonus, but the whole book is bursting with apt and amusing references. There are too many highlights to  dwell on but the more literary minded might enjoy the affectionate but barbed pastiches of Huxley, Bennett, Mansfield and Woolf  that appear towards the end.

In 1953, For Whom The Cloche Tolls was reviewed positively by actual veterans of the 1920s such as John Betjeman but I’ll give Cecil Beaton, notoriously begrudging when it came to praise, the last word,

“Mr. Angus Wilson and Mr. Philippe Julian are too young to have experienced the Twenties, but they are both Fetishists immoderately reverencing that remote period. Together they have created an evocative nostalgic scrapbook. Through the wry and malicious memoirs, compiled by her immediate family friends, lovers and gigolos, Mr.Wilson brings back to life the fun-mad, man-mad Maisie, a red-hot grandmother from Texas, who lived in London, took trips to Montmartre and the Riviera, generously pensioned off her lovers sniped from her daughter, and who with her “curious coarse happiness”, animal spirits and “self-generated joi de vivre” was, all agreed, the embodiment of the Naughty Twenties.”