Tag Archive: jean cocteau

Brenda Dean Paul

This is a guest post from Chris Hallam. Chris is working on a major project, examining British drug sub-cultures and the authorities’ responses to them from the 1920s to the 1950s. This work will shed light on a hitherto neglected history, taking us from the era covered by Marek Kohn in “Dope Girls” up to the much more extensively documented Sixties’ drug “explosion”. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to contribute this piece about the iconic Miss Dean Paul, whose exploits have hovered around the edges of this Blog since day one.

Tony de Gandarillas,“Napper” Dean Paul, Marjorie Firminger, Brenda Dean Paul and Jane Carlys – Chelsea 1929


“Saint Brenda

On Brenda Dean Paul- for ‘Cocktails with Elvira’

Brenda Dean Paul, baronet’s daughter and Bright Young Person, was born in Kensington, West London in 1907, three years after her brother Napier (‘Napper’ Dean Paul). She would become (in)famous as the ‘society drug addict’ whose court cases blazed a trail of aristocratic decadence across the 1930s, 40s and 50s, dying in 1959 from- improbably enough- natural causes. Her drug using career, which was followed with avid interest by the national press, linked the aristocratic Bohemias of the 1930s- the sort of ‘set’ explored throughout these pages- to the jazz scene and beat subcultures of the 50s, when post-war affluence brought forth a flourish of new youth cultures.

Brenda’s drug use probably began with the regular use of alcohol and those ‘pick-me-ups’ available over the counter at pharmacies; she first used heroin in Paris in the late 1920s at a party held at an artist’s studio. This artist may or may not have been Jean Cocteau, enfant terrible of French culture, who came to be regarded as second only to Thomas de Quincey as drugs-corrupter-in-chief of gilded English youth. In her autobiography, Brenda tells us that a round of dissipation in the night clubs of Paris led to a collapse in her health, and that she acquired her celebrated habit while undergoing treatment with morphine in a Parisian clinic. Either way, whether by medicine or pleasure, Brenda appears to have been one of those individuals for whom opiate drugs represent a vocation, a kind of calling. Once called, Brenda never looked back. In the early years, there were many attempts at cures, it is true; countless times she would suffer the agonies of withdrawal in a string of nursing homes across London and the shires. But the cures did not take, and she always returned to her syringe and her drugs.

Brenda and Napper

It’s important to understand that the use of hypodermic morphine was prevalent in parts of the elite classes of England in the early twentieth century. Historian Virginia Berridge reminds us of the case of Lady Diana Cooper who, together with Katharine Asquith (the prime minister’s daughter-in-law), lay ‘in ecstatic stillness through too short a night, drugged in very deed by my hand with morphia’. Although the police cracked down on the street trade in cocaine in the capital during the Great War and the 1920s, they left the aristocracy alone. If the upper classes got into trouble with their drug use, they attended one of a number of private nursing homes that would treat their withdrawal symptoms with gentle reduction cures, bed rest and champagne. Lady Diana, though, was an occasional user. ‘I hope she won’t become a morphineuse’, wrote her husband Duff Cooper, soon to be Britain’s ambassador to Paris: ‘It would spoil her looks.’

Brenda in the 1950s

It did not spoil Brenda’s looks, though- she remained in possession of a singular beauty throughout her life; but her existence was to become difficult as the British state, which had hurriedly criminalised drug use under the ubiquitous Defence of the Realm Acts (and formalised this status in the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act), began a remorseless pursuit of Brenda Dean Paul and her small circle of associates. This pursuit did not really begin until the early 1930s, when that circle included her brother Napier, her close friend and lover Anthea Carew, and various other members of a network which came and went, while Brenda sailed on, steadfast in her narcotic orbit.
As early as 1931 the Metropolitan police had her under almost continual surveillance. Brenda’s first drug prosecution occurred in late 1931, after her father had visited Scotland Yard to beg the police to stop his daughter obtaining drugs. By this time, a warrant had already been issued for her arrest on seven counts of receiving dual supplies of morphine (addicts could be supplied with heroin, cocaine or morphine by their doctors, but Brenda had gone to several doctors at once, which was frowned upon).

Detective Sergeant Griffey of Scotland Yard was tasked with arresting Brenda, but discovered that she had vanished from London. Enquiries traced her to Devon, where she had spent her childhood. On a cold November night, as Brenda waited in her motor car outside the local doctor’s surgery while her maid collected her morphine script (that’s how it was done in those days), a torch flashed in Brenda’s face. ‘Are you Miss Brenda Dean Paul?’ asked a harsh voice. ‘I am an Inspector Sergeant from Scotland Yard and I would like to speak to you…’ The detective issued her with seven summons to appear at Marlborough Street Police Court (as magistrates’ courts were then known) under the Dangerous Drugs Act. Later that night, Anthea Carew drove her back to Chelsea through the pouring rain as they frantically tried to prepare for the case, which might easily result in a prison sentence.

Brenda outside court 1933

In the event, she was bound over by the magistrate and ordered to stay at a London nursing home, and later at the home of her doctor, Dr Fleming, the latest in a long list of medical men (the term was current) to oversee her treatment. While she was unhappily incarcerated at Fleming’s Regents Park house, she was visited by Anthea Carew and other drug using friends. It was Fleming who informed the Home Office that he believed Anthea was smuggling drugs and syringes in for Brenda, and a warrant was in turn issued for her arrest. She left immediately for Devon; like Brenda, she had grown up there, her father being the Dean of Exeter cathedral. She sped off in a hired Daimler, for which the cheque later bounced. These women liked to travel in style.
The two had stayed together in the Park Lane Hotel, but the hotel management did not take kindly to hedonistic goings on within its hallowed interiors. The night porter was called to Anthea’s room and found the pair in a state of advanced intoxication, one in bed, the other sitting on the bed ‘in an almost nude condition’. The women were told that they were ‘not regarded as suitable guests and were informed that…their room was required’. They promptly shifted their base of operations to the Dorchester. While the years between the wars saw a growing acceptance of contraception and of the value of sex within marriage, marginal forms of sexuality remained tightly policed.

It is notable that authorities such as hotel managers and pharmacists were keen to collaborate with the Met in their surveillance of Brenda’s network; their drug taking and erotic practices transgressed cultural norms and created an ongoing scandal in interwar Britain. A series of inter-related court cases in the summer of 1932 saw both feature heavily in national and even international newspapers; in the US, Brenda was viewed as an example of the ‘Decaying Aristocracy’, those blue-bloods who ‘had drunk too deeply of life’s pleasures’ and now cut pathetic figures.

Brenda and Anthea Carew leaving court

Both Brenda and Anthea Carew served sentences in Holloway prison. For a tiny band of cultural subversives, they drew an amazing amount of attention from Britain’s authorities- from the Home Office, the police and courts, and the newspapers, largely because, as Marek Kohn has pointed out, drugs came to stand as a symbol for those aspects of social change which the conservative order found threatening and alarming.”


Eden Roc

For Fashionable Society, Bright Young People, elements of Bohemia (whether Genuine, High or Pseudo-Smart) and various other  free-living folk,  the South of France, from the mid-twenties onward, became a sort of spiritual second-home. Perhaps “fleshly” rather than “spiritual” is more appropriate in the case of many of this blog’s regulars.

Eden Roc 1936

The list of favoured places running, from West to East,included Marseilles, Toulon, St.Raphael,Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monte Carlo. Each location had a different ambience and drew a slightly different clientele. Monte Carlo was the most respectable, Marseilles the roughest, Cannes (Elvira’s favourite) was, according to her friend Billy Milton, all gigolos, sex and drugs (not that they were lacking elsewhere). Billy, in 1931 just before he met Michael Scott Stephen, bumped into Napper Dean Paul on the beach, Napper was dodging creditors (as usual).

Toulon was the most Bohemian –  Brian Howard, Anthony Powell, Constant Lambert, Burra and friends all spent time there.An added draw was the presence of Cocteau, who shuttled between Antibes and Toulon and was something of a hero for all the more aesthetically-minded English tourists as well as introducing quite a few to the delights of opium-smoking.

Cocteau, Toulon 1930

Arthur Jeffress, though favouring his beloved Venice, spent at least one summer in the South of France. Summer is the key word – and the novelty. Odd as it might seem today, it was only in the 1920s that the area became a summer rather than a winter destination for tourists. In the late nineteenth century wealthy British and Americans had built winter residences and hotels developed to cater for sporting enthusiasts. Casinos added to the appeal.

The Murphys at Antibes 1925

Credit it for the change has many candidates but two names that continually crop up are Gerald and Sara Murphy, a wealthy couple, part of the “Americans In Paris” set. In 1923 they rented the Hotel Du Cap, Antibes for the whole summer and held open house there. They also bought a nearby villa (The Villa America) and soon Cole Porter (a friend of Murphy’s from Yale), Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Picasso and others were to be seen in what had previously been a relative backwater. Scott Fitzgerald later immortalised the hotel as the “Hotel Des Etrangers” in Tender is the Night.

The Hotel Du Cap included the pavilion and bathing area, Eden Roc, which became equally iconic and is where Cyril Connolly heard the era-defining voice of June Carberry (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/voices/ ). Connolly’s novel The Rock Pool, which deals with the dissolute remnants of Bright Bohemia , is set nearby in Cagnes-sur-Mere, between Cannes and Nice.

Each resort had a hotel to which the chic and arty headed – The Hotel Du Port, Toulon, The Majestic and the Carlton in Camnes,The Negresco at Nice.Brian Howard saw Elvira at the Majestic and she was on her way to the Continental in St.Raphael with Audrey Carten when drunkenness diverted them to a less salubrious venue. It was also on the road to Nice that Elvira had her famous crash.

For the artists and the wealthy alike, the South of France simply meant pleasure and comparative freedom. The Bohemians waxed more lyrical about the land and the locals but they were all essentially tourists and behaved as such.Nonetheless they gave the area a glamour and a reputation for sophisticated licentiousness that it has never lost. Eden Roc remains a place for the rich and the artistic  – which, since the twenties, has largely meant film stars.

Marlene Dietrich Eden Roc 1939

Gerald Murphy, inspired by the circle he drew around him, had a brief spell as an artist. Unlike most amateurs, he produced some important works. One, which encapsulates the period nicely, is, I am pleased to say, entitled Cocktails.