Tag Archive: Evelyn Waugh


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.

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Another Party in Glebe Place

There were a number of parties thrown, by various Bright Young Things, in honour of the first Blackbirds revue. Oliver Messel, David Plunkett Greene and Anthea Carew’s brother, Patrick Gamble, organised three of the earliest. One that has found its way into several books took  place on March 10th 1927.

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Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb 1929

In Evelyn Waugh’s diaries he records going to a party given by “Layton the black man” at the studio of an artist called” Stuart Hill”. He comments “All very refined -hot lobster, champagne cup and music. Florence Mills, Delysia, John Huggins, Layton and Johnstone and others sang songs.” At this time Waugh was infatuated with Olivia Plunket-Greene, who in her turn was much taken with Blackbirds and black musicians and singers. Waugh was also seeing a lot of the free-wheeling Zena Naylor and thus her lover Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson. Contrary to some accounts, Waugh enjoyed the music. He was less keen on the social and sexual liaisons between black and white,  which he lampoons (ineptly, I’ve always felt) in “Decline and Fall“.

The diary entry is worth unpicking a little. Layton was Turner Layton, who enjoyed great success in England, firstly with his partner Clarence “Tandy” Johnstone and later as a solo artist. Though his name is rather forgotten today, he was a significant figure and his compositions “Dear Old Southland”, “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” and, particularly “After You’ve Gone” are still performed today.

“After You’ve Gone” (1918) was a big hit for both Sophie Tucker and Marion Harris. They were the first white singers to make credible jazz records – Harris may actually be the first artist to have recorded a Blues. Marion Harris had a long residency at the Cafe De Paris in 1931 where Elvira would surely have seen her. She performed (she was briefly in Ever Green ) and recorded in London from 1931 to 1934 and remained in London throughout the decade, having married theatrical agent Leon Urry. Urry, depending on which account you read, was either the floor manager at the Cafe De Paris or the leading dance host there (his name has also been linked to Cafe hostess and soon-to-be film star, Merle Oberon). Urry and Harris’  London home was hit by a V1 rocket in 1944. She returned to America but died shortly afterwards – asphyxiation, she fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Layton himself became something of a fixture at the Cafe De Paris (and Monseigneur’s Restaurant).  Layton and Johnstone had first played the Cafe De Paris in 1924.Although  they were initially known were known for more uptempo numbers (Way Down Yonder, Bye Bye Blackbird), it was Layton’s sophisticated balladeering  that earned him a place in the hearts of Mayfair socialites. His style was similar to Hutch’s and the two are often confused. However, he lacked Hutch’s sexual charisma and concomitant notoriety. His partner Johnstone did become involved in a major scandal, through a much-publicised affair with the wife of Palm Court violinist, Albert Sandler. Layton and Johnstone found themselves being booed, particularly by provincial audiences, and Layton terminated the act, Johnstone returning to New York and obscurity. Layton proved even more popular as a solo act and was a great radio favourite in the War. He retired in 1946 but continued to live in London until his death in 1978.

Turner Layton

Sandler, another musician in danger of slipping into oblivion, was a pioneer of the much loved and later much-parodied “Palm Court” sound – a mixture of light classical pieces and popular tunes played in a refined classical style.It was he who popularised Boccherini’s Minuet in E, used to great effect in the original, Ealing version, of “The Ladykillers”.

Albert Sandler

Turner Layton’s party was held at 41 Glebe Place, Chelsea in the studio of Alexander Stuart-Hill. This was two doors down from Olivia Wyndham’s mother’s London residence which was to be the setting for a rather wilder “Freak Party”  two years later (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/freak-party-chelsea-1929/  ).

Alexander Stuart-Hill (1888-1948) was a Scottish portrait painter who achieved some success in the inter-War period but is chiefly remembered for a secret engagement to Princess Louise of Battenberg, the future Queen Consort of Sweden and brother of Louis, Lord Mountbatten. Her parents vetoed the engagement pointing to the unsuitablity of the Princess marrying a known homosexual. All of which is slightly ironic, given the rumours about Louis (not to mention Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s long affair with the bi-sexual Hutch). Stuart-Hill had recently painted Turner Layton (I can’t find the image but it was exhibited at the RA spring show) and on the night of the party he asked Florence Mills (the undisputed star of Blackbirds) if he could also do her portrait. The result was this –

Florence Mills by Alexander Stuart-Hill 1927

The picture lacks something of the exuberance and ability to spread joy contemporary reports ascribe to Florence Mills, but it is elegant and dignified. It is also markedly free of the caricature and stereotypical motifs associated with the representation of black people in that period. This I find quite find quite refreshing and I rate it highly (I’m getting rather fond of “conventional” 20s’ and 30s’ portraiture).

Johnny Hudgins, Florence Mills rehearsing on Pavilion Theatre roof, 1926

The other names on Waugh’s list are deserving of elaboration, too. “John Huggins” has got to be Johnny Hudgins (1896-1990), the male comic lead from Blackbirds. He was a legend in Harlem and in France became known as the “Black Charlie Chaplin”. He was often called “The Wah Wah Man”  because of  his ability to vocally mimic the archetypal muted trumpet  sound of 20s’ jazz. After London he worked with Josephine Baker in the celebrated Revue Negre. The reason for his absence from most musical histories may be down to the fact that he performed in “Blackface”. By the 1920s most singers and dancers did not, but comic turns were still expected to.

Fortunately we have a striking visual record of Hudgins as he starred in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi comedy, directed by none other than Jean Renoir (of Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game renown). Sur Un Air De Charleston (Charleston Parade) was made in 1927. It starred Renoir’s wife Catherine Hessling, a noted silent  screen actress who had been a model for Matisse and Jean’s father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the great Impressionist artist.

The film is truly odd and its themes of race, female  sexuality and the future of civilisation would keep a whole conference load of academics, semioticians and cultural theorists busy for a fortnight. Fortunately, it is on Youtube – watch and be amused/amazed/perplexed.

Hudgins was also the subject of a painting, also from 1927. It is more well-known and more controversial than the Florence Mills picture.

Kees Van Dongen Le Chanteur Negre 1927

I am going to post on Van Dongen separately, so will just leave you with this image as yet another reminder of the huge impact that Black performers had on European Art and Culture in the 1920s.

The last person mentioned by Waugh, “Delysia”, was a French actress, Alice Delysia (1889-1979), who was hugely popular on the English stage in the 1920s. C.B.Cochran (who else?) brought her over from Paris towards the end of the First World War. She sang in English with a strong French accent that London audiences found irresistible. They also loved her daring costumes. The Lord Chamberlain took a dimmer view and there were frequent early censorship battles.When the Morning Post disapprovingly commented, “Never can an actress have worn so negligible a dress”, her success was ensured.

She appeared in Cochran’s  Mayfair and Montmartre (1922) but it was her performance of Noel Coward’s Poor Little Rich Girl in Noel Coward’s On With The Dance (1925) that confirmed r heas a heroine for the Bright Young People.She continued to be successful throughout the 1930s, worked for ENSA and supported the Free French Forces. After the War she married a French  Consul before ending her days in a Brighton rest home. Ethel Mannin mentions her in her autobiography as epitomising both the sophistication and the naive sentimentality of her generation of young women (“We loved Delyssia, all diamante and ostrich feathers singing sweetly.”)

Delysia – Mayfair and Montmartre 1922

So, quite a gathering. It is a pity that Waugh did not name the other singers. I think we can assume that Edith Wilson (who the  hard-core jazz fans, such as Spike Hughes, Constant Lambert and Edward Burra) preferred to Florence Mills, was there, and a number of musicians. Such an array of talent – and lobster and champagne too!

Let’s close with party host Turner Layton nine years later. He is introduced by Bert Ambrose and the clip is from the 1936 film “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” . This is the kind of thing they lapped up at Monseigneur’s and The Mayfair Hotel (where I think this is shot),

Fiction

Although I was reluctant to do so, I have found it impossible to explore the world of Mayfair, Soho and Chelsea in the twenties and thirties without continually referring to Literature. so I’m reproducing here the list of recommended “Bright Young”People fiction as it appears in D.J.Taylor’s book.

Harold Acton Cornelian (1928)

Michael Arlen The Green Hat (1924)

Cyril Connolly The Rock Pool (1936)

Ronald Firbank Complete Novels (1961)

Henry Green   Party Going  (1939)

Bryan Guinness  Singing Out of Tune (1933)

James Laver Ladies Mistakes (1933)

Nancy Mitford Highland Fling (1931)

Nancy Mitford Christmas Pudding (1932)

Nancy Mitford Pigeon Pie (1940)

Beverley Nichols Crazy Pavement (1927)

Anthony Powell Afternoon Men (1931)

Anthony Powell From a View To A Death (1933)

Terence Rattigan After the Dance (1939)

Evelyn Waugh Decline and Fall (1928)

Evelyn Waugh Vile Bodies (1930)

Evelyn Waugh Mr.Loveday’s Little Outing (1936)

I’ve not read the Acton or the Guinness but this seems a pretty useful list.Personally I find Powell unsympathetic and Beverley Nichols dull. but the subject matter is fascinating. The Green Hat is rubbish, but very entertaining (I’d add These Charming People to the list).Firbank’s influence is unquestionable but the five novelettes together might prove a bit much in one go. If Firbank is in as an influence then Huxley’s Antic Hay  ought, perhaps, also be included. Similarly if Rattigan is there (and After The Dance is excellent) then Noel Coward should get a look in.

If we include post-WW2 writing then I would (and will again) argue for Jocelyn Brooke (The Military Orchid and Private View).Rosamond Lehmann too – both pre and post war.

Who else? Arlen aside, there are no “popular” or “genre” novels here. A case can be made for Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise and Margery Allingham’s The Fashion in Shrouds (thanks, JS). In fact, all of Allingham’s early “cosies” have a Bright Young feel to them.

For the seedier side of club life, Gerald Kersh’s Night and The City is hard to beat, though it does not cover the raffish upper-crust in any detail.Cheyney, Horler and E.Phillips Oppenheim rely on cliche and stereotypes, but are interesting in that they allow us to see the viewpoint of “the common man” on the goings-on in high society.(I will, as I seem to keep saying, post more on this aspect shortly).

There must be others. The Apes of God? Jam Today? Half O’Clock in Mayfair? What about Nerina Shute? I invite you to make suggestions.

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

Ruth Baldwin

On Friday June 13th 1930 Evelyn Waugh’s diary entry refers to a party he attended organised by Olivia Wyndham and Ruth Baldwin aboard a Thames steamer.

“It was not enough of an orgy.Masses of Lesbian tarts and joyboys. Only one fight when a Miss Firminger got a black eye. Poor old Hat (Brian Howard) looked like a tragedy queen.”

Marjorie Firminger was the author of “Jam Today” ( see  https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/mary-ashliman-heather-pilkington-and-the-blue-angel/). The black eye may well have been delivered by Ruth Baldwin , although both she and Olivia had form here.

Both were at Elvira’s cocktail party and both were key figures in the “Lesbian Bohemia” of the time.I will post more about Olivia Wyndham shortly but let us for the moment look at the remarkable, but largely forgotten, Ruth.

Born in America in 1905, Ruth was the wildest of a wild set. Whether she herself was wealthy or not, I can’t ascertain, but, as Joe Carstairs’ lover and secretary, she spent freely and lived very much for the moment. She was a notoriously heavy drinker, converting her Mulberry Walk kitchen into a bar and I imagine that it was her, doubtless appalled at the choice of sherry or cocktails at Elvira’s party, who left with Michael Scott Stephen, returning with whisky. Apart from a prodigious appetite for drink, Ruth Baldwin used both cocaine and heroin.

She was big (her nickname in some quarters was “Fatty”), “immensely powerful”  and with “a moon face,bold,naughty eyes and thick,auburn hair”.

Promiscuous and possessive in equal measure, her  penchant for fighting  inspired fear but her exuberance  was a source of genuine affection. Edward Burra adored her and his description of what seems to me, a rather terrifying scene, at 19 King’s Road,  is typical.

“Ruth was quite drunk and kept rushing at B (Barbara Ker-Seymer) and biting her. However after a bit more crashing and screams they went off.” Far from condemning this assault on his closest female friend, Burra continues, “Ruth Baldwin is my beau ideal.I think I like them fat. I can’t resist anyone that goes about with an aeroplane in diamonds where there ought to be a tie.”

Ruth was the great love of Joe Carstairs’ life. (See https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/5-mulberry-walk-chelsea/). Apart from her gift of the totemic doll, Sir Todd Wadley, she described Ruth, in many ways a very kindred spirit, as “The first person who ever meant anything to me.” The tears Joe shed on hearing of Ruth’s death were apparently the first time she had ever cried.

The lesbian subculture  that Ruth moved included Marty Mann, another American, who nearly died of drink but went on to become an early member of AA – and in the fifties the movement’s most public figure. Mann’s autobiography mentions endless cocktail parties in London in the early 30s – were Elvira’s some of them?

Other notable figures of the London scene (Paris and Cannes are important too)  were Dolly Wilde (Oscars niece), musician and comedienne Gwen Farrar, the above-mention Barbara Ker-Seymer and Audrey Carten. Carten , an actress and playwright, was rumoured to have had a bizarre fling with Elvira shortly after the trial – bizarre because the night of passion, it was claimed, also included Carten’s brother,Kenneth. This circle generally was more arty than either Elvira or Ruth ever claimed to be but there is undoubtedly considerable overlap because of a shared sexuality and a common liking for intoxicants of various types.

It was at Gwen Farrar or Dolly Wilde’s London flat that Ruth succumbed to a drug overdose and died aged only 31 (1937). Fittingly the assembled guests were listening to a Boxing Match on the radio. Her ashes were taken to Carstairs’ Bahamas island of Whale Cay, where a shrine cum small church was built. On Carstairs’ death in 1993 – the ashes of both women along with those of the doll, Wadley, were interred together.

It is unlikely that Ruth and Elvira were close but they did have friends in common and possibly lovers too. The least one can deduce from Ruth’s presence at the cocktail party was that much of Elvira’s world  was held together by a mixture of narcotics,alcohol and what would have been seen at the time (especially post-Radcliffe Hall) as dangerous and deviant sexualities. This is what the papers and the police knew and pruriently hinted at.What is remarkable about the trial is that the defence managed to downplay all of this and the prosecution failed to exploit it.

The above information comes from “The Queen of Whale Cay” by Kate Summerscale and “Edward Burra -C20th  Eye” by Jane Stevenson