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Posts Tagged ‘Henry de Bray’

New Oxford Theatre (Little Nellie Kelly), Romano’s, Hotel Metropole (Midnight Follies), Murray’s River Club and The Riviera

Friday 27th July

We are back in London. Lorenzo has been very busy with an assortment of family business issues. Taking Papa’s advice he is also thinking of opening a restaurant. Then he surprises me by leasing a rather splendid and perfectly placed apartment in Bury Street just below Piccadilly. It is spacious and very roomy. Since Millie is in London he asks her to help re-decorate and furnish it but it is going to take a while before it is all complete and we can have a party.

I have got tickets for the theatre and as usual meet Monty and Dolly at the Criterion for drinks. We tell them all about our adventures on the Riveria and Aix-le-Bains before going to the New Oxford Theatre to see Charles B. Cochran’s production of George M. Cohan’s song and dance show Little Nellie Kelly. The elegant but rather snooty actresss, simply called June, plays the lead and the other stars are Sonnie Hale, Maidie Hope and Anita Elson. It has an interesting story, with pretty frocks, pretty faces, pretty dances, clever people and moves along at slap-dash speed.

The programme for Little Nellie Kelly

Although Eileen Idare of Idare et Cie costumed the entire show, Dolly was called in at the last minute to design several modern gowns for Anita Elson and Maidie Hope, all executed by Peron, where she is now house designer. They are exquisite.

“This all happened via Eddie Dolly”
she explains “he was responsible for the dances and ensembles and was not entirely happy with some of Idare’s creations.”

The show is a mish-mash of traditional musical comedy, a romantic drama, a good ‘spoof’ crime play and a satirical revue but dancing is one of its most important features, which suits me down to the ground. There are speciality dances from the graceful and charming Forde Sisters, Henry de Bray and Terri Storey are superb in the flirting salesman dance, Santry and Norton provide some amazing acrobatic turns and Sonnie Hale and Anita Elson feature in Dancing My Worries Away.

‘Hmm that was as clean and exhilarating as a glass of dry champagne or two’ says Monty afterward. He also reminds me that Marion Forde was an American and that I had seen her in En Douce at the Casino de Paris earlier in the year and in cabaret at Le Jardin De Ma Souer.

Afterward, I take them all to Romano’s restaurant for dinner to give Lorenzo a feel for an Anglicized Italian restaurant with an international flavour. Of London’s restaurant’s few have a more distinctive character and atmosphere than Romano’s. The founder was Nicolino Alfonso Romano, affectionately called The Roman who died in 1901. He had been head waiter at the Café Royal in 1870s and out of his savings he bought a fried fish shop in the Strand and converted it into his restaurant. Romano’s has become a London institution and famous throughout the bohemian world as a resort of characters, literary journalist and theatrical and sporting notables. It has a façade of butter coloured magolica tiles and the bright and comfortable dining room is handsomely decorated in Moorish style. One side of the room is covered with a series of painted panels beneath glass and framed in Moorish shape showing a series of views of the Bosphorus all very blue and sunny looking. Sofa seats and wide arm chairs stand beneath the paintings and on another side of the room is a great alcove with Moorish arches

Romano's Restaurant

The cuisine prides itself on its specials of chicken curry, sauté de beuf and two key dishes filet de sole tabarin and chicken a la Lombarde. The menu tonight consists of Germany (a soup made by adding yolk of egg to white consommé), Mousseline de Homard Grand Duc (Lobster mousseline), Becasse au fumer (woodcock) with Salade Japonaise, biscuit Glace aux Avelines (iced sweet brought to the table on the back of a swan cut out of a block of ice is a pretty conceit). We also partake in the 1875 brandy which is famous.

‘Just so you know’ I say ‘King Edward when the Prince of Wales had his own private room and cutlery here…’

We are still feeling frisky so decide to pop into the Embassy for a spot of socialising and hoofin it. As we arrive there are squeals of delight as Eva runs over and gives me a big hug. She is with Aubrey who is very chatty too. They soon run off to dance. Then Priscilla arrives with a crowd. She comes over, kisses me on both cheeks and says we should meet soon. Peggy Marsh is also here surrounding by admirers and she too comes to visit and whispers in my ear.

‘Well Fynes my dear’ says Lorenzo with a smirk ‘looks like you have acquired a harem.’

Saturday 28th July

After a lazy day we meet Priscilla and a friend called Dora at the Criterion for cocktails. They are both looking divine in gowns by Isobel Couture of Maddox Street, who they tell us is becoming very much de rigueur. Priscilla is wearing a beaded net gown with silver tissue and pink ribbon and Dora has a frock of shot blue and silver tissue with the ceinture (waist band) relieved with pearls. Later, we make our way to the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue. We go straight to the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs which has an atmosphere of sombre hotel stateliness. The roof is painted to resemble a gorgeous torquoise blue sunset with scudding golden clouds and the lights are encased in enormous pink silk flowers that glow. We dine excellently and for some reason all feast on the same thing: a Filets de Sole Calypso, one of the masterpieces of the chef M. Graillot. The filet is cooked in fish stock and Chablis along the parsley, tarragon and paprika and topped with peeled prawns.

After dinner we take our seats in the ballroom. I have seen the cabaret here many times before but we thought it would be good to let Lorenzo see one of the best cabarets in town. I have forgotten to mention before that the ballroom area has been decorated by Ashley Tabb and comprises jade green pillars that sweep upwards to a great cream roof picked out in jade lace. The orchestra sit in a deep blue alcove flanked by two pale orange lamps. Extreme decorum and the austereness of unemotional Britain seem the keynote. I still love the Chinese lanterns made of hand painted silk that swing across the room and add a lovely flourish to the décor.

The ‘Midnight Follies’ programme, produced by Carl Hyson, is still the same and the numbers Paradise Lane, Hawaiieen, China Love, Pinkie, Cutie, The Follies Derby, Zwadir and Gipsy Night in June are still fresh and invigorating and a pot-pourri of excellent dancing, songs, costumes, lighting and effects.

Sunday 29th July

Lorenzo has hired a car and a driver and we take a late afternoon drive into the country and with Priscilla and Dora visit the area around Maidenhead. We take boat rides on the Thames and have a lovely picnic which the ladies arranged. Later, when it is getting dark we head off to Murray’s River Club near Maidenhead bridge on the edge of the river. It is a magnificent old Georgian building that has been transformed into a glamorous rendevous of ragtime and romance by Jack May who owns and runs Murray’s club in Beak Street.

‘The club is in what was the old Manor house of Maidenhead, inhabited by a generation of staid gentlemen called Herring.’ I tell them all ‘you can see their sign – a fish – still turning slowly on the house weathercock above.’

We forgo the boat rides from a mooring at the end of the lawn and instead take cocktails outside on the lawn. Strings of fairy lanterns and little lights pop up everywhere in the flowers and trees and white coated waiters wizz about with amazing dexterity.

We walk into the house and take a dance in a blue-ceilinged Japanese ballroom before taking dinner on the verandah overlooking the green sloping lawn and the river. Albert, the maitre d’hotel insinuates himself into the foreground with a pencil, dropping gentle hints which develop into our dinner.

‘I am told he was a trusted waiter on King Edward’s staff at Biarritz in 1906’ I mention.

As the evening progresses the place is hopping. No surprise really since it is only a short drive from London and always attracts a lively crowd. It is also particularly popular with the theatrical contingent and we notice several stars of the stage.

Murray's River Club at Maidenhead

The dance band is wonderful and plays such delightful songs as ‘The Dancing Honeymoon’, the alluring fox trot ‘Chicago’ and ‘Come On and Dance.’ We alternate dancing in the ballroom or outside on a crystal floor open to the sky.

Monday 30th July

We visit a strange place on Dora’s recommendation for a quiet night out. The Riviera Dance Club is located in splendid isolation in Grosvenor Road on the river and is a mock Roman Villa originally designed by one of the Stanleys.

‘It’s chief attraction is that it is unlike any other dance club anywhere. It has a much more refined and soothing atmosphere and is far less frenetic than West End Clubs’
Dora explains in the taxi.

It is in fact a private club and Dora is a member. We have to ring the front doorbell as at a private house to gain admission. It is not a large venue but has a very chic air and the décor divine. The main dining room has oyster grey stone pillars and the dance floor is flanked by black and silver brocade walls. At dinner, the windows are open to the river and there is a luscious light breeze. One dines in peace. Later, a small band plays rather subdued music but people do dance. The words ‘awefully nice’ describe the people and the place.

We have a long conversation about this ‘n’ that and both ladies quiz Lorenzo about the purchase of his apartment and his plans for the future. It is decided that when Millie has finished decorating and furnishing, the ladies will help Lorenzo arrange a welcome party. They are awfully nice.

‘Hmm this interesting’ I say at last ‘it is very seldom that you find a dance club that is content to remain just itself; that does not rely on gourmetic cuisine, the presence of celebrity, the glamour of a crowd, exhibition dancers, the lure of a late night and unlimited bubbly.’

‘What you mean is it is dull’ says Dora with a laugh.

I think she might be right. We leave early and head off to dance at the Embassy.

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The Criterion, the Winter Garden Theatre and the Queen’s Hall Roof.

Tuesday 19th September

 I meet my oldest school friend Aubrey for an early dinner at the wonderfully elegant Criterion Restaurant on Piccadilly Circus. It has long been a favourite of my family and is actually a large collection of restaurants all in one building. We sit in the East Room on the first floor, which has been famous for half a century. It still keeps its decoration of white and gold, panels painted with Watteau subjects and the dainty harmony of rose and grey in carpets, furniture and curtains. The music from the orchestra perched in a gilded cage above the big entrance hall comes to us softened by distance. We are near enough the large picture windows to see the rush and swirl of Piccadilly Circus below. I eat and drink modestly, after all a long night awaits me, but I take advantage of my favourite dessert Croûte Caume; an admirable dish with banana, pineapple and apricot in kirsch. We swap stories about our respective summer holidays. Aubrey has just returned from a long trip around Europe and I have to say is looking rather radiant.

The Exterior of the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly, London.

The Exterior of the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly, London.

I like it here” he says.

“Did you know that it was opened by two Englishmen who were famous caterers in Melbourne in the days of the gold fever?” I reply.

“Oh really”Aubrey says completely disinterested as he sips a glass of sherry. “I am so sorry I missed you at Deauville…. by the time I arrived Alphonso King of Spain was causing such excitement. Not least because he was seen every night in the company of your new friends the Dolly Sisters in the Casino with Fausto, the son of the Marquis de Viana. Equally, the gossip at the Potiniére was rife, with sightings of both of them leaving the rooms of those naughty girls at the Hotel Royal each afternoon.”

“Well they are still delectably adorable” I reply tartly “despite the gossip.”

Aubrey changes the subject again by talking about the Aegean crisis and the conflict between Greece and Turkey over Thrace but then asks abruptly “Where are you going tonight?”

 “Oh I am meeting Monty and his friend Dolly Tree and we are going to the opening night of The Cabaret Girl.” I reply, relieved that I do not have to hear all his insufferable details about politics; sometimes he can be a real flat tyre. You see he has some sort of strange job at the Foreign Office and loves to discuss current affairs ad nauseam. “Dolly has designed the costumes for some of the main scenes. It is supposed to be an amazing production and Dorothy Dickson is incredible…”

 Monty and Dolly meet us at our table and I make introductions. She is wearing a delightful creation; a white frock with a velvet top and a skirt of silk fringes over silver lame and three rows of lovely pearls. ‘Elegant simplicity’ which is I gather, one of her hallmarks.

 Aubrey is instantly flirtatious “Why, hello my dear. You look simply divine. Such a fascinating gown.”

 She is use to such attention and deals with Aubrey with great aplomb. “Why thank you Aubrey, That is your name isn’t it? Well, if you like it you can have it! It might just fit you dear.”

We leave and get in a cab to the Winter Garden Theatre in Drury Lane where we are ushered in on the VIP list to a cosy box replete with champagne on ice. The show was magnificent. The plot was in the familiar musical comedy vein of rich boy must marry a suitable bride to acquire his inheritance but falls in love with a showgirl instead.

The last act formed a representation of the ‘Midnight Follies’ at the Hotel Metropole with costumes designed by Dolly. There was an Hawaiian chorus who accompanied Dorothy Dickson when she sang ‘Ka-lu-a’ and Heather Thatcher appeared in a sumptuous Oriental tableau. This was followed by a series of mannequins dressed in a range of bewilderingly eccentric outfits.

Dorothy Dickson in The Cabaret Girl

Dorothy Dickson in The Cabaret Girl

 “They are amazing Dolly, you must be so proud” I whisper to her with a peck on the cheek.

 “Although the plot is rather predictable I think this is going to be a big hit’ Monty says afterward. ‘The book is witty, the music quite above the commonplace, the cast exceptional and last but not least your dresses are divine. I will write a glowing review of course.”

We toodle back to the Criterion for an hour of dancing in the Italian Roof Garden. This is one of the prettiest places to dance and dine. Vine-decked loggias surround the room with a blue ceiling, a silver moon and stars that give the illusion of being in a roof garden. It is a picturesque setting made to look like an Italian landscape. Aubrey is there with a crowd and we have a delightful time. Just as we are about leave Eva walks in. Aubrey rushed up to her and kisses her on both cheeks.

 “Fynes dear boy. Let me introduce you to the delightful Evangaline Lampton” he says with a beaming smile ‘we met in Paris last week and had a spiffing time on La Tournee des Grands Ducs.”

 “Oh we already know each other Aubrey dear. We met in Deauville and Fynes took me for dinner last night, didn’t you?” she says sweetly and kisses me on both cheeks.

Aubrey is bright red and looks as if he is about to explode. I am smiling to myself. I certainly do not tell Aubrey everything and it looks like neither does Eva.

 “We had better get going” says Monty coming to the rescue. “Otherwise we will miss the show.”

We are going to The Queens Hall Roof, where the cast of the Cabaret Girl will be celebrating their first night. Both Aubrey and Eva decide to come with us and we all hop in a cab and race up to Langham Place at the top of Regent Street. The Queens Hall is the premier music venue in London and very grand indeed with a blue-green colour scheme, an arched ceiling with a painting of the Paris Opera House, by Carpegat, with attenuated cupids clad in sallow pantaloons and seating for 2,400. At the top of the building was a smaller cigar shaped hall with windows in the ceiling where a cabaret show had been staged since April.

Programme for Cabaret Follies at the Queen's Hall Roof

Programme for Cabaret Follies at the Queen's Hall Roof

 “This reminds me a little of Ziegfeld’s Roof Garden in New York.” Monty says as we all take our seats and order some supper and champagne. Dolly introduces us to many of the cast of The Cabaret Girl who sit at adjacent tables. Monty knows Miss Dickson of course because he has interviewed her several times both in New York and London. “She is a jewel” he says and then adds “she started off as a society dancer with her husband Carl Hyson in Chicago and they became big stars in cabaret and then on the New York stage.”

 Just in time, we catch the midnight edition of the new show called The Cabaret Follies. It has been produced by Jack Hylton, one of our new and most original jazz band-leaders and the actor Jack Buchanan and is a striking production. There is a beauty chorus of 16 gorgeous girls who appear in 8 numbers, including one where they support Flora Lea, a one time Ziegfeld girl when she sings Evergreen Eve. All the girls and Flora are decked out as a confection of foliage. The glamorous American sisters Josephine and Helen Trix, wearing Molyneux gowns, which give the effect of old red lacquer, were sensational with their amusing antics and singing fabulous songs. Henry de Bray and May Vivian were equally wonderful principals and the elaborate costumes of Oriental splendour for the finale ‘Song of India’ were magnificent.

The Trix Sisters

The Trix Sisters

A scene from The Cabaret Follies

A scene from The Cabaret Follies

Don’t worry I didn’t design the costumes this time. My friend Guy de Gerald did. Alas, I was far too busy on other projects.” Dolly tells us as we all gawp at the end.

 Within seconds the band starts playing and everyone starts to dance. Aubrey grabs my arm “Fynes, you are a cad. Why didn’t you tell me about Eva? I bet she is one of those women your mother has lined up for you isn’t she?”

 “I never thought about any of it being that important.” I reply innocently with a smile.

 After returning from the bathroom, Eva wanders up to me, also clearly intent on having a quiet word. “Fynes, I do like you and I love our nights out together” she says sweetly fluttering her eyelashes and caressing my arm “but, please remember that I like going out a lot. And, well, I really like Aubrey, and Biffy, and Clarence, and Peregrine, and Bottom, and Smarty….and,  I am not quite ready to settle down yet and choose. You understand darling don’t you?”

 “Peregrine Wilberforce-Watson too?” I say aghast “He’s even more boring that Aubrey!”

 Aubrey gets up and smooches with Eva while I dance with Dolly.

 “I had forgotten just what a great hoofer you had become Fynes” she says “I think you ought to dance with Dorothy you know. I think she may well like your style.”

 I ask Miss Dickson to dance and soon I am spinning her around the dance floor as Aubrey looks on in amazement as he treads on Eva’s toes.

 “Hey mister” she says in her wonderful American accent. “You are a swell dancer. I might just need you in the show! Where did you learn to be so good…”

 “Ah that is my secret” I say mysteriously. I always find it is best not to reveal everything.

“Do you like London?” I ask.

 “Oh yes very much so. I have been here for just over a year and we are having a ball. But I am so glad that cabaret has come to London. When I arrived I was disappointed that there were few supper clubs and cabaret shows that one could go to late at night. Now they are springing up all over the place. London is truly becoming brighter.”

 “London is truly brighter with you here my dear” I say. And, I mean it. She is so sweet and so pretty and boy oh boy what a dancer.

 

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