Tag Archive: Mayfair

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.

The Underworld

As I have mentioned already, one of the more striking features of the Barney trial is the almost universal lack of sympathy for the victim. Though the press and the public eventually turned against Elvira, from the moment of her arrest, to the scenes of the “Great British Public” singing “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow” on learning of her acquittal, the balance of opinion was firmly pro- Elvira and anti- Michael. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the many lachrymose articles devoted to the tragedy and plight of Sir John and Lady Mullens. Michael’s family barely get a look in.

Part of this is due, I am afraid, to the deference towards wealth that marks English culture in the period. It is hard to read some of the accounts of the trial without wincing at the extent of forelock-tugging on display. Michael, though from a thoroughly respectable middle-class background, could not compete with the perceived glamour of the upper crust.

But there is more to it than that, I think. One aspect is the rather familiar habit of assuming that any signs of “degeneracy” on behalf of a woman is down to her being “led astray” by a man. A good example of this is the case of Billie Carleton ( examined by Marek Kohn in Dope Girls). The adventurous and independent Carleton was transformed by her overdose into a “broken butterfly” by a press keen to blame Limehouse Orientals or her gay friend, the costume designer Reggie De Veulle, for her untimely death. More recent examples can be found by looking at tabloid coverage of the likes of Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse.

Billie Carleton

However it is the portrayal of Michael as sponger and womaniser (and possibly worse) that influenced popular opinion and, I strongly suspect, the jury. Elvira is depicted as foolish but Michael is sinister. His sexuality is an issue at the trial, not hers. One can still hear the judge’s disapproval on being told that Michael’s last known occupation was as a dress designer (“I suppose that means women’s’dresses”). Furthermore, Michael fitted easily into an already well-established stereotype – the “cad” who shuffles between Soho and Mayfair. Now, that might seem to apply to any number of Elvira’s male friends but for the 1930s’  readers of newspapers, detective fiction and “True Crime” tales, it carried a very specific set of meanings.

Fairly typical is this 1931 description.

“An elegant young man of the “mother’s spoilt darling” type, who moves in Mayfair when he is not in Soho: stylishly dressed with a  touch of effeminacy in his make-up, and all the talk of the cocktail parties and the flashier clubs of the Bright Young Things. There is some mystery about his origin; he is supposed to derive from a good family on the shady side! He certainly has an entree  to the lighter side of Mayfair which he puts to good – or bad – use in sundry ways. The Underworld has its liaison officers who “tip it the wink” or retail it a spicy bit of scandal for a consideration. What happens to the casual bit of information after he has retailed it is of no importance to him. He just pays one or two pressing bills – usually the tailor’s – and goes to another cocktail party or gets an invitation to the Opera or the Ballet or a fashionable First Night. Nobody asks him how he lives, for he moves in an Overworld in which everyone has money of some sort, somewhere, without having to work for it or explain its source. So long as he can keep on friendly terms with his tailor and his laundry he need not worry about much else. If he cannot afford to buy the smart society weeklies he can cadge them from a friend or run over them at a friend’s house, see them he must, but he would never condescend to be seen entering a public library…”

If this is not actually Michael, then it fits the public image of him like a well-tailored glove.The elegant clothes, the rather unmasculine appearance, the lack of a proper job, the gambling debts and the insinuations of not-to-be-mentioned vices are all of a keeping with a figure that a decade of such writing had made instantly recognisable.

The quotation comes from Trevor Allen’s “The Underworld“, from a chapter appropriately entitled “Soho Night Clubs: The Drug Craze”. Trevor Allen’s contribution, supposedly based on the memoirs of Soho hustler “Charles Brooks”, was one of a spate of nominally non-fiction works offering the law-abiding English audience a glimpse of the exotic underside of London life. This genre flourished in the 20s and 30s and the contents are nearly always the same – a section on nightclubs and racetrack gangs, something on the drug craze, great emphasis on “Vice” and obligatory remarks on the interaction between Mayfair and Soho. Salacious in intent, the books manage also to assume a relentlessly moralising tone. They are also uniformly racist, homophobic and misogynistic.  Crime reporters and hack authors, such as the egregious Sydney Horler (a sort of cross between Sapper and Richard Littlejohn) and ex-Mosley bodyguard Peter Cheyney, bravely sought out the corrupt and the unnatural for the public’s edification. This was no marginal phenomenon, Horler and Cheyney were two of the best-selling authors of the inter-war period.  Criminals got in on the act too. Conmen such as Netley Lucas, a King’s Road resident in 1931, churned out several such volumes in between periodic brushes with the law. In such sensationalist company,  Allen’s “The Underworld” is actually one of the more sober accounts.

None of the above writers placed a high premium on historical accuracy but as an insight into that mixture of fascination and fear that characterised the popular media view of clubland and its habitues, they are invaluable. The genre continued well into the 1950s  when Robert Fabian’s London After Dark and Arthur Tietjens Soho, were still regaling suburban readers with tales of Brilliant Chang and Eddie Manning, sinister blackmailers, “perverts” and good girls lured into vice with barely an altered sentence from the pre-war titles.

So, just as Elvira is forever associated with the song “Poor Little Rich Girl”, Michael was damned by the resemblance he bore to an already established set of images about young men “of his type”. Of course, he may have shared all of the “vices” that underpinned that imagery. But he may not have. By the time of the trial it didn’t matter. He had become that oddest of things  –  a “guilty corpse”.

Should anyone wish to delve further into this odd little corner of English publishing then, as well as Allen, I would particularly recommend Netley Lucas’ Ladies of the Underworld, Sidney Horler’s London’s Underworld  and Ada Chesterton’s Women of the Underworld. It appears that it was compulsory to use the term Underworld in every title. If you want a book that covers the same general area but does so genuinely from an “insider’s” point of view then Mark Benney’s “Low Company”  is, despite a rather self-consciously “philosophical” style, indispensable.