Lost in the Darkness of Change
Eddie returned to London submerged in melancholy thoughts. His labile temperament, inability to sleep and uncontrollable surges of jealously seemed to indicate he was once again approaching the edge of a nervous breakdown. Having lost George, he now seemed to be about to lose Sabine. The exhausting train journey from Berlin had given him far too much time to ruminate on the seductive power of the booted and muscular Fascist male. It seemed an impossible concept. His feelings towards Sabine and German culture had been distorted on the tour. ‘When I hear the word “culture” … I release the safety on my Browning!’*
England was the scene of much public rejoicing in 1935, King George V’s Silver Jubilee year. He had seen them through the greatest conflagration in history, the Great War. Eddie with his passionate attachment to Queen Mary was disappointed that he had missed the spectacular State Drive of their Majesties for the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in May. ‘Other anxieties may be in store,’ the King warned, scarcely realizing the prescience of this observation.
* Declared by Friedrich Thiemann, a character in the play Schlageter by Hanns Johst devoted to Nazi ideology through the martyr Albert Schlageter (1894–1923). He was a German saboteur executed by the French in 1923, a hero martyr of the Nazis and mentioned in Mein Kampf.
This famous line is often misattributed, sometimes to Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels and sometimes to Heinrich Himmler. Jean-Luc Godard in his 1963 film Le Mépris has a producer say to Fritz Lang: ‘Whenever I hear the word culture, I bring out my chequebook.’
Eddie again rented the flat at 7a Manchester Street, intent on taking up the social threads of his concert life. His finances were in their usual parlous state, not assisted by the sombre economic blizzard. Being an opportunist and something of a social snob, he had no intention of allowing himself to be forced into the financial extremity of trying his luck in the north of England. He did not want to slip into the disinherited world of ‘impotence and despair’, the world of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier.
In Mayfair, the ladies seemed to regard him as some sort of ‘pet’ and cared for him with the extravagance and emotional attachment elderly women expend on their Siamese cats or King Charles Spaniels. He did not object to this treatment, but often felt smothered and financially beholden to them. He had frequently performed for the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt and her friends at Nuneham Court, her country house in Oxfordshire. She had arranged his first valuable recital before Queen Mary in 1926 and the initial prized mention in the Court Circular. His fine playing had not been forgotten and his undoubted charisma maintained its power.
The generous fees enabled him to survive in some degree of comfort but not to save. He attended parties given by the Duchess of Devonshire at St James’s Palace in honour of the Duchess of York and another given by the Marchioness of Londonderry at glamorous Londonderry house, the very heart of Society and a fulcrum of power. Eddie also renewed his acquaintance with the Dowager Lady Swaythling for whom he had first played at Kensington Court in 1926.
The Dowager was becoming a close friend and staunch patron. On 8 May she was hostess at a large dinner party given in honour of the Prime Minister of Australia Mr A.J. Lyons and Mrs Lyons. She planned that he give his ‘Jubilee Concert’ there on the evening of June 30. Eddie’s loyal patron of long-standing HH Princess Marie Louise signified her intention to attend and invited him to luncheon. The ex-King and Queen of Siam (Thailand), Field Marshall Lord Allenby * and Lady Allenby and that conspicuous exile, Milo Petrović-Njegoš, Prince Milo of Montenegro, would also attend the concert. Supper would be provided for the aristocratic audience after the recital which was soon subscribed at one guinea each for the marginally less distinguished of the sixty guests.
* Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby (1861–1936), commander of T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. One of the greatest British generals.
Prince Milo of Montenegro was a quite extraordinary character who had been educated at the élite Corps des Pages Military Academy in St Petersburg. His cousins Miliza and Anastasia had been invited by Czar Alexander III to be educated at the Smolny Institute, a school for the female nobility in the same city. Both sisters were socially influential at the Russian imperial court. They dabbled in the occult and fatally introduced Rasputin to the imperial family.
Prince Milo had spoken often to Czar Nicholas II and knew the younger members of the ill-fated family well, spending holidays with them in the Crimea. The tortuous history of his oft-betrayed country meant much of his life was spent wandering in exile. While in Shanghai staying at the Hotel Astor in 1924 he had a diverting dinner with a flirtatious but painfully thin US naval pilot officer’s wife named Wallis Spencer soon to become the infamous Wallis Simpson.*
*The full romantic story of the gallant Prince Milo of Montenegro (1889–1978) written by his daughter is contained in My Father, the Prince, Milena Petrovic-Njegoš Thompson (Xlibris, Bloomington, 2000).
In an amusing divertissement, on July 3 Eddie gave a ‘Viennese’ charity recital of Strauss waltzes in the ballroom of Lady Dance’s home in Regent’s Park for HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. In ‘beergarden’ style all the guests at midnight sat ‘informally’ on the floor to eat supper, save the characterful Princess who stood regally by the piano admiring his musicianship. Eddie gave her a huge bunch of Tiger Lilies.
Princess Marie Louise had been interested in Eddie’s career ever since she had first heard him and George perform in Mayfair in 1927. She had been greatly saddened by news of George’s death and endeavoured to bolster Eddie’s spirits whenever she could. Apart from her passion for music, she was a keen tennis follower, rarely missed a day’s play during Wimbledon and often presented the prizes. Eddie shared her interest in tennis, having played a great deal at club level as a young man in Australia.
In perfect weather she attended the exciting Men’s Singles Final of this championship on 5 July 1935 between the great English player Fred Perry† and the German aristocrat Baron Gottfried von Cramm.* Eddie’s close friendship with the great Australian tennis player Sir Norman Brookes # and his own interest in the game often led him to attend prestigious matches.
† The legendary Fred Perry (1909–95) was a championship-winning English tennis and table tennis player who won 10 Majors including eight Grand Slams and two Pro Slams. Perry won three consecutive Wimbledon Championships between 1934 and 1936 and was World No. 1 for four consecutive years.
Gottfried von Cramm was admired for his remarkably handsome ‘Aryan’ looks, his charm and refinement as well as for his fine sense of sportsmanship. ‘Like a comet a new star fell from the tennis heavens,’ wrote one French newspaper. ‘If he plays tennis as well as he looks,’ remarked a female member of his tennis club, ‘he’ll be world champion’. It was reported that he practised ‘like a professor of mathematics for five hours a day’. The legendary Australian coach Harry Hopman observed: ‘Gottfried was the most fluent and best-looking stroke maker I have seen in my fifty years of international tennis.’ His first serve was good but his second serve was even better, ‘a loathsome thing’.
However, von Cramm was homosexual and had befriended a Jewish transvestite actor Manasse Herbst at the notorious Eldorado nightclub in Berlin. This meant initially at the very least the possibility of a Nazi jail sentence, more likely execution. He led a perilous existence. Von Cramm was defeated by Perry in the Wimbledon final 6–2, 6–4, 6–4, which actually put his entire life and career in jeopardy.
The British correspondent Alistair Cooke commented: ‘Every year that von Cramm steps onto the Centre Court at Wimbledon a few hundred young women sit straighter and forget about their escorts.’
*Gottfried von Cramm (1909–76) was a German amateur tennis champion and twice French open champion (1934, 1936).
Sir Norman Brookes invited Princess Marie Louise and Eddie to a small dinner party he and his wife had arranged in Eaton Square after the championship. Several of the leading tennis players of the day had been invited to meet her. Walter Pate, the US Davis Cup captain, the British player Reginald Bessemer-Clark, Gottfried von Cramm and the man who would be his next opponent in an immortal Davis Cup match in 1937, the ‘ugly’ young American tennis virtuoso Donald Budge. Eddie had promised to play the piano informally after dinner and received unusually intense approbation from both sportsmen and royalty.
# Sir Norman Brookes (1877–1968) was an Australian tennis champion, World No. 1 in 1907 and President of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. Brookes was the first non-Briton to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon. He won the men’s singles twice, in 1907 and 1914. He was a major figure in establishing the Australian Open, which he won in 1911.
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Eddie did not hesitate to accept the invitation from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Jubilee Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on Thursday 25 July 1935 from 4 to 6.30 pm Morning Dress (Weather permitting). He would be able to renew many useful acquaintances. The weather turned out to be gloriously sunny with a huge Empire crowd of some ten thousand ambling about the tents and marquees, listening to the military bands, drinking tea and nibbling tiny cucumber sandwiches laid out on tables decorated with vibrant pink carnations.
At exactly 4 pm King George V and Queen Mary emerged from a side entrance to the palace. She was dressed in beige lace and carried a pink parasol while other ladies wore long dresses with elbow-length gloves also carrying parasols. The King together with the other men were dressed in dove grey morning suits and grey top hats.
They mingled with the many high Indian officials and their wives who added vibrantly coloured silks to the splendour of the occasion. Many were presented to Their Majesties under the Durbar canopy. As Eddie circulated in the gardens, Queen Mary again briefly engaged him in conversation with her usual succinct phrases of encouragement: ‘Keep up the practice!’ After attending this socially inclusive gesture on the part of royalty, Eddie with the greatest relief felt he was now back ‘in the swim’ of London Society and his worries drifted away like a summer cloud.
In August he holidayed at Townhill Park House, the Dowager Lady Swaythling’s country house in Hampshire. Eddie wrote of her ‘enormous enthusiasm’ for Australia and Australians.
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The excitement of speed had always acted like a drug on this eccentric pianist. Fast driving ‘at the limit’ created a wonderful elevation of the spirit. It distracted him completely from his customary destructive ‘neurotic introspection and dwelling’. Eddie found he was missing the pleasure of driving the Alvis. Bowling along through English country lanes at speed in summer, wind in his hair, deep breathing the scents of nature, sometimes hearing the birdsong, gave him a similar exhilaration to playing La Campanella a tempo at the very limits of his piano technique.
The August Bank Holiday race meeting at Brooklands promised a duel between two impossibly glamorous lady drivers: the beautiful and diminutive Kay Petre in her V12 Delage and Gwenda Stewart in the Derby-Miller. Kay won the race with a lap of 134.25 mph and both were given the coveted 130mph badge held by very few Brooklands drivers, male or female.
Since his concert tour of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 and his recital at the Royal Palace, Eddie had taken a close interest in that country and its royal family. At this time the famous Siamese driver Prince Bira* was driving at Brooklands for White Mouse Racing, supervised by his cousin Prince Chula.†
In the Siam Trophy race Prince Bira came second in an ERA. Eddie wrote in detail to his cinder-track motorbike-obsessed sister Bessie in Australia about these intoxicating speed events at Brooklands. He described the British Racing Drivers’ Club meeting when the legendary John Cobb and Tim Rose-Richards raced the formidable Napier-Railton. Cobb went on to win despite being hit in the face with a lump of concrete as the Members’ Banking began to break up.‡ Many of Eddie’s wealthy young aristocratic friends in the Paddock (‘The Right Crowd and No Crowding’) enthusiastically shared with him what was considered a ‘noisy and brutal passion’ by the dowagers and duchesses. They felt he should ‘stick to the refinement of Mozart’. But he knew these interests to be not incompatible.
*Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh (1914–85) was known as Prince Bira of Siam (Thailand) or by his nom de course B. Bira. He was a well known Formula One and Grand Prix motor racing driver competing for the Maserati, Gordini and Connaught teams among others. Two days before Christmas 1985, the impoverished Prince Bira was found dead from a heart attack in an empty railway carriage at Baron’s Court Underground Station in London, an abject end to a glamorous life.
† Prince Chula Chakrabongse of Siam (1908–63) was also a member of the Siamese (Thai) Royal Family. When Prince Chula’s cousin Prince Bira went to England in 1927 to complete his education at Eton, Chula was supervising a car racing team called White Mouse Racing. Prince Bira decided to drive for him in 1935. Bira’s partnership with Prince Chula ended in late 1948.
‡ The Members’ Banking at Brooklands was one of two built-up sections of track designed to accommodate cars racing at high speed. The other was called the Byfleet Banking.
The Members’ Banking was a dangerous, rough and tremendously exciting portion of the circuit where many dramas occurred. Cars became airborne or flew off the top of the banking, the drivers usually killed and their cars wrecked. Sections of the banking have been restored for nostalgic and rather safer forays into the past history of motor racing.
Watch this astonishing 1935 b/w production, filmed entirely at Brooklands when in operation (free). The movie not only indicates how motor sport has changed dramatically under vast commercial pressures but also how the love story and sense of moral standards and values of relationships between people have substantially altered post-war.
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Severe gales in September and serious flooding throughout the country in November meant his patrons were more preoccupied with erecting defenses and repairing destruction at their country houses than holding classical concerts. As Christmas approached and the trains began to run again Eddie decided to head for Rome where he gave a number of recitals returning to England via the relative warmth of the Italian and French Rivieras. He hoped to renew the patronage of his many acquaintances wintering at Menton. Earning a living as a society concert pianist was a fickle affair depending on the vagaries of fashion, the changeable weather and the cultivation of whimsical society women.
The year 1936 opened with unprecedented political upheavals. It would be one of the most significant and turbulent years of the decade. At home in November 1935 the National Government had been elected under the Conservative Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote of Baldwin ‘His talent for making mistakes and being inconsistent without diminishing the esteem in which he is held, is unique.’*
Europe was transfixed by the looming crisis in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which had erupted into full-blown war when Italy invaded the country in October 1935. The word ‘peace’ and pleas for peace tumbled desperately from the lips of most European statesman. No one wanted another war and most politicians were prepared to sacrifice almost anything to avoid it. Muggeridge wrote ‘Rats, when they find a carcass, take watchful bites at its extremities; then prudently withdraw to see whether any ill consequences follow before attacking the main portions.’†
Mussolini’s ‘triumph of Fascism’ in Abyssinia – guns, tanks and planes against spears and antiquated firearms – had exposed the impotence of the League of Nations. The Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, or more ironically, ‘the Lion of Judah’, sought refuge in Bath.
* Malcolm Muggeridge, The Thirties 1930–1940 in Great Britain (London 1940), p. 208.
† Ibid., p. 163.
Adolf Hitler too was to follow the example set by the rat. The paralysis of the League gave him the confidence to exploit unopposed aggression. He began to treat the terms of the Versailles Treaty in a cavalier fashion. The Führer and his fantastic aspirations were initially regarded as the antics of a clown, then observed with incredulity followed by that grim fascination the insane inspire loping about their asylum, finally raw fear. Trivially amusing, an English publican advertised his brew as having ‘put the hit in Hitler’. Churchill remained a lone voice in the wilderness calling for rearmament and warning against the expansion of the German Luftwaffe.
The first signs of that dark year are revealed in Eddie’s correspondence. A letter from Sabine gave an enthusiastic account of a spectacular ball she had attended in Berlin early in January to celebrate the forty-third birthday of the Minister for Air, Hermann Göring. She had been accompanied by the same young Nazi officer she had befriended in Obersaltzberg during the recital at Villa Bechstein. She told Eddie that many said it was the most spectacular celebration since the days of the Kaiser: ‘There were such wonderful jewels! The Nazis certainly throw a good party! Reinhard loves music and I danced a lot. But don’t worry, we are only good friends.’ she assured him. He did not believe it for a moment.
Concerning parties Eddie Cahill was at heart as much of a bon viveur as Arthur Rubinstein. His battered address book was jammed to bursting with aristocratic names, addresses and phone numbers. Famous London restaurants of the day are also listed alongside his detailed views on food and price. He was also a connoisseur of wine. He patronised the renowned Berry Bros. of St James’s and became a good friend of the director Francis Berry, ‘a gentleman in every sense of that word.’
Very much his own man, Francis Berry thought it an excellent idea to begin the day’s work at 4 pm much to the dismay of his staff. He was famous for his hospitality and generosity. On one occasion after dinner at his Wimbledon home, following a performance of some Mendelssohn Caprices and Songs Without Words, Eddie was presented with a valuable drypoint of the wine merchant by the famous artist Muirhead Bone #. Berry is depicted standing in the shop in St James’s before a burbling gas fire, the walls hung with cartoons by ‘Spy’.*
# Biographical material on Francis Lawrence Berry (1876–1936) from Berry Bros & Rudd house journal Number Three, Autumn 1976, pp. 19–24.
*Muirhead Bone (1876–1953) was born in Glasgow, and trained originally as an architect. He began making prints in 1898, without any formal training. Although his first known print was a lithograph, he is better known for his etchings and drypoints, usually produced in relatively small editions. He was appointed the first Official War Artist, serving with the Allied Forces on the Western Front in the First World War, and served again as a war artist in the Second World War. He was knighted in 1937.