I posted something on Arthur Jeffress’ Red and White Party a while back ( see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/the-red-and-white-party/ ) ,
In John Montgomery’s “The Twenties” (1957) there is a slightly more detailed account of the revelries than that found in D. J. Taylor or Alec Waugh’s account of the night. It does not provide names (Brenda Dean Paul, Arthur Jeffress and Sunday Wilshin were all still alive when the book appeared) but it does give a good sense of the extravagance and excess of the occasion.
Arthur Jeffress and Pals
“The last hectic party of the twenties, the party to end all parties, surpassing even the Wild West party and the Court party, the final fling of the “Bright Young Things”, started at eleven o’clock on the evening of November 21, in the house of the dancer. Maud Allan, although it was not her party.
The invitation cards had been sent out a foretnight earlier, and were much in demand. Many were stolen from chimney pieces and were later presented by uninvited, unwanted guests. The wording on each card, engraved in white on a brilliant scarlet background, requested guests to confine their costumes and clothes to the colours red and white. It was to be a red and white party, a “monster ball”, as the young men of the West End called it.
Some 250 cards were sent out, but nearly 400 guests arrived. Their host greeted them in the hall, wearing a modified sailor suit of white angel-skin with red trimmings, elbow length white kid gloves loaded with diamonds and rubies, two diamond clips and a spray of white star orchids costing about£2 a bloom. He posed for photographs holding a muff made of white narcissi, which newspapers reported had been flown from North Africa, but which had been bought that afternoon in Chelsea. A pair of red leather shoes completed the ensemble.”
White and Pink Star Orchid
“The food at the party was entirely red and white – red caviare, lobsters, salmon, ham, apples (but no pears), tomatoes (but no lettuce), pink and red blancmanges, trifles and jellies. Everything was of the best, and cigarettes were contained in red and white boxes.
The upstairs rooms of the house were empty, and a rope across the stairs indicated that guests were not expected to leave the ground floor. However this did not prevent many people from disappearing upstairs, to descend, later, covered in dust.
Guests arriving at the house found the entrance guarded by Metropolitan policemen, who solemnly examined all invitation cards but let anyone in whether they had cards or not. In those days off duty policemen could be hired for private parties. inside, after being greeted by their host, guests walked over a long red carpet through a vast hall towards three large rooms, en suite, with big double-doors leading from one to the other.The centre and largest room was hung with broad strips of scarlet and white bunting.Banquettes were covered with red velvet. Dancing took place here to a negro orchestra – a sine qua non in those days – each musician wearing white tails with scarlet fittings. The two slightly smaller rooms were hung respectively with white and red bunting, the white room being a vast bar. The red room, furnished with red-covered mattresses, was for sitting-out.”
” What began as a reasonably formal, although distinctly eccentric, gathering soon developed into a noisy and hilarious free-for-all. Hired servants, dressed in scarlet double-breasted coats with large white buttons, struggled among the seething, jostling, swaying, shrieking mass of dancers and drinkers. The orchestra, overwhelmed by the noise, played louder and louder; the rooms became thick with smoke and the smell of scent.
No whisky was available, only champagne, white or red win, or gin. There were plenty of bottles for everyone. The kitchen was stacked high with crates of liquor and boxes of hired glasses. Some guests mixed the drinks and gulped them down; then mixed their dancing partners. The huge room became a medley of red and white sailor suits, white dresses and sashes, red wigs, long white kid gloves, pink hats, and even false red noses. Red and white “nuns” danced with men dressed as exotic birds with elaborate feather head-dresses, men danced stripped to the waist, wearing red sailors’ bell-bottom trousers; a man dressed as Queen Elizabeth, wearing a red wig, sat in the hall solemnly playing Abide With Me on the organ.”
” At about half past one a girl had to be prevented from pulling the hair of another woman who was attempting to get herself a drink. Half-full glasses and bottles stood all around, under chairs, behind curtains, under tables. The girl was wearing only a choker of pearls ansd a large red and white spotted handkerchief fixed around her middle by a thin white belt. People wearing more clothes found it almost unbearably hot.
Hair Puller – Brenda Dean Paul
Hair Pullee – Sunday Wilshin
The party finished with the dawn, long after the last policeman had finished guarding the doors and had gone home. It was afterwards estimated that the evening had cost about £500.”
Though it takes a suitably moralistic tone and reads like something cobbled together from a mixture of newspaper reports and imaginative licence, there is a hint of insider knowledge here. I don’t know much about John Montgomery apart from the fact that he wrote a lot of books. This one is dedicated to Hugh Wade’s sometime musical collaborator, Collie Knox (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/hugh-wade-the-savoy-orpheans-and-collie-knox/ ) and there was an old chap who was supportive of the Gay Liberation Movement in Brighton in the 1970s of that name. I think he might have been an attendee.
The £500 (£25,000 today) is, if anything, an under-estimate. The most prominent “Negro” orchestra in London at the time was Noble Sissle’s outfit, resident at Ciro’s, and they alone would have cost a few bob. I presume Queen Elizabeth was Hugh Wade but hope not – Abide With Me is rather naff in comparison to Body and Soul, a rendition of which Wade is supposed to have performed on said organ.
If nothing else, I like this piece because the room for “sitting-out” is the earliest example I know of a “Chill Out Space”, the presence of which has greatly enhanced the club scene since the 1980s. As for the political and moral implications of this event, I will leave that for future discussion.