Tag Archive: Gertrude Gamble


Gertrude Gamble (Barbara Graham)

In August of 1932, probably on Friday 26th,  a forty two year old woman called Gertrude Gamble committed suicide by throwing herself from a window of her hotel room in Half Moon Street. For the previous three years she had been known as Barbara E, Graham and had a history of drug dependency and depression. Her inquest aroused some interest as her suicide note had mentioned Elvira Barney who, along with one Tom Chadbourne, she blamed for her current state of despair. Elvira’s father attended the trial but the inquest did not pursue that line of inquiry.

Half Moon Street

This was fortunate for the Mullens family because apart from her final note Gertrude had sent two letters, one to Elvira and one to her mother, containing some outrageous accusations. The Daily Sketch had got hold of these but passed them on to the Police who (officially anyway) dismissed them as the ramblings of a very disturbed individual. The sex scandal contained in the letters I have dealt with already (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ ) but there is other information contained within them which, if true, tells us quite a lot about Elvira and her lifestyle in the aftermath of the trial. It is not a very uplifting tale.

According to her letters, Gertrude had been “employed” to look after Elvira following the trial. Her mother had wanted Elvira to undertake a “rest treatment” in the country,  On the threat of  the “country house” cure Elvira had rushed round to Gertrude, who tended to her while they made arrangements to go to the South of France. Gertrude tells of nursing her and bathing her head after Elvira had downed a bottle of brandy. Elvira left for France with the Cartens and Gertrude followed.

To Gertrude’s apparent horror,  Elvira had got very drunk on the boat and instead of heading to the Hotel Continental in St.Raphael  had stayed the night in a sleazy hotel nearby. She then told Gertrude that she wanted to be with friends in Cannes and gave the hitherto loyal carer money for a second-class ticket home.  Elvira didn’t see her off – she was meeting the young man with whom she was to have the car car crash later that day (https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/princess-karolyi-and-more-car-crashes/).Feeling deceived and smarting from an attack on her own narcotic excesses, Gertrude, on her return to London, wrote to Lady Mullens, detailing her daughter’s many vices and presenting herself as the victim of a callous and calculating degenerate. She wrote pretty much the same angry note to Elvira.

Two extracts from the letters are particularly revealing, Firstly, in an attempt to uphold her own character she writes “As for the drugs – I can refer you to Dr. Ripman  who will tell you that I take my 3 pills a day just like a dose of medicine. I don’t drink, I don’t sniff cocaine and I don’t keep pimps.”  Although I’m not sure she’s got the right word with “pimps”, this, if accurate, is confirmation of Elvira’s general predilections, which though widely suspected are elsewhere only hinted at.

Secondly, she suggests that Elvira’s motives in sending her packing were so that no stories of her excesses might get back to England, causing her mother to cut Elvira’s allowance. Given that Elvira’s actions had precisely the opposite effect this seems unlikely but it gives weight to a fairly constant feature in Elvira’s various scrapes – she was always more concerned with what her mother might say and do than any action on behalf of the authorities.

Whether these letters were ever received and how the Daily Sketch got hold of them is a mystery. How true they are is also uncertain. They are certainly not “deranged”  in the way the Police argued. The betrayal they speak of has the ring of something deeper; they bear all the hallmarks of the revenge of a spurned lover. There is also a distinct class antagonism about them (“you say I am not good enough to know your daughter but.. etc”).

Anyway, three weeks later Gertrude Gamble was dead. It is fairly safe to assume that her passing was not much mourned by the Mullens family. In three months Elvira had (probably) shot her lover, Michael, nearly killed Countess Karolyi in a car crash and, in the mind of one sad soul at least, hastened the suicide of a former companion.Not exactly what one would term an uneventful summer.

Incidentally, the Hotel on Half Moon Street was owned by Charles Urban, the pioneer of colour cinema. Gertrude’s last note was to Mrs. Urban, apologising for any trouble her actions had caused.

Read more about Charles Urban here http://www.charlesurban.com/index.html

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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

Audrey and Kenneth Carten

After the initial rejoicing at Elvira’s “Not Guilty” verdict the  public started to turn against her. Reports of her continued recklessness and high-living, and a distinct absence of grieving or remorse, began to turn her into something of a pariah. She was even seen as a possible threat to the stability of the country. Her behaviour , at a time when much of the nation was suffering severe hardship, was in danger of tarnishing the good standing of  the already-rattled  ruling classes. Commentators from the Left and the Right drew, from very different motives, very similar conclusions. Elvira was a menace to “Society”.

A welter of rumours, some already simmering leading up to the trial, started to do the rounds. Letters to editors and the police hinted at collusion and corruption in high places. “One Law for the Rich…”  was the phrase on many a lip. Worse still, the  barely concealed “sex and drugs” aspect of Elvira’s lifestyle  started to emerge more openly. Some of the tales told were fanciful and exaggerated, some were other people’s scandals appended to her name (Brenda Dean Paul’s particularly). One story,with a ring of truth about it, was, however, too scandalous to see the light of day.

In August 1932 a woman called Gertrude Gamble, but known as Barbara E.Graham, committed suicide (see forthcoming post).Her inquest was brief and concluded that Miss Gamble, a registered drug-addict, had thrown herself from her hotel window while “of unsound mind”. Sir John and Lady Mullen attended the inquest, ostensibly because a suicide note had mentioned Elvira Barney. But there was more to it than that.

Lady Mullens

Two weeks earlier Gertrude/Barbara had sent both Elvira and Lady Mullens angry, but coherent, letters which detailed the events of the Elvira’s  journey at the end of July to France. This was to “recuperate” and Miss Gamble was there in some sort of unspecified carer’s role. On the very first night, in what Gamble described as a “filthy” hotel, Elvira had engaged in a drunken and drug-fuelled orgy with Audrey Carten and her brother, Kenneth (see    https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/chelsea-sandwiches/  ) . In two sentences she catalogues a scene of cocaine-use,drunkenness, sexual perversion and incest. At the centre of which is a woman supposedly in deep mourning for her recently deceased lover.  Scandalous is barely the word.

Somehow these letters found themselves in the hands of the Police and at least one newspaper, but no-one wanted to know. The police, quite sensibly, felt that with Gamble dead there was no point opening this can of worms – although the fact that the copy the police received was heavily annotated suggests they gave the later some credence. The newspapers’ motives are less clear but, in this era, scandals that were too damning to the upper echelons tended to stay locked away  unless absolutely unavoidable.

Who were these two bedmates of Elvira? In 1932, Audrey Carten would have been the better known of the pair. Gertrude Gamble explained to lady Mullen that Audrey was ” One of the best known Lesbians in London” but the public would have known her as an actress and promising playwright.

Audrey Carten 1929

She was born  Audrey Hare Bicker-Caarten into large  middle-class family living in Blomfield Road, Maida Vale. Her younger sister Waveney was born in 1903 and Kenneth arrived in 1911. By 1920  Audrey Carten was on stage and making a name for herself by investing some of Shakespeare’s heroines with a little verve and spirit. There was a humour and style about her performances that marked her out as “Modern”.

Her real breakthrough came in 1923 when she played Una Lowry  in Gerald Du Maurier’s “The Dancers”, at the Wyndham Theatre. Critics praised her “delicate, eerie,sensitive”  portrayal of, by happy coincidence – given the concerns of this blog, an aristocratic woman who had become “an erratic and neurotic nightbird”. But what made “The Dancers” the sensation of the season was the casting of the character Maxine. For it was in this part and in this play that Tallulah Bankhead burst upon the London stage and launched her eight year reign as the queen of all things exciting and outrageous about the 1920s.

Tallulah Bankhead in The Dancers

It is impossible to recapture the impact that Bankhead made, firstly on stage and then on the night-life of London. The Bright Young Generation worshipped her and she was as much its inspiration as any Oxford aesthete. Her army of devoted female fans have become a thing of legend and no book of the period is complete without at least one anecdote of Tallulah misbehaving at a party or a nightclub. Elvira was one of those fans and remained loyal, keeping a photograph of Tallulah at her bedside while on remand in Holloway. Whether she was more than just a fan, we don’t know. Audrey Carten  became a very close friend – that much is certain.

Tallulah in 1928

The two were together at parties, restaurants and various functions throughout the decade. A memoir of Lady  Caroline Paget recalls her being introduced to Tallulah and her “friend and travelling companion” Audrey Carten, probably in 1930.(Caroline Paget was a leading socialite of the 1930s and her name too was to be linked with Carten’s). Even if Elvira never met Tallulah, to be intimate with her “travelling companion” would have thrilled her immensely.

Caroline Paget by Rex Whistler 1936

Another extrovert who was very much part of Carten’s life in the mid-twenties was Gwen Farrar. Unlike the omniverous Tallulah, Farrar was a strict Lesbian, who by presenting herself on stage as a comic turn –  one much favoured by the BYP, was able to present a masculine image to the world at large that must have been the envy of many at the time. She was one of the great stars of the period – on stage, on records and in cinema shorts. Off stage she was the lover of Barbara “Joe” Carstairs and Dolly Wilde among others. Carten was now mixing with the inner circle of wealthy and artistic Lesbian London.

Gwen Farrar

In 1925, in an act that Elvira would quite likely have  approved of, Farrah and Carten were arrested for assaulting a police officer. The poor constable had objected to them parking their car directly outside the Savoy Hotel. Carten had “obstructed” while the more direct Farrar had thrown a punch. The case caused more mirth than censure and charges were eventually dropped.

Farrah, Bankhead and Carten became fixtures of the party scene and enjoyed a reputation for excess and mischief. One often told tale added a fourth person to the group, Carten’s younger brother, the 17 years old  Kenneth. In 1928, during Aimee Semple McPherson’s much publicised (and parodied) evangelical crusade in England, a less than sober Bankhead invited the American to her home where her “gang” tried to get the preacher to admit that she was human. This involved the four telling all the worst things that they had ever done in the hope that McPherson would at least let slip some indiscretion in return. Seasoned hustler that she was, McPherson didn’t break.

Aimee Semple McPherson (Mrs.Melrose Ape in Vile Bodies)

By the end of the decade Carten was beginning to think of herself more as a writer than an actress. Teaming up with her sister, Waveney, she wrote a number of successful plays such as “Late One Night”, “Fame” and (believe it or not) “Gay Love” which was filmed in 1934. It was during this creative period that the night of passion with Elvira took place-  but they were obviously well-acquainted before that. Audrey and Kenneth were not at the cocktail party on May 30th – they were in America – but they probably attended the trial. The rendezvous  in France was pre-arranged so we can reasonably include Carten in Elvira’s circle. Given that Ruth Baldwin would have been a friend of Carten’s (through Joe Carstairs) and probably Olivia Wyndham too, the distance between Elvira and the openly lesbian guests at her party starts to evaporate.

Audrey and Kenneth seem to have spent much of the thirties crossing the Atlantic. Her plays were produced on Broadway as well as in London. On one return journey there is an interesting fellow-passenger, Ida Wylie.I.A,R. Wylie was a popular Australian romantic novelist and a long-time friend of the best-known lesbian couple in England – Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge – whom she was no doubt on her way to visit. Her presence on the ship  may be a coincidence but she and Audrey would not have wanted for conversation.

In the year that Elvira died (1936) Audrey and Waveney enjoyed another success. Noel Coward produced their adaptation of Jacques Deval’s “Madamoiselle”  which introduced a new star in Greer Garson and ran for 147 performances. That it was at Wyndham’s, where she had starred with Tallulah 13 years previously, must have given great satisfaction. Their adaptation remained popular for some years and is the only work by the sisters that seems to be easily locatable.

Waveney and Audrey

Audrey Carten died in Hastings in 1977 and Waveney in Sandwich in 1990. As for Kenneth, he became an actor too, in various smallish roles on the West End stage. His most notable achievement lies in the fact that he was part of the cast that first sang “The Stately Homes of England” (Operette 1938). The Coward connection continued to prove useful to the Cartens.

Kenneth Carten (far left) in Operette 

As did the relationship with Tallulah Bankhead. She appears to have employed him for a while and also recommended him to various American studios. Not much came of it but Tallulah retained an obvious affection for the man she had first met as a teenager in London.

In her will she left him $10,000 dollars and the portrait that Peter Shiel painted of her in 1962. It is now in the V&A.

Things would have been very different for all concerned had the Gamble accusations been published. I’m, somewhat hypocritically, rather pleased they weren’t. Anyway the truth or otherwise cannot now be proven. Personally, I am quite sure Elvira and Audrey had sex and probably not just in France. And we know that Elvira was very fond of bisexual young men. The incest I doubt – although Audrey, like Elvira, had a reputation with both sexes. Most famously, she had had an affair in the mid-twenties with the actor Gerald Du Maurier, Daphne’s father. By a nice coincidence, in 1925, in the middle of Gerald and Audrey’s liaison,  the 18 years-old Daphne had developed a “pash” on Gwen Farrar and sent her a very gushing letter, much to her parents’ annoyance. Small world, eh?

Countess Karolyi and More Car Crashes

Elvira’s behaviour after the trial rapidly turned her, in the public eye, from a figure of some sympathy into an object of scorn and disapproval. Rumours of a party at the Berkeley Hotel on the day of the acquittal did not help nor did the photographs of her smiling broadly on her return, the following day, from a hairdresser’s appointment. Her beloved and expensive car also seems to have caused offence.

More damaging was a ghost-written article, promising to be the first in a series, which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on July 10th. A lurid piece, printed together with what purported to be Michael Stephen’s diary, it opened with the phrase “I write in tears” and went downhill from there. It said much about her great love for the deceased but did not allude to the “wild” lifestyle that the public wanted to hear about and which it saw as at the bottom of the tragedy. Elvira was simply not contrite enough nor did she admit to breaking any moral codes. The backlash was swift, questions were asked in Parliament and no more articles appeared.

Elvira left for St.Raphael in France at the end of the month. She could not, however, keep out of trouble.Drunken scenes on the ferry and in a hotel were followed by a serious car crash on the road to Cannes. On July 30th or 31st she collided with the car of Countess Katrina Karolyi, the wife of the exiled Hungarian Prime Minister, and herself a glamorous figure on both the French and English social scene.

Mirror Photograph of Countess Karolyi by Andre Kertesz

The Countess, variously known as Catherine, Katrina or Katinka, received injuries to her arm as her car was shunted 50 feet across the road and into a telegraph pole. An unnamed man in Elvira’s car was cut about the face and arms.Elvira was arrested but not immediately charged. As ever her main concern was her mother’s reaction. Fortunately the Countess was not, as first thought, critically injured and the story was rather buried at home – although the overseas press gave it maximum coverage.

Some months later Elvira was given a nominal fine for (wonderful term) “furious driving”. She was however forced to pay considerable costs and damages. Elvira was not present at the hearing. She was according to her parents recuperating in a nursing home after an emotional breakdown.

This, after the murder trial and the barely avoided scandal of the events surrounding the mysterious suicide of Gertrude Gamble (post forthcoming), was, for Lady Mullens, the last straw. Elvira was from now on kept at a distance and on a considerably reduced allowance. She divided her time between Paris and West End hotels and possibly attempted a change of name.

Occasional touches of defiance remained; she is believed to have told the dancers at the Cafe De Paris “Yes, go on and stare. I’m the woman who shot her lover”.  The drinking and drug-taking continued. However, her moment in the public eye, first as the unfortunate victim of an immoral lifestyle then as the personification of that immorality, had passed. Her death in 1936 went largely unnoticed.

The Karolyis continued in exile in France and then London. Katrina became known as “The Red Countess” – both she and her husband had moved politically to the Left, to the extent of being denied entrance to the USA. She died in 1985.

for earlier incidents involving cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/