I have been trawling around for anecdotes relating to Elvira’s and Billy Milton’s friend, Napper Dean Paul – the disreputable but rather engaging brother of the much better known Brenda. I’ll post some of these shortly but this snippet (which, I freely admit, has nothing really to do with Elvira) struck me as so singular and downright odd that I thought I’d share it.
It comes from “The Wisdom of the Gods” by H.Dennis Bradley, which is an account of his researches into the spirit world. Spiritualism was very popular in the aftermath of the First world War and, along with Theosophy, had quite a following in artistic and alternative circles. The book consists largely of supposedly verbatim reports of seances, most of which took place in Chelsea, in the years 1924 and 1925.
H. Dennis Bradley
“Mr. John De Forest has a dramatic experience: Theodora giving him a message to “Napper “—The spirit of T. W. H. Crosland tries to speak and fails—The author is satisfied
January 12, 1925
AFTER the failure of my first experiment on my resumption of personal mediumship, I had no intention of holding a further séance until a full week had elapsed. On this day, however, a friend of Anthony’s, Mr. John De Forest, a younger son of Baron De Forest, was dining with us. Mr. De Forest had no knowledge of spiritualism, but having heard of certain of my experiences, introduced the subject and discussed it with avidity. After dinner he was extremely desirous that we should make an experiment. I was not at all anxious to go, but eventually, as my son was also keen, and as he was returning to Cambridge the next day, I agreed.
“The circle therefore consisted of my wife and myself, Anthony, and Mr. John De Forest.
Anthony asked me if I would mind the jazz instruments being placed in the middle of the circle. I told him that he could do exactly as he pleased. The luminous trumpet was, as usual, also placed in the centre of the room. Lights were turned off and the gramophone turned on. Within five or six minutes after the second record had been played, the luminous trumpet was taken up, moved quickly all round the circle and taken up towards the ceiling. On a jazz record being played, the drum and cymbals were played in syncopated time. When Galli-Curci and Battistini records were played, the trumpet was lifted and the songs were conducted. I asked the question : “Was that Palastrina conducting?” and a very loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative.”
Palastrina ( probably not pondering about the arrival of jazz)
“After about twenty minutes the trumpet was lifted and a feminine voice spoke to Mr. De Forest in a somewhat excited manner.
MR. DE FOREST (apparently recognizing the voice) Are you Theodora speaking to me?
THE VOICE: Yes.
THE VOICE: Will you tell “Napper” about this?
As I had no knowledge as to the identity of “Theodora,” or as to whom the name “Napper” referred, I said to Mr. De Forest : “Do you know who ‘Napper’ is? ”
MR. DEFOREST: Yes, it is the name by which we call Dean Paul.
HDB: Did you notice that the “spirit” volunteered this name ?
Immediately I made this remark the luminous trumpet switched away from Mr. De Forest and came straight over close to me, saying: “Yes, I did.”
The trumpet then went back again to Mr. De Forest, and a further conversation was carried on between them.
Mr. De Forest informed me afterwards that Theodora was a young lady friend of his who had died a fortnight previously of typhoid fever. He was greatly impressed by the phenomenon, saying : “It is simply marvelous.”
Annie spoke to Anthony, to my wife, and also to me. I asked her if it were quite all right for us to resume our sittings, and she replied that it was.
The power did not appear to be very strong, and the conversations could be maintained for only a very little time.
After a short interval, another spirit came through in an extremely agitated manner, speaking in a very hoarse whisper which it was most difficult to interpret. All we could get from him was “Crosland “—the name was repeated twice. I tried to encourage the voice, and to get some information, but it was quite impossible, and the luminous trumpet fell clattering to the ground.
I lifted it and then asked: “Was the last voice that spoke T. W. H. Crosland?” and a loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative. We sat for another ten minutes, but nothing occurred, whereon the sitting, which had lasted for about one hour, was closed.”
“Neither the power nor the strength of the voices seemed to be nearly as strong as on occasions of the last experiments in October. At the same time, I was quite satisfied with the results of this second experiment after the resumption, and the point of evidence given through by the volunteering of the name “Napper” was of distinct value.”
If you so wish , you can read the entire book here The Wisdom of the Gods
As far as I know, this is the first appearance in print of the wayward Brian Dean Paul. Given the date, it looks like his nickname predated his career as an opium smoker and morphine addict – I had assumed “Napper” referred to “nodding out”. Whether his friend John De Forest( or Bradley’s son,”Anthony”) became part of his and Brenda’s circle I can’t say. My guess is not, as De Forest became a top amateur golfer (Walker Cup) in the 1930s. He was part of the “respectable” upper-echelons of smart society and gets a mention in Barbara Cartland’s memoirs. His father, Baron De Forest ( Maurice Arnold De Forest – later Baron Bendern) was a wealthy Liberal MP, a keen promoter of sport and an early motor-racing enthusiast. John was the father of Caroline De Bendern, who became the icon of a later generation of rebellious youth when she was photographed in the May 68 Paris demonstrations. She was, like some of her Jazz Age counterparts, disinherited for her act of defiance.
T.W.H.Crosland was a poet, polemicist and an editor of The Academy who was known for his fierce opposition to homosexuality (he’d have loved Napper). He co-wrote Lord Alfred Douglas’ autobiography – where Douglas recanted his wayward youth and launched a lifetime of venom on his former lover Oscar Wilde. Robbie Ross, something of a patron saint to the more aesthetically inclined of the Bright Young People, was a particular target of their bile. It is also claimed that Crosland plagiarised the work of two of Ross’s proteges, Wilfred Owen and Sieggfried Sassoon ( later the lover of Bright Young Aesthete Incarnate – Stephen Tennant). Crosland had died just before the seance took place.
What I really like about the seance is the unlikely arrival of jazz into the world of the supernatural. Daft as this particular instance is, it does indicate how much it had permeated the culture to become, by the mid-twenties, an established idiom and a recognised marker of youth.Of the other musical fare on offer, Battistini was a noted Italian baritone and Amelita Galli-Curci was a soprano whose records sold in vast quantities. In keeping with the mysticism of the evening, she was an early Western advocate of Yoga.
As to the author of Wisdom of The Gods, bizarrely but rather neatly as far is this blog is concerned, he was the man chosen, in 1932, to adapt Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies for the stage. He made quite a success of it. Whether he had any help from Theodora, or others from her realm, is not recorded.