Tag Archive: Leslie Hutchinson


Lawrence Durrell

In Lawrence Durrell’s Livia (1978) there occurs this short passage. Two of the characters are discussing history and how one should memorialize the inter-War London world.

Lawrence Durrell 1935

“I would have gone about it differently myself.”

“Tell me how.”

“I should have enumerated other things like school ties, huge woollen scarves, Oxford bags, college blazers, Brough Superiors a la T.E. Lawrence, racing cars with strapped bonnets, Lagonda, Bentley, Amilcar…The flappers had come and gone but the vamp was present in force with her cloche hat and cigarette holder.”

1926 Amilcar

“I had forgotten that.”

“It is the small things that build the picture.”

“London.”

“Yes, and the places we frequented in London most of which have disappeared – wiped out one supposes by the bombings?”

“Like the Cafe De Paris?”

“Yes and Ciro’s and The Blue Peter, The Criterion Bar, Quaglino’s, Stone’s Chop House, Mannering’s Grill, Paton’s, The Swan…”

“Good, Robin, and then the night-clubs like The Old Bag O’Nails,  The Blue Lantern, The Black Hole and Kiki’s Place…. we simply never slept.”

“The music of shows like Funny Face (“Who Stole My Heart Away?”), Charlot and the divine Hutch smoothing down the big grand piano and singing in his stern, unemphatic way, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.””

Fred and Adele Astaire 1928

“Just before dawn Lyon’s Corner House, everyone with yellow exhausted faces, whores, undergraduates, all-night watchmen and workers setting off on early jobs. The first newspapers appearing on the icy street.”

Lyons Corner House (somewhere on the left), Coventry Street looking towards Piccadilly

This to me is an interesting exchange. Most of the the symbolic markers (cloche hats, racing cars) have appeared on this blog somewhere. I don’t actually think Who Stole My Heart was from Funny Face but the rest has the proper ring to it.  Durrell was part of Fitzrovia in the early thirties, before he left for Greece in 1935 and thence to Egypt during the war. In between he spent some time in Paris – hence the Henry Miller and Obelisk Press connection. In Cairo, he was a staunch supporter of Eddie Gathorne-Hardy, forever in danger of losing his job over one indiscretion or another. Sadly, Durrell was not always so noble – especially towards his wife.

Lawrence and Nancy Durrell 1934

Of the places he mentions, some are iconic and some quite obscure. I suspect there is a strong autobiographical element here, particularly regarding the eating places. Certainly,The Blue Peter is included because Durrell was the resident “Jazz” pianist there, from about 1930 onwards.

“Well, for a time I had a small allowance. I lived in London. I played the piano in a nightclub—the “Blue Peter” in St. Martin’s Lane, of all places —until we were raided by the police.” (Durrell in Paris Review)

I don’t know if this is the same Blue Peter whose decor was that of a battleship. That one was supposed to be in Great Windmill Street, but I’ve found these addresses to be rather fluid. It also might be the club that became Douglas Byng’s Kinde Dragon, which was in St.Martin’s Lane (although some accounts place it in Ham Yard –  see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/ham-yard/ ).

I haven’t read much by Durrell, I’m afraid, so I don’t know if there are other such reference points in his work. It’s the centenary of his birth this year, so there might be be some readily available information emerging in the coming months.

In the meantime here’s the aforementioned Hutch

and Jack Buchanan and Binnie Hale

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Night and Day

Between July and December 1937, a weekly magazine called “Night and Day” attempted to find a niche in a crowded market. It modelled itself loosely on the New Yorker –  although its editorial tone leant towards flippancy and it exuded Englishness in every article. The editors were Graham Greene and John Marks. Greene was already held in high regard by his peers but not yet the household name he was to become. Marks was a Times journalist and translator (of Celine, in particular). Both were, of course, Oxford graduates and the magazine’s air of erudition worn lightly is a familiar one.

Graham Greene

It was not a Bright Young People venture (bit late for that anyway) but with articles by the likes of Patrick Balfour, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly,Peter Fleming, Christopher Hollis, Christopher Isherwood, Constant Lambert, Osbert Lancaster, Anthony Powell, Maurice Richardson, Christopher Sykes and Evelyn Waugh much of its output reads like the 20s’ generation in adulthood – not exactly in their pipe-and-slippers phase but definitely grown-up, wordly and detachedly bemused by the changing cultural and political climate.

Constant Lambert by Christopher Wood

The over-all list of contributors was, in fact, terrifying. Of the regulars, Waugh did the book reviews, Greene reviewed films, Osbert Lancaster handled art criticism, Constant Lambert wrote on music, Elizabeth Bowen went to the theatre, Hugh Casson surveyed trends in architecture and Peter Fleming was the motoring correspondent. Two columns that have a special period charm were Herbert Read’s weekly round-up of new detective novels and A.J.A. Symons restaurant. reviews. Foreign correspondents included Alastair Cooke and William Empsom. Chuck in Pamela Hansford Johnson and Antonia White and illustrations by Felix Topolski and Edward Ardizzone and you have a fair cross-section of what once counted as English “Life and Letters”.

Despite this abundance of talent (and the list could be a lot longer, I assure you), “Night and Day” did not thrive. Sales were reasonable, but advertising revenue fell short of expectations and the magazine’s mixture of humour and critical commentary somehow failed to click with the public. There was a costly court case after Graham Greene had suggested that some of Shirley Temple’s middle-aged male fans were less than innocent in their appreciation of the precocious infant. Equally damaging, was a fashion review that was less than flattering about a company whose adverts featured elsewhere in the journal. After six months the plug was pulled.

So Britain did not get its own New Yorker. In the following year Picture Post did manage a very successful (and very English) version of Life, but it had a far more coherent editorial policy and was much more soundly financed. Night and Day was a (not ignoble) failure but,sadly, if it has any contemporary historical purchase it is only as a small footnote to a number of otherwise triumphant careers.

Topolski cover

Fortunately, you can get a flavour of the magazine from an excellent compilation, edited by Charles Hawtree (1985), which is well worth hunting down. A particular highlight and an element dear to the heart of this blog is the “What’s On” style entertainments run-down.Art Galleries, Theatres, Cinemas, Sport, Restaurants, Cabaret Clubs and Bottle Parties are all listed with brief, helpful comments. Sport apart, the focus is not just exclusively London, it is exclusively West End and thus gives a useful snapshot of how the educated and well-to-do Londoner might have spent their leisure time that year.

I’m particularly interested in three sections – Restaurants, Supper Dance and Cabaret, and one called Bottle Parties. The restaurants listed are A L’Ecu De France,Antoine’s, Au Petit Coin De France, Berkeley Buttery,Boulestin, Cafe Royal, Chez Victor, Cumberland, Kempinski, L’Aperitif, Le Coq D’Or. Le Perroquet, L’Escargot  Bienvenue, Le Trianon, Majorca, Monseigneur, Overton’s, Prunier’s, Quaglino’s, Quinto’s, Salzburg Grill, Savoy Grill, Simpson’s In The Strand, Sovrani and (featuring floodlit animals and the Bamd of His Majesty’s Guards) the Zoological Garden’s Restaurant. Quaglino’s appears to be the priciest (Theatre Dinner ten shillings and six pence) whereas the Petit Coin (in Carnaby Street) is said to be “very inexpensive”. Lunch at the Cafe Royal, a mere three and six, looks a good bet too.

Many of the above establishments are iconic and you will find them mentioned in novels, memoirs and biographies of the period.  Some specialised in luncheon fare, some were cocktail bars (L’Aperitif) and some catered mainly for theatre audiences . Elvira’s favourite, The Monseigneur is remembered today for its music and cabaret so it is important to note that it was first and foremost a place to eat.

London Casino 1938

The Supper Dance and Cabaret entries are as follows  – Berkeley (“goes down with everyone from a debutante to a maiden aunt”), Cafe Anglais (“informal, stage people”), Cafe De Paris (“sophisticated atmosphere, good supper”), Dorchester, Grosvenor (featuring “stunt banjoists”) Hungaria, London Casino (Paris style stage revue -“conversation superfluous”), Mayfair, Quaglino (“midnight Cabaret – Dress”), Ritz (“crowded with the fearfully smart”), San Marco, Savoy  and Trianon. Unfortunately there are no prices listed but most of these places would have required both membership and an entrance fee.

Then we have the Bottle Parties ( “The Private Party system operates at the undermentioned. Order drinks 24 Hours in Advance.”) – Cocoanut Grove (“South Sea Island setting”) , Four Hundred  (“favourite haunt of the rich after 2a.m. Very subdued lighting, supper menu includes Chinese food”), Frisco (“the genuine pulse of Africa, migrating via Paris and Harlem – this is the real thing”), Havana (Cuban band, Rumbas – Breakfast”), Paradise and The Old Florida (“eminently respectable, supper menu and cabaret”).

All in all fair range to keep you busy from morning until very late at night, even if there are fewer fashionable spots than there would have been in Elvira’s heyday. The Nest, The Shim-Sham and other low dives are, of course, not mentioned – Frisco’s is as near as you get. Nonetheless, I am grateful to Night And Day for leaving us with this ephemeral but informative selection of venues. Magazines and journals have been under-used as a source of research into the past but they can sometimes capture an era more effectively than any other medium.

Incidentally,Elvira’s preferred “Entertainment Guide” was the very popular Bystander,  which carried extensive listings alongside reviews and fiction (Daphne Du Maurier got her start in its pages). The Bystander was one of the magazines Greene and Marks hoped to compete with. They may have dented its sales as it merged with the Tatler a year or so later.

Night And Day took its name from the Cole Porter song. In London it was particularly associated with Leslie Hutchinson, who sang it at several of the above restaurants, hotels and clubs. He was still bashing it out at Quaglino’s into the 1960s, but here he is at his peak, in 1933.

Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson

I’ll leave Charlotte Breese’s “Hutch” alone after this post but I do recommend it to anyone interested in the racial and sexual politics of the inter-war years – or anyone who wants to acquaint themselves with one of the true stars of British popular music in the sadly ignored decades preceding the rise of the Beatles. However there is a section on Elvira that is too tantalising to ignore.

“Typical of Hutch’s clients and/or lovers was Elvira Mullens, daughter of Lord and Lady Mullens. Three pianists – Hutch, Billy Milton and Carroll Gibbons – all played at one of her parties, which always featured modish theatricals. Appearing the same night was a close-harmony turn, The Three New Yorkers. Elvira was briefly married to one of them, a Mr.Barney. The marriage ended, and scandal erupted, when Elvira took a lover and shot him dead. Elvira was arrested and confined to the infirmary of Holloway prison, where, to keep up her spirits, she displayed a photograph of Tallulah Bankhead. At the same time, Mr. Barney tried to blackmail her father by threatening to expose details of her private life, including her cocaine habit. In the event, Elvira was acquitted. To celebrate she threw a huge party at the Berkeley. People were horrified and soon afterwards she committed suicide in Paris.”

There are some errors in this account, which is taken largely from Billy Milton’s “Paradise Mislaid” – is is doubtful that it was suicide, for example. However it is the “clients and/or lovers” that makes me wonder. Is this just a general statement about Elvira’s “typicality”  or is something more being implied? Why choose Elvira as an example, anyway?

It is not far-fetched at all to speculate  that Elvira could have had a fling with Hutch. So it seems did half of West End society, male and female. Elvira’s idol Tallulah certainly did and Zena Naylor (a friend of Brenda Dean Paul and Olivia Wyndham, if not Elvira herself) had quite a long-lasting affair with the singer. At one party, Brenda Dean Paul actually won Hutch in an auction. Another ex-Deb, Elizabeth Corbett (nee Sperling) was about the same age as Elvira and said to be the leader of “a smart set”. She gave birth to a child by Hutch in 1930. Hutch’s most famous relationship was with Lady Edwina Mountbatten, a somewhat less than clandestine romance and one which Elvira would have known all about. Edwina was drawing press attention at the same time Elvira was on trial. The People had hinted at an affair between Lady Mountbatten and a “coloured” entertainer. Fortunately for the Mountbattens, they picked on Paul Robeson as the likely candidate and Lord Mountbatten sued and won substantial damages. The unsuccessful defence case was conducted by none other than Sir Patrick Hastings, fresh from his  triumphant handling of Elvira’s murder charge.

Edwina Mountbatten

Although Hutch continued to be a cabaret favourite there was an undoubted behind the scenes campaign against him.After the abdication of friend and enthusiast Edward the Eighth he was rarely heard on the BBC and the Society invitations tailed off. He remained incredibly popular with female audiences throughout the country  and staged a triumphant “Society” comeback as part of the nostalgia for the 20s that hit the upper-classes in the mid-fifties. His last years though were ones of absolute decline and make for very sad and somewhat disquieting reading.

Breese’s commentary on the motivations of those women who threw themselves at Hutch in the golden years, from 1927 to the mid-thirties, rather misses some obvious points, explored at length elsewhere in the book,  but as an analysis of Elvira is worthy of consideration,

“Many of Hutch’s female lovers were rich and had nothing to do, and had little or no self-esteem.Desperate for affection, and attention, they lived in gilded misery, drifting from party to party and, inevitably, attracting men who despised, exploited and discarded them.”

“Mauve” Waterhouse

Charlotte Breese’s  biography of Leslie Hutchinson, “Hutch“, apart from being a moving and rather sad portrayal of the Bright Young Thing’s favourite cabaret performer, is a mine of information and, sometimes slightly scurrilous, revelations about the antics of  the “faster” crowd between the Wars. One anecdote in particular caught my eye.

Hutch 1928

In a section of the book that begins with the statement, “While most of the parties that Hutch attended were fairly decorous, some were scenes of open debauch.”, the following is given as an example –

“The wife of Sir Nicholas Hildersley, Audrey, known as “Mauve”, used to entertain her decadent friends at their home in Swan Walk, Chelsea. While her husband, often with his fellow philatelist George V, worked on his stamp collection in the basement, the guests, stimulated by drink and cocaine at his expense, used to chant “Hey, Hey, Let Nicky Pay!” Hutch and Mauve, armed with a musical saw, used to sing and vigorously enact “Let’s Do It”.”

“Mauve was a vain woman, in a cloud of Turkish cigarettes and Chanel No. 5, who avoided having children for fear of losing her beautiful figure . Although Hutch probably tried various drugs – Billy Milton, a rival pianist, claimed he took cocaine – he did not become dependent on the stimuli of the very fast set, limiting himself to being a lifelong heavy smoker and drinker.”

So, we find another seemingly respectable Chelsea household where drug-taking and sexual shenanigans are the order of the day. As a bonus, we also have a mention of Elvira’s friend, Billy Milton.

Now, I have no wish to contravene the libel laws or to offend anybody related to the Hildersleys  and the story, presumably related by one of that ilk, cannot be independently verified, but it does seem worth pointing out the following facts.

There is no record of anyone called Hildersley residing in Swan Walk in the relevant years (1928-30, I’d guess). However Sir Nicholas Edwin Waterhouse, senior partner in the already powerful accountancy firm Price-Waterhouse, lived at No.2 with his wife Audrey, known as “Mauve” to her friends. Sir Nicholas was a keen philatelist, his book on American postage stamps can still be found. Conspicuously wealthy, the couple were both keen patrons of the arts.

Swan Walk, Chelsea

One artist who benefitted especially from their support was the great “lost Modernist”,  the maverick and irascible Wyndham Lewis. By the late 1920s, having alienated most of literary and artistic London, Lewis was in need of sympathetic patronage. The Waterhouses funded his journal The Enemy and helped him financially during the writing of The Apes of God (a novel which lambasted everyone Lewis knew, thus ensuring his further isolation.)

Wyndham Lewis was connected to Elvira’s world through Marjorie Firminger’s unfortunate infatuation with the artist  (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/mary-ashliman-heather-pilkington-and-the-blue-angel/ ). It just possible that Firminger and her friends  met Lewis at Swan Walk. Firminger’s narcotically-inclined co-host at many a Chelsea bash,Olivia Wyndham,was distantly related to Lewis (but then again so was she to almost everybody.)

Audrey Waterhouse was much older than Elvira and I think it is unlikely that they were acquainted. However, if true, the presence of yet another Chelsea residence where cocaine was freely available would not have escaped the notice of the circles Mrs.Barney inhabited. As to Hutch, there might be – according to Charlotte Breese – an even closer connection to Elvira than simply a shared fondness for “decadent” parties – and that will be dealt with shortly.

 

 

Cafe De Paris and London Nightclubs

The Cafe De Paris was used as the setting for the 1929 film Piccadilly which starred Anna May Wong, who briefly hung out with London’s Smart Set. She had been brought to London by producer Basil Dean after her success in Berlin where she was friends with Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl. Constant Lambert was much taken with the actress and wrote a musical suite dedicated to her but Eric Maschwitz, with whom she probably had an affair, went one better, writing the lyrics to the most evocative song of the era, “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” in memory of their encounter.

Here’s a clip that gives a good sense of the atmosphere of the place (the music is a later addition).

British Pathe is the best source for film of pre-war London club-life although it concentrates very much on the cabaret acts rather than the bands and the dancers. http://www.britishpathe.com/results.php?search=london+cabaret

Here’s a Youtube compilation of some of those clips – fine, particularly if you like the Weston Brothers. The sequences include footage of the Kit-Kat club and Playtime at the Piccadilly.

High Society favourite and resident at Ciro’s, Chez Henri, Cafe De Paris, Monseigneurs, Cafe Anglais and elsewhere, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, sings These Foolish Things