Tag Archive: Turner Layton


Hugh Wade 1928-1935

The Hugh Wade of the years 1929-1935 is the one I first encountered a few months ago. It is Hugh Wade of  The Blue Lantern and The Blue Angel, of the jaunty cap and Bright Young parties, the “naughty boy” who symbolised Elizabeth Ponsonby’s fall from, if not exactly grace then social prominence and of course the Hugh Wade who gave evidence at Elvira’s trial.

On the surface Hugh seems to have abandoned composing for performing (and partying).As far as I can see, there is only one copyrighted tune to his name in the whole six years. It’s a good one though.

“Singing In The Moonlight” (1932)

This was recorded by Henry Hall and the BBC dance orchestra, Reginald Dixon (of Blackpool Tower Ballroom fame), The Melody Boys and Layton and Johnstone. There was also a French version (“Sous Le Clair De  Lune“)  which may be an indicator of the time he is supposed have spent living in Paris but is probably just a sign of the song’s popularity

The Layton and Johnstone version is of most interest to me as not only were they prolific recording artists but they were very much part of the “Smart Set” and its fascination with sophisticated black artists. I have posted about Turner Layton on more than one occasion (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/another-party-in-glebe-place/ ) and think he ought to be given the same prominence as Hutch in terms of 1930s musical culture.

“The Melody Boys” was a popular name and could refer to any number of acts, the most famous being Al Bowlly and his Radio Melody Boys. It’s unlikely to be Bowlly as he has been well served by discographers. As it is on Sterno, it is almost certainly an alias designed purely for that label. Sterno made good quality dance music, often quite jazzy, using London’s leading  dance-bands (Ray Starita, Tommy Kinsman etc.) often performing under alternative names.Sterno records were only available through Marks and Spencer and some are quite rare.See Sterno

The most widely circulated version would have been Henry Hall’s. His BBC Orchestra was heard in every home in England. Several generations of children grew up listing to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” but among the novelty music there were many romantic, if slightly formal, arrangements of the popular music of the day.  Each weekday at 5.15pm  a large section of the British public tuned into listen.”Singing In The Moonlight” is the title of one retrospective Hall CD and is the Wade composition most readily available these days.

Hugh’s co-writer was Edward “Eddie” Pola. An American, he would later achieve great success in the States  working with George Wyle (they wrote “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”). He was in England throughout the 1930s and acted in films as well as recording (by the standards of the day) slightly risque songs such as “I Want to Be A Nudist” and “The Gigolo’s Wedding“. He also performed comic monologues parodying various musical genres. There are some Pathe short films online – but I can’t get any sound on them.

Most of Hugh’s time was taken up with the long residency at the Blue Lantern. This is the Hugh whose fans included Tom Driberg and Frederick Ashton and who Jocelyn Brooke, wittily but rather acerbically, turns into a symbol of the “louche” set. However, I think there were other projects.

Hugh had been providing music for revues since 1928 (“Quicksilver” and “Miss 1928”) and continued to do so. It seems he collaborated with Billy Milton’s partner Billy Noble at some point. He also wrote music for Douglas Byng and may have accompanied him in his nightclub act and possibly on record. Wade composed a score for Byng’s lyrics in a one-off revue that also starred Ernest Thesiger. I think it was probably “Past Bedtime”, a charity cabaret ball at the Savoy Hotel. Attendees were invited  to “Come as we were when we were very young”, another example of that fondness for infantilism among some elements of the Bright Young Things.

Hugh had other residencies apart from the Blue Lantern and Blue Angel. A notice in Flight International 1932 reads  “Every Sunday evening a dance will be held, and everybody is cordially invited ; arrangements have been made for Mr. Hugh Wade to be at the piano until further notice”. This is likely to have been at the Brooklands Aero Club or the Stag Lane dance pavilion, both popular with motor car and plane enthusiasts, but I haven’t been able to  pinpoint the venue as yet. The Royal Aero Club which published Flight International  also met at the Hambone in Ham Yard (next to the Blue Lantern) so it might have been there.

So it was a rather fuller professional life than one copyrighted song might indicate. On to 1936 and two prestigious projects.

 


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Another Party in Glebe Place

There were a number of parties thrown, by various Bright Young Things, in honour of the first Blackbirds revue. Oliver Messel, David Plunkett Greene and Anthea Carew’s brother, Patrick Gamble, organised three of the earliest. One that has found its way into several books took  place on March 10th 1927.

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Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb 1929

In Evelyn Waugh’s diaries he records going to a party given by “Layton the black man” at the studio of an artist called” Stuart Hill”. He comments “All very refined -hot lobster, champagne cup and music. Florence Mills, Delysia, John Huggins, Layton and Johnstone and others sang songs.” At this time Waugh was infatuated with Olivia Plunket-Greene, who in her turn was much taken with Blackbirds and black musicians and singers. Waugh was also seeing a lot of the free-wheeling Zena Naylor and thus her lover Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson. Contrary to some accounts, Waugh enjoyed the music. He was less keen on the social and sexual liaisons between black and white,  which he lampoons (ineptly, I’ve always felt) in “Decline and Fall“.

The diary entry is worth unpicking a little. Layton was Turner Layton, who enjoyed great success in England, firstly with his partner Clarence “Tandy” Johnstone and later as a solo artist. Though his name is rather forgotten today, he was a significant figure and his compositions “Dear Old Southland”, “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” and, particularly “After You’ve Gone” are still performed today.

“After You’ve Gone” (1918) was a big hit for both Sophie Tucker and Marion Harris. They were the first white singers to make credible jazz records – Harris may actually be the first artist to have recorded a Blues. Marion Harris had a long residency at the Cafe De Paris in 1931 where Elvira would surely have seen her. She performed (she was briefly in Ever Green ) and recorded in London from 1931 to 1934 and remained in London throughout the decade, having married theatrical agent Leon Urry. Urry, depending on which account you read, was either the floor manager at the Cafe De Paris or the leading dance host there (his name has also been linked to Cafe hostess and soon-to-be film star, Merle Oberon). Urry and Harris’  London home was hit by a V1 rocket in 1944. She returned to America but died shortly afterwards – asphyxiation, she fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Layton himself became something of a fixture at the Cafe De Paris (and Monseigneur’s Restaurant).  Layton and Johnstone had first played the Cafe De Paris in 1924.Although  they were initially known were known for more uptempo numbers (Way Down Yonder, Bye Bye Blackbird), it was Layton’s sophisticated balladeering  that earned him a place in the hearts of Mayfair socialites. His style was similar to Hutch’s and the two are often confused. However, he lacked Hutch’s sexual charisma and concomitant notoriety. His partner Johnstone did become involved in a major scandal, through a much-publicised affair with the wife of Palm Court violinist, Albert Sandler. Layton and Johnstone found themselves being booed, particularly by provincial audiences, and Layton terminated the act, Johnstone returning to New York and obscurity. Layton proved even more popular as a solo act and was a great radio favourite in the War. He retired in 1946 but continued to live in London until his death in 1978.

Turner Layton

Sandler, another musician in danger of slipping into oblivion, was a pioneer of the much loved and later much-parodied “Palm Court” sound – a mixture of light classical pieces and popular tunes played in a refined classical style.It was he who popularised Boccherini’s Minuet in E, used to great effect in the original, Ealing version, of “The Ladykillers”.

Albert Sandler

Turner Layton’s party was held at 41 Glebe Place, Chelsea in the studio of Alexander Stuart-Hill. This was two doors down from Olivia Wyndham’s mother’s London residence which was to be the setting for a rather wilder “Freak Party”  two years later (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/freak-party-chelsea-1929/  ).

Alexander Stuart-Hill (1888-1948) was a Scottish portrait painter who achieved some success in the inter-War period but is chiefly remembered for a secret engagement to Princess Louise of Battenberg, the future Queen Consort of Sweden and brother of Louis, Lord Mountbatten. Her parents vetoed the engagement pointing to the unsuitablity of the Princess marrying a known homosexual. All of which is slightly ironic, given the rumours about Louis (not to mention Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s long affair with the bi-sexual Hutch). Stuart-Hill had recently painted Turner Layton (I can’t find the image but it was exhibited at the RA spring show) and on the night of the party he asked Florence Mills (the undisputed star of Blackbirds) if he could also do her portrait. The result was this –

Florence Mills by Alexander Stuart-Hill 1927

The picture lacks something of the exuberance and ability to spread joy contemporary reports ascribe to Florence Mills, but it is elegant and dignified. It is also markedly free of the caricature and stereotypical motifs associated with the representation of black people in that period. This I find quite find quite refreshing and I rate it highly (I’m getting rather fond of “conventional” 20s’ and 30s’ portraiture).

Johnny Hudgins, Florence Mills rehearsing on Pavilion Theatre roof, 1926

The other names on Waugh’s list are deserving of elaboration, too. “John Huggins” has got to be Johnny Hudgins (1896-1990), the male comic lead from Blackbirds. He was a legend in Harlem and in France became known as the “Black Charlie Chaplin”. He was often called “The Wah Wah Man”  because of  his ability to vocally mimic the archetypal muted trumpet  sound of 20s’ jazz. After London he worked with Josephine Baker in the celebrated Revue Negre. The reason for his absence from most musical histories may be down to the fact that he performed in “Blackface”. By the 1920s most singers and dancers did not, but comic turns were still expected to.

Fortunately we have a striking visual record of Hudgins as he starred in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi comedy, directed by none other than Jean Renoir (of Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game renown). Sur Un Air De Charleston (Charleston Parade) was made in 1927. It starred Renoir’s wife Catherine Hessling, a noted silent  screen actress who had been a model for Matisse and Jean’s father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the great Impressionist artist.

The film is truly odd and its themes of race, female  sexuality and the future of civilisation would keep a whole conference load of academics, semioticians and cultural theorists busy for a fortnight. Fortunately, it is on Youtube – watch and be amused/amazed/perplexed.

Hudgins was also the subject of a painting, also from 1927. It is more well-known and more controversial than the Florence Mills picture.

Kees Van Dongen Le Chanteur Negre 1927

I am going to post on Van Dongen separately, so will just leave you with this image as yet another reminder of the huge impact that Black performers had on European Art and Culture in the 1920s.

The last person mentioned by Waugh, “Delysia”, was a French actress, Alice Delysia (1889-1979), who was hugely popular on the English stage in the 1920s. C.B.Cochran (who else?) brought her over from Paris towards the end of the First World War. She sang in English with a strong French accent that London audiences found irresistible. They also loved her daring costumes. The Lord Chamberlain took a dimmer view and there were frequent early censorship battles.When the Morning Post disapprovingly commented, “Never can an actress have worn so negligible a dress”, her success was ensured.

She appeared in Cochran’s  Mayfair and Montmartre (1922) but it was her performance of Noel Coward’s Poor Little Rich Girl in Noel Coward’s On With The Dance (1925) that confirmed r heas a heroine for the Bright Young People.She continued to be successful throughout the 1930s, worked for ENSA and supported the Free French Forces. After the War she married a French  Consul before ending her days in a Brighton rest home. Ethel Mannin mentions her in her autobiography as epitomising both the sophistication and the naive sentimentality of her generation of young women (“We loved Delyssia, all diamante and ostrich feathers singing sweetly.”)

Delysia – Mayfair and Montmartre 1922

So, quite a gathering. It is a pity that Waugh did not name the other singers. I think we can assume that Edith Wilson (who the  hard-core jazz fans, such as Spike Hughes, Constant Lambert and Edward Burra) preferred to Florence Mills, was there, and a number of musicians. Such an array of talent – and lobster and champagne too!

Let’s close with party host Turner Layton nine years later. He is introduced by Bert Ambrose and the clip is from the 1936 film “Soft Lights and Sweet Music” . This is the kind of thing they lapped up at Monseigneur’s and The Mayfair Hotel (where I think this is shot),