Tag Archive: Leonie Fester


Update on Leonie Fester

Just a quick update on Leonie Fester ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/leonie-fester/ )

“On the 19th October 1932 Mrs. Leonie Fester was cautioned by the MPS (on advice from the DPP) for unlawfully obtaining prescriptions, and in turn unauthorised supplies of morphine, from two doctors.”  (cited in Harm Reduction in Substance Use and High-Risk Behaviour edited by Richard Pates, Diane Rile)”

Whether this is the same incident as  this – “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.”  – I don’t know, but it does not appear to be.

This, remember, is the woman described as Elvira’s “very closest friend”. The prison doctor’s confident assertion of no evidence of drug use looks even more doubtful than ever.

I can find no anecdotal and precious few references of any kind to Leonie.  Someone must know more about her.

Her 1932 addresses are worth noting. She moves from King’s Road to Goodge Street (i.e. Chelsea to Fitzrovia). This may mean nothing, but as I have mentioned before there is a Fitzrovian connection with some of Elvira’s acquaintances in the “post-party” years (notably Napper Dean Paul). Goodge Street retained a Bohemian image well into the 1960s ( viz Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street”) but all that is, sadly, long gone.

 

PS. Leonie Fester Inheritance London Gazette 1932

 

 

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I thought a reminder of the cocktail party might be in order as I have posted a few items now and can’t expect people to back track through all of them. So, forgive the repetition but here we go.

On Monday, May 30th 1932 Elvira Barney and Michael Scott Stephen held a cocktail party between 6pm and 10pm at 21 William Mews (off Lowndes Square).Elvira had lived at the Mews since January 1931 and the small front room was designed with Parties in mind. The main two items of furnishing were a cocktail bar and a large gramophone.

21 William Mews and Elvira’s Delage

She held cocktail parties about twice a month. They were informal affairs and always took place early in the week. The invitation process seems to have consisted simply of telling people she met at a party in someone else’s house that she was doing the same next week so “do drop in”. In addition, Michael or Elvira would ring round on the morning of the party and invite others. In the case of the 30th May, many (if not most) of the guests had been invited at Terence Skeffington-Smythe’s cocktail party (the previous Wednesday or Thursday) at 19, Orchard Street. Michael also made some phone calls on the Monday.

Over the course of the evening, between 25 and 35 people came and went. Some were close friends, some were regular attendees, some had only met Elvira at Skeffington-Smyth’s and some had never met her at all. Her two closest friends at the time, Leonie Fester and Terence Skeffington-Smyth were invited but didn’t make it. They turned up at the Blue Angel later on.

Hugh Wade and Elizabeth Ponsonby ( Olivia Wyndham and possibly Heather Pilkington behind railings)

Hugh Wade, the resident pianist at the Blue Angel and The Blue Lantern, knew Elvira well. He was among the first to arrive. Also early was Irene MacBrayne of 88 Brompton Road, an actress. Irene was a regular at Elvira’s parties.

Sylvia Coke, of 4 Carlyle Square, came with a “very great friend” who she was unwilling to name. She didn’t know Elvira well but had met her at various parties over the last couple of months. Brian Howard came with Toni Altmann (and,presumably,Eddie Gathorne-Hardy). All three were living at 39 Maddox Street. Howard had known Elvira by sight for some five years but had only properly spoken to her at Skeffington-Smyth’s. Gathorne-Hardy was not a friend but knew Elvira as a regular at the Blue Lantern. Toni Altmann didn’t know anybody very well. He had recently gone to a party held by performers in the play “Casanova” with Sylvia Coke and had met Elvira there.

Denys Skeffington-Smyth (17 Southwick Street) was in Casanova so that may be the connection (or the Terence S-S cocktail party may have been for the cast). Denys was at the Monday cocktail party and had met Elvira at various gatherings over the past couple of years, but did not consider himself a friend. Arthur Streek (26 Sackville Street) did, and seems to have been more aware of the rows between Elvira and Michael than other guests (or at least more than they would admit to the police). He arrived with two Americans – a Mr.Sherrill and someone called Milton.

Ruth Baldwin and Olivia Wyndham were there. Olivia was visiting from America. They were holding their own “soiree” later,  at 5 Mulberry Walk. If they knew Elvira at all, it would have been through Heather Pilkington, a mutual friend who might also have been in attendance. Someone identified as “Mrs.Butterworth” was there too, but I can’t work out who she was.

Arthur Jeffress

The last guest to arrive was Arthur Jeffress. He had just got back from America and seems to have been the closest to a “guest of honour” that the evening held. He described himself as a “good friend” of Elvira’s and spent much of the rest of the evening with her and Michael.

The party does not seem to have been at all “wild”. The gramophone played and there was dancing. The guests drank sherry, cocktails (gin, grapefruit juice and soda water) and, after Michael and a guest (named as Joe Carstairs by a Mews resident) had been dispatched to an off-licence, whisky. Given Michael and Elvira’s reputation, there may well have been cocaine on offer but there is no evidence to support such a claim.

Only Hugh Wade and Arthur Jeffress appeared at the trial. Toni Altmann, Brian Howard,Irene MacBrayne, Sylvia Coke, Denys Skeffington-Smyth, Arthur Streek, along with Leonie Fester and Terence Skeffington-Smyth, gave police statements. Joe Carstairs sent, through her solicitors, a very forthright letter denying that she was present.

Brian Howard

The police either failed to find the other guests or perhaps, given that all the early interviews told pretty much the same story (everything was fine between Elvira and Michael), they just didn’t see the need. Cotes reports that one guest rang the police offering information but he never materialised. This might be John May, who rang round a number of people on the Tuesday. He was the first to inform Jeffress of the shooting, which suggests that he knew who had been where the night before. A neighbour told the police that he counted fifteen men arriving at the flat before he gave up. Why he counted only the men is anyone’s guess.

Earlier accounts claim that several prominent people were very keen to deny any association with the evening or with Mrs.Barney generally, but this is more likely to be press speculation than actual fact.

And that’s about it. I’ll leave the last words to Sylvia Coke,

“I went to Mrs. Barney’s party at 21 Williams Mews at about 7pm on the 30th May. I should think there were about 25 to 30 persons present. We were given cocktails to drink and there was sherry for those who wanted it, The gramophone was playing and we danced to it. It was a very gay party and everybody, including Mrs,Barney and Mr.Scott Stephen, seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.”

Hugh Armigel Wade

Hugh Wade (1908-1949) was one of the two guests at Elvira’s to attend court as a witness (Arthur Jeffress was the other).  His answers in court are so brief and add nothing to the case (for prosecution or defence) that it is unclear why his presence was deemed necessary.

His police statement is much fuller and is considerably more informative. It is protective of Elvira and markedly evasive about the later party at Arthur Jeffress’ home.

Described by the police as a composer, Wade stated that he was “a professional pianist at present employed at the Blue Angel night club” (no mention of the Blue Lantern). He had been a paying guest at 64a King’s Road (Leonie Fester’s home) but was now living at 9 Rupert Street.

He had first met Elvira at a party at her parents’ house in 1927 and had known Michael Scott Stephen since 1928. He remembers first seeing them together in October 1931 and from then fairly regularly at first nights,plays and at both the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel. He insists that they were always friendly and affectionate to each other. He cites Terence Skeffington Smyth and Leonie Fester as Elvira’s “special friends”.

Hugh Wade with Elizabeth Ponsonby

 

He had first visited 21 William Mews about six weeks earlier, having been invited by Elvira, at The Blue Angel, to come back for a late night drink. Michael Scott Stephen was not there but about eight of Elvira’s friends (included Leonie Fester and her daughter) drank whisky and played the gramophone. Wade says, “It was a very quiet party” – a view not shared by other residents of the Mews.

He then gives the fullest guest list that we have of the Monday  30th cocktail party. He adds a detail or two not mentioned elsewhere, including caviare sandwiches and the presence of a “servant”, and seems undecided as to whether Eddie Gathorne Hardy was actually in attendance.  On leaving the party he went to the Command Performance at the Palladium but failed to get in and so visited the Pavilion before his Blue Angel gig, which started at 10.45.

Pavilion Theatre on the right

He uses the terms “normal and composed”  to describe Elvira at the Blue Angel adding, “She was quite sober”. The former description may have been true, the latter was definitely a lie. His first statement omits any mention of going on to Arthur Jeffress’ residence but Wade was called back to correct this “memory slip”.  This reluctance to mention Jeffress’ gathering and the police’s great interest in who was there (given that neither Elvira or Michael were present) gives, to say the least, some grounds for speculation. He ended the night, very late, at Lyons Corner House  in Coventry Street – then and for many years later – open 24 hours a day and with unofficial sections reserved for prostitutes and the denizens of Soho’s gay community.

Hugh Wade gets fairly short shrift in Taylor’s “Bright Young People“, which is, I feel, a little unfair. His only role is as the marker of Elizabeth Ponsonby’s fall from, if not grace, the higher echelons of the Bright Young coterie. Undoubtedly, Elizabeth’s mother disapproved and her eager reporting of John Strachey’s description of a party held by the then newly-wed Pelly’s has Hugh firmly placed at the debauched centre.

“He had never seen so much drink consumed in his life. Every woman was painted and most of the men – especially a young boy Hugh Wade (I have heard of him from Elizabeth) who had a painted, luscious mouth. He never saw such a “naughty boy”  or so many “naughty boys” or so many people drunk. They carried on till 4am.”

“Naughty Boy” though he was, he did keep faith with Elizabeth, long after others had abandoned her. When she died (of drink) in 1940, one of her few un-hocked  possessions was a piano, which she left to Hugh. Hugh had only eight years left of his life to enjoy it – another of many early deaths in this circle.

His musical career was, in fact, a little more substantial than “night club pianist” might suggest. Aged 19, he had burst on to the late twenties’ equivalent of the “pop scene” with a string of reasonably popular hits. “Like A Virginia Creeper (I’ll come Creeping Back to You)” and “When the Love Bird Leaves its Nest”  (Does it Fly to the East or West?)” may not exactly resonate today but they sold well as sheet music and were much recorded. (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/hugh-wades-early-career/ )

Rosalie - Old sheet Music by FeldmanWade, Hugh. When the love-bird leaves the nest [music] : does she fly to the east or the west? - Front Cover

He never repeated this success, athough he did write music  for films in the 1930s (“The Tenth Man” 1936). Occasional songs still popped up and his final effort was a musical show intended as a comeback vehicle for Jessie Matthews, “Maid to Measure” (1947). It was not a hit and his music,a little dated even by 1930, has now disappeared off the cultural map completely. If he is known at all today it is as the “epicene” ,”naughty boy” who played Body and Soul on the organ at Arthur Jeffress’ Red And White Party. (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ )

9 Rupert Street was until very recently home to the exclusive members club, Rex – whose decor had a, very appropriate, 1930s theme.

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.

some of the cocktail party met up again at the Blue Angel Nightclub on Dean Street where Hugh Wade was the resident pianist. Arthur Jeffress, Elvira and Michael Scott Stephen arrived about 11.15.

Also present were Terence Skeffington Smyth,Irene MacBrayne, Leonie Fester and her daughter Carmen De Ossa.