Tag Archive: Douglas Byng


I936 – Hugh Wade and Edgar Blatt

In 1936, Hugh Wade worked on two projects  with the lyricist Edgar Blatt. One was the Revue , To and Fro (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/to-and-fro-1936-hugh-wade-and-the-perils-of-the-topical-revue/ ), and the other was a song for a film. The film was “The Tenth Man” directed by Brian Desmond Hurst from a play by Somerset Maugham. Wade and Blatt provided the song “Night Must Fall” which was sung by Dinah Miller.

Brian Desmond Hurst is something of a cult hero today. This is thanks largely to the quirky but fascinating 2005 biography of him by Christopher Robbins.

Born into a working-class Belfast family, Hurst (1895- 1986) was one of Belgravia’s last great Bohemians. His friends and neighbours included Moura Budberg, Elizabeth Welch and Hermione Gingold. An outrageous bon viveur, he was also a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, his memoirs of which are just about the most harrowing account of war-time atrocities you will ever read.As a director, he is best remembered for Scrooge and The Malta Story although the list is a long and creditable one.

There is a website devoted to his career  here Brian Desmond Hurst.

Edgar Blatt is a less familiar name but, from what I can gather, of interest in his own right. His main musical partnerships appear to have been with Simon Carnes and Nat Ayer Jnr. I’ll do a separate post on Carnes, as he was a most singular character in a world not short of singularity. Nat Ayer Jnr. was the son of Nat D. Ayer, the composer and performer of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” and “If You Were the Only Girl in the World“. Nat Jnr. lived most of his life in Pimlico, south London, and as a very old man was much sought after by popular music archivists as he was a mine of anecdote and information.

Blatt and Ayer provided the score for “Stop…Go”, a 1935 Charlot Revue starring Douglas Byng, for whom Hugh Wade also wrote, Dorothy Ward and the American film-star Mary Brian. Also in the cat were Richard “Stinker” Murdoch and Simon Carnes. Dorothy Ward deserves to be better-known. She was a Variety and pantomime stalwart for many years (more info here Dorothy Ward ). The playboy aviator, Jim Mollison, with whom Dorothy had a much-publicised affair (he was married to Amy Johnson) is exactly the type of chap Hugh Wade would have entertained at his Motor and Aviation club residencies. More on Jim Mollison here  Jim Mollison .

Dorothy Ward

Edgar Blatt was involved in a number of other revues including “All’s Well” co-written with Simon Carnes (again) and presented/produced by Gordon Harbord (the influential theatrical agent who re-named Diana Fluck as Diana Dors and Harry Skikne as Laurence Harvey). Edgar was throughout this period married to Corinna Vereker (Viscountess Gorst) and lived at the very upmarket address of 51 Sloane Gardens. Coincidentally, Corinna’s first husband was the governor of Malta during the period explored by Hurst in The Malta Story.

By 1939, Edgar seems to have tired of the theatre world and went to work for the BBC. During the War he was Transcription Manager for the overseas service, which puts him in the same department as Sunday Wilshin. Both appear in the correspondence of George Orwell. Blatt at this time became part of the Dover Castle regulars. The Dover Castle was the favoured watering-hole of a number of BBC executives, an erudite but rather hearty and sports-obsessed group. The most famous of the imbibers are Roy Plomley (Desert Island Discs) and Bob Danvers-Walker (the ultimate “Received English” voice of Pathe newsreels and innumerable radio broadcasts).

After the War, Blatt worked on the Dick Barton series – for radio and film – and was a founder member of the Lords’ Taverners. He appears to have emigrated to South Africa in the early fifties.

The fourth person connected to “Night Must Fall” is the lamentably neglected singer Dinah Miller. Described as a “rhythm singer”, of all the 1930s dance-band vocalists she was considered the one with the most authentic “Harlem” sound. Her story is remarkable – an Eastender, her mother was a black woman and she entered show-business as a tap-dancer before  becoming the favoured songstress for several of the leading “orchestras” of the period. She moved to Denmark in the 1930s and fronted a number of all-women jazz groups there after the War.

Dinah (Diana) Miller Group

There is more information here http://www.ciscohouston.com/docs/jcc/diana_miller.shtml

So, where is Hugh in all of this? There is no indication that he knew Brian Desmond Hurst, but given Hurst’s fondness for hosting parties,  their paths may well have crossed  – socially as well as professionally.

You don’t collaborate on ( at least) four songs without direct inter-action,  so at the minimum he  had a working relationship with Edgar Blatt. Blatt appears to have alternated between Nat Ayer and Hugh Wade to put music to his lyrics, depending on the required sound.

Singers and songwriters were not necessarily acquainted so I wouldn’t expect much connection with Dinah Miller. He was, though, enough of an aficianado to have been pleased by her recording of his composition.

To finish – a couple of examples of Dinah Miller’s “rhythm singing”

 

 

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Hugh Wade 1928-1935

The Hugh Wade of the years 1929-1935 is the one I first encountered a few months ago. It is Hugh Wade of  The Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel, of the jaunty cap and Bright Young parties, the “naughty boy” who symbolised Elizabeth Ponsonby’s fall from, if not exactly grace then social prominence and of course the Hugh Wade who gave evidence at Elvira’s trial.

On the surface Hugh seems to have abandoned composing for performing (and partying).As far as I can see, there is only one copyrighted tune to his name in the whole six years. It’s a good one though.

“Singing In The Moonlight” (1932)

This was recorded by Henry Hall and the BBC dance orchestra, Reginald Dixon (of Blackpool Tower Ballroom fame), The Melody Boys and Layton and Johnstone. There was also a French version (“Sous Le Clair De  Lune“)  which may be an indicator of the time he is supposed have spent living in Paris but is probably just a sign of the song’s popularity

The Layton and Johnstone version is of most interest to me as not only were they prolific recording artists but they were very much part of the “Smart Set” and its fascination with sophisticated black artists. I have posted about Turner Layton on more than one occasion (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/another-party-in-glebe-place/ ) and think he ought to be given the same prominence as Hutch in terms of 1930s musical culture.

“The Melody Boys” was a popular name and could refer to any number of acts, the most famous being Al Bowlly and his Radio Melody Boys. It’s unlikely to be Bowlly as he has been well served by discographers. As it is on Sterno, it is almost certainly an alias designed purely for that label. Sterno made good quality dance music, often quite jazzy, using London’s leading  dance-bands (Ray Starita, Tommy Kinsman etc.) often performing under alternative names.Sterno records were only available through Marks and Spencer and some are quite rare.See Sterno

The most widely circulated version would have been Henry Hall’s. His BBC Orchestra was heard in every home in England. Several generations of children grew up listing to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” but among the novelty music there were many romantic, if slightly formal, arrangements of the popular music of the day.  Each weekday at 5.15pm  a large section of the British public tuned into listen.”Singing In The Moonlight” is the title of one retrospective Hall CD and is the Wade composition most readily available these days.

Hugh’s co-writer was Edward “Eddie” Pola. An American, he would later achieve great success in the States  working with George Wyle (they wrote “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”). He was in England throughout the 1930s and acted in films as well as recording (by the standards of the day) slightly risque songs such as “I Want to Be A Nudist” and “The Gigolo’s Wedding“. He also performed comic monologues parodying various musical genres. There are some Pathe short films online – but I can’t get any sound on them.

Most of Hugh’s time was taken up with the long residency at the Blue Lantern. This is the Hugh whose fans included Tom Driberg and Frederick Ashton and who Jocelyn Brooke, wittily but rather acerbically, turns into a symbol of the “louche” set. However, I think there were other projects.

Hugh had been providing music for revues since 1928 (“Quicksilver” and “Miss 1928”) and continued to do so. It seems he collaborated with Billy Milton’s partner Billy Noble at some point. He also wrote music for Douglas Byng and may have accompanied him in his nightclub act and possibly on record. Wade composed a score for Byng’s lyrics in a one-off revue that also starred Ernest Thesiger. I think it was probably “Past Bedtime”, a charity cabaret ball at the Savoy Hotel. Attendees were invited  to “Come as we were when we were very young”, another example of that fondness for infantilism among some elements of the Bright Young Things.

Hugh had other residencies apart from the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel. A notice in Flight International 1932 reads  “Every Sunday evening a dance will be held, and everybody is cordially invited ; arrangements have been made for Mr. Hugh Wade to be at the piano until further notice”. This is likely to have been at the Brooklands Aero Club or the Stag Lane dance pavilion, both popular with motor car and plane enthusiasts, but I haven’t been able to  pinpoint the venue as yet. The Royal Aero Club which published Flight International  also met at the Hambone in Ham Yard (next to the Blue Lantern) so it might have been there.

So it was a rather fuller professional life than one copyrighted song might indicate. On to 1936 and two prestigious projects.

 


Harry Gold at The Cafe de Paris

Harry Gold (1907-2005) was a stalwart of the British Jazz scene. playing professionally from the mid twenties until the beginning of the 21st century. In the early 1930s he was part of the Roy Fox Orchestra and very much at the centre of the West End high society club and cafe circuit.

Harry Gold in glasses far right

His autobiography is an invaluable record of the Dance Band years, full of humour and insight into a generation of musicians who wanted to play “Hot Jazz” but had to slip it into sets between the strict-tempo and novelty numbers that were the standard fare of the Society orchestras. It also has a certain critical edge as Gold, an Eastender, observed the wealthy clientele who packed the dance-floor.

Many of the places Harry played were regular haunts of Elvira and her friends. In 1930 he was with Vic Filmer’s band at the Melton Club on Kingly Street, Soho. This club ran from 11pm to 7am and was one of the first “All-nighter” sessions in England. Like so many in its wake, it was closed down after a few months by the police. He then moved on to Murray’s Club in Beak Street, Soho.

Murrays 1926

Murray’s Cabaret Club opened in 1913 and was run for most of its long life by Percival “Pops” Murray” and then his son David. The first manager, and the man who set the tone for fifty years of flirting with scandal, was an American “gangster” called Jack May. May is often credited with introducing morphine and cocaine to the London club scene and although he is unlikely to have been a lone innovator  he was for some twenty years one of the main local sources for recreational drugs. He was an associate of Brilliant Chang, the 1920s’ favourite oriental villain, who was part of Mrs.Meyrick’s club empire – though she denied it. May avoided the headlines but was probably the more influential of the two.

Brilliant Chang

May opened a second Murray’s at Maidenhead, which, strange as it seems today, was a place then synonymous with adultery and general hedonism.Cookham, Bray, Maidenhead, Taplow – all those places along the river were weekend haunts for the more adventurous party people – a much repeated witticism from the era  ran “Are you married, or do you live in Maidenhead?” (the same line was used, in reference to the Happy Valley crowd, about Kenya,) The emergence of British film studios close to the river increased the glamorous pull of the “Thames Riviera”. I suspect that Elvira’s weekend retreat might have been at Taplow rather than Henley, as stated by Viva King, as there is a cottage let to a Mrs.Barney there in 1931, but both addresses meant a certain “licence”.

Murray’s Cabaret Club at Maidenhead had an underlit glass dancefloor and, as Ernest Dudley reminisced to film historian Matthew Sweet, was a hotbed of drug-dealing. “Cocaine was what people came to Jack May’s club for.It was slipped to you in packets, very quietly, when you coughed up the loot.”  Even though this refers to the early 1920s, it is unlikely that the set up had changed much by the end of the decade.

Back in town, Gold was getting used to playing second-fiddle (saxophone, in fact) to the cabaret acts that were the key draw in the night-clubs of the era. The set-up varied little from venue to venue. The band warmed up the guests, played quietly while parties dined – most clubs served food. Then the chorus girls livened things up (Googie Withers started off as a dancer at Murray’s as did future Trade Unionist Honor Blair).

Googie Withers

The cabaret usually started at midnight.The  headliner at Murray’s was Douglas Byng, whose camp act was considered both racy and sophisticated by many a bright young person.After the cabaret the band catered for dancers only and were able to play a  little freer and “hotter”.

Pretty excruciating to my ears but an informative glimpse at a standard, posh night out in the early 1930s.

Harry Gold moved on to the popular Kit-Kat Club, the Monseigneur and the very upmarket  Chez Anglais, all favourite night spots of Elvira’s. He also took part in the short-lived craze for out of town “Roadhouses”, playing at the Spider’s Web on the distinctly unglamorous Watford bypass. By now he was with Roy Fox, doing some arranging and singing pop songs of the period as one of the sub-Crosby style “Fox Cubs “trio.

Roy Fox’ Orchestra had a residency at the Cafe De Paris in 1934 – post-trial but unchanged from the place Elvira visited on the night of the shooting. Harry Gold’s thoughts on the establishment are as candid an insight into how the musicians viewed the clientele as we are likely to get.

“”Following a successful season at the Kit-Kat, we left to go to the Cafe De Paris in Leicester Square, a prestigious venue frequented by the highest of high society. It was a real top hat, white tie and tails place. In a way we felt it was a bit of a “leg-up” because it had been a famous West End spot since time immemorial. The dance floor was tiny and very few dancers could be accommodated. Nevertheless, it would be full of couples moving cheek to cheek, not always in tempo but, certainly to those on the dance floor,enjoyable. The Cafe de Paris was not as large as the Kit-Kat, but it was larger than the Cafe Anglais and included a balcony on three sides of the room….

The cabaret was the main attraction, being assembled from the best artistes in the world, recruited from the Continent and America. The band took second place. We were only needed  to accompany the acts or play for dancing after the show had ended. It was interesting to watch tables being brought from their hidden store to be placed on the dance floor so more and more customers came to be seated in time for the cabaret. Panic stricken waiters, under the eagle eye of the restaurant manager, rushed back and forth with chairs, tablecloths, glasses and cutlery until there was no space left for dancing. All the activity became even more noticeable when, at the end of the cabaret performance, people began leaving in droves, and once again waiters rushed around removing tables and chairs to make way for the dancing to resume.”

“It was a glamorous lifestyle for the people who went to the Cafe De Paris to enjoy themselves. I loved being inside that glittering world. Who wouldn’t? We musicians came from ordinary backgrounds but our music gave us a way into that society environment.But at the same time I was very conscious of the injustice of it all. There were many people at that time who had nothing. The divide between the haves and have-nots was obvious. There was unemployment everywhere. I watched the rich patrons at the Cafe De Paris and thought about it politically. It reinforced my socialist convictions.”

Which is, of course, why the press and the establishment were so troubled by Elvira’s excesses.  She might have made the wider public start to think along the lines of the observant Harry Gold.

Harry enjoyed a long career. As did Murray’s Club,which hit the headlines in the 1960s as the place that employed both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. They were the unwitting triggers to a scandal that heralded a new era but in many ways harked back to, and was dependent upon, the world of privilege that Elvira and her circle took for granted.