Tag Archive: Elizabeth Ponsonby


The following is a picturesque and evocative snapshot of Bright Young rituals circa 1926-28.

“The 1920s were a good period for eccentrics. Self-expression was the note of the day;the rich had more money than ever before, and less inhibitions about what to express. Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies have been taken as satirical fantasies, but they describe a real manner of life with total accuracy. In those years I saw a great deal of another cousin, Elizabeth Ponsonby, who exemplified her period perfectly.The waste of time which took place was prodigious. One was always, in the silly world I moved in at the age of seventeen, dressing up for a party; indeed, one travelled with a dinner jacket and a matelot’s uniform, which we had found out to be the quickest and simplest form of fancy dress.”

Matelot Dress Pattern 1934

“Night after night, there was Elizabeth, often starting our evening with half a dozen of our friends in the Grosvenor Square house of Arthur Bendirs (whose beautiful and silent daughter Babe Bosdari – much photographed by Cecil Beaton – shook our cocktails and helped us zip up our disguises) before we went on to Florence de Pena, or Gracie Ansell, or whoever was the hostess of an evening which inevitably took in a stop at the Cafe Anglais, where Rex Evans sang at the piano, and an eventual eclipse at an unassuming nightclub behind Piccadilly Circle, the Blue Lantern.”

Cafe Anglais 1949

This passage  is taken from The Bonus of Laughter, the autobiography of the writer and long-standing editor of the TLS, Alan Pryce-Jones . It’s a joy to read and has exactly the right feel about it, though one or two of the specifics are a little odd. Babe would not yet be Bosdari and if she was much photographed by Beaton, I can’t find any examples.

Nonetheless, the picture of Babe, pretty, quiet and slightly in the background, corresponds to other reminiscences.Evelyn Waugh, no fan at all, says much the same and Tom Driberg recalled her as, in comparison to Elizabeth Ponsonby, “much more placid, round-faced and innocent-looking, with very little expression in her face, but very beautiful in a way”.The one dissenting voice comes from Elizabeth’s mother, who blamed Babe for some of Elizabeth’s excesses and was none too pleased about Babe’s marriage to and hasty divorce from her nephew David Plunket Grene. Dorothea Ponsonby described Babe as looking like “a forty year old procuress”, a phrase as striking as it was probably inaccurate.

However, as time went on, I’m not sure the Bendir daughter stayed too much in the shadows. Although no innovator, chronicler or artist, she exemplifies a certain mode of existence as well as any of her set.

Babe played a significant part in producing and cementing the image of the BYP as far as the press, the public and her contemporaries were concerned.She achieved (if that is the right word) this through her friendships with other women, her fleeting marriages and her attendance at, and her role in organising, the many parties that still remain central to our view of the whole phenomenon.

Her close female friends, Elizabeth Ponsonby ( a cousin by marriage), Olivia Plunket Greene (sister-in-law) and the incomparable Sylvia Ashley, personified Bright Young Womanhood and Babe was their equal in her dedication to the hedonistic cause. I will say something about Babe’s relationship to all three, but particularly Elizabeth, in the next post. .Her marriages, and her unusual husbands, will also be dealt with later.

 c

Sylvia Ashley

For now, let’s just concentrate on a couple of parties.It is as one of the quartet who organised the Bath and Bottle Party that she earns her place within the BYP elite. Held at St.George’s Swimming Baths on Buckingham Palace Road from 11pm onward on Friday 13th July, 1928, it was the quintessential Bright Young gathering. Guests wore bathing costumes, a black jazz orchestra provided the music and, as D.J.Taylor reports, its “novelty and notoriety” surpassed all of the (many) other costume and “freak” parties. Moralists and gossip-columnists had a field day. If there was a single Bright Young highpoint, this was it.

Brian Howard

A few months later there occurred the other defining party of the period, Brian Howard’s overly-ambitious Great Urban Dionysia. This event, intended to be the ultimate in decadent glamour, was something of a failure, the reality falling far short of the concept. Guests were to come as characters from Greek mythology and were advised to research their designs at the British Museum. Willy King, Viva’s husband, worked there and helped Howard and others choose appropriate costumes. Viva was Sappho, Olivia Wyndham Minerva, Ernest Thesiger Medusa, John Banting Mercury, Mary Butts a Caryatid and so forth. Babe dressed in blue, her outfit modelled on a Nymph from a Greek vase. Her look was a success but many other outfits were over-elaborate and ponderous. Even worse, some were considered tawdry and, in a comment designed to give Howard nightmares, the whole affair was deemed by one columnist to be rather “suburban”.

The 16 inches long invitation, reproduced in Portrait of a Failre, with its list of Howard’s likes and dislikes is very revealing, but even that manages to both pretentious and rather adolescent. What tends to be overlooked is the name of the actual host.

The Dionysia Will Occur this Year

At 1 Marylebone Lane, Oxford Street

(Behind Bumpus’s) on the 4th of April 1929

At 11pm. Celebrated by

BABE PLUNKET GREENE

in honour of the 24th Birthday of

Brian Howard

and because the New Athens is sorry that

David Tennant

is going to Acadia”

This would suggest that, although the occasion was very much Howard’s endeavour, Babe was fairly integral to proceedings. I wonder whether she financed the event, as Brian’s income never quite matched his ambitions. Did she have any creative input? Probably not,but in later  life she was a patron to certain artists and a collector, so to assume that her presence was merely decorative is possibly a mistake.

False Dawn by John Tunnard (owned by Babe)

It is unlikely that Babe invested the “freak” parties with the sort of status Howard envisaged for them (early “Happenings” almost). But that she relished the mixture of outrage and aestheticism they aspired to is given added weight by the fact that not only was she involved in these two famous examples but that she, along with Elizabeth Ponsonby, had organised one of the early White Parties (white outfits, white decor, white food) that crop up throughout the period.If the Bright Young People are largely remembered in popular culture for the parties they threw then  Babe, with her fondness for dancing and cocktails, is, through her presence at and her participation in some of the era’s signature events, no background figure at all. The best known lines in Vile Bodies are these,

“Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity … Those vile bodies.”

This, without Waugh’s disapproving note, is the world Babe inhabited and helped create.

Incidentally, Bumpus’s, mentioned in the invitation, was one of the great London book stores, loved by bibliophiles, Bloomsbury and the more literary of the “smart set”. There are some splendid images of the place here  – Bumpus 1930  .

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Babe Plunket Greene (part one)

Of the four figures who organised the Bath and Bottle Party in 1928 and therefore, according to a host of commentators from Viola Tree to D.J.Taylor, constituted the inner-core of the Bright Young Set, Babe Plunket Greene has received the least attention.

Brian Howard has long since passed into legend – in literature and in anecdote. Jacqueline Lancaster’s still-fascinating biographical scrapbook “Portrait of a Failure”  is as detailed a portrait as anyone could wish for.

Apart from the many contemporary references, Hugh Wade’s friend Elizabeth Ponsonby recently became pretty well the central female character in Taylor’s “Bright Young People“,  while Eddy Gathorne-Hardy has a smaller but significant space reserved for him in most chronicles of (and about) the times.

Elizabeth Ponsonby

“Babe” hasn’t fared quite as well. True, she doesn’t seem to have done much apart from giving and attending parties and getting involved in a series of short-lived marriages. But in that she was no different to several better known Bright Young Females (and not a few Males).

The name, though wonderfully resonant, doesn’t help. She sometimes gets confused with Teresa “Baby” Jungman  (see The Jungman Sisters) and/or her sister-in-law, Olivia Plunket Greene. Both of these women were unrequited loves of Evelyn Waugh, Olivia inspiring some of his best-known female characters ( Julia in Brideshead Revisited is partly based on her).

I also think that a certain snobbery surrounding  her background has had a lasting effect. At the time, she was seen as not quite out of the top drawer.Inevitably, Evelyn Waugh is an early commentator on her supposed  lack of social status. Waugh’s take is unsurprising. Whether a modern historian ( Julia Byrne in the generally excellent Mad World) should simply dismiss her as “the gold-digging step-daughter of a prominent bookie” is perhaps another matter.

I’ve no idea whether she was a gold-digger or not and, anyway, I’m not sure the term carries much meaning in the context of the 1920s marriage market. That she was the step-daughter of a bookmaker is true, but that intended slight does not tell anything like the whole story.

Her parents were Richard Murray McGusty, a member of a family of Dublin solicitors and himself a government agent in Canada, and Ernestine Marguerite, known as “Margot”. Margot was Scottish and her maiden name was Erskine. She was from a military family, her father was the second son of the Earl of Killie.  Babe’s birth name was Enid Margot or Marguerite Enid. I think she was born in 1907, although some sources say 1905 – she is listed in the 1911 census as Enid, aged 3. The dates are important as in 1907 Richard sued for divorce, naming Arthur Bendir as co-respondent. The divorce was granted in 1908. Margot married Arthur Bendir, but not until 1921. Babe therefore grew up as a child of a divorced (and presumably somewhat disgraced) single mother. There must also be the possibility that Arthur was her actual father.

Portrait of Mrs Bendir 1926 Sir William Orpen

Arthur Bendir is the “bookie”. He was in fact Chairman of Ladbrokes which he essentially founded in 1902. Evelyn Waugh writes in his diary of Babe’s “common father” and, indeed, he was of humble origin, having been born in Lambeth. By the 1920s he was immensely rich.He had a house at 43 Grosvenor Square and also owned Medmenham Abbey, a place of some historical notoriety. In the eighteenth century it had been the venue for some of the more outrageous antics of Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (see Hellfire Club).

Medmenham Abbey

Ladbroke’s in the period that Bendir was in charge was a very different creature to the high street and on-line organisation we know today. The laws around betting were both very strict (and somewhat arcane) until 1960. Off-course betting was basically illegal but if you had a bank account and membership you could place bets by telephone. In essence, this meant that the well-to-do could gamble legally, while the man and woman in the street were reliant on illegal street bookies. Arthur Bendir devoted his attention to the Gentleman’s clubs of Mayfair and the West End. It is said that he drew his clients exclusively from the pages of Debrett’s. This is a slight exaggeration,Ladbroke’s had a very successful on-course presence, but it is substantially true. The fact that Ladbroke’s headquarters were in Hanover Square and then Old Burlington Street gives you some idea of the milieu and sought-after image.

Up to the Second World War this made Bendir the real king of bookmaking. He added to his fortune by becoming the major investor in the innovative (and very lucrative) Irish Sweepstakes – the National Lottery of its day. His own wealth can be gauged by the fact that the salary he paid his on-course manager, uniquely a woman – the legendary Helen Vernet, £20,000 a year. However, given the English caste-system, wealth and respectability were not the same thing. In the inter-war years racecourse gambling meant the Sabinis or the Brummagem Boys ( both of whom, incidentally, had interests in Kate Meyrick’s clubs) – a world of razor gangs and protection rackets.

If you want to explore the strange world of pre-1960 betting, Carl Chinn’s book is invaluable.

So Marguerite “Babe”  McGusty came to adulthood as a wealthy young woman but with a certain stigma surrounding the source of that wealth. This was not helped by a scandal in 1924 over a horse, nominally owned by her mother. The Kildare Nationalist website says this,

“”For the 1924 Lincolnshire Handicap Margot Bendir’s Condover was backed to win thousands, but ran inexplicably badly. Reappearing in the Newbury Spring Cup, Condover was backed from 100/7 down to 4/1, winning easily. The press went mad. ‘Public betting is not the haphazard thing that it used to be – the man in the street is by way of being an expert – but when he is palpably outwitted and finds all his logical conclusions unexpectedly scuttled he is inclined to think that the game is not as nice as it ought to be.’

Margot Bendir and Wilfred Purefoy fell compelled to institute libel proceedings. A sensible jury found in their favour, but awarded them just one farthing in damages. Moreover, they were not granted costs.”

Whether Babe was troubled or affected by any of the above is a matter for speculation but she emerges on the London social scene at this time, not yet eighteen but with a definite penchant for everything associated with the hedonism of the Bright Young People. Evelyn Waugh’s 1925 diary entry records her as “quiet, good-natured and pretty and well dressed with round eyes and rather a shiny nose”. For the next few years she is at the heart of the fast set, hosting two of the era’s most famous parties, constantly seen about town with her friend Elizabeth Ponsonby, marrying the likeable but luckless David Plunket Greene  and generally making herself the subject of much gossip and rumour.

William Acton, Margot Bendir, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Harry Melville, Babe Plunket Greene at David Tennant’s party 1928

I will look at this phase of her life in the next post.

UPDATE  Thanks to GH for spotting this – the birth of one Enid Margot Bendir is registered for November 1907  (London, Marylebone), which seems to settle the matter of parentage. Why she is Babe McGusty in Waugh’s diaries and Marguerite McGusty on her wedding to David Plunket Greene is open to question.

This newspaper article written was written shortly after Elizabeth Ponsonby’s death is not, I imagine, untypical.

Milwaukee Sentinel Sep 1940

The narrative is familiar enough, apart from this sentence.

“She served for a time behind the bar at the Melody night club, run by Irene Meyrick of the famous night club family but she lost her job when she started drinking heavily again.”

This, if true, raises a couple of questions.

In Taylor’s “Bright Young People” he quotes Arthur Ponsonby from 1939 on his daughter’s recent acquisition of a job as a “manageress” -“she seems to have some curious club job”. Taylor goes on to say “Two months later Arthur gave Elizabeth and her employer (” a showy pretty friend who runs her club”) tea at the House of Lords”. This “friend” is presumably Irene Meyrick.

Gwendoline Irene Meyrick was the youngest of Kate Meyrick’s daughters. In 1939 she would have been 24 and got married in the May of that year to the Earl of Craven (most of Mrs.Meyrick’s daughters married into the aristocracy – often accompanied by controversy – see Kate Meyrick’s Children ).

Irene Meyrick (1914- 2002)

The Melody Club was at 19 Wardour Street and is listed in directories from 1937 to 1939 and as the New Melody to in 1941. If Irene ran it then the received wisdom that the Meyrick involvement with clubs ended with Kate’s death (1933) cannot be true. If she was a friend rather than just an employer, we can add another name to Elizabeth’s post-BYP circle.

Elizabeth and Denis Pelly – wedding day

The story of Kate Meyrick, her children and her clubs, has  been told repeatedly, but there are several unresolved issues. I have always wondered about the number of custodial sentences – fines were the usual thing for licensing offences. Her involvement with police corruption, drug scandals, Soho villains and the whole “hostess” thing suggests a criminality beyond merely serving a few drinks after-hours. On the other hand, her clientele was by and large wealthy and prestigious and she was held in high regard by many West End night-owls, dance-band musicians in particular.

Kate Meyrick

Her own autobiography, probably ghost-written, is relatively unrevealing, self-serving and little more than a list of famous names. Much more informative is the section in Judith Walkowitz’s Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London (see Walkowitz Nights Out ).Immortalised in Brideshead Revisited as Ma Mayfield, the proprietor of Dalton’s, the 43, the Manhattan, the Silver Slipper and one or two more venues does have a real claim to be the “Queen of Night Clubs” and merits a full of biography.

Party at Silver Slipper

There don’t seem to be any surviving anecdotes associated with the Melody Club, so whether it was a dive, an exclusive drinking-club, had a band or a pianist, I can’t say. My guess is that it was a fairly small members’ club typical of the area and the era.

There was a 1950s club of the same name in Maddox Street, Mayfair but I doubt there’s a connection. In that same decade the Russian Spy Gordon Londsdale had a flat at 19 Wardour Street and today N.19 is the the “Old 97” , a Chinese Restaurant, much favoured as a late night eating-spot.

Clubs – Ham Yard

Ham Yard, opposite Great Windmill Street in Soho, holds a special place in the history of English club culture. Most famously, it housed the Scene club in the early sixties. The Scene was for many of that generation the Mod club, much written about and still fondly remembered.To a Drinamyl-driven audience, Guy Stevens, the DJ, played the mix of Soul and R&B  that comprised the essential Mod soundtrack and, through his involvement with Sue records (UK),  acted as proselytiser and publicist for the music.  Along with the Flamingo on Wardour Street (blacker, jazzier) and Le Duce on D’Arblay Street (gayer, more Motown-oriented), the Scene was one of those essential spaces that permanently altered the musical and social landscape of post-War England.

However, for all the much vaunted newness of the Modernist movement, the Scene was actually just another phase in Ham Yard’s long connection with clubs, drugs and nocturnal subcultures.In the 1950s, The Scene had been Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club. Although Trad Jazz gets pretty short shrift in most studies of “youth culture”, it was important (Skiffle and the Blues revival came out of it) and Cy Laurie’s club was as Bohemian and free-spirited as you could wish for. This was partly because it was very dancefloor-oriented and partly because of its popularity with St. Martin’s College Art Students. The police saw fit to raid it on a number of occasions.

For more on Cy Laurie see Cy Laurie’s Club

The story goes that both the Scene and Cy Laurie’s were on the same site as the Hambone, which takes us back to Elvira’s era. Here the street numbers become rather confusing.  Ham Yard is always given as the site of the Scene and very often for Cy Laurie’s, but the given address for both clubs was 41 Great Windmill Street , which as Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms and Mac’s Dancing Academy had been around since the 1920s. Curiously, London’s early Modern Jazz venue, Club 11, was in Mac’s Rehearsal Rooms (briefly Moffats Club). Club 11′s existence was short-lived (1948-50)  due to a much-publicised drugs raid. I assume it was the same space but jazz histories give the address as 44 Great Windmill Street. The whole area is so small and a bomb in World War 2 had damaged one side of Ham Yard so we are probably talking about one place –  but it is all a little puzzling.

Club 11 1949

Things get even more complicated when we get back to the 20s and 30s. Ham Yard was apparently  home, simultaneously, to at least ten (!) clubs. Apart from the Hambone (15 Ham Yard) and the Blue Lantern (14), these included  Freddy Ford’s New Avenue, The Pavilion,The Top Hat, Mother Hubbard’s,The Morgue, The Oak ( according to James Laver) The Last Club and the Windmill (according to Horace Wyndham) and, according to one account, Douglas Byng’s The Kinde Dragon.All of these places had live music and most were open all night. Heretical as it might seem to die-hard Mods, the true golden age of Ham Yard night-life appears to be sometime around 1929-1932 – the era of Elvira’s party set.

The Hambone was the earliest, most prestigious and in many ways the  most salubrious of these clubs. Founded in 1922 as a Bohemian cabaret club, its original membership was almost exclusively drawn from the Arts. Founder member and presiding figure was, inevitably, Augustus John. I posted earlier that Freddy Ford was the owner but I don’t now think that is the case – at least not in the club’s halcyon years. An early review characterised it as “a futurist den”  and instead of the usual “Dancing and Cabaret” it advertised itself as offering “Special Artistic Entertainment”.  Dancing there certainly was though, Radclyffe Hall was fond of stepping out there, which must have surely been something to behold. In the latter half of the decade it had fallen into line and had a regular band, Alec Alexander played there before becoming long-term resident at the Gargoyle. Ethel Mannin also danced there and recalled the place as “chronically Bohemian”. She found it hard to believe that the small and densely packed dance-floor had allowed for anything as expansive as the Charleston.

Ethel Mannin

By the mid-twenties the Hambone started to attract writers and journalists as well as a group of heartier, sporty types. Elvira’s fiance, Charles Graves straddled all three categories and it was on his return from a late night drink at the Hambone that the incident with Elvira arrived with the gun (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/charles-graves/ ) . The De Haviland Aero Club held its annual dinner there and hack-novelist Peter Cheyney made it the base from which he observed the Mayfair-Soho connections that feature in many of his books. The club was now officially “Ye Olde Hambone Club” with suitably retro-furnishings (a mock-Adam fireplace) but it remained known as the Hambone. It still valued its original clientele as, unusually it had a graded membership policy.Artists, authors and journalists paid One Guinea, actors Two and business men Three. There was an entrance fee as well but this was cheap compared to  High Society haunts like The Embassy or Uncles, where membership was Eight Guineas plus entrance fee.

The Blue Lantern opened next door in the late twenties (1929?), perhaps to woo some of the younger element away from what was in danger of  becoming a rather masculine venue. It seems to have pitched itself as quintessenially “Modern”, being one of the first clubs to install Thonet steel tubular furniture. It also very quickly got a reputation as catering for the “more dissolute” elements among the Bright Young People. This meant, as it usually did, Elizabeth Ponsonby and her pals, one of whom was the club’s pianist, Hugh Wade.

Breur Thonet Chair 1929

Barbara Ker-Seymer, Freddie Ashton and Billy Chappell were regulars, Eddy Gathorne-Hardy seems to have spent part of most nights there, Tom Driberg loved the place (incidentally,he too refers to Hugh Wade as Hetty Wade), Jocelyn Brooke, Brian Howard, Terence Skeffington-Smythe and Arthur Jeffress were all members. Elvira and Michael were often seen there. Hutch’s lover  Zena  Naylor brought along Evelyn Waugh one night (“very squalid” he wrote in his diary) and Anthony Powell met Tallulah Bankhead (briefly) at the club. All in all, it does seem to merit the status that D.J.Taylor gives it in “Bright Young People” as one of the key hedonistic spaces of the era.Furthermore, given the inter-changeability of the clientele, I’m sure the Blue Angel was in some way an offshoot of the Blue Lantern.

But what of the other establishments in Ham Yard?

Firstly, although Roger Gardiner recalls seeing Hutch perform at the “Kind Dragon in Ham Yard”, this club, run by Douglas Byng, was almost certainly in St Martin’s Lane.” – I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a guest spot at the Blue Lantern he was referring to. Like Hutch, Byng was a favourite of the BYP and may also have had a residency or played in Ham Yard.

But probably not at The Morgue.  According to Jerry White, this was a venture run by “Dalton Murray” after Murray’s club on Beak Street closed temporarily. The owners of Murray’s were Percival “Pops” Murray and Jack May so I’m not sure about “Dalton”. Kate Meyrick’s first club was Dalton’s on Tottenham Court Road so there may be some collapsing of names here. White also mentions a club in Great Windmill Street, The Blue Peter, decked out like a battleship. (White London in the 20th Century). The Morgue sounds even more startling the with the receptionist dressed as a nun, coffins for tables and the waiters sporting devils’ horns. All very proto-Goth and disappointingly tacky – I’d like to think Elvira and her crowd stayed well clear.

Of the rest, Freddy Ford’s New Avenue Club was the most notorious. Known as the Havinoo  to its patrons, it was essentially a hang-out for Soho’s army of criminals, prostitutes and wide boys. The club and its owner feature regularly in court cases throughout  the period – fights and the contravention of licensing laws being the norm. Ford, depending on which account you read, was either an affable rogue or a putative “King of the Underworld”. His long career included convictions for  burglary and receiving stolen goods, but it was as a club-owner and a renter of rooms for prostitution that he made his fortune. At some time or other, he had a share in all the clubs around Ham Yard and may have owned The New Hambones, as the Hambone became in the Second World War.  Significantly, the club was found to be breaking licensing laws in that period.

Racetrack Gang including various Sabinis, Billy Kimber and the MacDonalds

The fact is that Ham Yard generally was a centre of villainy. Throughout the 1920s a series of fights took place there. These, all known as “The Battle of Ham Yard” were to settle disputes between which London gang would have first pickings of the many illegal and semi-legal businesses that bloomed in Soho, not least because of the plethora of night-clubs. Various Sabinis and Cortesis, Billy Kimber’s Brummagem Boys, gangs from Hackney, Kings Cross, Paddington, Hoxton and Elephant and Castle all settled scores with coshes and razors in Ham Yard.

All of which begs the question as to what overlap was there between the louche but largely Upper Class Overground world of the Bohemians and the real Working Class Criminal Underworld? By and large, the two groups would have kept to separate venues but the proximity is interesting. Some of the predilections of the Smart Set would have been of advantage to the Soho gangs. Most forms of betting were then illegal and we know that Michael Stephen was a heavy gambler (and he was surely not the only one). Cocaine and other drug use might also have been a point of crossover. Homosexuality (and its concomitant terror, blackmail) would have played a part.  As far as Soho’s most famous vice is concerned, perhaps he “Piccadilly tart” who arrived with Elizabeth Ponsonby for a drunken weekend at her parent’s house was first encountered in Ham Yard.

Elizabeth Ponsonby and husband

Then there was the “Arminian”  cafe,  a Bohemian haunt on the corner of Great Windmill Street (Epstein dined there) which was also used by gangsters and prostitutes. The same was true of the “Harmony” (the same place, I’m guessing) in the 50s. Modernists and Trad Jazzers argued the respective merits of Dizzy Gillespie and Kid Oliver while the dangerous Jack Spot looked on. Clubland and Criminality have never exactly been strangers so it seems not unreasonable to assume more than a passing glance  took place between the wilder young things and the extensive Wide  community that dwelled in, if not the same precise space, then the club next door. Kate Meyrick boasted that gangsters and lords sat next each other at her clubs. She exaggerated – but not perhaps by much.

Anthea Rosemary Carew

Another of Elvira’s friends who did time in Holloway ( see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/medical-officers-report-on-elvira-dolores-barney/ ) was Brenda Dean Paul, whose decline into addiction received more publicity than even Elvira managed. Brenda will pop up quite often on this blog but some of the people around also deserve mention. Not the least of these is Anthea Rosemary Carew, another probable member of Elvira’s crowd.

Described by Brenda Dean Paul as her “staunchest” friend and by others as her “fast friend”, Anthea Carew was prosecuted, together with her good pal, a couple of months after the Barney trial. She had been attempting to buy cocaine from a “French Countess” for Ms Dean Paul. The details can be found in the newspaper reports below.

Two Young Women on Parole Sep 1932

Alleged Attempt to Procure Cocaine

Torn Letter in Drug Case

Brenda Dean Paul with  Anthea Carew

The first thing that struck me was the reference to “Terrence” in the letter to the “Countess”. Could this be Terence Skeffington-Smyth? I do hope so and it would make sense in all sorts of ways. (See https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/terence-skeffington-smyth/ ). I am also slightly intrigued by the strange idea that cocaine was a good way of getting through opiate withdrawal. It does serve to portray Anthea as a Good (if somewhat unorthodox) Samaritan but I am not entirely convinced.A host of other questions spring to mind. How much was “any you don’t want”? How much would £60 worth have been in 1932 – not to mention £1200?  Who was the mysterious Countess?

Anthea and Patrick Gamble as children

Anthea Rosemary Gamble (1906-1960) and her brother Patrick  ( 1905-1956) were definitely part of the young “Smart Set”. Though not rich in the way Elvira was, they enjoyed high social status due to their father being Dean of Exeter. They were Belgravia born and bred, growing up in Sloane Street. Both children seem to have embraced with some enthusiasm the freedoms and pleasures that the twenties offered them..

Patrick hosted one of the early “Blackbirds” parties in Mayfair, for the all-black cast of the stage show that had such an impact on the Bright Young People. It may have been at this gathering that Brenda Dean Paul became enamoured of the idea of being a “coloured dancer” and suggests she was already a friend of the Anthea’s, who would have been there also.

Florence Mills and Blackbirds Chorus, London Pavilion Sep 1926

Patrick was a friend of Matthew Ponsonby, brother of the incorrigible Elizabeth, who was to become close to many of Elvira’s circle – Hugh Wade especially. Evelyn Waugh’s diaries describe his dining with Matthew and Patrick (Matthew is the real-life source of the “drunk and disorderly” car episode in Brideshead Revisited). They also record his misgivings about attending the wedding, in 1928, of Anthea to Dudley Carew.

Anthea, variously  described as “lovely” and “beautiful”, married the cricket-writer and novelist Dudley Charles Carew at Exeter.The marriage was not a success. Carew wrote many years later, “My whole whirlwind affair with Anthea, culminating in my engagement, had an air of unreality about it”. He compared their incompatibility and the marriage to Waugh’s own short-lived relationship with Evelyn Gardner but added that ” Evelyn’s lacked the touches of fantastic extravaganza that illuminated my own (to Anthea Gamble). Fantastic is the right word, and that element was heightened by a liberal attitude to alcohol”. The couple divorced in 1933 but had lived separate lives for some time before that.

He-Evelyn, She-Evelyn

Dudley Carew was an odd-character. A gifted writer on cricket, his “To The Wicket” is one of the finest works on the county game. It is also a nostalgic tribute to the inter-war years and includes a spirited defence of the , by 1946 almost universally despised, Bright Young People. His novels and poetry have lasted less well. He was at Lancing with Waugh and hero-worshipped him all his life. Waugh however, although spending much of the 1920s in his company, was at best patronising and later on completely dismissive of his acolyte. Carew, though hurt, continued to be a loyal advocate, going so far as to deny rumours of Waugh’s youthful homosexual escapades and even ridiculing suggestions of homosexuality at Lancing (where Tom Driberg was a prefect!).

Whether he was the “Mr.Carew” who ended the evening with Brian Howard and Plunket-Greene on the night of the shooting, I can’t be sure but it is more than possible. Whether he was in anyway related to the “Philip Carew” who died after a cocaine binge at a Chelsea party that Elvira attended shortly before that event, I cannot say as the incident, mentioned by Peter Cotes, has so far proved impossible to verify.

Anthea, in the meantime, like so many of Elvira’s friends was a young married woman with no husband in any real sense, and hence free to enjoy the party circuit. She and Brenda Dean Paul became closer and, although she undoubtedly indulged in her share of excesses. does appear to have done her best to look after her self-destructive friend. Her fine and the conditions of her probation, sent to Mowbray House under strict supervision, suggests that the court had no doubt that by 1932 Anthea also had a drug-problem. One Gamble who certainly did have was Gertrude, whose suicide in August 1932 after spending time with Elvira in France is one of the oddest aspects of the whole case. She was not, however, related, as far as I can tell.

Patrick Gamble married Basil Dean’s ex-wife, Lady Mercy Greville, in 1936 – but that too did not last. By the late 1930s both Patrick and Anthea had faded from public view and I can find no post-war references to either.

I will leave the puzzle of the Countess and the presence in court of the rather dubious Dr. Frederick Stuart to a later post.

Washington Hotel

Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that at the time of her arrest Anthea Carew was living at the impressive Art Nouveau styled hotel the Washington, Curzon Street, Mayfair. This hardly yells out poverty to me. For more pictures and information on this impressive building, still a hotel, see  http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/commercial/22.html