Archive for the ‘Soho’ Category

The Prostitutes’ Padre Harold Davidson and the Lyons Corner House in Coventry Street

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The Rector of Stiffkey, Harold Davidson with Estelle Douglas 1932

‘It is very hard to be good, once you have been bad.’ - Barbara Harris

The Reverend Harold Francis Davidson, the Rector of the small Norfolk parish of Stiffkey for twenty-five years, was utterly besotted and bewitched by pretty young girls – of that there was no doubt. How he behaved in the company of said pretty young girls was more up for debate; and in 1932 it seemed the whole country, including the highest echelons of the Church of England, was debating exactly that.

The Rector preaching at Stiffkey

Every Sunday, from 1906 to 1932, with a break for the First World War when he joined the Royal Navy, the Reverend Davidson was always at his pulpit at the Stiffkey church. He spent the rest of the week, however, in Soho in London, catching the first train every Monday morning and the last one back to Norfolk on Saturday night.

The Stiffkey locals joked that especially in the summer it was best not to die on a Monday morning as the body, by the time the reverend made it back for the funeral, would be rather malodorous. He was well-liked all the same by most of his local parish.

During the week Davidson, often without his dog-collar, would walk around the streets of the West End essentially stalking and pursuing girls wherever he went.. Whether it was attactive young actresses, shop girls or waitresses none of them were particularly safe from the the glint in the Reverend’s eye.

Until the day he died the Rector always argued that he was doing nothing else but God’s work as he wondered around Soho. His aim in life, he claimed, was helping young women, particularly shop-assistants and waitresses, many of whom had left home for the first time and were on very low wages, from falling into a life of prostitution. He once said:

I cannot help feeling, that is, say, half the London clergy would, individually, spend a quarter of the time I spent looking after country girls stranded in London…instead of wasting their time…at gossiping Mothers’ Meeting, Parish Tea fights, and Society functions, there might not be so many thousands of the poor, misguided girls openly, shamelessly plying their terrible trade.

At his own estimate Davidson had made the acquaintance of, in one way or another, two to three thousand girls between 1919 (when he returned home from the First World War to an adulterous and pregnant wife) and 1932:

I was picking up in this way roughly, as my diaries show, an average of about 150 to 200 girls a year, and taking them to restaurants for a meal and a talk, of these I was able definitely to help into good jobs of work a very large number.

When Davidson talked about ‘restaurants’ he almost certainly would have been talking about relatively cheap cafes such as the J. Lyon’s Tea Shops of which there were many around London, and indeed around the country, in the twenties and thirties. The first of the Lyons teashops opened at 213 Piccadilly in 1894 (it’s still a cafe, now called Ponti’s and you can still see the original stucco ceiling of the original teashop).

Soon there were  more than 250 white and gold fronted teashops occupying prominent positions in many of London’s high streets. Food and drink prices were the same in each teashop irrespective of locality and the tea was the best available although the Lyons blend was never sold or made available to the public.

The J. Lyons flagships shops were the Corner Houses situated on or near the corners of Coventry Street, the Strand and Tottenham Court Road. They were started in 1909 and remained until 1977. They were gigantic places with food being served on four or five floors. In its heyday the Coventry Street Corner House served about 5000 covers and employed about 400 staff. There were hairdressing salons, telephone booths and even at one point a food delivery service. For a time the Coventry Street Corner House were open 24 hours a day.

Lyons Corner House, Coventry Street.

The hot food counter in Lyon’s Corner House restaurant in Coventry Street. The bar is made of functional steel, with built-in hot water jets and a row of tea urns, which is in marked contrast to the classical styling of the rest of the restaurant.

Davidson at a Foyles Literary Luncheon at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. “I could get you in films, you know”.

An associate of the Reverend Davidson called J. Rowland Sales once referred to an incident that occurred in the large Coventry Street Corner House while they were drinking tea together. Davidson was telling a very sad story about a homeless couple he had recently found sleeping under a hedge in Norfolk and became visibly upset. All of a sudden, however, his demeanour changed instantly and it was almost like he was a completely different person, recounted Sales.  The reason was because a young ‘nippy waitress’ had walked by. Suddenly Davidson called out ‘Excuse me, Miss. You must be the sister of Jessie Matthews‘, before leaping up and rushing out of the teashop promising the startled waitress that he would get her a part in a new play that was opening in London.”

Lyons’ Nippy waitresses

In 1926 there was a staff competition to name to choose a nickname for the Lyon’s teashops’ waitresses – the former name of ‘Gladys’ was now seen as old fashioned. The waitresses wore starched caps with a big, red ‘L’ embroidered in the centre, a black Alpaca dress with a double row of pearl buttons sewn with red cotton and white detachable cuffs and collar, a white square apron worn at dropped-waist level. The name ‘Nippy’ was eventually chosen for the connotation that the waitresses nipped speedily around – often trying to avoid the advances of middle-aged men like Harold Davidson no doubt.

The Perfect Nippy

It was once reported by Picture Post that 800-900 Nippies got married to customers ‘met on duty’ every year and they wrote that ‘being a Nippy is good  training for a housewife’. If ‘Nippy’ sounds a trifle strange as a name for a waitress, its worth noting that other rejected suggestions included ‘Sybil-at-your-service’, ‘Miss Nimble’, Miss Natty’, ‘Busy Betty’ and even ‘Dextrous Doris’.

The strange and rather bizarre stories of Reverend Davidson behaviour in Soho eventually came to be noticed by his employer – the Church of England, notably the Bishop of Norwich. In 1931 the Bishop decided to investigate Davidson, and soon the self-styled Prostitutes’ Padre was charged with offences against public morality under the 1892 Clergy Discipline Act.

A consistory court, which is a type of ecclesiastical court used by the Church of England to this day for the trial of clergy (below the rank of bishop) accused of immoral acts, opened at Church House in Westminster on 29 March 1932. A Consistory court has no jury and is presided over, in place of a judge, by what is called a Chancellor of the Diocese.

The original Church House was founded in 1887 and built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It was knocked down and replaced in 1937 the year of Davidson’s death.

Inside Church House

The court case was a sensation and front page news. Davidson wasn’t slow in courting the press and on the first day of the trial arrived in flamboyant style while smoking a characteristic large cigar. He even signed autographs.

Harold and his cigar

Davidson’s Family outside Church House in Westminster

Amongst, what seemed like hundreds of Nippies and domestic servants brought up to give evidence, the prosecution’s star witness was a young woman called Barbara Harris whom Davidson had met in 1930. He had first seen her at Marble Arch – a popular haunt of prostitutes at the time – and he used his old tried and tested trick of comparing Barbara to a famous actress, this time Greta Garbo.

Barbara was just sixteen and already a prostitute suffering from gonorrhea. She had never known her father and been abandoned by her mother who suffered from mental illness. She welcomed the kind gentleman’s offer of help and was soon pouring out her life-story to Davidson, no doubt in a Lyons cafe in the near vicinity. Davidson helped her find lodgings and they became close over the next 18 months.

Rosie Ellis, one of the main witnesses at Davidson’s trial.

Star proscecution witness Barbara Harris arriving at the church court. 1932

The Worshipful F. Keppel North, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich ie the Judge.

The rector gave Barbara money and even found her a job in domestic service at Villiers Street in Charing Cross but she quickly tired of both the job and the reverend’s repeated attentions. At one point she gave him a black-eye and threw coins at him but he continually came back for more.

One morning at 9 am Davidson had appeared at the room where she was sleeping. During the court case the prosecution asked Barbara about this:

Prosecution: What did he do?

Barbara: He tried to have intercourse with me.

Prosecution: Did you let him?

Barbara: No

Prosecution: When you refused, did he say anything?

Barbara: He said he was sorry afterwards.

Chancellor: When he tried to have intercourse with you, did he do anything to his clothes?

Barbara: Yes, he said he got them into a mess.

Chancellor: Did he undo his clothes?

Prosecution: Did he do anything? You said something about his clothes being in a mess?

Barbara: He relieved himself.

Prosecution: Did that happen more than once?

Barbara: More than once. It happened two or three times.

Prosecution: You say you kissed him?

Barbara: Yes.

Prosecution: How often was he kissing you?

Barbara: He was always kissing me.

Prosecution: Did he ever ask you to do things?

Barbara: Yes, he once asked me to give myself to him body and soul…

“I know he has the keys of a lot of girls flats, and front doors” – a letter from Barbara Harris to the Bishop of Norwich.

If this wasn’t enough, near the end of the trial additional evidence was suddenly produced which ultimately finished Davidson’s clerical career.

To Davidson’s utter shock and horrified disbelief, the prosecution produced a photograph of the reverend standing next to a naked 15 year old actress. The girl was called Estelle Douglas and was the daughter of a friend of his – an actress he had helped to get on stage some twenty years before. In turn she had asked Davidson to try and get her daughter into films.

The rectory rather naively holding a pyjama party with young actresses to be, including Estelle Douglas, 1932.

A photoshoot had been organised at the Stiffkey rectory with the idea of taking publicity shots of Estelle in her bathing suit. At one point the photographer told Estelle that the strap of the bathing suit and her chemise were both showing and, apparently out of earshot of the Reverend, asked her to remove them, leaving her with a black tasselled shawl to protect her modesty. A series of photographs were then taken.

Harold Davidson rushing to protect the young actress’s modesty. 1932

According to Davidson the photographer offered fifty pounds to take a photograph of him and Estelle with the intention of selling it to the newspapers. Davidson was broke and needed the money and rather stupidly agreed to the request. Whether the photograph was set-up or not (there is evidence to suggest that it was) it was now all over for the ‘Prostitute’s Padre’ and the court found him guilty of five counts of immoral conduct. He was charged £8,205 costs and his career in the Church was finished.

Mr and Mrs Gladstone. Their marriage was happier than it looked. Despite the prostitutes.

Of course the Reverend Davidson wasn’t the first member of the establishment who seemingly spent most of his spare time giving a helping hand up to fallen women in central London. Extraordinarily finding time while being Prime Minister four times, the Chancellor of the Exchequer four times, passing the third Reform Act and trying to establish home-rule in Ireland, William Ewart Gladstone was notorious for wandering around the darker environs of the West End.

With almost reckless abandon he searched for young women to ‘rescue’ often asking them back to his house. A shocked Private Secretary once asked him ‘What would your wife say?’. ‘Why’ Gladstone answered, ‘it is to my wife that I’m bringing her’. His wife Catherine would indeed feed the women and give them a place to sleep before finding, not always particularly gratefully, a temporary shelter to stay. Catherine Gladstone once astutely wrote that it was ‘a common thing for [servants] to be engaged without wages or clothes and only for ‘food every other day’. Who can wonder at girls so situated yielding to temptation and sin?’

Although Gladstone was completely open about his ‘rescuing’ of the young street women, even he wrote in his diary that he had occasionally committed ‘adultery of the heart’ and ‘delectation morosa’ meaning ‘enjoying thinking of evil without the intention of action’. Indeed a fellow parliamentarian called Henry Labouchere, MP for Northampton, wryly noted that:

‘Gladstone manages to combine his missionary meddling with a keen appreciation of a pretty face. He has never been known to rescue any of our East End whores, nor for that matter it is easy to contemplate his rescuing any ugly woman and I am quite sure his convention of the Magdalen is of incomparable example of pulchritude with a a superb figure and carriage.’

Gladstone spent a minimum of £2000 a year helping prostitutes and providing shelters. He lived until the ripe old age of eighty-nine with an extraordinarily full political life. Less than forty years later, at the age of just fifty-seven the former Rector of Stiffkey and the self-styled ‘prostitutes’ padre’ found himself on the scrap-heap. He picked himself up and, using his experience on the stage as a young man, he turned himself into a showman in order to attract as much publicity and money as possible. He wanted to appeal his court case and believed he should have been tried by a jury.

His most imfamous stunt involved him fasting inside a barrel at Blackpool. The container was fitted with an electric light and a small chimney from which his cigar smoke could escape. Through a grille he’d protest his innocence to anyone who would listen and even invited Ghandi to meet him there for tea. To no avail I might add.

The Rector with his barrel.

Davidson in Blackpool in 1933 outside the barrels.

Despite his stunts becoming more and more outrageous, for instance at one point he was being roasted in an oven while being prodded in the buttocks with a pitchfork by a mechanical devil, the erstwhile clergyman’s fame was beginning to wane. In the summer of 1937 Davidson tried one more stunt and at Thompson’s Amusement Park in Skegness he was billed as ‘A modern Daniel in a lion’s den.” Davidson stood in a cage with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto. Again he spoke about the injustice he had been dealt merged with a torrent of abuse against his former church leaders.

Rector with Freddie the Lion in 1937, Skegness.

Unfortunately on the 28th July Davidson accidentally stood on Toto’s tail. Presumably because of the lioness’s sudden movement Freddie attacked the former rector. The lion mauled him around the neck and shook him around like a rag-doll.

Despite the bravery of a 16 year old lion tamer called Renee Somer who fought the lion back using a whip and an iron bar, Davidson was admitted to Skegness Cottage Hospital. It is said that the publicity-hungry Davidson, with blood pouring from his neck, still had the presence of mind to say:

“Telephone the London newspapers – we still have time to make the first editions!”

The badly injured Davidson died in hospital two days later and a verdict of misadventure was returned at the inquest. He was buried in Stiffkey churchyard and with the help of the police to control the crowds, over two thousand mourners attended the funeral.

Looking back eighty years ago, Harold Davidson was almost certainly badly treated by his bishop and the Church of England. He could always be accused of extreme naivety and extraordinary eccentricity but was probably only guilty of an avuncular caress or two (alright lots of avuncular caresses!). However evidence of true immorality was almost non-existent and almost certainly he helped hundreds of young women away  from a life of prostitution.

Harold Davidson’s grave at Stiffkey in 2010.

Binnie Hale talks about her role in ‘Nippy’ the 1930 musical


The Dancer Bobby Britt and the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Police photograph of Bobby Britt and his party guests at his flat at 25 Fitzroy Square, January 1927

At one in the morning on the 16th January 1927 Superintendent George Collins of the Metropolitan police knocked on the door of the basement flat at 25 Fitzroy Square. A woman called Constance Carre answered and was told that there was a warrant to arrest the occupants. Carre responded:

But Mr Britt was going to give us a Salome dance!

The Superintendent and his fellow officers barged past here and quickly entered the flat. They came across a 26 year old man who was wearing, as a police report would later describe, ‘a thin black transparent skirt, with gilt trimming round the edge and a red sash… tied round his loins.’ The report added ‘he wore ladys (sic) shoes and was naked from the loins upwards.’

The oddly attired man gave his name as Robert Britt and said:

I am employed in the chorus of ‘Lady Be Good’. These are a few friends of mine. I was going to give an exhibition dance when you came in.

I have been here for about eight months and pay two pounds five shillings weekly for the flat. Carre is my housekeeper. I was a Valet to a gentleman for about nine years who died last November. I did not like that sort of life, so as I’m considered good at fancy dancing I decided to go on stage… Some of the men I have known for a long time and they bring along any of their friends if they care to do so.

It eventually came to light that the police had been staking out Britt’s flat for a month or so. Sergeant Spencer and Police Constable Gavin of “D” division had spent 16th, 17th December 1926 and 1st and 2nd of January 1927 essentially peering into the abode from the front and rear of the property. They noted the activities during various parties Robert Britt held at his flat.

Police Sergeant Arthur Spencer wrote:

At 11.45pm I saw two men, who I saw enter at 11.30pm leave, they were undoubtedly men of the “Nancy type”. They walked cuddling one another to Tottenham Court Road, where they stood waiting for a bus. I stood close to them and saw their faces were powdered and painted and their appearance and manner strongly suggested them to be importuners of men.

Police Constable Gavin contributed to the report:

I saw from the a roof into a bedroom in the basement, where two men enter the bedroom, they both undressed and got into bed and the light was put out. I heard them laugh and scream in very effeminate voices.

The bedroom in Bobby Britt’s Flat as photographed by the police at the raid.

Fitzroy Square in the 1920s

Londoner Bobby Britt, the youngest of four children, had been born in Camberwell at the turn of the century and was now 26 years old. As he mentioned to the police when they raided his flat he was performing at the Empire Theatre in the dancing chorus of Lady Be Good! – the Gershwin brothers’ first Broadway musical and which starred the brother and sister team of Fred and Adele Astaire. The musical had been a huge success in New York and had now transferred to the famous theatre in Leicester Square to perhaps even greater acclaim. Bobby Britt was dancing in easily the hottest show in town.

Fred and Adele Astaire in Lady Be Good

Leicester Square “is one of the gayest quarters of London”. Almost certainly the word ‘gay’ would have already been in use by a few people to mean homosexual around this time. Albeit not by postcard writers.

George Gershwin attended the opening night in London which brought huge crowds to the theatre. Later with the Astaires he partied at the fashionable Embassy Club, where apparently he stayed until eight in the morning.

The Embassy Club, the location for the first night party of Lady Be Good!

Lady Be Good established the Astaires as international celebrities and the Times enthusiastically wrote:

Columbus may have danced with joy at discovering America, but how he would have cavorted had he also discovered Fred and Adele Astaire!

Adele and her younger brother Fred had been a successful vaudeville act since 1905 and in 1926 Adele was actually the bigger star of the two – Fred at this stage of his career played almost a supporting role. Professionally the siblings were completely different; Fred, a constant worrier, was never happy with his or his sister’s performance and usually arrived at the theatre two hours early to limber up and practice, while Adele, a much more relaxed individual, would generally turn up a few minutes before her first entrance.

Fred and Adele – vaudeville dancers in 1915

Fred and Adele

Adele enjoyed her new found celebrity status on both sides of the Atlantic and particularly appreciated the attention she had started to get from rich tycoons’ sons and wealthy young aristocrats. In 1932 she retired from the stage and her professional relationship with her brother when she married Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish and moved to Ireland, where they lived at Lismore Castle.

Although she had been dancing most of her life, Adele made no attempt to hide the fact that the theatrical life wasn’t really for her – “It was an acquired taste,” she said, “like olives.”

The future Lady Charles Cavendish

The Empire Theatre around the turn of the century

Thirty years before Fred and Adele danced on the stage of the Empire to such acclaim, Oscar Wilde had his character Algernon Moncrieff mention the theatre in the first act of The importance of Being Ernest’.

Algernon. What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?

Jack. Oh no! I loathe listening.

Algernon. Well, let us go to the Club?

Jack. Oh, no! I hate talking

Algernon. Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?

Jack. Oh, no! I can’t bear looking at things. It is so silly.

The original production of Oscar Wilde’s play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ showing Irene Vanbrugh as Gwendolen Fairfax and and George Alexander as John Worthing. 1895.

Oscar Wilde, who wrote his last and ultimately most successful play during August 1896, would have known exactly what connotations a lot of the audience would glean from ‘the Empire’ reference.

While Wilde had been writing the play the Empire had been in the news for months, mostly because of the ‘purity campaign’ by the indomitable campaigner against vice – Mrs Ormiston Chant. The Daily Telegraph gave it huge coverage worried about ‘the prudes on the prowl’.

The Indomitable Mrs Ormiston Chant

Prostitution and the theatre, of course, had always been pretty close bedfellows, so to speak. At Wilton’s music hall, for instance, it was flagrant, the gallery could only be entered through the brothel inside which the hall had been built.

In the 1890s the Empire in Leicester Square was justly famous as a Variety and Musical Hall theatre especially for its spectacular ballet productions and its ‘Living Pictures’ – frozen-moment representations of well-known paintings or other familiar scenes where seemingly half-naked young men and women stood very very still.

In reality, the dominant attraction, and to what Wilde was probably referring, was the Empire’s second-tier promenade. This was an area behind the dress circle, where you could still see the stage if you wanted to, but was essentially a pick up joint for high class prostitutes. The theatre charged half a crown (12 1/2p) for a rover ticket that gave you licence to enjoy the promenade. There was room to wander around but there were also comfortable seats and what was called an ‘American Bar’ serving one shilling cocktails such as the ‘Bosom Caresser’ and the ‘Corpse Reviver’.

The luxurious and opulent interior of the Empire Theatre. The tier two promenade is on the bottom right.

The promenade was known as ‘The Cosmopolitan Club of the World’ and the essayist and caricaturist Max Beerhohm described it as “the reputed hub of all the wild gaiety in London – that Nirvana where gilded youth and painter beauty meet…in a glare of electric light.”

Enchanted Mrs Chant was not, and she was of the opinion that it was the risque ‘abbreviated costumes’ on stage that contributed to, and encouraged the indecent and indecorous air of the Promenade. She told the London County Council responsible for the licensing of the Empire:

“We have no right to sanction on the stage that which if it were done in the street would compel a policeman to lock the offender up…The whole question would be solved if men, and not women, were at stake. Men would refuse to exhibit their bodies nightly in this way.”

Her efforts were not in vain and she managed to persuade the council in October 1894 to instruct the Empire to build a barrier between the theatre itself and the infamous ‘haunt of vice’ promenade.

When the Empire Theatre management put up canvas screens to hide the auditorium from the Promenade they were quickly torn down by a rioting audience. They were egged on by the young Sandhurst cadet Winston Churchill who wrote to his brother:

Did you see the papers about the riot at the Empire last Saturday? It was I who led the rioters – and made a speech to the crowd – “Ladies of the Empire, I stand for Liberty!”.

The Empire Theatre in 1896

Presumably Mrs Ormiston Chant would have been even more shocked and horrified if she had known what was going on within the less prestigious and cheaper first tier promenade. Oscar Wilde, however, almost certainly did, and his ‘Empire’ reference would have had other connotation altogether to a more select part of his play’s audience.

At a cheaper price of only one shilling the Empire Theatre’s first tier promenade was said to be THE gay pick-up location in the whole of London. A letter to the council dated 15 October 1894, just six weeks after Mrs Chant’s visit to the theatre, described the rough ejection of a man from the shilling promenade by Robert Ahern, the front of house manager. The letter writer described the man who was thrown out “as a ‘sodomite’ as were perhaps half the occupants of that promenade, that it was the only venue for people of this kind, and that he ‘could lay his hands on 200 sods every night in the week if he liked.”

Oscar Wilde in 1895

It’s not known whether Oscar Wilde ever went to ‘look at things’ in the first tier promenade at the Empire Theatre but it does sound like the place he would have frequented around that time. However just a few months after Mrs Ormiston Chant’s intervention at the Empire, and only two months after The Importance of Being Ernest premiered at the St James Theatre in February 1895, Wilde was charged with gross indecency after a failed libel case with the belligerent little Marquess of Queensbury. Wilde was convicted under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

The judge, Mr Justice Wills described the sentence, the maximum allowed at the time, as “totally inadequate for a case such as this,”. Wilde’s response was “And I? May I say nothing, my Lord?” but it was drowned out in cries of “Shame in the courtroom. Five years later he was dead. A broken man.

The last photograph of Oscar Wilde in 1900

Bobby Britt, 1927 naked above his loins.

Thirty years later Lady Be Good! finished its run at the Empire on 22nd January 1927. Bobby Britt was no longer in the chorus because exactly two weeks previously he had been formally charged with keeping a disorderly house. Or to put it in slightly more detail he was charged with permitting:

…divers immoral lewd, and evil disposed persons, tippling whoring, using obscene language, indecently exposing their private naked parts, and behaving in a lewd, obscene and disorderly and riotous manner to the manifest corruption of the morals of His Majesty’s Liege Subjects, the evil example of others in the like case, offending and against the Peace of Our Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity.

After some legal arguing about what a disorderly house actually meant, poor Bobby Britt was sentenced to 15 months hard labour for essentially being a ‘nancy boy’ and enjoying the occasional party. Four of his friends were sentenced to six months without hard labour.

When Bobby was eventually released in 1928 let’s hope that he was able to go and enjoy Oscar Wilde’s Salome, perhaps to compare dances. The play, forty years after it was written (it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain on the basis that it was illegal to depict Biblical characters on stage), had its first public performance at the Savoy theatre in 1931.

After his time in prison Bobby took the stage-name Robert Linden and lived with his parents on Lansdowne Road in Stockwell and then after the war with his sister in Amhurst Road in Hackney.  Bobby went on to dance in many shows both in the West End and on Broadway in New York, working with Cecil Beaton, Frederick Ashton and Noel Coward. He danced at the initial BBC television trials at Alexander Palace and he performed for the Royal family at Windsor Castle.

Britt eventually moved to West Sussex and became a proficient painter in his eighties and he died at the age of 100 in the year 2000.

An influence for Mr Britt? Maude Allan as Salome and the head of John the Baptist in 1906.

Maud Allan became known as the ‘Salome Dancer’. Interesting character – her brother was hanged for murder of two women, she published an illustrated sex manual for women in 1900 and in 1918 it was implied by the British MP Noel Pemberton Billing in his article ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’, that she was a lesbian associate of German wartime conspirators. She sewed her own costumes though.

The silent film star and dancer Alla Nazimova stars as Salome in 1923.

After Lady Be Good’s run had come to an end Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, who had recently bought the Empire, promptly demolished the famous old theatre and built a large cinema in its place. The Empire Theatre cinema, in one form or another, still exists to this day.

The Empire Theatre just after the war, it was showing the film Bad Bascomb with Wallace Beery and Margaret O’Brien.

The Empire Cinema today. It seems a long long way from Fred and Adele Astaire. More respect for the original building please.

25 Fitzroy Square today.

To try and recreate the ‘Naughty Nineties’ atmosphere at the Empire Theatre you may want to try the cocktails Bosom Caresser and Corpse Reviver.

Bosom Caresser
1 tea-spoon raspberry syrup
1 egg
1 jigger brandy

Fill a mixing-glass one-third full of fine ice; add a teaspoonful raspberry syrup, one fresh egg, one jigger brandy; fill with milk, shake well, and strain.

Corpse Reviver
2 shots Cognac
1 shot apple brandy or Calvados
1 shot sweet vermouth

Stir well with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass.

By the way Harry Craddock, who wrote a famous cocktail book in 1930 and worked at the Savoy Hotel wrote that the Corpse Reviver No. 1 should be drunk “before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed.”

Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth – Oh Lady Be Good!

The Berry Brothers and Eleanor Powell perform Fascinatin’ Rhythm from Lady Be Good 1946