Tag Archive: Simon Fleet


Simon Fleet

Along with Edgar Blatt, the driving force behind the ill fated “To and Fro” was Simon Carnes (c1913-1966). He wrote a number of Revues in the 1930s, including “One of Those Things“(1934), ,“All’s Well” (1936) and “Back Your Fancy” (1938). He was also an actor and a set designer. Although primarily a lyricist he  seems to have also done some composing and, unlikely as I find it, is credited with providing the music for the 1935 Fortune theatre production of Elmer Rice’s “Not For Children“. The Revues seem to have been generally well-received but they peter out at the end of the decade. Simon Carnes, like so many others, disappears from the records, a small footnote to theatrical history.

36 Wardour Street today – Carnes’ flat upstairs on the right (in the 1930s the Vietnamese restaurant was Mrs.Brown’s Little Tea Shop)

Except  it wasn’t quite like that. Simon Carnes vanishes but Simon Fleet was born.Carnes had lived in Wardour Street  (two minutes walk from Hugh Wade’s flat) throughout the 1930s and was evidently already something of a “character”. Tall, handsome, very much a dandy, he was taken up by some very influential friends.The two most important were probably Sophie Fedorovich and Lady Juliet Duff.

Sophie Fedorovich was a Russian-born artist who was part of the circle that included Barbara Ker-Seymer, Olivia Wyndham, Marty Mann and Lucy Norton. She was also very close to Frederick Ashton. Although a gifted painter, it is for her costume and set designs for the Ballet that she is best remembered. When she met Simon is uncertain – her name is on the programme for “To and Fro” so it is likely that they knew each other from the mid-thirties.

Costume Design by Sophie Fedorovich 1940

Equally significant was his relationship with Lady Juliet Duff, a socialite and patron of the Arts (particularly Ballet) to whom the adjective “extraordinary” is customarily applied. Lady Juliet was thirty years Carnes’ senior and he was to be what Viva King terms her “cavaliere servente” for many years. She provided Carnes with an income – he seems not to have been independently wealthy – and encouraged his transformation. He was a constant presence at her house and as a companion at the theatre. Sir Francis Rose (of whom more in a separate post) describes Simon in the early days of his alliance with Lady Duff.

David Herbert, Juliet Duff, Cyril Ritchard (of “To and Fro”), Madge Elliot and Michael Duff 1941

“Simon Carnes, as he was called then, drifted about the house quietly, politely, and with sufficient personal fantasy to make him the most pleasing of modern and youthful eccentrics.”

During the War Carnes (whose real name is something of a mystery – Nicky Haslam says he was originally Harry Carnes, while Viva King thinks it was Kahn) changed his name to Simon Fleet. He was in the Merchant Navy at the time. He also changed his appearance, thanks to an experiment with plastic surgery that left him with a rather snub-nosed look, and his profession – moving from the world of the stage to Antiques.

Lady Juliet Duff, the Lunts, Chips Channon – Simon Fleet sat on the ground (Photo by Cecil Beaton )

Starting off as a Portobello Road stallholder , he was to eventually become the saleroom correspondent for various Arts journals and the Observer’s antiques expert. His good taste was legendary and his 1961 book on the history of clocks is still regarded as a classic.

But it was his persona and distinctive companions for which he is most usually remembered. As Viva King recalled, “His house was made gay by his great variety of friends – high, middle or lower class. Simon brought gaiety to his world and one was lucky to know him.”  These friends included Chips Channon, Cecil Beaton, Dickie Buckle and Oliver Messel. His appearance too, guaranteed that he was noticed. He had a fondness for thigh-length boots, which, in the 1950s, must have even caused Chelsea heads to turn.

The house in question was 22 Bury Walk. He had inherited this from Sophie Fedorovitch, who died there in 1953 – owing to a gas leak. It was known as the “Gothic Box” and was sumptuously and ornately decorated. Nicky Haslam, to whom Simon was an early mentor in all things stylish and sophisticated, devotes considerable space to affectionate reminiscences of the house and its owner in his autobiography Redeeming Features. Haslam, to me, represents the last link – through Simon – to the world of 1930s’  High Bohemia. See Nicky Haslam.

Gothic Box

Apart from his writings on antiques, Fleet edited a tribute book to Sophie Fedorovich and an odd little booklet on Henry James at Rye. He befriended Lady Diana Cooper and appears to have had a similar relationship with her as with Juliet Duff. When the latter died in 1964 , she left him money in her will, a testament to their long friendshio. Thereafter he went into a serious emotional depression. His end was sad and undignified. Less than sober, he fell down the stairs at the Gothic Box and died as a consequence.

It would be interesting to know if Simon Fleet and Arthur Jeffress’ paths crossed. They certainly had mutual friends (Nicky Haslam knew both – but then again he has met everybody) both feature in Truman Capote’s letters ( but as with Haslam, ditto). The artist John Piper had correspondence with both men, but these seem strictly of a business character. Even so, it seems hard to imagine that two such flamboyant characters, both avid collectors, did not bump into each other at least once.

Sketches for the ballet by Sophie Fedorovich 1950 – donated to the V&A by Simon Fleet

One of the surprises for me since commencing this blog is the centrality of Ballet to any discussion of cultural life in C20th England. Starting with the impact of Diaghilev ( championed by both Juliet Duff and her mother), then the Ballet Rambert, through to the dancers and choreographers (Ashton, Tudor,Chappell) ,to the set and costume designers (Messel, Fedorovich,Burra) , the network that was created draws in a range of artists, Bright Young People, popular entertainers and West End socialites to an extent I had not begun to consider. I wish I knew more about the topic. A good starting point is Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Sir Frederick Ashton, Secret Muses but I feel the need to explore further – the reviews and critical writings of two of Simon Fleet’s friends Dickie Buckle (who gave the eulogy at his funeral) and Maude Lloyd (who danced in “To and Fro“) strike me as worth a look and I am going to hunt some of them down.

 

For the Revue To and Fro see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/to-and-fro-1936-hugh-wade-and-the-perils-of-the-topical-revue/

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I936 – Hugh Wade and Edgar Blatt

In 1936, Hugh Wade worked on two projects  with the lyricist Edgar Blatt. One was the Revue , To and Fro (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/to-and-fro-1936-hugh-wade-and-the-perils-of-the-topical-revue/ ), and the other was a song for a film. The film was “The Tenth Man” directed by Brian Desmond Hurst from a play by Somerset Maugham. Wade and Blatt provided the song “Night Must Fall” which was sung by Dinah Miller.

Brian Desmond Hurst is something of a cult hero today. This is thanks largely to the quirky but fascinating 2005 biography of him by Christopher Robbins.

Born into a working-class Belfast family, Hurst (1895- 1986) was one of Belgravia’s last great Bohemians. His friends and neighbours included Moura Budberg, Elizabeth Welch and Hermione Gingold. An outrageous bon viveur, he was also a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, his memoirs of which are just about the most harrowing account of war-time atrocities you will ever read.As a director, he is best remembered for Scrooge and The Malta Story although the list is a long and creditable one.

There is a website devoted to his career  here Brian Desmond Hurst.

Edgar Blatt is a less familiar name but, from what I can gather, of interest in his own right. His main musical partnerships appear to have been with Simon Carnes and Nat Ayer Jnr. I’ll do a separate post on Carnes, as he was a most singular character in a world not short of singularity. Nat Ayer Jnr. was the son of Nat D. Ayer, the composer and performer of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” and “If You Were the Only Girl in the World“. Nat Jnr. lived most of his life in Pimlico, south London, and as a very old man was much sought after by popular music archivists as he was a mine of anecdote and information.

Blatt and Ayer provided the score for “Stop…Go”, a 1935 Charlot Revue starring Douglas Byng, for whom Hugh Wade also wrote, Dorothy Ward and the American film-star Mary Brian. Also in the cat were Richard “Stinker” Murdoch and Simon Carnes. Dorothy Ward deserves to be better-known. She was a Variety and pantomime stalwart for many years (more info here Dorothy Ward ). The playboy aviator, Jim Mollison, with whom Dorothy had a much-publicised affair (he was married to Amy Johnson) is exactly the type of chap Hugh Wade would have entertained at his Motor and Aviation club residencies. More on Jim Mollison here  Jim Mollison .

Dorothy Ward

Edgar Blatt was involved in a number of other revues including “All’s Well” co-written with Simon Carnes (again) and presented/produced by Gordon Harbord (the influential theatrical agent who re-named Diana Fluck as Diana Dors and Harry Skikne as Laurence Harvey). Edgar was throughout this period married to Corinna Vereker (Viscountess Gorst) and lived at the very upmarket address of 51 Sloane Gardens. Coincidentally, Corinna’s first husband was the governor of Malta during the period explored by Hurst in The Malta Story.

By 1939, Edgar seems to have tired of the theatre world and went to work for the BBC. During the War he was Transcription Manager for the overseas service, which puts him in the same department as Sunday Wilshin. Both appear in the correspondence of George Orwell. Blatt at this time became part of the Dover Castle regulars. The Dover Castle was the favoured watering-hole of a number of BBC executives, an erudite but rather hearty and sports-obsessed group. The most famous of the imbibers are Roy Plomley (Desert Island Discs) and Bob Danvers-Walker (the ultimate “Received English” voice of Pathe newsreels and innumerable radio broadcasts).

After the War, Blatt worked on the Dick Barton series – for radio and film – and was a founder member of the Lords’ Taverners. He appears to have emigrated to South Africa in the early fifties.

The fourth person connected to “Night Must Fall” is the lamentably neglected singer Dinah Miller. Described as a “rhythm singer”, of all the 1930s dance-band vocalists she was considered the one with the most authentic “Harlem” sound. Her story is remarkable – an Eastender, her mother was a black woman and she entered show-business as a tap-dancer before  becoming the favoured songstress for several of the leading “orchestras” of the period. She moved to Denmark in the 1930s and fronted a number of all-women jazz groups there after the War.

Dinah (Diana) Miller Group

There is more information here http://www.ciscohouston.com/docs/jcc/diana_miller.shtml

So, where is Hugh in all of this? There is no indication that he knew Brian Desmond Hurst, but given Hurst’s fondness for hosting parties,  their paths may well have crossed  – socially as well as professionally.

You don’t collaborate on ( at least) four songs without direct inter-action,  so at the minimum he  had a working relationship with Edgar Blatt. Blatt appears to have alternated between Nat Ayer and Hugh Wade to put music to his lyrics, depending on the required sound.

Singers and songwriters were not necessarily acquainted so I wouldn’t expect much connection with Dinah Miller. He was, though, enough of an aficianado to have been pleased by her recording of his composition.

To finish – a couple of examples of Dinah Miller’s “rhythm singing”

 

 

Here are the details (swiped from http://users.bestweb.net/~foosie/cyril.htm) of the programme for the revue TO AND FRO – which opened at the Comedy Theatre and ran from November 26th to December 12th 1936. It was devised and largely written by Simon Carnes and Edgar Blatt. The ballet pieces were choreographed by Antony Tudor. The set designs were probably by Carnes but may have been by Sophie Fedorovitch as she was a close friend of Carnes (who is better known as Simon Fleet). Hugh Wade contributed the music to four songs, the most significant being “Haven’t Got A Heart”. This was sung by Hermione Baddeley and written by James Laver ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/james-laver-iconographer/). It was the lament of a Bright Young Thing of 1926 – ten years on.

Hermione Baddeley in “To and Fro”

I will post separately on some of the cast as there are names here that should resonate more than they currently do. As an art form,the Revue, with its mixture of ballet, classical music, popular song and satire remains one of the most characteristic (and under-examined) aspects of inter-War West End culture. I would like to explore that further at some stage.

Lord Berners

For the time-being, note the presence of Lord Berners and Osbert Sitwell, the dancers Maude Lloyd and Hugh Laing, alongside stage and film stars such as Hermione Baddeley and Esme Percy.  Hugh Wade’s participation runs counter to the image of him as completely marginal to the creative and culturally productive aspects of 1930s stage and theatrical life.

Antony Tudor and Hugh Laing ( by Carl Van Vechten 1940)

With such an array of talent, you may wonder why the show was so short-lived. Unfortunately, the running joke that linked the various songs and sketches was the affair between Edward the Eighth and Wallis Simpson. With Edward’s abdication on the 11th of December the project was doomed.

Finally, I can’t help wondering about the running time of these revues. There are 44 separate items plus an interval. The opening night show, and I think most of the subsequent ones, started at midnight. If you throw in an after-show drink at the Florida or the 400, it is no wonder so many reminiscences of the period recall returning home after the dawn.

Title Authors Roles Performers
Out of the Cage Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr.
Jeunesses D’Orees Diana Morrison, Joan Griffiths, Peggy Shingleton, Pat Hurren, Cyril Wells, Bobby Tranter, Peter Moyes
Fantasies Towina Thomas, Sammy Samuels, Ella Marion, Trixie Scales, Mercy Carnell, Eva Thorn, Maisie Green, Betty Shepard, Biergit Nissen
By Day Animals–By Night Humans Hermione Baddeley, Cyril Ritchard, Esme Percy,  Viola Tree, Gerry Fitzgerald, Yvette Darnac, Maude Lloyd, Hugh Laing, Zoe Winn, Bill Kershaw and Entire Company
To and Fro Lyrics by Edgar Blatt; music by nat Ayer, Jr. The Entire Company; danced by Bobby Tranter and Cyril Wells
The Gallery Lyric by Simon Carnes; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. A Social Artist Billy Kershaw
Typist Trixie Scales
Shop Girl Towina Thomas
Titled Lady Diana Morrison
Boy About Town Peter Moyes
The Camera Never Lies Simon Carnes Compere Cyril Ritchard
a Joan Griffiths, Peggy Shingleton, Pat Hurren, Peter Moyes, Ian Hamilton-Smith  
b Cyril Ritchard
c Viola Tree
Je T’aime (after Watteau) Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Hugh Wade Yvette Darnac
At Any Dance Arthur Watkyns The Girl Hermione Baddeley
The Boy Cyril Wells
Caledonian Market Lyric by Simon Carnes; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Viola Tree, Cyril Ritchard
A French Lesson Aubrey Ensor Professor Esme Percy
Mother Diana Morrison
Daughter Pat Hurren
Father Cyril Wells
Maid Peggy Shingleton
Grandfather Peter Moyes
Waiting for Twilight to Fall Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Sung by Gerry Fitzgerald
Ballerina Maude Lloyd
Peggy Shingleton, Joan Griffith, Cyril Wells, Peter Moyes, Ian Hamilton-Smith and The Girls
Learning Dramatic Art Simon Carnes & Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Compere Viola Tree
Hermione Baddeley, Cyril Ritchard
Goodbye Romance Simon Carnes; lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Hugh Wade The Girl Hermione Baddeley
The Professor Esme Percy
Play Like I Like It Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Zoe Wynn, Cyril Wells, Bobby Tranter
Literary Widows Herbert Farjeon; music by Walter Leigh Viola Tree, Yvette Darnac, Hermione Baddeley
Wreckage Edgar Blatt She Zoe Wynn
He Cyril Ritchard
Artists’ Model Yates Mason; music by Geoffrey Wright Hermione Baddeley
Prelude Lord Berners She Maud Lloyd
He Hugh Laing
Duchesses The Girls
Art Knows No Nationality Osbert Sitwell The Impresario Esme Percy
The Artist Viola Tree
Haven’t Got a Heart Lyric by James Laver; music by Hugh Wade Hermione Baddeley
Political Hot-Pot Simon Carnes
Celebrated Empires Egypt Peggy Shingleton
Greece Joan Griffiths
China Diana Morrison
Rome Pat Hurren
Commissionaire Bobby Tranter
Pine for Peace The Boy Peter Moyes
The Girl Zoe Wynn
Old Tree Esme Percy
Young Tree Cyril Wells
Selling the Earth The Auctioneer Gerry Fitzgerald
A Foreign Lady Diana Morrison
A Bidder Alan Davis
On the Battlefield, tra-la Simon Carnes & Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. 1st General Esme Percy
2nd General Cyril Ritchard
Referee Billy Kershaw
Followers Cyril Wells, Bobby Tranter, Peter Moyes, Ian Hamilton-Smith
Russiska Yvette Darnac
Vivandieres Zoe Wynn, Towina Thomas
A Milk Maid Hermione Baddeley
A Crooner Gerry Fitzgerald
International Rhythm Lyric by Eric Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Gerry Fitzgerald and Entire Company

Interval

I’m Going to Challenge You Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Zoe Wynn, Peggy Shingleton, Joan Griffiths, Diana Morrison and the Girls
I’ve Balanced My Budget Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by nat Ayer, Jr. Billy Kershaw
The Party Spirit Edgar Blatt & J.M. Griffith Hilda Higgins Viola Tree
Alfred Higgins Cyril Ritchard
Ernest Hermione Baddeley
I’m On My Own Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Yvette Darnac
Dancers: Maude Lloyd, Hugh Laing and The Girls
Ridiculous Days Simon Carnes Mr. Biggleswade Esme Percy
Mrs. Biggleswade Viola Tree
The Big Black Horse Lyrics by Edgar Blatt & Simon Carnes; music by Leslie Southgate The Girl and Chatterton Hermione Baddeley
The Landlady of To-day Pat Hurren
The Landlady of Yesterday Viola Tree
Sir Horace Walpole Esme Percy
Member of the Book Society Cyril Ritchard
Song of the Book Society Herbert Farjeon Hermione Baddeley, Cyril Ritchard, Esme Percy, Viola Tree, Pat Hurren
Reprise–Play Like I Like It
Surrealists Archie Campbell in conjunction with Simon Carnes & Edgar Blatt The Mother Viola Tree
A Person Ian Hamilton-Smith
An Artist Cyril Wells
The Daughter Hermione Baddeley
A Thing Bobby Tranter
Symphonie Russe Music by Prokokief; suggested by Sophie Fedorovitch Maud Lloyd, Hugh Laing and The Girls
Entrancing Dancing Simon Carnes; music by Leonard Blackett The Maestro Esme Percy
The Woman of the Plains Cyril Ritchard
The Sower Cyril Wells
Let’s Take A Chance Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Hugh Wade Gerry Fitzgerald, Zoe Wynn, Billy Kershaw, Trixie Scales, Bobby Tranter, Towina Thomas
Something in the Movies Lyric by Gerrard Bryan; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Cyril Ritchard
Girl Guides Aubrey Ensor; music by Michael Sayer Miss Simpson Viola Tree
Daphne Davies Hermione Baddeley
The Bishop Osbert Sitwell Esme Percy
Compere Cyril Ritchard
Flats Simon Carnes & Viola Tree
The Bells Will Ring Lyric by Edgar Blatt; music by Nat Ayer, Jr. Cyril Ritchard, Zoe Wynn, Towina Thomas and Entire Company