Tag Archive: Constant Lambert


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.

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.

Cafe De Paris and London Nightclubs

The Cafe De Paris was used as the setting for the 1929 film Piccadilly which starred Anna May Wong, who briefly hung out with London’s Smart Set. She had been brought to London by producer Basil Dean after her success in Berlin where she was friends with Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl. Constant Lambert was much taken with the actress and wrote a musical suite dedicated to her but Eric Maschwitz, with whom she probably had an affair, went one better, writing the lyrics to the most evocative song of the era, “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” in memory of their encounter.

Here’s a clip that gives a good sense of the atmosphere of the place (the music is a later addition).

British Pathe is the best source for film of pre-war London club-life although it concentrates very much on the cabaret acts rather than the bands and the dancers. http://www.britishpathe.com/results.php?search=london+cabaret

Here’s a Youtube compilation of some of those clips – fine, particularly if you like the Weston Brothers. The sequences include footage of the Kit-Kat club and Playtime at the Piccadilly.

High Society favourite and resident at Ciro’s, Chez Henri, Cafe De Paris, Monseigneurs, Cafe Anglais and elsewhere, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, sings These Foolish Things