Tag Archive: Noel Coward

The importance of Cabaret and the Revue to both popular and Bohemian culture between the Wars is undeniable. The first Bohemian night-clubs, The Cave of the Golden Calf, The Hambone and the Cave of Harmony were all initially cabaret-bars, modelled along Parisian lines. The craze for dancing in the 1920s reduced the Cabaret to a specialist or novelty act and the dance-bands and pianist-singers began to dominate. The legacy remained though.

At the same time, in the theatre, Andre Charlot and C.B.Cochran developed the Revue with a string of spectacular and innovative  productions.Elements of music-hall, Parisian Folies, jazz, ballet and topical satire all combined to create a distinctive, and very popular, night out.

Night Lights at the Trocadero

Both men favoured a mix ofthe  high and the low, of sophistication and spectacle. They also had a great eye for new talent and many of the great acts of the time owed their careers to their foresight. Aside from several mammoth (and expensive) productions they also pioneered what came to be known as the “Intimate Revue”, which achieved particular importance in the 1930s. Its success owed much to Noel Coward’s 1920s Revues, first for Charlot and then jointly with Cochran, On With The Dance (1925) and This Year of Grace (1928). These had provided the decade,s two most evocative and anthemic songs, firstly Poor Little Rich Girl and secondly Dance Little Lady.

The Intimate Revue was a theatrical event that drew inspiration from both Cabaret Club and larger stage performances. It was very fashionable for a while and its audience  pretty up-market. Certain artists became particularly associated with genre, Hermione Baddeley and Hermione Gingold especially.

Two Hermiones 1950

Hermione Baddeley was at the heart of Bright Young society. Her husband was David Tennant, owner of the Gargoyle Club and she had a  deep animosity towards Brenda Dean Paul and Harry Rowan Walker, from the raffish end of the set (both of whom were likely associates of Elvira). She was the star of the Revue that Hugh Wade was most involved with ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/to-and-fro-1936-hugh-wade-and-the-perils-of-the-topical-revue/ )

Hermione Gingold ruled the roost at the Gate Theatre Studio in Covent Garden. This was a small (96 seats) but important venue which put on challenging plays but also a large number of revues. Operating as a club, it avoided the need to submit everything to the Lord Chamberlain’s office and so was rather freer from censorship than larger venues. (see Gate Theatre Studio)

One programme is enough to reveal the array of talent involved and the general  ambience of these Revues. Some of the actors would go on to become the most familiar of British and American screen faces, others important figures in television circles. At least two were friends of Hugh Wade and Elvira.


Geoffrey Wright, Robert MacDermot, John Adrian Ross, Nicholas Phipps (Gate Theatre Studio)
Charles Hawtrey, Hermione Gingold, Richard Haydn, Kenneth Carten, Nicholas Phipps, Nadine March, Ann Morrison, Billy Milton, Reginald Beckwith, Gabrielle Brune; dir:Norman Marshall & Geoffrey Wright, des:William Chappell ; additional material by Diana Morgan, Walter Leigh, Ronald Hill, John Weir, Reginald Beckwith, Harold Plumptre, Arthur Marshall

Norman Marshall was the owner of the theatre  and an important figure in what would now be termed alternative theatre. He used the Revues to finance more experimental and “difficult” productions (see Norman Marshall). His co-director,who wrote the music was Geoffrey Wright (see Geoffrey Wright Obituary ). This Oxbridge partnership gives the lie to the myth that “Beyond The Fringe” was the first manifestation of the Footlights tradition on the London  stage.

Billy Milton was at the height of his popularity at this time, spending his time between cabaret spots in London, Paris and New York. He has appeared on this blog in several guises, playing at Elvira’s parents’ house, claiming to have missed Elvira’s party by a day, befriending Napper Dean Paul in Cannes and generally knowing everyone in show-business and Society.

William “Billy” Chappell is also a familiar name, linked with Edward Burra, Frederick Ashton et al. His work in the 1930s as dancer, choreographer and set-designer show a work ethic not usually associated with the Chelsea Set (see William Chappell Obituary )

Billy Chappell

Apart from Gingold, the name most likely to resonate today is Charles Hawtrey. It is easy to forget that he had a long pre-Carry On career and in 1937 had already endeared himself to the British public as the obnoxious schoolboy in Will Hay’s stage and cinema act. Hawtrey’s later life is one of tragedy and alcoholic downfall, so it is pleasant to remember him in these early years of success. He was the show’s compere.

Charles Hawtrey

Richard Haydn was a comic actor whose nasal-tones created a number of memorable radio characters in the 1930s. He is best remembered as the voice of the Caterpillar in Walt Disney’s Alice and as  Max Detweiler in The Sound of Music. (see  Richard Haydn)

Richard Haydn

Gabrielle Brune was another whose career spanned many decades. Fans of Ealing Comedies will remember her from “The Titfield Thunderbolt” ( see Gabrielle Brune)

Gabrielle Brune

Nadine March was a popular stage actress and revue star. Her speciality was a parody of Kensington/Mayfair society and party girls, which I am sure guaranteed her a good reception from the type of audience who attended the Gate and similar venues.

Nadine March

The name Nicholas Phipps may not mean much but his face is instantly recognisable from innumerable British comedy films where he tended to play officious or military types. He also was a screenwriter, his script for Doctor In The House (1954) being BAFTA nominated.

Nicholas Phipps

Equally ever-present on screen was Reginald Beckwith, whose film credits read like a history of post-War British popular cinema ( Freedom Road, Genevieve, Thunderball et. He was also a scriptwriter for revues and other stage productions. In “Members Only” he played a (comical)  male stripper, not the sort of thing seen too regularly in the mainstream West End.

Reginald Beckwith

Then we have Hugh Wade and Elvira’s friend Kenneth Carten. Carten was well-established as a regular in Noel Coward shows but is better known as Tallulah Bankhead’s close friend and confidante. He was probably the male lead in the sketches and song

Letter from Kenneth Carten to Hugh Wade 1949

Among those who provided the sketches were the playwright Diana Morgan (her husband, Robert MacDermot,later head of drama at the BBC, co-directed) and Arthur Marshall. Diana Morgan was to become a successful screenwriter (see Diana Morgan) while Arthur Marshall became known to television viewers through his appearances on Call My Bluff. In 1937, Marshall was a schoolmaster at Oundle but also had ambitions as a comic and cabaret turn. He had already begun his reviews and parodies of Public Schoolgirl stories (see Finding Schoolgirls Funny ), an acquired taste but one apparently shared by many.

Arthur Marshall

And then we have Hermione Gingold, for whom the word “character” seems hardly adequate. I think I will post on her separately but through her friendship with Elizabeth Welch and Brian Desmond Hurst and her marriage to Eric Maschwitz ( lyricist to “These Foolish Things”) she was very much at the heart of West End society.

Hermione Gingold

To me it is a remarkable list of people, cutting across a great swathe of British popular culture. There is a strong Public School, Oxbridge element involved and a definite gay and camp air to the proceedings. The show was well reviewed, Dilys Powell in the London Mercury praised Billy Milton’s American Film Star, Nicholas Phipps’ “Shooting Colonel”, Nadine March’s Kensington Girl, Beckwith’s Stripper and Hawtrey’s Compere.  She was very taken by Gingold’s “Snake Charmer” and Richar Haydn’s “Fish-Impersonator” (the mind boggles). It was all very light-hearted and, I’m sure, a jolly good night out.

A great source of information for theatres and revues is this one

Rob Wilton Theatricalia

I don’t know of a definitive history of the Revue but hope there is one somewhere.Of course, I can’t help wondering about the social network these artists operated within or wonder which night clubs they and the audience went to after the show.

The 1930 Stage show Ever Green, which became the 1934 film Evergreen, was one of the more significant musicals of era. Written, in London, by Rodgers and Hart it was a huge success, running for 234 performances at the newly-restored Adelphi Theatre. It brought together some remarkable people, some of whom we have encountered already.

The driving force behind the show was Charles B.Cochran. Although he is largely remembered now for his competing with rival producer Andre Charlot to see who could get the most chorus girls to fit on a London stage, Cochran was possibly the single most influential figure in catering to and shaping English tastes in theatre and music between the wars. He worked extensively with Noel Coward, He discovered Gertrude Lawrence, Jessie Matthews, Evelyn Laye and the Dolly Sisters. He hired the likes of Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler to design his sets. He mixed high culture with popular culture. The cast lists and production credits run the gamut of artistic talent in the period – from William Walton and the Sitwells to Flanagan and Allen and The Crazy Gang. By bringing the Blackbirds revue over in 1926 (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/blackbirds-revue-of-1926/ ) he pretty well initiated the craze for jazz and black culture among the Bright Young People.

The star of both stage-show Ever Green and the subsequent film was Jessie Matthews. Matthews was the most popular West End performer with the general public albeit one with a scandalous and tragic private life. She was born in Soho and her childhood friends included Henry Degrasse, barman and Ham Yard club proprietor, housebreaker and thief. As Mark Benney, he wrote the best insider descriptions of Soho night life (in Low Company (1938)) and later worked with Talcott Parsons and the influential Chicago School of Sociologists.Matthews, like Benney, always felt outsiders despite their considerable achievements.

Jessie Matthews 1927

Jessie Matthews (1907-1981) had started as a dancer in Charlot’s revues, then Cochran spotted her star potential. Her combination of a plucky, fresh-faced English persona and an aptitude for the new “American” dancing styles made her very marketable. Off stage her life was unbelievably messy.Her mental health was always fragile and she was notoriously “difficult”. Being raped by and or/hired out to various aristocrats for sex cannot have helped. The full story is very depressing – you can get a flavour of it here Jessie Matthews – Diva of Debauchery

The high-profile divorce case featuring Sonnie Hale (co-star in Evergreen) and Evelyn “Boo” Laye (a BYP favourite) that cited her as co-respondent nearly finished her career. At the same time she was being pursued by Harry Milton, brother of Elvira’s friend Billy. Harry was married to the redoubtable Chili Bouchier but found himself blacklisted from the London stage as a result of his advances – by whom is never made quite clear.

Anyway, High Society has a lot to thank Jessie Matthews for. Apart from her own contributions to some of the best loved shows, she encouraged Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson (her accompanist on several recordings) to sing as well as play the piano and did much to launch his career as the era’s preferred black performer (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/leslie-hutch-hutchinson/ ) .

Another, very different, black artist is associated with Ever Green. This is the remarkable Buddy Bradley (1905-1971).Bradley and Billy Pierce were brought to England (by Cochran) from Harlem to choreograph the show. Pierce ran a successful dance studio whose forte was teaching African-American dance styles to white artistes (see Pierce Dance Studio The Afro-American 1929 ). Bradley was the main instructor and an innovative choreographer in his own right.Several Broadway shows owed their success to his input but he was rarely given credit. Evergreen was the first “white” show where his name appeared in the programme

Ever Green

Pierce returned to Harlem but Bradley stayed in London, opening the Buddy Bradley School of Stage Dancing at 25a Old Compton Street ( near Wheelers restaurant) in Soho, where it thrived throughout the 1930s.Here, Bradley tutored the big names of british musical theatre such as Jack Buchanan. He worked closely with Jessie Matthews on all of her routines for stage and screen.

Bradley, Matthews and Buchanan 1936

In the 1940s the Dance Studio moved to nearby  Denman Street and was still there in the 1960s.Bradley continued to teach and advise, but he remained a background, and eventually neglected, figure. However traces ofhHis legacy can still be glimpsed on saturday night television, as a young Bruce Forsythe was sent to Bradley to polish up his juvenile song-and-dance act. Bradley’s UK career is assessed here  Black in the British Frame Stephen Bourne .

In retrospect, Bradley’s Golden Age was the 1930s. In that decade,some of his most interesting projects were developed in conjunction with Frederick Ashton, ballet-dancer,choreographer and part of the circle around Edward Burra and Billy Chappell. The best known of these was High Yellow (1932) performed at the Savoy Theatre – with Alicia Markova earning the nickname “Snake Hips” for her ability to mimic Harlem movements.Vanessa Bell did the set design and Billy Chappell the costumes.Other Ashton/Bradley collaborations, nearly all produced by Cochran, included  Magic Nights (1932) at the Trocadero Restaurant, Ballyhoo (1933) with Hermione Baddely at the Comedy Theatre,  Follow The Sun (1936) and Floodlights (1937) – the latter written by Beverley Nichols. If anybody tells you that High Culture/Pop Culture cross-pollination only started in the swinging sixties just point them in the direction of the programmes for these shows.

Freddy Ashton

High Yellow used the music of Spike Hughes (specifically “Six Bells Stampede”), himself first inspired by Cochran’s Blackbirds of 1926. I don’t think that Hughes would have thought much of Evergreen but you can judge for yourself as to its merits. Buddy Bradley makes, as far as I know, his only (very brief) appearance in front of camera about 42 minutes in.

The white-room, Art Deco set for”” Dancing on the Ceiling” is justly famous and it strikes me that the plot (such as it is) employs the “looking back” trope in ways that Coward’s Cavalcade would do a year after Ever Green’s stage debut. Matthews’ Charleston is still impressive,the first world war set-piece truly bizarre and Over My Shoulder became not only Matthews theme song but a “Depression” morale booster on the lines of “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”. Although it is obviously a film,(extra dialogue by none other than  Emlyn Williams) enough of the stage show remains to give us a sense of the lavishness of a Cochran musical revue.

One final note – Matthews’ career faded in the late forties (and only really revived when she took over the role of Mrs.Dale in 1963 in the long running radio soap-opera, “Mrs.Dale’s Diary”). She did attempt a comeback musical in 1947 with “Maid To Measure”. The music was composed by Blue Lantern resident pianist, Hugh Wade. It was not a success.


In the 1969 Sunday Times colour supplement article on the murder of Lord Erroll in Kenya, which would eventually beget the book and film “White Mischief”, Cyril Connolly began his contribution thus,

“One morning, in the last summer of peace, I was lying in the sun at Eden Roc. I used to swim out to the rocks of the Villa Eilen, across the water and then recuperate on my mattress, hired for the season with its coffin sized slab of limestone. Round the corner, invisible, were other slabs and mattresses, each with their locataire, regulars from the villas or the Cap D’Antibes or the hotel.

A woman’s voice floated over the escarpment, one of those never to be forgotten voices, husky, yet metallic, almost strident, a voice of the period, a touch of Tallulah,or, if anyone remembers her,Brenda Dean Paul.”My God, I hate men,” she was saying, “I’d trust my dog more than any man. I’d tell my dog things I’d never tell a man.”

The voice was that of June Carberry, hard-drinking member of the “Happy Valley” set and one of the central characters in the celebrated murder case.

Connolly’s evocative and perfectly fashioned paragraphs have got me thinking about a number of things – among them, the similarities between the “Happy Valley” crowd and Elvira’s world, the importance of the South of France to the mythology of the period and the observational acuity of the rather sidelined author himself. More on all these matters shortly, but for now let’s concentrate on the voices.

Accents, linguistic codes, neologisms and tone of voice were all used by the Bright Young People to distinguish themselves from the “mainstream”. This is a feature of all sub-cultures, high and low. In the BYP’s case these mannerisms became prime markers, more important in some ways than actual behaviour.They are familiar to us today primarily through the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, the writings of Nancy Mitford and the plays (and persona) of Noel Coward.

The high-pitched loudness of the men, the camp theatricality, the baby-talk, the italicised stress on certain words, the fondness for invention and over-emphasis can be found in every representation of the group, from serious novels to the captions below Punch cartoons.Even Cecil Beaton, hardly possessed of the most understated of tones, complained about the exaggerated squeals and shrieks of the men and women who arrived at his home one afternoon – at their centre was, inevitably, Brian Howard.

According to Viva King, Elvira (“Always in Love, My Dear!”) favoured a variant which included a slight faux-Cockney intonation. This, though surely as execrable as it suggests, was not uncommon and was to proliferate in the 1950s among the group of public school miscreants known as the “Chelsea Scallywags”. Derek Raymond’s first novel “The Crust On Its Uppers“(1960)  is written entirely in an unlikely mixture of Etonian argot and Cockney rhyming slang that takes the trend to its limit.

The “husky” affectation is one of the more memorable and long-lasting manifestations. Fenella Fielding carved a whole career in the 1950s and 1960s out of it, enlivening innumerable British comedy films with her innuendo-laden pastiche.Sophistication and sexiness were the aspects that Fielding emphasised, a direct legacy from Tallulah and her epigones.

The metallic harshness has other origins.Upper class authority plays a part, think barking at native servants or the hapless policemen abused by Elvira and others.Mostly, it, and the throatiness, were products of endless cigarettes, gallons of gin and, in some cases, drug use (hence Brenda Dean Paul).

Brenda Dean Paul 1950s

One example that seems to me to capture both the linguistic mannerisms and the requisite vocal timbre appears in Jocelyn Brooke’s Private View. The setting is The Blue Lantern in the early thirties and the character speaking (to the male narrator) is Veriny Chrichton-Jones, a composite of many women inhabiting what Brooke calls “pseudo-smart Bohemia”, including,possibly,Elvira. –

“My Dear,” she exclaimed, in her fashionably husky voice, “it’s utter heaven to see you. That monster Bertie Westmacott was meeting me, and I’ve been waiting here at least a thousand years, and I’m madly depressed. Do buy me a drink – here’s some money,I know you’re broke – and please introduce me to your boy-friend at once. I think he’s a perfect lamb, and I’d like to eat him, do you think he’d mind?” –

Brief as it is, this strikes me as just about as perfect a summation of character through dialogue as you could wish for. The insertion of “fashionably husky voice” seals the deal.

Jocelyn Brooke

I have mentioned Brooke before and will do so again as his absence from the canon of BYP chroniclers puzzles me. I think a post on Eden Roc is also in order.

I think it is safe to assume that all of the attendees at Arthur Jeffress’  Orchard Court party went there from the Blue Angel (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/30th-may-1932-parties/ ) and that it was therefore a fairly impromptu gathering. Elvira and Michael were invited but Elvira declined, claiming tiredness, which was unlikely given the descriptions of her as being “in high spirits” and “excitable” while at the club. In the light of subsequent events, it was not exactly a wise decision to return home.

Barbara Waring

The inclusion of Barbara Waring (Born Barbara Waring Gibb 1912-1990)  among Jeffress’ late night guests is further evidence of the importance of the theatre and young actors and actresses to West End club and party life. Who was she with that evening? It is unlikely that she went to the Blue Angel alone, so fellow actress Irene MacBrayne is the most probable companion. Lester Empson Lucas (21), who is proving a little elusive, is another possibility.

She was younger than most of the Monday night revellers (19) and was appearing in Noel Coward’s Cavalcade at the time (as, I suspect, was MacBrayne). She was a close friend of Sylvia Coke’s (they had been at RADA together) and may be the unnamed actress who attended the earlier Mews cocktail party with Miss Coke – although that does not fit with the statement Sylvia gave the police.I would doubt that she knew Elvira or Michael very well, if at all.

However through her friendship with Sylvia Coke and Angela Worthington she would have met many of London’s fashionable and “fast” characters. Her son’s obituary lists Noel Coward and Ivor Novello as friends of his mother and Angela Worthington cites John Heygate, Ewart Garland, Michael Sieff (of Marks and Spencer fame) and the disreputable Gussie Schweder as part of the young actresses’ circle. Belgravia-born Schweder was gay, dissolute and an inveterate party-giver at his Knightbridge flat. I’m sure Gussie would have had more than a passing acquaintance with Michael and/or Elvira.

Cavalcade itself is an even more appropriate cultural marker of the demise of the Bright Young Things than the Barney trial. An extravagant and over-blown historical tableau, it turned Coward from darling of the sophisticates into a “national treasure” and respectable figure of the establishment almost over-night. Though Coward, by 1931, was already the highest paid author in England, his plays still were considered somewhat racy and all had problems with the censors.Cavalcade, a sentimental pageant charting the lives of two families (one rich,one poor) through the events of the first thirty years of the century, struck just the right patriotic and nostalgic notes and a nation reeling from the Depression and the recent humbling abandonment of the Gold Standard took it to its heart immediately. Royal approval was given by the appearance at the second night of the King and Queen, the Daily Mail serialised it and it ran (to full houses) for over a year. The Conservative party even credited it with bolstering the middle-class vote and ensuring that the “Radical” thirties remained largely under their stewardship.

Gladys Calthrop 1931

The play’s impact on the West End was equally impressive. As it featured over 400 actors and behind the scenes workers, it provided much employment and for young hopefuls (like John Mills and Barbara Waring) was their first experience of a really successful long-run. Mention must be made of the elaborate sets and the wide range of costumes used in the course of the show. These were designed by Gladys Calthrop, Coward’s costumier,set-designer and confidante from The Vortex onward she was a member of the upper-echelons of lesbian Bohemia – her lovers included Mercedes De Acosta and Eva Le Gallienne, themselves indirectly linked to the Barney circle (through Tallulah Bankhead and Jo Carstairs).

Cavalcade does hint at the tensions caused by the twenties’ moral , sexual and cultural upheavals and closes in a noisy night-club with “jazz-age decadents” and a female character singing “Twentieth Century Blues” , but as Philip Hoare points out “the overwhelming impression of the production was of nostalgic national introspection and sentimentality”. The endless  patriotic speeches and chestnuts like “Keep The Home Fires Burning” ensured that tradition triumphed over modernity.

Barbara Waring continued her association with Noel Coward but her next real impact was in cinema rather than on the stage. She appears in small roles in three of the best British war-time films – Noel Coward’s “In Which We Serve”, Powell and Pressburger’s “A Canterbury Tale” and Leslie Howard’s “The Gentle Sex”. The latter is of particular interest as it features dialogue contributions from playwright Aimee Stuart (whose own proto-feminist, discreetly-gay, Bohemian circle overlaps at times with the Chelsea Set)  and an uncredited acting part for Peter Cotes,  the author of “The Trial of Elvira Barney”. When Cotes writes that at certain times in his life he encountered many who knew Elvira then the set of “The Gentle Sex” is probably one of those occasions. Thirteen years earlier, Waring had appeared in Stuart’s “Nine Till Six”,with its all female cast a key play for both actresses and audiences of Elvira’s generation.(see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/georgia-and-frances-doble/)

The film itself is a mixture of, hopefully ironic,  condescension  and, for the time, quite progressive views about women. It remains oddly moving. Waring, like the whole female cast, is excellent as a rather unpleasant and aloof dancing- teacher who is forced to re-examine her prejudices.

Barbara Waring, whose father was a Doctor, had married the theatrical agent Laurence Evans in the late 1930s. As seems de rigeur for every woman this blog mentions, the first marriage was short-lived. In 1947 she married Geoffrey Cunliffe, son of Baron Cunliffe and Chairman of British Aluminium. Her creative career was not quite over though. A play of hers, “The Jaywalker” – religious in theme, was due to be performed at Coventry Cathedral in 1967.

The music was by Duke Ellington. A mutual friend of Ellington and Waring, Mrs. Lesley Diamond made the introduction. As Renee Gertler (niece of the artist Mark Gertler), the future Mrs.Diamond had been one of many young English fans who had lionised and met Ellington on his first triumphant tour in 1933.  Given this jazz and art connection it would be nice to place Renee Gertler in the Bohemian world of the Blue Angel etc. but she was actually a 13 year-old schoolgirl at the time. In the 1950s, however, her Park Lane home became Ellington’s favourite London retreat – a place to write and relax.

I’m not sure what happened to the production of “The Jaywalker” but the music is available from Storyville Records

One of the reasons Arthur Jeffress invited everyone back to his place, that night at the Blue Angel, was so he could play them some of the “hot” records he had brought with him from his recent trip to New York. I wonder if these included any Duke Ellington sides. It is not unlikely as he was already a favourite of the London cognoscenti (the hard-partying Constant Lambert being a particular fan).Anyway, I like the image of a young Barbara Waring  nodding away appreciatively to the Ellington Orchestra in the early hours.

Georgia and Frances Doble

There are a number of actresses who hover around the fringes of Elvira’s world. Kay Hammond,Valerie Taylor, Beatrix Thomson, Norah Balfour, Sunday Wilshin, Jeanne De Casalis etc. etc. all have at least some links with the circle. I think we might as well add Frances Doble to this ever-expanding list.

Frances was the elder sister of Georgia, who married Sacheverell Sitwell, and both belonged to the inner sanctum of the Bright Young People. Georgia ( 1906-1980) had been at school with Elvira, introduced her to Viva King and hence much of Chelsea Bohemia (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/ ). She was in the iconic “aesthete” photographs, is present at the Impersonation party (as Edith Sitwell)  and turns up in the memoirs of, among others,  Anthony Powell and Frances Partridge.


Portrait of Georgia Sitwell by William Acton

Georgia Sitwell third from right  —————————Georgia as Edith Sitwell

Georgia Sitwell by Cecil Beaton

Because of the revival of interest in the Bright Young People, Georgia is now the better remembered of the two siblings . However Frances (1902-1969) had the bigger impact in her day. She appeared in the film version of Noel Coward’s The Vortex and Basil Dean’s stage and film adaptations of The Constant Nymph and Nine Till Six. To me, that places her as the thespian embodiment of late twenties female modernity. The Vortex captured the mood of the period perfectly while The Constant Nymph was (as book and play) the most popular manifestation of the new sensibility. She also had a starring role in the farcically disastrous “Sirocco” in 1927  ( leading man Ivor Novello, written by Coward) and the much cited While Parents Sleep in 1932. All in all, there is barely a “younger generation” play that does not seem to have featured her. Not bad considering that  her acting and dancing skills were never deemed to be more than adequate.

Frances Doble 1929

It is Nine Till Six  (1930) that allows me to make a bid for  Frances’  to be included in Elvira’s world.  Less well remembered than the other plays listed above, its author and its all women cast give it a special place in the “theatrical” culture of the time. Written by Aimee Stuart, who was the centre of a London gay and lesbian salon culture that included figures such as Nerina Shute and Sunday Wilshin, it chronicled the lives of  a group of women in the hitherto masculine world of work. Like most of Stuart’s plays it became something of a gay ” cult classic” .Its early stage and film incarnations starred the likes of Norah Balfour, Florence Desmond, Sunday Wilshin, Kay Hammond, Alison Leggatt, Jeanne De Casalis and, of course, Frances Doble.  Elvira would have seen this play, would have known the actresses – who all tended to come from wealthy backgrounds – and would have taken pride in associating with any, if not all, of the players.

A significant number of Elvira’s female friends were divorced, separated or unhappily married. Frances had married Hugh Lindsay-Hogg in 1929 and Georgia had been Mrs. Sitwell since 1925, but both women are recorded as missing the “social whirl” of London. Both struggled with marriage, as did their husbands,  and both continued to be part of the London party scene. That Elvira didn’t keep in contact with her old schoolmate and therefore her glamorous elder sister is inconceivable. Socially, temperamentally and professionally everything about Frances makes her someone Elvira would have wanted to hang out with.

Cecil Beaton and Frances Doble 1935

Frances’ marriage did not last: nor did her acting career. She disappears from public view in the years of Elvira’s decline. However one relationship, between 1938 and 1939, is of interest. Kim Philby, then attempting to prove his right-wing credentials while already in the pay of Moscow, has an affair with her. She was now in Spain, an ardent fan of Franco and Hitler, and her parties for Falangist officers in Salamanca are  described as “lavish”. Many of the Bright Young People flirted with Fascism – some, like Brian Howard, moved to the left. The Sitwell set definitely leant to the right. Which way Elvira would have turned, had she lived, is anyone’s guess.

I would not place Frances particularly closely to Elvira but I doubt that they were strangers to each other. If Francis was part of Aimee Stuart’s entourage then the connection is far more likely. I will post on this fascinating but forgotten Scottish playwright shortly.