Tag Archive: Kay Hammond

What’s in a Name?

Peter Cotes, author of “Trial of Elvira Barney”, was at the time of the events in question acting in Noel Coward’s “Cavalcade”. Such was the size of the cast that it often seems that about half of the aspiring or stage-struck young thespians of the period were in the show. Barbara Waring, a possible cocktail party attendee and late night guest of Arthur Jeffress was, and Sylvia Coke and Irene Potter may well have been.

First nighters at Cavalcade 

Anyhow, Cotes reports that the Barney trial was quite a sensation and a nightly talking point  for the cast and suggests that Coward may have stored away the name to bestow upon one of the most endearingly mischievous female figures in British theatre – Elvira in “Blithe Spirit” (Stage 41-44, Film 1945). In fact, Cotes’ book is prefaced with Elvira’s lines from the play – “Why shouldn’t I have fun? I died young, didn’t I?”

Kay Hammond (1909-1980), who played Elvira in the stage and film versions was another late 20s’ RADA graduate  on the West End scene in the early 1930s.The daughter of Sir Guy Standing, she married the 3rd Baronet Leon – an Old Etonian and an Oxford contemporary of Evelyn Waugh – and got her major acting break in Rattigan’s “French Without Tears”.

It is certainly the case that, in Popular Culture, the hitherto rather obscure Christian name, Elvira, has become a shorthand-code for wickedness and/or general waywardness . In the world of z-grade horror films, Elvira crops up with monotonous regularity – usually as an excessively sexualised but essentially comic vampire.

Agatha Christie borrows the name for her murderess in “At Bertram’s Hotel” –  although it is Elvira Blake’s mother who more properly belongs to the “fast set” of the 1930s. The 1965 novel is redolent with nostalgia for a privileged -if not always entirely respectable – world that had by then almost completely vanished.

Kay Hammond as Elvira Condomine in Noel Coward’s film
Blithe Spirit 1945


Leonie Fester

Leonie Fester, 64a King’s Road, Chelsea, gave a long statement to the police. Although not at the cocktail party she did arrive at the Blue Angel and went on to Arthur Jeffress’ late-night do. Lester Lucas gave her a lift home at about 4.30 am.

Hugh Wade described her as being, along with Terence Skeffington Smyth, “Elvira’s very closest friend”. It is significant then that  “At Marlborough Street Police Court, on January 30, Marcella Leonie Fester (35), Goodge Street, Wi, was charged with being in possession of a ” dangerous ” drug without being authorised”.(Chemist and Druggist Mar 33). She was bound over for three years with a residential condition and had to pay £6 costs.

This casts some doubt on the court’s acceptance  ( in the Barney case) that there was nothing to suggest drug use and supports the assertions of Barbara Graham and Viva King that Elvira was a regular “sniffer” of cocaine.

Marcella Leonie Kochanski was born in Hampstead in 1896 to Polish parents and died in 1949 at Hastings.She had a  17 year old daughter Carmen De Ossa (Cassa- in the police statement) who was with her at The Blue Angel but not at Arthur Jeffress’ flat later. The father had died in the War. She then married Emile Fester in 1924 but had divorced in 1931.

She first met Elvira at the Blue Lantern (Hugh Wade introduced them) and like most of the partygoers seemed to know Elvira much better than she did Michael Stephen. A loyal friend she described them as an affectionate couple and was unaware of any trouble between them.

She provided a precise picture of the cocktail parties held at the Mews but also felt the need to point out that “although Mrs.Barneygave cocktail parties and would have a drink out she would sometimes go two or three days without having a drink. She was very fond of outdoor sports and would frequently go to football matches,cricket matches and boxing contests. I say this in order to correct any impression that may be gained from my statement that she lived a life of cocktail parties and nightclubs.”

What the teenage Carmen made of the Blue Angel and her mother’s drug use can only be imagined. Like many others in this narrative –  she too was to become involved in the  world of stage and screen. She worked as a film editor in the 1940s and 1950s as Carmen Beliaeff  (she had married in 1935). The films were mostly B movies – thrillers and comedies. In 1949 she worked on Call of The Blood, which starred Kay Hammond – Elvira in Blithe Spirit.

Kay Hammond may have been part of the Barney extended circle -a RADA graduate,  she would have known Sylvia Coke et al. She was in Aimee Stuart’s Nine Till Six with Sunday Wilshin (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/sunday-wilshin/ ).

By 1959 Carmen was De Ossa once more and is listed as editor on the television series “The Invisible Man”. She lived into this century, dying in Surrey in 2003. I wonder if somebody interviewed her about what must have been a fascinating life.

NOTE The police statement says that Leonie lived at 84a but all other references say 64a – I have gone with the latter, as it was also briefly the address given by Hugh Wade. Of course, she may have moved from one to the other.