Instalment 13

Chapter 7

Brooklands and the Court Circular

Until the opening of the official London Season in April 1928 Eddie, George and Margaret spent some time settling in and exploring London. Eddie’s innate  sense  of  adventure  sent  him to less frequented galleries and pockets of arcane even dissolute interest. After piano recitals he was fond of walking off his nervous tension alone. Prone to ‘nerves’ he had a chemist in St James’s make up a concoction which was intended to diminish stage fright. He remained prey to debilitating self-consciousness throughout his concert career, although this never seemed to be evident in his extraordinarily charming and energetic disposition on the concert platform.

Although not interested in playing jazz piano, his love of parties meant he could not resist dropping in for late-night cocktails at fashionable smoky haunts in the West End such as the Embassy Club in Bond Street or the Kit-Kat Club in the Haymarket.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is embassy-club-1927.png
The Embassy Club London 1927

Being young and strikingly handsome, he was often terribly bored by the society of the ancient dowagers and duchesses who guaranteed his livelihood. Certainly he was never short of young female admirers as dancing partners, but unfortunately the ‘young things’ had no interest in recitals of serious classical music and soon drifted off. He occasionally drove the Alvis down to Maidenhead at speed  for a riotous evening at Murray’s, a ‘rather spicy club’ owned by the dubious Jack May. Cocaine was available there but Eddie’s thin wallet could not cope with such expensive stimuli despite its attractions.

Murray’s Club, Maidenhead around 1928

The temperament of an artist often contains irreconcilable elements which energize his art. Eddie was no exception to this in his attraction to both the respectable life of the Old Guard lounging in their Mayfair salons and the ‘low life’ of Soho and bohemia. He became particularly fond of the coffee-stalls that were set up on street corners around Piccadilly Circus. On cold foggy evenings they provided hot coffee, tea, warm snacks and sizzling sausages.

Night Coffee Stall, Hyde Park London 1928

These places were often frequented by party-goers in need of fuel in the small hours as they drifted home the worse for wear – a man in silk topper and crumpled white tie, a girl in short dress with shingled hair smoking a cigarette, easing her feet from tight evening shoes, sundry late night workers and then Eddie.

The increasingly rare Hansom cabs he loved still plied the streets of London. Occasionally George and Margaret would leave him on his own in the fog and take a motor taxi home to Maida Vale. Eddie had a fertile romantic imagination and would dream of historical scenes where he would shine like a character in a Balzac novel after playing for the aristocracy in a sumptuous drawing room in Mayfair. The steaming horse clip-clopped along Park Lane, through the deserted streets of Marylebone, past the ghostly white Nash terraces fringing Regent’s Park, an occasional window golden lit, home to Randolph Terrace.

One of the last night Hansom cabs in Central London 1928

* * *

The Antipodean trio launched themselves into the 1928 London Season with a vengeance. In May, despite the atrocious weather with hail as well as rain, Margaret insisted on them going to the Chelsea Flower Show. Eddie, who had a particular love of flowers (he sent them regularly to all his dowagers and duchesses), was overwhelmed by the displays.

Queen Mary at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show | 100 years of the Royal Family  at the Chelsea Flower Show - Gardening
Queen Mary at the RHS Flower Show 1934

Also in May, but travelling on his own, he indulged his ‘secret vice’ and caught the newly electrified Southern Railway train from Waterloo to Brooklands to watch the Essex Motor Club Six-Hour Endurance Race which included factory teams from Alfa Romeo and Bentley.

Brooklands lady drivers
full screen preview image
Lord Curzon, Bugatti during the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 (Photo by LAT Images).

He found the cars becoming airborne over the rough concrete of the member’s banking an awe-inspiring sight. The Bentley driven by Tim Birkin, one of the glamorous and daring ‘Bentley Boys’, covered the greatest distance (considered an important parameter in those days, given the general unreliability of the machines).

Woolf Barnato, an entrant in a six hour endurance race organised by the Essex Motor Club, with his Bentley.
Tim Birkin and his 4½ litre Bentley during the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 (Photo by MacGregor/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

An extraordinary British Pathé newsreel of the Essex MC 6 Hours Endurance Race at Brooklands on May 12, 1928 :

In June they played and sang for Lady Jellicoe at a party at  their grand residence at 80, Portland Place. Florence Gwendoline Jellicoe (née Cayzer) was the wife of the Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in the Great War.*

Florence Gwendoline Jellicoe (née Cayzer) 1877-1964
80 Portland Place, London W1

Later in the month the boys donned morning suits and Margaret a fetching cloche hat and a dress with a short hem for Day One of Royal Ascot when the legendary Brown Jack won the Ascot Stakes.

Ascot in the 1920s
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 63046-large.jpeg
Brown Jack wins the Ascot Stakes 1928
Royal Ascot, 1928. Outfits to be seen in for the racing season, exhibited by Louonda. Getty Images
Royal Ascot 1928
Photograph, People, Vintage clothing, Snapshot, Standing, Fashion, Monochrome, Retro style, Black-and-white, Photography,

One of the highest points of the Season and Ascot Week was an invitation to play ‘An Hour of Music’ at a garden party in the late afternoon of 14 June at No. 5 Carlton Gardens Pall Mall in the presence of HRH Princess Beatrice.

HRH Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) cir. 1928 by
Arthur Stockdale Cope (1857-1840)
Invitation to the concert on Thursday June 14th 1928

The Princess had been the favourite daughter of Queen Victoria. After the death of Prince Albert, when Beatrice was only four, the Queen became claustrophobically possessive of her youngest daughter, even after she married the handsome and dashing Prince Henry of Battenberg.‡ Later she became the Queen’s personal secretary and spent some thirty years editing Victoria’s personal journals. Beatrice was an accomplished dancer, artist, photographer and actress. Passionate about music, she played the piano to an exceptional standard and was a perceptive and critical judge of pianists. She patronised many of Eddie’s recitals.

No.2 Carlton Gardens London SW.1  Mr. Alfred Bossom MP for Maidstone lived at No. 5, Carlton Gardens. On June 14th 1928 Cahill gave a recital there where among distinguished guests   No.5 has now been redeveloped into a block of luxury apartments.

The house in Carlton Gardens was ‘lent’ by Mrs Alfred C. Bossom who had only recently taken it over.§ Preceding the concert she gave a ‘garden tea’ at five o’clock for all ticket holders. However the increasingly frail Princess Beatrice was ill and was unable to attend. This greatly disappointed the flock of elderly female aristocracy who were becoming Eddie and George’s most loyal and enthusiastic patrons. Lady Stradbroke and Lady Helena Rous were also in attendance. The Princess herself was particularly downcast. As she was feeling much improved the following day, she summoned them to Kensington Palace to play a special impromptu concert.

*Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859–1935). His deploy- ment of the fleet at Jutland remains controversial. Churchill described Jellicoe later as ‘the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon’.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859–1935)
Vanity Fair 26 December 1906

† HRH Princess Beatrice of Battenberg (1857–1944) was the fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

‡ Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858–96) yearned to escape the confinement and restrictions of the court for a life of military adventure. Much against the wishes of Queen Victoria, he campaigned in the Anglo–Ashanti War in West Africa and died of malaria in 1896 aboard the cruiser HMS Blonde stationed off the coast of Sierra Leone. Princess Beatrice was devastated by his death and as a widow once again became Queen Victoria’s ‘rock’ and emotional support.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Prince_Henry_of_Battenberg_and_Princess_Beatrice.png
Prince Henry of Battenberg (1858–96) and Princess Beatrice (1857-1944) in 1885 (Carl Backofen – Royal Collection)

§ Yet another American hostess, Emily Bossom (née Bayne), was the daughter of the New York City banker Samuel Bayne. She married Alfred Bossom (1881–1965) in 1910. He was a highly successful English architect who made his fortune designing skyscrapers in Texas. He designed both temple-like and high-rise structures. Curiously he also invented a device to prevent people from suffocating if they accidentally got locked in a bank vault. He returned to England in 1926.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bossom-15.jpg
Alfred Bossom (1881–1965)

Country house engagements seemed to flower profusely. Classical recitals in London concert halls were not generally well patronised at the time except for those by the decidedly famous, say the violinist of genius Fritz Kreisler. Conservative audiences preferred the ‘old composers’ Beethoven, Brahms or Schumann. This was evidenced by a cold reception given to Alfred Cortot in London performing modern compositions by Stravinsky and Ravel until enthusiasm erupted during the Chopin section of his programme. In early July Lady Pigott-Brown invited them to perform at Broome Hall in Surrey,* followed by a glorious ‘Saturday-to-Monday’ at Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk invited by the Hon. Lady Quilter.

Broome Hall, Coldharbour
Broome Hall, Coldharbour, Surrey
1973: British Hell-raising film actor Oliver Reed (1938-1999), dressed in country tweed, outside Broome Hall, his magnificent country mansion in Surrey. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Later that week they loaded up the Alvis with exotic provisions from Fortnum & Mason and drove to Henley for a rare brilliantly sunny day at the Royal Regatta. It was the first year of qualifying races. They had a picnic on the grass by the river. Houseboats were ablaze with scarlet geraniums and pink hydrangeas. On the lawns of the riverside clubs and houses girls in floral muslins reclined  in deck chairs.

‘The Trio’ were guests of one of the members of  the exclusive Leander Club situated on the right bank just below the Henley Bridge. Eddie was tremendously amused by the pink hippo, the club’s symbol.

*Lady Pigott-Browne (1886–1964, née Edith Ivy Piggott), eldest daughter and co-heir of Admiral William Harvey Pigott, married Captain Gordon Hargreaves Brown of the Cold- stream Guards who was reported missing at Ypres October 1914. Late Victorian Broome Hall was once owned by the roguish actor Oliver Reed. The film director Ken Russell set many scenes from D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love at Broome Hall.

† Leander Club is said to have been founded in 1818 and is the third oldest and most prestigious rowing club in the world.

The Henley Royal Regatta in the 1920s

This rowing acquaintance enabled them to gain access to the exclusive Stewards Enclosure with its Pimm’s, panamas, boaters and school blazers, deckchairs and brightly coloured Japanese parasols almost hiding the spectator boats. Matters on the river were far less controlled than today and in his journal Eddie speaks of jostling, cheering and jovial high-jinks, lounging lethargically, sitting or even standing at climatic moments in comfortably appointed punts. These floated in packed clumps beside the course while the rowers raced by in close proximity to the excited waterborne spectators. Above the carnival atmosphere drifted colourful flights of balloons. It was one of the most successful meetings for years.

Period cartoon of the Henley Royal Regatta
Cartoon reads:
Rowing Man. ‘Charming girl your cousin. Such Eton eyes; such Leander cheeks’

Towards the end of July Eddie was invited by the Lord Chamberlain to the Afternoon Party at Buckingham Palace and on this occasion ‘caught the eye of the Queen’ as she wandered among her more distinguished guests. She asked him how his musical career was progressing in London and tactfully encouraged him to ‘continue practising’.

Eddie never forgot this flattering recognition of his talent and developed an almost adolescent infatuation with her. Until Queen Mary died in 1953, on every birthday celebration in May, he would dispatch to the palace by private courier at fabulous expense, a bouquet of wild Swiss narcissi picked on the slopes of the Alps. His papers contain numerous letters of thanks from her Private Secretary for the flowers he sent. ‘Queen Mary loved music although she had little knowledge of its technical arts,’ he reminisced later.

In September Eddie was invited by the Viscount and rather forbidding Viscountess Elibank to a country house party at Black Barony Castle in Peeblesshire to once again meet HH Princess Helena Victoria and give a piano recital.* This magnificent castle, also known as Darn Hall, is near the village of Eddleston, seventeen miles south of Edinburgh.

Black Barony Castle

The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman on which they travelled had begun non-stop services from London to Edinburgh on 1 May. Eddie was excited about this trip as he had by now developed a deep love of steam trains. At the time it was the longest uninterrupted train journey in the world, lasting a little over eight hours.

Flying Scotsman Returns To East Coast Main Line – In & Around Online
The ‘Flying Scotsman’ en route to Edinburgh in 1928
As the Flying Scotsman officially reopens the Settle-Carlisle line, we look  back on its golden age
A beautifully set dining table in the ‘Flying Scotsman’ Restaurant Car c. 1930.
Lunch being served in the First-class Restaurant Car of the ‘Flying Scotsman’, 1928
The Flying Scotsman leaving King's Cross Station in London on its first  non-stop run to Edinburgh, 1928.
Christmas dinner on the ‘Flying Scotsman’, 1931

He was collected at Edinburgh Station and swished off to Black Barony in the Elibank Daimler, his luggage following in another car.

*Gideon Oliphant-Murray, 2nd Viscount Elibank (1877–1951) was a Scottish politician and member of the aristocracy. He had extensive experience of colonial administration including Papua New Guinea, the Transvaal and the Windward Islands.

The rather formidable Ermine Mary Katherine Murray (née Madocks), Viscountess Elibank
 (died 1955),
Wife of 2nd Viscount Elibank

† These were luxurious trains allowing one to travel in a style and comfort undreamed of today. The first-class compartment coach was sumptuous, as was the first-class restaurant, decorated in Louis XVI style with concealed lighting. All the food was freshly cooked on the train in a kitchen powered by electricity from accumulators. The carriage corridors had illuminated signs as in European Grand Hotel style indicating the Hairdressing Saloon, Ladies’ Retiring Room and Cocktail Bar decorated in a ravishingly modern green and silver colour scheme. The revolutionary design of the tender (the section behind the locomotive which carried the coal) had a corridor, which connected it to the adjoining carriage. This enabled a fresh crew to take over without stopping the locomotive, on this route an L.N.E.R. Class A3 Pacific.

Among the distinguished and aristocratic house guests were Viscount Younger of Leckie,* the somewhat reactionary and puritanical Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks popularly known as ‘Jix’, the American property magnate known as the Duke of Del Monte, and Major-General and Mrs J.B. Seely.

File:Duke of Del Monte.jpg
The characterful Samuel F.B. Morse, also known as the Duke of Del Monte (1885-1969)

Country establishments were not what they had been before  the  Great War but the atmosphere was far from stuffy. Guests still dressed for dinner and served themselves breakfast from the dining or breakfast room buffet. HH Princess Helena Victoria, although close to sixty, was a lively, ebullient and adventurous personality.

‘Jix’ was a deeply conservative personality, a Conservative party politician who stood out against the radical social changes that were taking place in the 1920s, particularly among the Bright Young Things. An almost forgotten figure, his period as an authoritarian Home Secretary was seldom without controversy, often of an amusing kind. However he dealt constructively with the profound implications of the General Strike and the imagined fears of Bolshevik conspiracies. He emerged as the bête noire of the intelligentsia and became the butt of many of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical barbs.

Queen Mary with British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks as King George V opens the Great West Road. 30th May 1925.
Queen Mary with British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks as King George V opens the Great West Road. 30th May 1925.
(Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Caricature by Powys Evans before 1926 of Conservative politician Sir William Joynson Hicks , 1st Viscount Brentford PC, PC , DL. Home Secretary from...
Caricature by Powys Evans (Quiz) before 1926 of Conservative politician Sir William Joynson Hicks (1865 – 1932), 1st Viscount Brentford PC, PC (NI), DL. Home Secretary from 1924 – 1929, he ran something of a crusade against the lax social mores of the twenties.
British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks sitting at his desk in his office 14th July 1928.
British Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks sitting at his desk in his office 14th July 1928.
(Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

‘Jix’ suppressed the courageous lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. A Mr James Douglas wrote in the Sunday Express in outrage: ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or girl a phial of prussic acid than this book.’ He notoriously banned D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A close friend, David Lowe the famous cartoonist, mercilessly lampooned him week in and week out and then sent him the original cartoons as Christmas presents, getting in exchange a box of cigars signed ‘from your admiring victim’.

*George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie (1851–1929) chairman of the great Scottish brewing business Younger.

NPG x37250; George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie… | Flickr
George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie (1851–1929) NPG

† The formidable William Joynson-Hicks, 1st Viscount Brentford (1865–1932) was Home Secretary from 1924–29.

‡ Major-General J.B. Seely, 1st Baron Mottistone (1868–1947) was a Conservative, later Liberal MP and a member of a family of politicians, industrialists and significant landowners.

‘Jix’ was particularly taken with Eddie’s rendering of the Amilcare Zanella arrangement of Liszt’s La Campanella (The Little Bell). He loved the section of extended and rapidly accelerating trills at the centre of the piece. This was an ‘Eddie showpiece’ which he brought off in the spectacular manner of the great late nineteenth century virtuosi. At this period many pianists, including Eddie, possessed a unique and exquisite beauty of tone with absolute delicacy and evenness of touch which scarcely any pianist today achieves with the same consistency. Above all, they possessed great sensibility, poetry and charm. He named the section of extended trills in La Campanella ‘The Jix Thrill’ to the great amusement of the Home Secretary. Whenever Sir William subsequently attended one of Eddie’s recitals he requested this piece to be on the programme.

La Campanella recorded by Edward Cahill in Cape Town in 1955:

While at Black Barony Castle an amusing incident occurred when ‘Jix’ asked Eddie to demonstrate how loudly a piano could be played. ‘Although the house was massive I demonstrated it was not soundproof’ Eddie recalled. HH Princess Helena Victoria left the Drawing Room in haste at this suggestion and said she would knock on the floor of her bedroom with her slipper when she felt the sound had become insupportable. Eddie set to work with a vengeance on the Liszt Marche Hongroise and not many minutes had elapsed before the princess hammered on the floor of her room. ‘At breakfast she complimented me on the completeness of the disturbance.’

HH Princess Helena Victoria and her younger sister HH Princess Marie Louise had become enthusiastic patrons of Eddie and George. During his entire stay he gave a recital every evening at the Princess’s request. On another occasion the house party were motoring to Edinburgh to pay a round of social visits. Princess Helena Victoria wanted to know who was going in the various cars and turned to Eddie. ‘We cannot afford to let you get cold,’ she said. ‘You must come in the car with me.’ He rode with her in the big Rolls-Royce with the foot-warmers.

Curious and eccentric happenings were the order of the day at Black Barony.* The Viscountess Elibank warned Eddie one evening to beware of the spirits that haunted the castle in the dead of night. She suspected quite rightly he had an interest in the paranormal. She told him in sepulchral tones that in one of the rooms a figure regularly appeared as if sitting in a rocking chair staring at the fireplace. He fades slowly into the ether accompanied by the smell of cigar smoke and brandy. ‘I tried and tried but saw nothing!’ Eddie lamented the next morning at breakfast. ‘I was hoping for at least a cognac and an Havana!’

* * *

*In 1940, the castle by then a hotel, became the headquarters of the 10th Armoured Cavalry Brigade of the Polish Army, under General Stanisław Maczek (1892–1994) and subsequently used as the Polish military staff training college until the end of World War II.

Perhaps his most glamorous and spectacular concert audience of 1928 was in London. The audience were made up almost entirely of the severe ‘old aristocracy’ and his ever loyal Princesses. In early November they assembled to hear Eddie and George at Lady Stradbroke’s elegant house at No. 26 Belgrave Square.

26, Belgrave Square, home of Lady Stradbroke – concert on November 8, 1928

There was little mention of the actual music in the press but a great deal as ever on the fashions. The formidable Lady Joynson-Hicks (‘G’ in the photograph above) wearing red and gold brocade and a diamond tiara was present with her devoted husband ‘Jix’. Mrs  Wilfrid Ashley*  wore  ‘a  lovely  robe de style of bright green tulle embroidered with gold’ and carried ‘the most enormous green ostrich feather fan.’ Other interesting people at this concert were the composer of songs who loved George’s voice, Mme Guy D’Hardelot, the famous Australian singer Ada Crossley and the notorious Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay and his wife.

*Her husband Wilfrid William Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple (1867–1939) was a Conservative politician and Minister of Transport 1924–29.

† The contralto Ada Crossley (1874–1929) was an Australian farmer’s daughter born in Tarraville, Victoria. Rather like Eddie, she showed prodigious talent at country shows and studied first in Melbourne. She left Australia for Europe to further her studies and was outstandingly successful, having given a number of command performances before Queen Victoria.

Head and shoulders sepia photo of Ada Crossley.
The Australian contralto Ada Crossley (1874–1929)

‡ Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay (1894–1955) was a British Army officer who later took up politics and became a Scottish Unionist Member of Parliament. In the late 1930s he also became a rabid anti-Semite, holding the customary vitriolic and imaginative world conspiracy theories concerning the Jews. As the thirties evolved, he appeared to develop some sympathy with the growth of Nazism in Germany and Hitlerite policies. In 1940 he had dealings with a suspected spy at the United States Embassy, which led to his intern- ment under Defence Regulation 18b.

The notorious Capt. Archibald Maule Ramsay (1894-1955) and Hon. Mrs. Ismay Ramsay at the Eton-Harrow Cricket match at Lords Cricket Ground in July 1937.

Eddie played several of his own compositions at the special request of the two Princesses. Sadly none of these compositions survive. He considered them minor works for the piano, simply salon miniatures that he did not value unduly and played as encores. Reviews of the day  reveal such unassuming titles such  as Élégie, Autumn Leaves and The Music Box.

The Evening Standard critic was much given to hyperbole in his review of the concert. The sentiments expressed belong to an age of sensibility, even enthusiastic innocence, which had been maintained in certain circles even after the wholesale slaughter of the Great War. This atmosphere would never be recaptured after the even deeper disillusioning horrors of World War II.

He wrote:

The golden dome lamp’s rays shone on gleaming brasses,  quaint old tapestries, and bowls of autumn leaves, then lingered on the delicate, sensitive fingers of Mr Cahill seated at the Bechstein Concert Grand piano as he drew from the ivories all the secrets of interpretation. His technique is wonderful; but his power of interpreting either the old or the modern composer is glorious. Mr Brooke sang with ease and fluency through all his numbers – his voice has improved since I last heard it to a marked degree, always it has a sweet quality but now there is added power, and his enunciation is almost perfect. Of the two artists one can only say: What memories! What repertoire! What talents! What joy they give!

* * *

Instalment 12

Chapter 7

Brooklands and the Court Circular

RMS Berengaria by lollol4yy on DeviantArt
R.M.S. Berengaria

Eddie and George had become accustomed to all manner of ships during their Southeast Asian tour but nothing had  prepared  them for the luxury of the Cunard flagship liner, the stately RMS Berengaria. They had been paid well  for  their  American  tour  and their mutual love of luxury put them in a spending mood. A surprising radiogram wishing them luck arrived on departure from the movie actor Douglas Fairbanks who had hosted one of their American ‘At Homes’. Margaret had hardly spent any time at sea and was excited by the fine, spacious cabins, swimming pools of fresh and sea water, tapestry-covered period furniture in the First Class lounge and the wonderful menus in the opulent dining room. For the rich, famous and nouveaux riches who sailed on the Cunard trans-Atlantic liners, it was this exclusive social ambiance that was their most valuable attribute. An opulent method of travel forever erased.

RMS Berengaria
First Class Lounge R.M.S. Berengaria
RMS Berengaria
Swimming Bath R.M.S. Berengaria
Passengers sitting on the side of the swimming pool aboard Cunard liner 'Berengaria'.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is c8433767cbc548189b7ce0e5ee85be9f.jpg
Colorized photograph of The First Class Dining Saloon on R.M.S. Berengaria
Cruise Ship History – Cunard Line's RMS Berengaria (formerly the SS  Imperator) was sailing from England to New York when the 1929 Wall Street  crash Hit – passengers went from millionaires to
The First Class Dining Saloon on R.M.S. Berengaria
Bedroom of the Imperial Suite R.M.S Berengaria
The famous chorus line the Tiller Girls taking a turn about the deck of the Berengaria in 1926
The famous chorus line the Tiller Girls taking a turn about the deck of the Berengaria in 1926
Two female passengers on the Cunard liner Berengaria take part in a ladies' fencing match.
Swordplay on deck – ladies fencing match on 1st July 1923
My grandfather, George Mason (standing centre in white), was physical education instructor on the R.M.S. Berengaria and other Cunard liners (Getty Images)

The trio arrived in England after a fast passage of six days from New York for their second concert tour towards the end of July 1927.* Mrs Denny’s chauffeur swiftly motored them up to the antler-adorned baronial hall of Horwood in Buckinghamshire. They would stay with her for a few weeks until their first London engagement. They had managed to again rent the spacious flat they occupied at 26 Randolph Crescent Maida Vale.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 26+Randolph+Terrace+Maida+Vale+where+Eddie+lived+during+his+First+and+Second+UK+Tours+1923+and+1927.jpg
26 Randolph Crescent Maida Vale London W.9 where Eddie lived during his First and Second UK Tours 1923 and 1927

Margaret was anxious to scour the London markets and decorate their temporary home as artistically as she could. She became fascinated with the search for undiscovered treasure among the acres of bric-a-brac at the Friday Caledonian Market in North London.

The Caledonian Market near Kings Cross is London's oldest street market.
Caledonian Market around 1927

*In 1927 the R.M.S. Berengaria averaged an astonishing 22.54 knots on the New York to Southampton Atlantic crossing. New York Times.

In the eighteen months they had been away there had been some singular events in England, notably the General Strike of May 1926. At the other extreme, the world of fashion had welcomed the ‘decadent’ Charleston dance craze from America with short skirts scandalously above the knee and shingled hair. The Daily Mail commented the dance was ‘reminiscent of Negro orgies.’

Sexuality | Freedom and Flappers
The Charleston 1925
Who Would You Be in the Roaring Twenties?
A Charleston Party 1925

In April 1926 Princess Elizabeth was born to the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. London’s first Director automatic telephone exchange was to open at Holborn in November 1927, which at the time seemed a miracle of technology.

Clearly the hostesses and patrons Eddie and George met on their first tour had been hard at work on arrangements for their return. Invitations to stay at country houses for ‘Saturday-to-Mondays’ and longer flooded the mantelpiece at Randolph Crescent. Royalty were to be occasional guests on these occasions, which put severe financial pressure on them in sartorial terms. They stayed at Nicholas Hawksmoor’s magnificent Easton Neston with Sir Thomas and Lady Hesketh*, Lady  Francis  Lloyd at Aston Hall, Sir Cuthbert and Lady Quilter of Bawdsey Manor, as well as the Earl and Countess of Fingallat Killeen Castle, a grey Neo-Gothic miniature Windsor, about 20 miles from Dublin.

South-West view of Easton Neston (Country Life 1927). Musical guests of Sir Thomas and Lady Hesketh
Music Room at Easton Neston
Region's links with slave trade examined in controversial new report |  Shropshire Star
Aston Hall, Shropshire. Musical guests of Lady  Francis  Lloyd
Bawsdsey Manor, Suffolk about the time of Edward Cahill’s recital of Edward Cahill’s for Lady Quilter.
Aerial View showing Pulhamite cliff face running down to sea level, with a footpath
Killeen Castle, County Meath, Ireland where Edward, George and Margaret were guests in 1927 of Arthur James Francis Plunkett, 11th Earl of Fingall, the Countess of Fingall and Daisy Burke, an Irish author. After being burnt out in 1981 the castle is now a golf club.

Speaking of their first seven months in England on this second visit, Eddie commented: ‘We have had a wonderful time and been entertained most lavishly.’ He was clearly becoming increasingly torn between the seductiveness and quality of upper-class life in England and his emotional ties with Australia. George on the other hand was far less exercised by snobbery and took life as it came. The comparatively provincial nature of Australia had become all too clear after their recent return, however heroically their brows had been crowned with laurels at home.

*Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh, later 1st Baron Hesketh (1881–1944) was a peer, soldier and Conservative MP. He married Florence Louise Breckinridge of Kentucky. Thus was another flower added to the bouquet of American hostesses in London who contributed so much of value to the cultural life of the capital.

† Elizabeth Mary Margaret Burke-Plunkett (1866–1944) at 17 married Arthur James Plunkett, 11th Earl of Fingall, 4th Baron Fingall (1859–1929).

Their initial London concert engagement after the American tour was on 17 November 1927 at 39 Hill Street Mayfair at the palatial London home of Sir Archibald and Lady Grace Weigall. This concert would be in the presence of HH Princess Marie Louise. The song composer Madame Guy D’Hardelot and Mrs F.A. König, an accomplished pianist and Lady in Waiting to Princess Marie Louise, ‘kindly agreed to assist’.

The entrance to 39 Hill Street Mayfair in modern times – Luxury Serviced Apartments

Many landed families were feeling the severe financial consequences of the post-war period and were appreciative  of ‘the economical “At Homes” these handsome young Australians provide!’ Houses were often ‘lent’ by the more generous and  more comfortably-off members of Society. Country house owners had not yet been forced to import lions, tigers and rhinos  to  create safari parks in the Home Counties to retain their mansions and finance costly repairs. The combined effects of high wages, crippling increases in taxation and anachronistic methods of estate management had forced many upper-class members of society into unaccustomed thrift, even penury.

Eddie (Rt.) and George (Lt.) dressed for London at the time of the Hill Street Mayfair concert 1927

* * *

Eddie had already come up with the idea of charging members of the public to ‘rub shoulders with the aristocracy’. The arriviste nature of the exercise could be camouflaged by couching it in the setting of an uplifting classical music recital. This idea was irresistible to those of a certain cast of mind in Society or those aspiring to a prestigious place in it. Tickets were available for purchase at fifteen shillings.*

The November concert was completely sold out to an audience estimated at five hundred. Lady Weigall’s love of music was turning the ballroom of her house in Mayfair into a miniature Queen’s Hall. This could well have been the address in Hill Street occupied by the notorious Lord and Lady Metroland that Evelyn Waugh had in mind in Vile Bodies. The house may possibly be the location of Mrs Ape’s début.

Cecil Beaton with his sisters before the cricket competition, 1927
Cecil Beaton with his sisters before the cricket competition, 1927 (Photo: Fox Photos, Getty Images)

The Bright Young People came popping all together, out of someone’s electric brougham like a litter of pigs, and ran squealing up the steps. […] The ballroom was filled with little gilt chairs and the chairs with people.

Why Cecil Beaton and His Bright Young Things Are More Pertinent Than Ever |  AnOther
Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young People
Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things
Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young People

* 15/- in 1927 was close to £46 in 2022.

Vile Bodies by EVELYN WAUGH - Paperback - First Edition - 1930 - from Peter  L. Stern & Company, Inc. (SKU: 20041P)

† Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (London 1938), pp. 92–6. It is unlikely however that Lady Metroland, who first emerges in Waugh’s Decline and Fall, was modelled on Lady Weigall although the latter certainly had an extraordinary ‘hedonistic secret life’ of sexual dalliance. See Carol Henderson & Heather Tovey, Searching for Grace (Wellington 2010).

The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.png
Hariot Georgina Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (1843-1936)

One member of the distinguished audience at Hill Street who became a staunch patron was Hariot Georgina Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. Lady Dufferin had established the admirable National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India. This organization trained female Indian medical staff to attend women who were not permitted to consult a male doctor. Rudyard Kipling was greatly impressed by the work of Lady Dufferin and wrote a poem of thanks on her departure from India entitled The Song of the Women. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes her as ‘the most effective diplomatic wife of her generation’.

Other future patrons met at this recital were HH Princess  Marie Louise* and her sister HH Princess Helena Victoria(known as ‘Thora’), granddaughters of Queen Victoria and both highly musical. They were patrons of many concerts at their residence, the Schomberg House at 77-78 Pall Mall.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 77-78+Pall+Mall,+Westminster+1950+Schomberg+House+home+to+HH+Princess+Helena+Victoria+and+her+sister+HH+Princess+Marie+Louise.jpg
77-78 Pall Mall, Westminster in 1950 – Schomberg House – not to be confused with the other Schomberg House 80-82 Pall Mall almost opposite. Home to HH Princess Helena Victoria and her sister HH Princess Marie Louise and where Edward Cahill gave a number of recitals in the 1930s
By a royal warrant of 9 August 1902, the house was granted to Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Christian and her husband. At this time it seems to have been known as De Vesci House but was renamed ‘Schomberg House’ in 1906. This has led to much subsequent confusion between Nos. 77 and 78 Pall Mall and the building of that name at Nos. 80–82 Pall Mall.

On the death of Princess Christian in 1923, the house was assigned to her daughters Princess Helena Victoria and Princess Marie Louise. A few internal alterations were made by the Office of Works at this time. In 1927 it was found that the building structure had weakened, and some strengthening was carried out. The house was damaged during the war of 1939–45, and was vacated by the two princesses early in 1947
(Survey of London Vol.29/30)
First floor front room where Edward Cahill may have given recitals

My sister and I inherited from our mother an intense love and appreciation of music.§ My sister was a very accomplished pianist; I, alas, could scarcely play a note […] We were fortunate to enjoy the friendship of most of the celebrated artists, foreign as well as English.

Though considered ‘frightfully dull’ by fashionable society, the princesses became two of Eddie’s most loyal patrons. Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, not a connoisseur of music, wrote rather snootily in his celebrated diary of Princess Helena Victoria after her death in March 1948 :

‘She had once been a bouncing, fat, jolly Princess … known to her intimates as ‘the Snipe’. She was an old maid who may, however, have once known love … She is survived by her even duller sister, Princess Marie Louise … This female was married in her long-ago youth to a Prince of Anhalt, from which she afterwards got an annulment. When she returned to England, King Edward VII’s comment about his niece was: ‘Poor Marie Louise. She came back just as she VENT.

HH Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
HH Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Hostein

*HH Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (1872–1956). In 1891 she married Prince Aribert of Anhalt (1866–1933).The bride’s first cousin, the German Emperor Wilhelm II, had influenced the match. The marriage was unhappy and childless as evidenced in her Memoirs.

† HH Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (1870–1948). She never married and devoted herself to charitable works.

‡ Now the Oxford and Cambridge Club.

§ Her mother, HRH The Princess Helena was the fifth child and third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She controversially married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. He was her senior by many years but they were devoted to each other and remained very happily married. In her memoirs HH Princess Marie Louise wrote of her mother ‘She was very talented: played the piano exquisitely …’

¶ HH Princess Marie Louise, My Memories of Six Reigns, pp. 209–10.

Eddie had a deeper, less waspish appreciation of their social generosity, musical natures and artistic accomplishments. Performance on a musical instrument of any acceptable standard was rare in royal circles. She and her sister were particularly fascinated by Poland and respected its tragic history of exalted patriotic resistance. This may have been the reason she wished to hear Eddie play as he had a growing reputation within aristocratic circles for playing Chopin idiomatically and sensitively. However for Princess Marie Louise it was the forgotten Russian pianist Nicolai Orloff who was her favourite Chopin interpreter.

Nikolai Orloff
Nikolai Orloff (1892-1964)
The Piano Files – Mark Ainley - Page 6

Eddie in full aesthetic flight, noted that the hostess of that afternoon concert, Lady Weigall, had the most beautiful blue eyes and fair complexion he had ever seen. Princess Marie Louise had known her when she was a girl of seventeen and later wrote:

Lady Weigall was the only child of Blundell Maple. […] She was rather self-willed and, perhaps I may say with all affection, rather spoilt, as no doubt the only child of a multi-millionaire is apt to be. […] From 1928 to 1946 Gracie was chained to her chair, which she manipulated in the most marvellous manner. For ordinary use she had the usual invalid chair, but in the evening, when she wished to be very smart, she used a gilt chair.

Lady Archibald Weigall (1876-1950) née Grace Emily Blundell Maple             
The Ranelagh Horse Show.
Lady Weigall in an electric Bath chair 12 June 1929 (ultra rare photograph)

The concert was described as ‘brilliant’ with ‘the most distinguished audience London has had for many months’ noting the very careful ‘thought and study’ devoted to programming. Clearly this success augured well for their return to the great metropolis. The importance of this concert was that their names again appeared in the Court Circular which guaranteed a host of further prestigious engagements in most of the fine town-houses in Mayfair until at least Christmas. ‘We are made now that we have appeared as favoured artists in the Court Circular!’ Eddie wrote triumphantly in his journal.

† Nikolai Andreyevich Orloff (1892–1964). A fine Russian pianist who made only a few recordings that indicate a major player of Chopin.

‡ HH Princess Marie Louise, My Memories of Six Reigns, pp. 299–300.

In his customary flamboyant manner, Eddie followed up this promise of financial success by purchasing a fast four-seater Alvis TG 12/50 Sports Tourer motor car. Motor racing at Brooklands in the 1920s was glamorous and exciting.

1926 Alvis 12/50 TE Tourer similar to the car Edward Cahill purchased (PreWar

He took a particularly keen interest in the details of a ‘celebrity death’ in one of the great sports cars. In September he had read that the ‘free dancer’ Isadora Duncan was strangled and dragged onto the cobbles by her red silk scarf which had become entangled in the rear wheel of an Amilcar during a drive in Nice.

Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue © Ministry of Culture – France / AAJHL
An Amilcar CGS touring the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, 12 September, 1927’ 
Jacques Henri Lartigue © Ministry of Culture France – AAJHL
Two days later on 14th September 1927 Isadora Duncan was riding in an Amilcar CGSS – a lowered, racing version of Lartigue’s car – when her tragic death occurred.

Gertrude Stein commented rather uncharitably ‘Affectations can be dangerous’

* * *

The winter of 1927–28 was particularly severe with one of the heaviest snowfalls of the century. Christmas Day saw blizzards in the Midlands and Wales, which then spread South. In Kent, there was two feet of snow and drifts of twenty feet were measured in the Chilterns and on Salisbury Plain. Eddie and George were snowed in at Horwood, effectively cocooned for the festive season.

A sudden thaw in January combined with heavy rain and freak tidal flows from storms caused the worst flood ever recorded in Central London. Fourteen people died, thousands were made homeless, Milbank needed to be reconstructed, Tube lines were inundated and priceless collections at the Tate Gallery were damaged. The Guardian of Saturday 7 January 1928 reported:

The Thames overflowed at Westminster at 12.45 am this morning, and all trams and buses along the Embankment were interrupted. The flood water flowed into the terraces of the Houses of Parliament …

At the Houses of Parliament the water ‘cataracted’ over the parapet into the open space at the foot of Big Ben.

Catastrophic London Floods 1928

The floods and their aftermath dominated drawing room conversation for many months, a welcome relief  from  endless talk of fashion and hats. George was prompted to comment to an Australian reporter: ‘Tell Australians that I am longing to get back to the Australian sunshine!’ Eddie touched upon a dilemma that faces Australian artists to this day: ‘I’m drawn between two loves – the love of Australia and the love of London; but I feel the sunshine will win in the end!

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova* was performing in London at this time. She told a reporter that the wild winter reminded her of her childhood in St Petersburg. The  effect  her  dancing  had on London aesthetes and balletomanes was  galvanic.  She had befriended Eddie and  George  during  her  successful  tour  of Australia in 1926 and liked the country a great deal. I found a mysterious note among Eddie’s papers concerning an event which involved George and himself. One evening there was a sudden halt during a charity performance Pavlova was giving at the Coliseum. She was raising funds for starving Russian children and distressed Russian dancers. As the silence continued they realised Pavlova needed help and rushed to the stage from their box to fill the gap with some entertainment. He writes of the incident:

When we were playing in London, we received an autographed photograph from Pavlova, and a letter of thanks for rendering such a service for her Russian fund. One thing that still puzzles me is this, that I cannot understand why Chaliapine, who was also occupying a box at the theatre, did not come forward and help Pavlova from the awkward position she was placed in. The audience was getting restless and it must not be forgotten that hundreds of people had paid a guinea for their seat. Chaliapine professed friendship for Pavlova. Had Melba been in Chaliapine’s place in his country, and a performance being given in aid of any Australian charity, there would have been a different tale to tell, for I could imagine Melba in her impulsive manner, rushing to the stage to help her countrymen.

*Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) at the time was the most famous ballerina in the world. She trained in classical ballet at the St Petersburg Imperial Ballet School. Her origins are rather modest and obscure. Her mother was a washerwoman and her father may have been a serving soldier. Pavlova travelled incessantly around the world (some estimate 400,000 miles before the age of air travel) raising awareness of classical ballet everywhere.

anna-pavlova - Department of Music

She lived at Ivy House in Hampstead, a picturesque suburb of London. Among the exotic animals in her menagerie she kept two white swans on a lake in the gardens of the house. It is believed the study of the movements of these birds inspired her legendary performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake. Pavlova died of pleurisy at The Hague on 22 January 1931. She had performed without respite until her death. Her final words were to ask for her Swan costume to be prepared.

† Fyodor Chaliapine (1873–1938) was one of the greatest Russian bass opera singers. He had an enormous international following due to his charismatic personality, musical interpretations and passionate, even brutally robust Russian performances. He toured Australia in 1926 and was lionized. One of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Shalyapin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. 1898
Fyodor Chaliapine and Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1898
Konstantin Korovin. Portrait of Fyodor Ivanovich Shalyapin. 1911
Fyodor Chaliapine by Konstantin Korovin 1911
Fyodor Chaliapine circa 1927

Instalment 11

Chapter 6

‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’

The long six week voyage home ended when the run-down Italian steamer Caprera docked in Fremantle in Western Australia on 3 April 1926. Heading for the Eastern States and Brisbane, they sailed into the Outer Harbour at Adelaide and spent the day there renewing friendships and passing on messages from London.

At their farewell London concert Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall had asked them to convey their respects to ‘the people of Adelaide’ and all the friends they had made there during Sir Archibald’s Governorship. The reporter for the Register remarked after hearing them enumerate the royals, dowagers and duchesses who had graced their London concerts: ‘Australia has reason to be proud of her sons.’

Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall together at Osborne, South Australia •  Photograph • State Library of South Australia
Sir Archibald Weigall, Governor of South Australia listening to his wife during a visit to Osborne, near Port Adelaide 1920

Today it is difficult to appreciate how extraordinary it was in 1926 for any Australian to have given a Royal Command Performance. Eddie and George were rewarded with a civic reception in Brisbane Town Hall on 27 April. ‘It is wonderful to be back in my own land!’ Eddie enthused. ‘We needed every penny we saved, despite all  the engagements!’ he later commented when asked about their financial success. The Mayor of Brisbane congratulated them on their musical triumphs and charity work for the Red Cross. Even Eddie’s first music teacher, Mrs Bale, the wife of the Beenleigh milkman, was present and spoke of the day she gave him his first lesson and his rapid progress at the instrument which soon outstripped her own abilities. The well-known Queensland concert pianist and teacher Erich John lavishly praised both their musical and social success abroad. He remarked that they had achieved in three years what it normally took an artist thirty to accomplish, if at all. He paraphrased Schumann’s famous remark about Chopin

‘Hats off, gentlemen! An Australian artist!’

Eddie in reply spoke of the extraordinarily friendly reception they had received in England with all types of audience and how the English retained a warm spot for Australians. He expanded to a newspaper reporter concerning their visit ‘home’ *:

You know, I had my first music lesson with Mrs Bale dressed in a suit of red plush and with my hair prepared by curling pins! Quite an outfit for the town that manufactured a powerful rum and had a crack rifle and tough rugby club. Young students will face tremendous difficulties in trying to make a career in London – the Mecca of all artists. You need £1000 of capital to begin a career there.We were incredibly lucky and Nellie Melba and Lady Stradbroke were tremendously generous with their letters of introduction. The agent we engaged, a Mr L.G. Sharp, also acted for Paderewski. To succeed today you need talent, money, influence and personality – but mostly personality and grit!

Generally speaking the children of Australia are more musical than the children of Great Britain. In Britain one misses the lovely fresh voices one hears in Australia. As Sybil Thorndike said to Mr Brooke when she heard him sing: ‘I know you are an Australian. I can hear and see the sunshine in your voice.’

I think Mr Brooke and myself can attribute our success entirely to the fact that we did not pretend. We went home as Australians and we remained as Australians. The public took a liking to us. They appreciated our efforts and they appreciated us because we were Australians. Others have gone home and have been pleased to pose as British people. But in that they have done wrong. Most English people will like Australians when they go home just because they are Australians. London audiences are marvellous.

Concerning the revolutionary new invention of the wireless:

The wireless is the greatest event in the history of the art of music. Many of the concert managers in London are opposed  to wireless, but many of the foremost artists have already played or sung for the British Broadcasting Company. The company is paying big fees to good artists, fees which are most attractive and which many artists cannot resist accepting. Instrumentalists and orchestral organisations are the most successful broadcasters; wireless has not yet been brought to that state of perfection which enabled the human voice to be transmitted without loss of quality by distortion.

*This interview reported in the Telegraph (Brisbane), Friday 23 April 1926, p. 5.

† Close to £52,000 in 2022.

Mr Cahill instanced the failure of Tetrazzini as a broadcaster:

The microphone of the transmitter could not absorb the impressions of her wonderful voice and transmit them with fidelity.

In an interview with the London Daily Mail before their departure Eddie had referred to the great changes broadcasting had wrought on the concert world:

Only foremost artists like Paderewski, Galli-Curci, Pachmann and Chaliapine are having good houses. Without a large personal following concert work is not profitable. The work of the conductor Sir Landon Ronald is doing a great deal to revive interest in orchestral concerts at the Palladium.* The only real bright spot! We hope to do more broadcasting on our return to London.

The so-called ‘Complimentary Public Welcome’ in Beenleigh was scheduled for the evening of 30 April, 1926. On arrival at the School of Arts, Eddie passed through a guard of honour formed by local schoolchildren who showered him with confetti. On entering the main hall he made his way to the stage where he occupied the place of honour together with his mother. The Federal Band from South Brisbane struck up ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. He then received a formal civic welcome from the chairman of the Shire Council. ‘The wonderful record obtained by Mr Cahill as a musician is a great advertisement for Queensland and the little town of Beenleigh.’ He’s a Jolly Good Fellow trumpeted out by the band almost lifted the roof.

I did not realise what Australian blue skies and sunshine meant until I went to England and returned to sunny Queensland! I have never felt so lonely as when I gave my first concert in London.

He also relayed the immense English gratitude for the help and sacrifice of so many young Australian lives in support of England throughout the Great War.

The doors to Buckingham Palace would never have opened for me had it not been for the letters of introduction from the former Premier of Queensland, Mr Ted Theodore. For this I am eternally grateful.

SIR LANDON RONALD - Cartoon Gallery
Sir Robert Landon (Saturday Review 1923)
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-23.png
Sir Robert Landon 1920 (NPG)

* Sir Landon Ronald (1873–1938) was an English conductor, composer, pianist, singing teacher, and administrator. He was a close associate of Dame Nellie Melba and wrote some 200 songs. He was principal conductor of the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and like Eddie an innovative designer of musical programmes.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is beenleigh-award_1.jpg
The presentation folder given to Edward Cahill on his return to Beenleigh
Central detail from the presentation folder given to Edward Cahill on his return to Beenleigh

He was then presented with a handsome tooled-leather folder with a gold ornamental lyre entwined with his initials. Inside was an encomium in ornate calligraphy from the most distinguished figures in the Beenleigh District. George was also honoured as Eddie’s ‘musical associate’, a fellow Australian but as a native of Melbourne merely considered an ‘adopted son of Queensland’. Refreshments, dancing and music was performed by among others his sisters the pianists Lily and Madge Cahill. God Save the King concluded the proceedings.

* * * * * * * * *

During the 1926–27 Australian concert season Eddie and George gave nine successful concerts in Melbourne, seven in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide and made a tour of the J.C. Williamson vaudeville circuit. At the Exhibition Hall in Brisbane Eddie used two instruments: an upright piano for the refined intimacy and elegance of Mozart, Paderewski, Schumann and Chopin and a full-bodied concert grand for the heavier works by Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Liszt and Weber. The improvement in Eddie’s technique and depth of interpretation since returning from London was much commented on by critics. ‘Mr Cahill has the faculty of intimate interpretation, backed by a formidable technique,’ wrote the Brisbane Telegraph. George sang a selection of English ballads, German Lieder and modern French art songs. His diction and enunciation in all languages was considered outstanding.

In Melbourne they ‘imported’ the idea they claimed they pioneered in England. The staging of exclusive ticketed ‘At Home’ recitals for wealthier and more distinguished citizens. Some of the audience were prepared to pay a high price for tickets that would facilitate socializing with the upper echelons of society as well as listening to excellent classical music. ‘Versatility and personality are the essentials for success,’ Eddie wrote to the wife of the Governor General, Lady Stonehaven.* She, together with a ‘Vice-Regal Party’ and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and his wife, attended a number of their sold out concerts at the Assembly Hall in Melbourne.

* John Lawrence Baird, 1st Viscount Stonehaven, (1874–1941), known as Lord Stonehaven during this period, was a British Conservative politician who served as the eighth Governor-General of Australia (1925–31).

Sir John Stonehaven - The Ostentatious Viceroy
The ‘ostentatious’ Governor-General of Australia Lord Stonehaven and Lady Stonehaven, on a tour of the wondrous Jenolan Caves, New South Wales
The Strange Jenolan Paradox of 1917
The Empress Grotto, Jenolan Caves 1917

They performed the same type of programme that ‘mixes the classical and the popular in just the right proportions’, a variety of styles which had brought them such success in London. The audience ‘found everything to its taste’ and recalled them time and again, seeming to respond more favourably to the less demanding popular works.

One rather acerbic commentator put his criticisms obliquely:

The fare provided was all of easy digestion and effectively garnished … One recognizes that typical drawing-room art is being transferred to the concert hall with results eminently pleasing.

Eddie had arranged the richly flower-decked stage and subdued lighting to evoke the atmosphere of a cultivated nineteenth-century salon. His piano accompaniments to George’s songs were regarded as ‘discreet and perfect’. Great improvements in both artists were again noted by their friends and those who had heard them perform before their departure for London. Eddie in particular had vastly improved his technique and interpretation under Tobias Matthay and he gratefully acknowledged this immense help. They extended their season by two concerts by popular demand.

* * *

They had only been in Australia for a year before setting off for the extensive tour of America previously arranged in London, which would be followed by a return to the great metropolis. Eddie again began to give his profitable ‘farewell recitals’, so well attended by virtue of the sweet sentiments of imminent departure.

George had been seeing a great deal of an attractive widow, Mrs Thomas Hardman, since his return to Australia and soon they seemed to  be becoming romantically involved. Her late husband had been the manager of the Oriental Hotel in Brisbane. George had met  her during the musical season in Melbourne and by September the couple had married. Eddie’s reaction to this can only be guessed at, but after at least ten years working with George as bachelors a certain psychological and practical adjustment must have been inevitable. However his sunny temperament showed the greatest pleasure in this match for his ‘best pal’. The renamed Cahill-Brooke Company would now tour the globe as a trio, apparently without a care in the world.

Lt to Rt: Eddie Cahill, Margaret and George Brooke just before leaving for America in April 1927

Their final Australian performances were warmly praised:

These artists did not descend on us meteor-like to surprise us with their brilliance, then to disappear and be forgotten in the blaze of some other luminary. They grew up musically in our midst.

After praising Eddie’s performance of Liszt and Paderewski’s ‘wholly delightful’ Mélodie and Minuet the writer of the review moved into the priceless realms of the visually rhapsodic, perhaps moved by George singing ‘Vision Fugitive’ from Hérodiade by Massenet.

The dreary stage of the Theatre Royal in Brisbane came to resemble an altogether different area of exoticism worthy of Salome herself, the designs produced by the clearly gifted Arabian Art Salon. A priceless Turkish flag, with the crescent flaunted on scarlet satin, hid the horrible old property seat on which countless lovers of Royal melodrama have canoodled. A softly-shaded dusky gold lamp, under which sat a Sphinx-like brass lady, brightened up the foreground, and brass vessels, plaques, candelabra and bowls full of sunset-tinted foliage toned down the vivid flash of colour in the flag […] Mrs George Brooke wore a lovely frock that appeared as bars of sunlight on old ivory.

Architectural drawing of the facade of Theatre Royal, Brisbane, 1891 Demolished 1986

And so our trio high in confidence and excitement, basking in the limelight of Australian fame, boarded the SS Sonoma on 9 April 1927 for San Francisco on a short concert tour of America.

They had been given numerous letters of introduction by the English war poet and playwright Robert Nichols and his wife Norah (née Denny).*

* Robert Nichols (1893–1944) was an officer in the Royal Artillery campaigning during the Great War at Loos and the Somme before he was invalided out suffering from shell shock.

Robert Nichols | World War I | Discover War Poets – WW1
Robert Nichols in 1930

A Wandering Thing

The hopeless rain (‘virussurely in 2021)—a sigh, a shadow— 

Falters and drifts again, again over the meadow. 

It wanders lost, drifts hither …. thither;    

It blows, it goes, it knows not whither.    

A profound grief, an unknown sorrow              

Wanders always my strange life thoro’.   

I know not ever what brings it hither,       

Nor whence it comes …. nor goes it whither.        

His poetry was included together with that of Rupert Brooke and others in the famous collection Georgian Poetry 1911–22 edited by Sir Edward ‘Eddie’ Marsh. He is among sixteen Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. The inscription on his tomb by Wilfrid Owen reads: ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.’ In 1922 Robert married Norah Denny, the daughter of Eddie’s patron, Mrs Frederick Denny of Horwood.

The letters to hostesses, various celebrities of the day and movie stars were accompanied by some ‘Notes of Explanation’ from Norah, which are diverting in themselves:

Miss Dolly Green – very pretty and charming eldest daughter of immensely rich parents who have a big house & garden & swimming pool etc., and who go to N. York & Europe practically every year. Parents rather dull but know everyone. Daughter exceptionally nice & clever – wants to go on the stage.

Mrs Edgar – one of the greatest hostesses in N. York & used to the very best of everything including music – must be treated with respect – very charming. Knows Robert only.

Douglas Fairbanks – no explanation necessary. He is not musical, but is jolly & kind & friendly – likes to be treated as ‘the great man’

Conrad J. Barrington on Twitter: "Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Vélez in a  publicity photo for The Gaucho (1927)" / Twitter
Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Vélez in a publicity photo for The Gaucho (1927)

Mrs Charles Ray – wife of Charles Ray the movie actor. She is not an actress – gives nice parties – has a lovely house – artistic – knows all the movie people.

Charles Ray (1891-1943) circa 1918

The detailed record of this tour is unfortunately sparse, but some high points were recorded in Eddie’s scattered notes and cuttings. The myth of 1920s America, that decade of ‘wonderful nonsense’, had probably misguided them with illusions. The Treaty of Versailles had been signed  for  some  eight  years  by  the time they arrived. The customary idea of life in the United States was of a giddy release from the stresses of the Great War in the form of jazz, drugs, parties, gangsters and illegal drinking. However on closer examination it was a period of social and institutional upheaval the like of which the country had never before experienced in its history.

The new society of the 1920s was characterized by vast changes in religion, political philosophy, folkways, moral precepts and uses of leisure time. […] This was a period of massive cultural conflict focusing on such matters as religion, marriage and moral standards, as well as issues of race, prohibition and immigration.*

* Ronald Allen Goldberg, America in the Twenties (New York 2003), pp. 162–3.

Women in particular looked to embrace new and revolutionary sexual freedoms, less restricting and alluring modes of dress as well as the right to drink and smoke in public places. The Charleston was an exuberant expression of feminine individuality and freedom, particularly indulged in by that period sensation, the ‘flapper’, Defined as follows:

Two bare knees, two thinner stockings attached to garters, one shorter skirt, two lipsticks, three powder puffs, 132 cigarettes and a long holder, and three boyfriends, with eight flasks between them. She chewed gum – great wads of it – vigorously and incessantly. Her make-up was as crude as a clown’s.*

Louise Brooks (1906-1985)
Louse Brooks in a scene from the erotic silent film Pandor’s Box
Clara Bow (1905-1965)

‘The most dangerous frequenter of the English theatre is the flapper. The mental state of the English audience is dominated by the flapper mind,’ asserted the British playwright, novelist, and critic St. John Ervine (1883-1971) in a lecture on drama.

Hellé Nice – ‘The Bugatti Queen’

For more on Hellé Nice :

* Maximillien de Lafayette, America in the Twenties. Photos and Reports, vol. 1 (New York 2011), p. 31

In many ways this destination seemed an unusual choice for both these increasingly serious classical musicians. With his theatrical temperament Eddie grew particularly fond of the infectious enthusiasm of American girls.  However  the  aesthetic  taste  of the elite in Society, the stratum they had enjoyed frequenting in England, was being eroded in America and replaced by the taste of the masses. The Europeans who had settled the country carried with them Protestant, even Puritan, values of thrift and hard work that found little place for the social privilege, leisured elegance and self-indulgence of traditional European aristocracy – in many ways the crucible of classical European music. The art of business was increasingly valued above culture. One contemporary writer observed: ‘Through business, properly conceived, managed and conducted, the human race is finally to be redeemed.’

† Goldberg, America in the Twenties, p. 84.

Eddie and George gave an interview to Musical America entitled ‘Give Your Audiences What They Want Rather Than What You May Like’ in which they outlined their general philosophy of concert giving. They pointed out that when their appearances before royalty were advertised in the Court Circular followed by their ‘At Homes’ in Mayfair, such exposure became an invaluable road to success in London. Such features of their activities, such publicity based on social class, would be infrequent or non-existent in America where society was differently stratified. With gentle irony Eddie observed:

Naturally that is a condition which could not obtain in a republic, because Presidents of Republics and their First Ladies of the Land do not occupy quite the same place in the affections of the general public, especially the social side of it, as Royalty does.

They then went on to point out the popularity of sentimental ‘art songs’ as opposed to serious Lieder. Eddie, ever the shrewd businessman as well as ‘the poet of the piano’, continued:

The thing boils down to the question of what you are after. If it is a matter of musical philanthropy, or of educating the public or appealing to the small proportion of highly educated, highly sophisticated musicians, you had better stick to Brahms, Strauss, Schubert, Schumann, Bach and Handel. But, before you do this, be sure you are well subsidized! If, on the other hand, it is a matter of earning your living and accumulating a bank account, it might be wiser to popularize your programmes to some extent. We often combine both, which seems to work well. Study your public.

In early July 1927 they gave a concert at the Aeolian Hall near Times Square. The famous Aeolian building had been sold some time before to an unlikely but socially representative purchaser, the Schulte Cigar Stores Company and was soon to cease hosting classical music concerts altogether. The hall had an illustrious history: Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Busoni and Paderewski had all appeared there. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered there one afternoon in February 1924 with Paul Whiteman and the Palais Royal Orchestra. Gershwin entitled the concert ‘An Experiment in Modern Music’. This engaging work succinctly expressed the American spirit of the age.

Aeolian Hall, New York 1927
Aeolian Hall, 1912-1927: “A building without precedent” — The Gotham Center  for New York City History
Stage and Interior of the Aeolian Hall

Eddie and George gave their usual programme of Liszt, Chopin, Schubert and Quilter songs together with Negro spirituals (which were surprisingly well received by the educated audience). George had additionally taken a number of lessons from Lawrence Brown on the interpretation of spirituals while in America.* He had become a master of the genre.

* Lawrence Brown (1893–1972) was the accompanist and arranger for the famous Negro singer Paul Robeson (1898–1976). They were the first to bring spirituals to the concert stage. Robeson later credited Brown for guiding him ‘… to the beauty of my own folk music and to the music of all other peoples so like our own.’ Brown had also worked with the famous gospel singer Roland Hayes who George had also studied under after appearing in concert with him in 1924 before Queen Mary.

The great jazz trombonist Lawrence Brown (1907-1988)

Just before the concert Eddie had received news of the death in Beenleigh of his eighty-nine-year-old grandmother, Caroline Dauth. This was a particular blow of great poignancy for him, as she had protected him from the displeasure and occasional violence of his publican father when he became a professional musician. He had spent many hours at her house practising in secret and benefited from her wisdom and sympathy.

As I played a couple of Chopin Nocturnes full of sensibility and George sang those sad Negro laments, I cast my mind back to childhood and all those secret assignations at grandmother’s house in Beenleigh. The nostalgia I felt affected my playing in a profound way that night.*

One impression Eddie gained in New York was of the importance of the orchestral section in picture theatres. From his early career Eddie had maintained a great and overriding interest in the cinema. His comments give an interesting insight into the period of transition from the silent cinema to the ‘talkies’:

These orchestras are all so excellent that they almost help you to forget the poor singing that is sometimes heard. I believe that the picture theatre managers in New York are materially assisting in bringing good music to a wider public. These managers now engage star artists. In one of their theatres the other evening I heard the great Mischa Levitzki play a Liszt Piano Concerto with orchestra.

The excellent press they attracted for their own concerts led to them being offered a season by the famous impresario George Engels, which they were unable to accept owing to previously arranged engagements in England. Although well remunerated it seems fair to assume that they were not sufficiently impressed by ‘modernity’ to ever seriously consider returning to America. In July 1927 the trio boarded the luxury Cunard liner RMS Berengaria that sailed from New York to Southampton via Cherbourg to begin their second and much anticipated tour of England.

Cunard Line RMS Berengaria by Yesterdays-Paper on DeviantArt
RMS Berengaria

* Noted by the author in conversation in Monaco 1968.

†Mischa Levitzki (1898–1941) was an outstanding Russian-born American virtuoso concert pianist. He toured the world and gave concerts at Aeolian Hall. He wrote some charming small salon pieces for piano which became immensely popular – The Enchanted Nymph, the waltz in A major, the waltz Tzigane, and a Gavotte.

Instalment 10

Chapter 5

A Collar of Diamonds

Despite the intervening years, the shadows of the Great War had not been dispelled. Eddie and George were well aware of the neglected members of society languishing outside this privileged milieu. Eddie still  felt  guilty  for  not  fighting  in  the  conflict.  As some compensation of conscience they gave a number of concerts for the recently established Not Forgotten Association (NFA), an organisation dedicated ‘to provide comfort, cheer and entertainment for the wounded ex-servicemen still in hospital as  a result of the Great War.’* It was movingly observed that George Brooke’s sympathetic voice made an instant appeal to those cruelly blinded by mustard gas.

Eddie and George only engaged the periphery of that small and notorious Mayfair set, those forty or so publicity-seeking rebels known as the  ‘Bright  Young  People’  who  have  passed  so sensationally into history as representative of Society. The musicians inhabited the so-called ‘Good Set’ of birth, power, property and the old school tie, Establishment figures who actually determined significant social and political change. The ‘Bad Set’ of Bright Young People have been exploited by numerous books and films. Our overview of the period is largely distorted, although vastly entertained, by their exhibitionist activities such dancing the Charleston, the Black Bottom, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and infatuation with jazz. Despite the wild and occasionally destructive goings-on, these renegades, bored by the formality of their elders and disillusioned with pre-war values, released a great deal of pent-up and brilliant creativity in the arts. Evelyn Waugh satirized their behaviour in his novel Vile Bodies.

Evelyn Waugh: 'I can only be funny when I'm complaining'
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
Vile Bodies by EVELYN WAUGH - Paperback - First Edition - 1930 - from Peter  L. Stern & Company, Inc. (SKU: 20041P)
‘Vile Bodies’ First Edition Chapman & Hall 1930
Some ‘Bright Young People’ – Vile Bodies

Noel Coward had two sensational plays running in the West End – The Vortex and Fallen Angels, both of which Eddie saw and enjoyed immensely.

The Vortex - Wikipedia
Noel Coward and Lilian Braithwaite in ‘The Vortex’ 1925

He met the star of Fallen Angels Tallulah Bankheadon a number of occasions at parties and found her ‘an overwhelming personality’. She galvanized London audiences of the day. The uninhibited Americans had arrived. Shocked, he once witnessed her do a knickerless cartwheel in a ballroom.

*The NFA continues its good works. The present patron is HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.

Tallulah Bankhead (1902–68) known as the ‘Alabama Tornado’ was a wild American stage and screen actress whose gravelly voice, outrageous personality, scandalous sexual behaviour, acidic wit, alcohol and drug taking gave her the reputation of a fascinating and often imitated libertine. ‘Good girls keep diaries, bad girls never have the time.’ she once noted.

Tallulah Bankhead 1902 to 1968 Photograph by Sarah Vernon
Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) Photograph by Sarah Vernon
Cruella de Vil Is Wicked—But Tallulah Bankhead Was Even Wilder | Vanity Fair
Each 'Cruella' People Had been Impressed by Tallulah Bankhead – Latest Hunts

His positive views on the theatre were not shared by the veteran actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, however. ‘The public are asking for filth,’ he roundly declared. ‘The younger generation are knocking at the door of the dustbin.’ In his autobiography, the British sculptor and painter of horses John Skeaping described an incident that graphically illustrates the polarized society of the twenties, so different from the pre-war years:

The twenties were the great era of parties … I once attended a very grand party, given by the elegant, perfumed Lord Allington and his mother. Her guests were all out of Debrett, while young Allington’s friends were from the studio and the theatre. These two factions were drawn up on different sides of the room, when at a lull in the proceedings, Tallulah Bankhead, the gorgeous red-headed film star, suddenly got up and moved across the room to where Lady Cunard was sitting. Grabbing hold of Lady Cunard’s dress, a skimpy affair held up on the shoulders by two tiny straps, she ripped it down to the waist, remarking in a loud gin-voice as she did so: ‘I always wanted to see your tits’ Pandemonium broke out and Bankhead was wafted away, screaming with laughter.’

* * *

In early June, Eddie and George gave a concert at 39 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair.

Lady Quilter’s house at 39 Upper Brook Street where Eddie and George gave a concert in June 1925

Later in the month another important concert at Norwich House, Norfolk Street, Park Lane. As ever, Eddie carefully noted in his journal: ‘By permission of Mrs Robert Emmet once again in the presence of HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll.’ The seventy-seven-year-old Princess was the most beautiful and artistically creative fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. She pursued an idiosyncratic marriage with John Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll, known as the Marquess of Lorne.

Royal Splendor: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll: Queen Victoria's  Artistic Daughter
HRH Princess Louise Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939) – Queen Victoria’s highly artistic and rebellious daughter

*Barrow, Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970, p. 23.

John Skeaping, Drawn from Life: An Autobiography (London 1977), p. 88.

Norfolk Street no longer exists. It was renamed Dunraven Street by the London County Council in 1939 after the fourth Earl of Dunraven.

John George Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845–1914), the Marquess of Lorne, was the 4th Governor General of Canada (1878–83).

No daughter of a sovereign had married a subject of the Crown since 1515, when Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk married Mary Tudor. Princess Louise and John Campbell lived rather separately. Although sharing an enthusiasm for the arts they failed to have children. Campbell was rumoured to be homosexual which at the time raised a few tentative eyebrows.

John George Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845–1914)

Princess Louise led an extraordinarily complex and unconventional life. As well as being an able actress, early feminist, pianist and dancer, she was a prolific artist and sculptress. She was also outstandingly talkative, disliked the formality of the court, loved travel and cultivated anonymity. However, by 1925 Louise was often confined to Kensington Palace by poor health and it is surprising she attended this concert at all as she was becoming increasingly reclusive.

On this occasion Eddie played works by Gluck, Brahms, Mozart, the Finnish composer Palmgren, Schumann, Chopin and Beethoven ‘in a masterly fashion’. George gave songs in French  by Lully and Massenet, in German by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, a group of ballads in English by Roger Quilter accompanied by the composer himself. Finally he sang a selection of the ever-popular Negro spirituals which were observed to ‘so admirably suit his sympathetic voice.’

Jehanne Wake, Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter (London 1988).

The large audience was exclusively made up of duchesses, dowagers, ladies and other female notables such as the beautiful and fashionable Marchesa Malacrida. No gentlemen were present. They clearly preferred the late afternoon male conviviality of their clubs in St James’s to musical soirées. In attracting such an ‘exclusive’ group of ladies one can only conclude that Eddie and George must have been possessed of significant and surprising charm and social grace alongside their undoubted musical talents. Certainly it was an opportunity for them to ingratiate themselves with the aristocracy, one of the few roads open to a well-remunerated classical concert career in London.

In July 1925, 18 Carlton House Terrace was ‘lent’ by the former 1908 Olympic Rackets bronze medallist Major the Hon. John Astor and his wife Lady Violet for a further concert in aid of the Southern Irish Loyalists’ Relief Association.* Princess Louise was again present, but only for a short time as she was increasingly frail. She had come once more especially to thank Eddie and George ‘for so generously giving their services and arranging  such a delightful concert.’

18 Carlton House Terrace. This Grade 1 listed regency mansion of 50,000 sq. ft. was the most expensive house ever sold in London at £ 250 million in 2013
The £250m home next to the Queen: London property smashes UK house price  record as it goes on sale | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard
The period Grand Staircase at 18 Carlton House Terrace
Inside: This vintage picture shows how the £250million house looked under a previous owner
Interior view of the library at 18 Carlton House Terrace (BL10325) Archive  Item - The Bedford Lemere Collection | Historic England
The period Library at 18 Carlton House Terrace where Edward Cahill may have played in 1925 (covered piano is on the left)
NPG x162335; John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever - Portrait -  National Portrait Gallery
John Jacob Astor V, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971)

* John Jacob Astor V, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971) was a son of William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America who moved to Britain after a family feud in 1891. He was raised on the magnificent and notorious Cliveden estate on the Thames followed by Eton and Oxford. On his father’s death in 1919, John Astor inherited Hever castle in Kent where he lived the life of an English country gentleman. In 1916 he married Violet Mary Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (1889–1965).

Eddie was always fascinated by the latest developments in science and technology, particularly the gramophone and wireless. The first experimental radio concert broadcast in Britain had been given at 7.10 pm on 15 June 1920, when Dame Nellie Melba’s famous trill erupted onto the airwaves from the Marconi Company’s New Street Works near Chelmsford, Essex. She sang the Addio, senza rancor from La Bohème and two songs by the French composer Herman Bemberg, who had travelled from Paris to accompany her on the piano. The broadcast was received as far away as Madrid, Warsaw and Rome and even a ship at sea off Malta. She had advised Eddie to take advantage of this revolution in music and he was quick to take the opportunity.

Dame Nellie Melba making the world’s first concert wireless broadcast 15 June 1920

‘Farewell, without bitterness’. Melba was superb in this aria and the words Addio, senza rancor were inscribed on her grave.

One of the first BBC test transmissions was of a boxing commentary on the London station 2LO on 11 May 1922 from the Marconi House studios on the Strand. The British Broadcasting Company (‘Company’ replaced in 1927 by ‘Corporation’) had been formed in October 1922 to ‘educate, inform and entertain.’ Later in its development, in the interests of formality, all announcers were ordered by John Reith, the first General Manager, to wear evening dress to match that of the performers.

Formal dress focuses mind, says BBC host - PressReader
‘Formal dress focuses the mind’ says the early BBC host announcer dressed in Black Tie at the microphone

The wireless quickly became popular and the number of listeners expanded rapidly. The station was broadcasting for eight hours a day by 9 October 1925 when Eddie and George gave their first half-hour afternoon concert at 4.45 pm. Sadly the  earliest BBC broadcast recordings to survive only date from the 1930s. 

As a result of what must have been a favourable reception, Mr Percy Pitt, General Musical Director of the BBC, offered them a wireless contract for the whole of Great Britain.* Eddie was always tremendously enthusiastic about the wireless and its power to disseminate knowledge of classical music. He noticed that after radio became popular, the servants in the great houses following the formal recital would ask him to play Beethoven or Schumann, even Chopin waltzes by title, even by opus number.

The organist and conductor Percy Pitt (1870-1932)

* Another forgotten musician of this fertile period. Percy Pitt (1870–1932) was an English organist and conductor. Born in London he studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory before being appointed Chorus Master in 1906 and then the following year Principal Conductor at Covent Garden. In 1908 together with Hans Richter he produced one of the earliest Wagner Ring Cycles in English. Pitt shared the conducting with Richter, who respected his musicianship greatly as did Sir Edward Elgar. Pitt was the first British musician to conduct the Ring in an opera-house. He was Director of the British National Opera Company until 1924 and also a composer of charming light orchestral music.

As a result of this concert broadcast, they were invited a number of times to country house ‘Saturday-to-Mondays’ at Rolls Park at Chigwell in the Epping Forest district of Essex.

Rolls Park, Chigwell, Essex – garden front. House demolished in 1953

This was the home of one of the best known and admired military men of the Great War, Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd, who organized many of the defense and recruitment campaigns in London during the conflict. Winston Churchill stayed at ‘Rolls’ during his 1924 election campaign for the Epping seat in Parliament.

In Australia in 1927 Eddie broadcast a reminiscence of his weekends there:

Sir Francis Lloyd by Bassano 28 February 1920 (NPG)

Sir Francis affected stays, Louis heels, powder and rouge and a complete ignorance of music. At his home I played for fun ‘Annie Laurie’, Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ and ‘God Save the King’ and he knew not one from the other. But he said he loved to see me at the piano, because the way I danced up and down the keys was funnier than George Robey. He roared with laughter through the highly complicated opening passages of the ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ because it was quicker and cleverer than George Robey. He said ‘First you pick out a couple of black keys and catch hold of a couple of whites, then you throw all the black ones down one end and slog into the whites and La Campanella sounds like an argument leading up to a battle.’

NPG D33968; Sir Francis Lloyd - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853–1926)

Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd (1853–1926) was a British army officer Commanding the Brigade of Guards and General Officer Commanding the London District during the Great War.

He told me he never had any idea when ‘God Save the King’ was being played, and naturally as a soldier he must have heard it hundreds of times. ‘Your fingers remind me of little mice running away from the cat!’ he exclaimed.

The Music Room at Rolls Park

Sir Francis used to give brilliant dinner parties. I have never seen a dinner table look more brilliant and I have seen many great ones. I think Sir Francis and Lady Lloyd must have had one of the best silver dinner services in England. There was always an air of distinction whenever the Lloyds were entertaining a house party. Remember I had a good opportunity of comparing the entertaining in celebrated houses. Lady Lloyd was rather a frail looking little person, but she was always conspicuous by her very gay and youthful dressing. I remember her wearing a very severe white satin dress with a long flowing train and a lot of soft flowing draperies and some lovely diamonds. It seemed to me both these charming people had a flare for wearing very striking clothes.

Lloyd, Lady, née Mary Gunnis; wife of Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd 11994
Lady Lloyd, née Mary Gunnis, wife of Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd  1906 by Philip A. László

One thing I remember in connection with the dinner parties which took place at ‘Rolls’ was that after the meal, the little dog ‘Wump’ would come into the room and Sir Francis would put ‘Wump’ on the table. The dog would walk in and out of all the silver things without knocking over anything.

The Countess of Malmesbury once came to dinner at Rolls accompanied by her own little dog named ‘Mogul’. She began to discuss the intelligence of this animal.

‘He talks to me don’t you know. I understand everything he says and he understands everything I say. But of late he has been visiting the servant’s hall and has now begun to talk like one of the servants. He is developing a quite frightful accent. I have forbidden my maid to let him go down there again!’ Much laughter erupted from Sir Francis at this remark.

In November ‘the boys’ were invited to attend the funeral of Queen Alexandra ‘in Arctic frost and snow’, who had died of a heart attack.*

Portrait of the beautiful Queen Alexandra and her daughters Louise and Victoria

*Queen Alexandra (1844–1925), Alexandra of Denmark, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India as the wife of King-Emperor Edward VII who died in 1910. She was a dowager queen and the mother of the reigning monarch King George V.

In December in one of their last concerts of the year, George gave a recital of Negro spirituals at the invitation of the Rev. Pennington- Bickford, Rector of St Clement Danes Church. They became close friends as both musicians were ‘good Roman Catholics’ and fervent supporters of Ecumenism. This church, well over three hundred years old, stands on island in the Strand quite indifferent to the maelstrom of modern traffic that swirls around it. The Rector appropriated the well-known London tune ‘Oranges and Lemons’ for St Clement’s and its famous bells. He established the annual distribution of oranges and lemons to local children.*

St. Clement Dane Church by American Stock Archive
St. Clement Danes Church, London, by Sir Christopher Wren (1682)

Eddie and George decided to return to Australia in February 1926 for a concert tour. They turned down the broadcasting contract with 2LO. However in the course of a week or so they made twelve recordings for the Columbia Gramophone Company. Despite all the social and musical success and glamorous engagements, from their letters home it is clear they were missing their families and the familiar environment. They both terribly missed the sun. ‘How tired I am of this blasted English climate!’ Eddie wrote to his sister. The round of London Society engagements was exhausting. They had been catapulted unprepared into a social world so entirely different to their own that they were suffering a debilitating variety of ‘culture shock’.

* Although unconnected with the two musicians, the subsequent tragic and dramatic Second World War history of St Clement’s is moving to recall. On 10 May 1941 the Rev. Pennington-Bickford watched the church burn down after the Luftwaffe fire-bombed the building, this church at which he had spent his entire Ministry. A month later, his parish- ioners considered he was so filled with grief and despair that he took his own life. His wife then leapt from a window three months after that, grief-stricken both at the loss of her husband and the church they both so loved.

St Clement Danes - Wikipedia
St Clement Danes bombed during

Sadly to date only one recording by George Brooke is traceable, an internet link to which is provided in this book.

Among the many farewell dinners in their honour, they gave a recital in late January 1926 at 28 Kensington Court ‘lent’ by Lord and Lady Swaythling just before they sailed for New York. Among the usual Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Beethoven, Mme Guy d’Hardelot personally accompanied George in three of her latest songs which he was taking to Australia: Wings, The Quiet Country Places and The Great Unknown. The fabulously wealthy Lady Swaythling was to become and would remain one of the staunchest supporters of Eddie throughout his future career in Europe. A number of prominent Americans attended this recital and offered to arrange future engagements in America which Eddie and George enthusiastically accepted.

Gladys Helen Rachel (née Goldsmid), the fabulously wealthy Lady Swaythling (1879-1965) in 1923
(Bassano NPG)
One of Edward Cahill’s most affluent and important patrons
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-20.png
Lady Swathyling’s Drawing Room in 1919. The piano Edward Cahill played is in the far right hand corner (Bassano NPG)

A feisty character and future patron emerged at this farewell recital. This was Lady Weigall née Grace Emily Blundell Maple, the tremendously affluent daughter of Sir Blundell Maple the furniture magnate.* In 1898 she had married Baron Hermann von Eckardstein, First Secretary of the German Embassy. The Baroness (pet name ‘Bunchy’) brought an action against her politically notorious husband (‘Bear’) on the grounds of adultery and cruelty. She had been forced to pay his gambling debts which amounted to some £320,000 during the marriage. A gigantic loss.

Lady Archibald Weigall (1876-1950) née Grace Emily Blundell Maple
Baron Hermann von Eckardstein Vanity Fair 21 July 1898 (Spy)

After the divorce, in 1910 she married Sir Archibald Weigall. Their interest in Australian artists such as Eddie and George came from their experiences when Sir Archibald had been Governor of South Australia from 1920 to 1922. Both had developed a great love of the country and its people. The Weigalls lived at the recently built ‘Tudor to Jacobean’ style Petwood House in Lincolnshire, which was filled unsurprisingly with Maple furniture. Here they entertained on a lavish scale.

Once when Eddie was a guest there Nellie Melba was also present and met for the first time the writer Beverley Nichols who was to become her private secretary. His novel Evensong published in 1932 presented a ‘warts and all’ portrait of her in fictional guise as Madame Irela, a famous soprano in decline. The book caused a popular outcry in Australia. In an interview after publication Eddie supported the Nichols portrait.

* Lady Weigall née Grace Emily Blundell Maple (1876–1950). Her husband Sir Archibald Weigall, 1st Baronet KCMG (1874–1952), was a British Conservative politician who had been Governor of South Australia from 1920 to 1922. Although never explicitly calling for Federation and abolition of the Australian States, he did describe the results of the division of power in Australia as being ‘farcical’ and ‘chaotic’, and concluded that ‘State Governors and State Legislatures are now anachronisms’.

Purchasing power of £320,000 in 1910 would be around £29.5 million in 2022.


When Melba first met Beverley Nichols at Petwood, Lady Weigall’s country home near London, she spoke of him to me as the most brilliant young man she had met since Oscar Wilde and predicted that he would make a big noise in the world. She also told me later that Nichols was the only man who knew and understood her and could write a book about her. In my opinion Beverley Nichols has very cleverly drawn the character of Melba. He may be a bit severe. His stories about her violent temper and other little things were perfectly drawn.*

Beverley Nichols (1898-1983) One of the original ‘Bright Young People’ writer, playwright, passionate gardener and entertaining speaker
NPG x10652; Beverley Nichols - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery
Beverley Nichols ghostwrote Dame Nellie Melba’s autobiography

Eddie would give a number of future recitals in this historic and attractive house.

As the boys boarded the MV Caprera in Southampton at the beginning of 1926 bound for Fremantle in  Western  Australia  they could not but reflect on three extraordinary years spent in England. By sheer good luck they had begun as variety theatre performers and been launched into the upper echelons of the aristocracy. They planned to return as soon as they had assembled a full diary of future engagements. ‘People have been kind beyond our wildest dreams,’ Eddie commented to a roving newspaper reporter as they embarked.

Edward Cahill playing the ukulele with the chip’s cook on board the MV Caprera

In a triumph of travel logistics they managed to give a series of concerts in Italy en route to Australia performing in Genoa, Florence, Rome and Naples. Despite its fame, they found the Neapolitan opera disappointing with poor soloists but excitedly visited the summit of Mount Vesuvius whilst the volcano was ‘in an angry mood.’

MV Caprera

* Interview with the Telegraph (Brisbane), Thursday, 21 January 1932, p. 1.

Lincolnshire airfields played a vital role in WWII. Petwood’s most notable appearance in wartime history is as the Officers’ Mess for the 617 Squadron. It was decided that the 617 ‘Dambusters Squadron’ should be made into a special duties squadron which would work in isolation and secrecy at Petwood and Woodhall airfield. For Officers at war, Petwood was fondly remembered as a ‘splendid place’ remote from battle. Adapted from Petwood: The Remarkable Story of a Famous Lincolnshire Hotel, Edward Mayor, 2004.

PP Instalment 9

Chapter 5

A Collar of Diamonds

At the end of May 1924 Eddie and George were invited through the good offices of the Dowager Marchioness of Linlithgow to a dinner and to perform at a sumptuous banquet at Lansdowne House.*

East front of Lansdowne House before the demolition of the garden front rooms 1931-32
Photograph cir. 1925

This glamorous dinner was attended by members of the Royal Family (the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Henry and Prince George) and hundreds of titled and distinguished guests. They dined off gold plate and chose from an ornate French menu offering among other confections Les Coûpes d’Artagnon, Les Suprêmes de Volaille Princesse and Les Délices des Dames. G.H. Mumm 1913 champagne was served throughout, with Royal Tawny Port, liqueurs and cigars.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-5.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-6.png
Lansdowne House menu and seating plan 30 May 1924 (Edward Cahill Esq. seated at the bottom right of horseshoe table)

The banquet was held to present scrolls marking the endowments of beds in the new University College Obstetric Hospital. The band of the Grenadier Guards, the pipers of the Scots Guards and a Welsh male choir performed. ‘The boys’ gave what was quickly becoming their standard programme at the conclusion of the banquet. It was a long way socially, a near incomprehensible distance, to Lansdowne House from the sheep stations of rural Queensland.

There is not a woman, scarcely a man among us who does not bear witness, in the way he dresses, or dines, or parts his hair, or takes the hand of a lady in a ball-room, that he is a humble imitator of the example set him by people who live in large houses and flourish in the pages of Debrett. There is not a man outside this narrow pale, be he English or Australian, who could walk along Piccadilly in the company of two members of the aristocracy, effete though that aristocracy may be, without a sense of elation bordering on vertigo.

* Lansdowne House was originally designed and built in 1763 by Robert Adam for the Marquess of Bute.

† Buchanan, The Real Australia, p. 26.

It was after this banquet and before they were due to open on 16 June 1924 at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London that Eddie made a decision that was to have crucial consequences.

Among the introductions I carried with me from Lady Stradbroke was one to a member of the Royal Household. I posted it fearfully one night in a red pillar box, glancing timidly at the address ‘Buckingham Palace’, and I went back to my flat in Maida Vale wondering whether the letter would be safely delivered and if I should get a reply.

Sir Edward Wallington (1854-1933) cir.1930 (NPG)
Private Secretary and Treasurer to Queen Mary

In a few days it arrived. I could hardly believe my eyes! Sir Edward Wallington, Knight Treasurer to Queen Mary, had summoned me to Buckingham Palace.*

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-4.png
Letter from the Secretary to the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt to Edward informing him that Queen Mary would like to hear him play

What should I do? What should I wear? How should I behave? I didn’t know. I had no- one to ask. Never has anyone felt so young and helpless, so raw, so much a denizen of the outer fringes of Empire. I could hardly eat for days. I took long London ‘bus rides on the open top deck to soothe my nerves. When it was cold and rained I pulled over the oil sheets and felt cosy. Eddie Cahill, a young pianist who only a year ago had been happily lost in sunny Australia was now invited to go to Buckingham Palace and would probably be asked to play to the King and Queen. At least, so I hoped.

The day arrived when I walked down The Mall to the palace. A sentry in a scarlet tunic, and with a huge bearskin on his head, paid no attention to me as I entered the gates but a policeman stopped me. Whom did I wish to see? I told him. He saluted and I walked across the enormous forecourt to a door on the right of the palace. Sir Edward Wallington quickly put me at my ease.

Footsteps were heard outside the door. ‘The Queen,’ Sir Edward murmured reverentially. I was told that Her Majesty wished to hear me play and would I attend a concert to be arranged at 69 Brook Street, Mayfair the home of Lady Harcourt. Was I agreeable? Yes, I stammered. I was delighted! And I walked out of Buckingham Palace treading on air. I wondered how my nerves would last out until the day of the concert.

I soon received a letter from the Secretary to Viscountess Harcourt that said: ‘The Queen is dining with the Dowager Viscountess Harcourt on July 1 and has informed me through her private Secretary that she would like to hear you play …’

I had been asked to play for half an hour. What should I play? I decided on Chopin.

*Sir Edward William Wallington (1854–1933) had a significant Australian career before his service to the Royal Household as Private Secretary and Treasurer to Queen Mary. This almost certainly influenced his decision to summon Eddie to the Palace. In the meantime, the two artists prepared another season of entertainment at the Victoria Palace.

Eddie continues his account of the royal adventure:

When the day of the concert at last arrived, I again spent shilling after shilling taking ‘bus rides all over London to try and forget the ordeal that awaited me that evening. But it was no good.

Nerves are terrible, but I have never met an artist without them.

69 Brook Street Mayfair – the London residence of Viscountess Harcourt
The Private Invitation to the Concert for Queen Mary, 69 Brook Street, July 1st 1924

That night I found myself at 69 Brook Street. Crystal chandeliers blazed down upon the kind of audience I had always seen in my boyhood dreams. Queen Mary, with a collar of diamonds at her throat and a tiara, sat in the front row with the Viscountess Harcourt*. Behind her, blazing with real jewels and tiaras, sat the cream of the English aristocracy, the wives of ambassadors and many men and women distinguished in public life. I walked out to the piano, made my bow to the Queen and played a Chopin Nocturne.

queen mary, consort of king george v, mary of teck, victoria mary augusta louise olga pauline claudine agnes, 1867 to 1953
Queen Mary of Teck wearing the Vladimir Tiara in 1925 from the estate of the Grand Duchess Vladimir, a member of the Romanov dynasty who managed to smuggle her jewels out of Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution

At the end of the concert, pressed to play more, I decided to play a little thing I had arranged on the boat coming over to England from Australia. I called it ‘The Musical Box’. As soon as I had played the final note, Lady Harcourt came up to me and said that the Queen wished to speak to me. She was gracious and recalled her impressions of Australia saying her favourite city was Brisbane.

She made no mention of our statesmen, but what impressed Her Majesty most of all were some of the strange creatures that went on two legs – she could not recall the name – but with an undulatory wave of the Royal Forearm she indicated ‘the things that go this way’ – meaning kangaroos. She wondered if they still had them. She asked about ‘The Musical Box’ in such a simple friendly way that I found myself talking to her without the slightest embarrassment. I told her that while I was aboard ship, I heard a little girl playing with a musical box and the thin tinkle of the tune got into my head, so that I went to my cabin and wrote it down. The Queen smiled. We had been talking for about fifteen minutes.

To me, Queen Mary symbolized all that a real Queen should be. She was regal but shy, possessed warmth of personality but great dignity. She loved precious jewels and wore them with supreme confidence.

From that moment the doors of all the great houses in Mayfair were open to me. I think I am right in saying I started a vogue for Salon concerts in private homes which lasted from 1923 to 1937, just before the outbreak of the war. This is an era which has vanished but what great memories that era has for those who played some slight role of importance in it.

*Mary Ethel Harcourt née Burns (? –1961), the daughter of an Anglo-American banker, married Louis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt (1863–1922) in 1899.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mary_Ethel_Burns%2C_Viscountess_Harcourt.jpg
Mary Ethel Burns, Viscountess Harcourt (?-1961) in 1911 (NPG)

This dinner and entertainment took place on 1 July 1924 and the guest list was indeed distinguished.* The Queen had not been ‘out to dinner’ for many years. It is curious, a sign of his artistic vanity perhaps, that in this gushing reminiscence Eddie makes no mention of his musical partner George Brooke, who also performed after dinner for the Queen. He also failed to note the presence of the celebrated and glamorous Parisian pianist Madame Caffaret, who performed ‘Pianoforte Selections’ that evening. In addition, the English art song composer Roger Quilter accompanied the celebrated lyric tenor Roland Hayes, one of the first African- American male concert artists to receive wide acclaim.

A wonderful evening by all accounts. The Dowager Viscountess Harcourt was wearing the famous Boucheron Harcourt tiara and necklace. In gold, silver, emeralds and diamonds it was one of the most glorious tiaras in the age of tiaras.

Dowager Viscountess Harcourt | Royal tiaras, Royal crown jewels, Tiara
The Viscountess Harcourt wearing the famous Boucheron Harcourt tiara
The Boucheron Harcourt tiara

It says a great deal for the talents of Eddie and George that they were invited to join such august musical company. There was a fanatical enthusiasm for jazz then sweeping London among the ‘Bright Young Things’. Lady Cunard’s daughter, the notorious shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, scandalized her mother by openly living with her black lover the jazz musician Henry Crowder. Allegedly over lunch the acerbic Margot Asquith asked her mother Maud ‘Emerald’ Cunard, ‘What is Nancy up to? Is it dope, drink or niggers? The old aristocracy invited the rather more artistically distinguished African-American singers to perform Negro spirituals.

*Apart from Queen Mary honouring Viscountess Harcourt with her company, among the many guests in attendance at this dinner were the Duchess of Norfolk, the Earl and Countess of Bessborough, the Earl and Countess of Buxton, the Earl and Countess of Chesterfield, Viscount and Viscountess Willingdon, Countess Fortesque, the American Ambassador and Mrs Kellogg, Sir Edwin Lutyens the great architect, Sir George Framp- ton the noted British sculptor and Sir Campbell Stuart, Deputy Chairman of The Times Publishing Company.

† Quoted in Angela Hughes, Chelsea Footprints: A Thirties Chronicle (London 2008), p. 132.

Eddie and George left with a host of future invitations to playing the great Mayfair mansions of the day. More importantly their appearance had been mentioned in the Court Circular. As they made their way home in an elated state, they were almost certainly unaware of the most notorious politico-sexual scandal of the 1920s that had rocked the address 69 Brook Street and the Harcourt family only two years before. Louis Harcourt, known as ‘Loulou’, the 1st Viscount Harcourt, was discovered dead in his ‘Loulou Quinze’ dressing room. He had committed suicide by gulping down an entire bottle of a sleeping concoction known as Bromidia.

Mary Ethel (née Burns), Viscountess Harcourt (?-1961); Lewis Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt (1863-1922)

Although the marriage had appeared outwardly respectable, ‘Loulou’ was a sexual predator, an enthusiastic  paedophile.  In the autumn of 1921 he had ‘pounced on an Eton boy who, with his mother, was visiting Nuneham Court, the Harcourts’ country house in Oxfordshire. Thirteen-year-old Edward James told his mother of the advances of ‘a hideous and horrible old man’. She gossiped about the incident in society and it finally came to the notice of the police. The British genius for tasteful camouflage concealed the grim details of the affair and the coroner delivered a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ although he had committed suicide. Loulou’s extensive child pornography collection disappeared without trace.*

Lord Harcourt by Harry Furniss
Lewis Harcourt – ‘Loulou’ – by Harry Furniss (1854–1925), a British illustrator. He established his career on the Illustrated London News before moving to Punch

Music would continue to console Lady Harcourt after the family moved to Oxfordshire and Eddie continued to give recitals at Nuneham Court throughout the 1930s.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon attended this recital and gave an account of it in his recently published diaries. Loulou had also made sexual advances to him.

Tuesday, 1st July 1924

[…] Arrived in London at eight and hurriedly got into knee breeches for a small musical party at Lady Harcourt’s, to meet the Queen …The Queen was very affable and talked to everyone. She was dressed in pink and wore a star tiara…a very tiny and charming party. Lady Harcourt, I think, had wanted to assert herself after her seclusion following the scandal of poor Loulou’s [Viscount Harcourt’s] death and the Queen, ever willing to do a kindness, had fallen in with the plan. Lady Harcourt was in black, wearing an amethyst train and very like the queen to look at.

Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958)
(Trustees of the Channon literary estate)

*This account of a famous scandal of the time, not covered in the contemporary press but familiar to ‘those in the know’, is taken from the detailed description in Matthew Parris, Great Parliamentary Scandals (London 1995), pp. 84–6.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon The Diaries 1918-1938 Edited by Simon Heffer p. 117

* * *

‘Old Friends’ Lt. to Rt. Lord Bath, Lord Montague of Beaulieu, H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at the Eccentric Club Dinner 12th March 2012

I have been a member of the  Eccentric  Club  in  London  for  some years. Family traits are seemingly carried in the genes. By extraordinary serendipity in March 2012 I was to have dinner in the same house, 69–71 Brook Street Mayfair, in the very same room as ‘Uncle Eddie’ had given his recital for Queen Mary. The dinner was to be given in the presence of the club patron and royal of my own day, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh together with Lord Bath and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and about 60 distinguished fellow club members.

Eccentric Club Dinner in the Ballroom as it appears in modern times.
The very room my great-uncle Edward Cahill gave his piano recital for Queen Mary in 1924

We ate in the opulent former Ballroom, surely one of the most outstanding interior survivals in a private London house.* The menu was chosen by HRH The Prince Philip himself and Piper Heidsieck champagne was served throughout. I felt the evening to be an extraordinary coincidence 88 years after my great-uncle had played here.

Before dinner over an aperitif I had briefly spoken to Prince Philip. I explained something of my great-uncle

‘Your Royal Highness, my great-uncle Edward Cahill played Chopin for various members of your extended family in the 1920s. Queen Mary in this very room in 1924, also Princess Beatrice, HH Princess Helena Victoria and others’.

He listened attentively and then remarked with characteristic irony before quickly turning away to the next interlocutor.

‘Well … lucky for them!’

H.R.H. The Prince Philip clearly preoccupied with more striking matters than chatting inconsequentially to the author standing expectantly on the far right. However following this moment of bliss he did engage me briefly in conversation.
Towards the conclusion of the meal after the Sabayon your author engaged in conversation with his friend Jan Taylor-Strong, raised in Hollywood and a Mayfair hostess of the traditional school
Note the resting Imperial Napoleonic bees on the waistcoat

* * *

Another Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace at the end of June was followed by a recital at ‘Number One, London’ in the Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House. At the time this was the most famous privately owned gallery in the world. The Duchess of Wellington had invited a number of foreign ambassadors to view the gallery and asked Eddie and George to come earlier for tea and to discuss the music they would play. They were the first Australians ever to perform there. Eddie spoke of this recital with the greatest pride throughout his life.

History of Apsley House | English Heritage
Apsley House, ‘Number One, London’
The former home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo. Designed and built by Robert Adam in the 1770s, the house was bought by the duke in 1817. He transformed it into a palatial residence befitting his status, and filled it with works of art and gifts from grateful rulers across Europe
Interiors - Wellington Collection
The eclectic French Revival Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House. A double height interior by Benjamin Dean Wyatt completed in 1830.

Both artists were fond of horse racing and in late July donned their panamas and motored down to West Sussex for ‘Glorious Goodwood’. Various musical engagements followed before the year closed with a tour of the Irish Republic, including a season at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. The Dublin Independent wrote:

Good music appeals to the Dublin public […] Mr Brooke is a true lyric singer, has excellent diction and pure tonal qualities. Edward Cahill has fine technique, backed up by expression and interpretation not often found in pianists.

The Cork Examiner wrote of George’s voice:

There is magnificent quality in his voice, and he produces his notes without effort. He is full of temperament, and is gifted with absolutely clear enunciation.

*The building now houses the Savile Club. The Ball in the Fourth Series of Downton Abbey was filmed here. The silver and blue colour scheme was based on that of the exquisite Amalienburg, a small mansion pavilion de plaisance in the gardens of the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.

† This historic house was originally built in red brick by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778 for Lord Apsley, the Lord Chancellor. In 1817 it was bought by the Duke of Wellington who carried out many renovations. The house was given the popular name ‘Number One, London’, since it was the first house passed by visitors who travelled from the countryside after the toll gates at Knightsbridge.

Eddie, as the business brains, had by this time decided that   this was ‘definitely the last time’ they would appear in  the  Variety Theatres. Both had developed far higher musical, social and commercial aspirations. Surviving financially in the London society of the day was a significant challenge that could not be satisfied by the uncertain income of the music halls. Eddie found the other acts on the bill amusing but artistically demeaning.

In Dublin they had shared the bill with Ted Waite ‘The Lachrymose Comedian’, a ‘well-formed’ girl who ‘danced very prettily’, a card trickster and ‘The Dakotas’, a group of rope-spinning and whip- manipulating performers ‘from the Wild West ranches.’

They had both attended serious music recitals by the great German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus and the spectacular Italian coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci at the Theatre Royal. They realized that additional avenues of serious musicianship could open for them, may even help them survive financially in London, if they applied some serious effort. ‘Enough is enough of popular music. No more compromises! Alter course.’ From now on, Eddie’s address book chronicled a social climber of epic proportions.

* * *

The traditional English country house is arguably one of the finest contributions the nation has made to European art and architecture. The romanticism of woodlands, broad acres of arable or grazing land, a distinguished building and attractive gardens create an aesthetically irresistible ensemble. Many wealthy self-made men of business built new country houses along similar lines.

Horwood House

Eddie and George were invited to stay at  Horwood  House near the village of Little Horwood in Buckinghamshire. They had already played in the village hall but not at ‘the big house’. The mansion had been built in 1911 by the Irish millionaire pork and bacon magnate Sir Frederick Denny and his  wife  Maude. The motivation at Horwood was decidedly different from their aristocratic forebears. These houses were seldom conceived as a statement of authority, grandeur and power as were the Elizabethan or Palladian prodigy houses of the past. As Vita Sackville-West observed, the new aspired to be ‘essentially part of the country, not only in the country but part of it, a natural growth.* As much effort was directed towards varied plantings and inspired garden design as to the house itself. The distinguished gardener Percy Thrower, son of the house gardener Harry Thrower, was born there in 1913.

A walled garden at Horwood House

In a 1923 Country Life feature on the house, Christopher Hussey observed of Horwood: ‘the unity is wonderfully complete; the unity is one of genial simplicity.’ This emerging class was progressively being absorbed and accepted into the upper classes after the Great War and were increasingly attracted to artistic patronage as an indication of high cultural status. Eddie and George admirably fitted the position of ‘musicians in residence’ defined for them by the Dennys.

The etang from an upper room of Horwood House

The first glimpse of an English country house by a visitor from abroad is a sight never to be forgotten. In a letter to his sister  from Horwood, Eddie relates that one morning in April he was walking beside a formal étang or pool between clumps of daffodils and crocus. A  stand  of  tall elms led him to a flagged  path past a water-lily pond bordered by weathered brick walls and fruit trees. The path continued to a rugged field newly planted with elegant silver birch and rhododendrons. Beyond, he strolled into  a spinney and a wild bog garden over a rickety bridge and stream edged with reeds and spiky iris. Dew glistened on vibrant green fields studded with oaks in the middle distance. He reflected on the extraordinary twist of fate that had brought him to this point in his career in such a short space of time. He wondered how long his good fortune might last.

*V. Sackville-West, English Country Houses (London 1941), p. 7.

† Christopher Hussey (1899–1970) was one of the major authorities on British domestic architecture of his generation and in particular English gardens and landscape. His writings on the ethos and design of the English country house were outstanding and influential. Horwood House is now a conference hotel near Milton Keynes.

Frederick Denny had married Maude Marion Quilter (elder sister of the master of the English art song, Roger Quilter) in 1888. Born in 1868 and the eldest of seven children, she had grown up partly in Sydenham near Crystal Palace, the venue for numerous concerts and an area where many eminent English musicians of the time lived. This environment, together with a brother who became a famous composer, had sensitised her to the power of music and musicians. Roger Quilter’s biographer Valerie Langfield observed:

This was a family used to comforts, money, servants, a family that felt it had a reputation to develop and maintain. However, it was above all [her father] William Cuthbert Quilter’s autocratic outlook and philosophy that dominated the family.*

*Valerie Langfield, Roger Quilter: His Life and Music (Rochester 2002), p. 6.

Maude’s father, Sir William Cuthbert Quilter was a remarkable man: an MP, stockbroker and extraordinarily successful businessman who left an immense fortune when he died in 1911. He had built Bawdsey Manor on the Suffolk coast in 1886, a monumental farrago of architectural eclecticism (Victorian Tudor Revival) where Eddie frequently performed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Maud’s mother Mary Ann Quilter (née Bevington) came from a wealthy Quaker family which had established a leather business in London. Maude Denny was one of an emerging class of wealthy ‘new’ hostesses in London. She became Eddie’s most loyal patron for the numerous concert tours of England he made between the wars. His idea of musical ‘At Home’ recitals both in town and country establishments was taken up as a new fashion by many hostesses of the period much to Eddie’s financial and social satisfaction. In such country houses they met glamorous and theatrical artistic luminaries such as Dame Edith Evans*, Dame Clara Butt, Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Ellen Terry.

Maude Denny the gardens at Horwood House

*Dame Edith Evans (1888–1976) was an outstanding English stage and film actress. Her stage career spanned sixty years during which she played more than 100 roles. One of the most famous was the haughty Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

† Ellen Terry (1847–1928) was a beautiful English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain.

† Dame Clara Butt (1872–1936) was an English contralto, recitalist and concert singer. Her voice was unusually powerful and deep fitting the dominant ambience of the British Empire of the time. The Edwardian composer Elgar composed his famous Land of Hope and Glory for her.

‡ Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882–1976) was a great British actress who toured internationally in Shakespearean productions. The playwright Bernard Shaw wrote Saint Joan for her in which she starred with great success.

Like many of their patrons in London, Maude had a particular interest in Australia and Australians. She had been close to her exceptionally tall and authoritative brother Arnold Quilter, who had a distinguished military career. He was Rupert Brooke’s commanding officer. Quilter was cautioned by the Commander-in-Chief General Sir Ian Hamilton concerning Brooke: ‘Mind you take care of him. His loss would be a national loss.’ These warnings were to no avail as he was already ill, bitten on the lip in Cairo by the same type of virulent Egyptian mosquito that killed Lord Carnarvon following his discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Brooke finally succumbed to septicaemia on 23 April, 1915. Arnold Quilter was part of the burial party that made their way  to a small olive grove high on the island of Skyros where Brooke was buried in a grave lined with olive branches and aromatic sage. A fortnight later Arnold too lay dead on the grim shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. Her intense grief caused Maude Denny to take a more than a casual interest in matters Australian. She became tireless in the promotion of ‘her own two Australian boys’ Eddie and George.

* * *

The two musicians had spent Christmas 1924 and New Year 1925 in Paris. The city was an exciting and glamorous revelation. George studied French, corrected his enunciation and increased the many French songs already scattered throughout his programmes. Eddie established contact with one of the most outstanding  musicians  of the day, the Swiss-French pianist, pedagogue and Chopin interpreter extraordinaire, Alfred Cortot.

Alfred Cortot and the Chopin Etudes
Alfred Cortot cir. 1925 (The Piano Files)

‡ Alfred Cortot (1877–1962) was a Swiss-French pianist born at Nyon in the wine-growing district of Vaud on the shores of Lake Geneva. He was one of the most respected and inspiring performers and teachers of Romantic piano music, especially that of Chopin and Schumann. He continues to have an illustrious career even in death as he was among the last of the great age of ‘subjective interpretation’. His controversial support for Vichy France and the Nazis during the Second World War has been forgotten by today’s students of the instrument who are fascinated by his individualistic, intuitive and poetic interpretations. Notable pupils of Cortot included Vlado Perlemuter, Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Samson François – and Edward Cahill. Daniel Barenboim commented: ‘He always looked for the opium in music.’

Cortot’s methods were partly influenced by Tobias Matthay, so Eddie maintained muscular continuity in finger exercises and directives concerning posture. A favourite maxim for Cortot was ‘find the right gesture, and the passage will play itself’. He directed Eddie to work on his digital weaknesses using the manuscript of his as yet unpublished book Rational Principles of Pianoforte Technique. Cortot divided instrumental study firstly into psychological factors, which he felt to be a function of personality and taste, and secondly into physiological factors, such as the movement of the arms, hands and fingers. He conceived of the bulk of piano exercises in somewhat hyperbolic language:

‘…the problem of pianistic technique is seen wearing the terrific aspect of a hundred-headed hydra. My method demonstrates the vulnerability of the monster.’ *

Although not taken on as a full-time pupil, Eddie took a significant number of lessons from Alfred Cortot in Paris and on the Riviera. He realised that the Cortot Chopin and Schumann interpretations were visionary ‘despite the many wrong notes’.

Eddie and George stayed with the Dennys at Horwood through March and April of 1925, assembling suitable programmes, extending their repertoire and practising. In early May, when the household had moved to London for The Season, Eddie conceived the brilliant idea of hosting their own afternoon ‘At Home’ using Maud’s London residence at 73 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. Most of the houses in the street were still in private occupation at that time. Eddie was in his element.

Maude Denny’s London residence at 73 Grosvenor Street W1 where Eddie and George hosted their own ‘At Home’ in May 1925.
The house is now the London headquarters of Estée Lauder cosmetics.

‘Those clever Australian artists’ stood at the head of the heavy oak staircase and welcomed their many distinguished guests. The visitors passed into a double music room, one for the musicians and the other separated by an arch for the audience. George sang a number of duets with the soprano Miss Elsie Treweek.

*Alfred Cortot, Rational Principles of Piano Technique (Paris 1928), Foreword p. 1.

† Remarked in conversation with the author in Monaco in 1968.

‡ The house is now the London headquarters of Estée Lauder cosmetics.

Many in the audience who had not heard Eddie and George for some time were ‘delighted with the extension of their repertoire’. It was generally decided the Negro spiritual melodies and Maori songs were the most arresting music on the programme. The Quilter songs, which George had only recently studied, were accompanied by the composer and were also very popular.

Among the guests were the Duchess of St Albans*, the Dowager Marchioness of Dufferin  and  Ava,  the  Dowager  Marchioness  of Linlithgow, Lady Swaythling (who would become another adoring patron), Lady Weigall, Sir Edward Wallington, the song composer Madame Guy D’Hardelot, Mrs Neville Chamberlain and many other now forgotten members of the aristocracy. The British Australasian reported rather trivially

Tea had previously been served downstairs, and the table decorations of early blossoms conveyed a very refreshing breath of spring. The carnations everywhere, too, were a tribute to the garden at Horwood, Mrs Denny’s country house in Buckinghamshire, which is famed for its beauty.

The Sketch in a tone of patrician detachment observed that at the Chelsea Flower Show the ‘huge branched calceolaris used in the dining room’ were now considered acceptable in the best circles ‘…and don’t suggest the semi-detached villa in the least.’§ Society also desperately needed to know that Lady Quilter wore ‘a very attractive dress of the new dark powder-blue.’ There was no comment on the quality of the music performed. Eddie and George had rather thrust themselves almost exclusively into the midst of the older conservative British upper classes.

*Beatrix Beauclerk, Duchess of St Albans, Marchioness of Waterford (1877–1953), born Beatrix Frances Petty-FitzMaurice, was a daughter of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne and his wife, Maud.

† The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (1843–1936) was the wife of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (1826–1902) who was a distinguished Governor General of Canada (1872–78) and an outstanding Viceroy of India (1884–88).

‡ The fabulously wealthy Gladys Helen Rachel Montagu (née Goldsmid) Lady Swaythling (1879–1965) was a member of both the Goldsmith and Rothschild banking families. She was married to Louis Samuel Montagu, 2nd Baron Swaythling (1869–1927) who was a pre-eminent British Jew, financier, and political activist. He was the heir of Samuel Montagu, 1st Baron Swaythling, who had founded the bank Samuel Montagu & Co.

§ Gastrochilus calceolaris is a type of orchid endemic to the Philippines.

PP Instalment 8

Chapter 4

Bach and other fearful wildfowl

Eddie and George did not fall into a fit of the dismals at the lukewarm reviews, but courageously decided to take positive action and organise some serious music lessons. This was particularly challenging for Eddie as a mature pianist but rather less challenging for George. Although Eddie had been a child prodigy, astonishingly neither artist had had any significant degree of formal musical training and yet both had been hailed on their tours as among the finest of musicians. Eddie was now thirty-eight and George thirty- seven, although Eddie was extraordinarily youthful in appearance with an exuberant a personality that belied his age. He often fibbed about it, neatly subtracting a remarkable thirteen years in official but clearly unverified documents.* Like many Australian artists they were unprepared for the high standards and criticism of the London music critics.

* A true copy (No: 61189) of his Colony of Queensland Birth Certificate (Extracted 27 February 1962) certified by Registrar-General Timothy Francis de Sales Scott, confirms his Date of Birth as 10 November 1885 at Beenleigh.

Fortunately the letters of recommendation from Dame Nellie Melba opened distinguished musical doors. In May she had written to them personally from her sumptuously furnished house at 15 Mansfield Street W.1 The letter on elegant pale blue paper reads

May 30th 1923

Dear Mr Cahill,

I am writing this letter to wish you every success in England. It is always difficult for new-comers to begin, but I feel sure that once you get a chance you will make good, as you did in Australia.

Yours very truly

Nellie Melba

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is letter-from-nellie-melba-2.jpg
Letter from Nellie Melba May 30th 1923

She was seriously ill at the time and this letter indicates great generosity of spirit.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is melba-telegram-1922.jpg
Telegram of concert patronage from Dame Nellie Melba

Eddie managed to be accepted for  a  series  of  lessons  with  the great English pedagogue Tobias Matthay (1858-1945). He had already profitably encountered this method with Miss Roberts in Brisbane and was now an acolyte at the source. This teacher concentrated on tone production and touch, analysing the muscular minutiae of finger and arm movement involved with the pianist’s interaction with the keyboard. This was of great importance to Eddie as he had very small hands that could barely stretch an octave yet play much Liszt and Chopin with ease.

In the past many had marvelled at his authoritative performance of the Bach/Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. They were even illustrated in the Melbourne Table Talk journal in an article entitled ‘Hands and the Man – Can they Stretch an Octave?’ Like the hands of Chopin, when the physical need arose a remarkable flexibility of ligaments and muscles allowed his hands to stretch and open, uncannily resembling a snake swallowing a bird. He began to perfect a touch and tone of delicacy, evenness and velocity typical of the late nineteenth century school of pianism. Performance suggestions were offered by Matthay in a generous, kind and illuminating manner. His predominant maxim was ‘Never touch the piano without trying to make music.’

The inspiring piano pedagogue
Tobias Matthay (1858-1945)

George took advice in programming  and  also  lessons  in  voice production from the great English romantic art-song composer Roger Quilter.* Their meeting with his elder sister Mrs Frederick Denny was to be of incalculable consequence for their future London careers. He also managed to arrange lessons in London with the outstanding composer of romantic songs Guy  D’Hardelot.This was the nom de plume of the exotic Helen Rhodes (née Helen Guy) born of a French mother and English father in an ancient castle near Boulogne-Sur-Mer once lived in by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was also to play an important part in their forthcoming musical careers.

*Roger Quilter (1877–1953) was born in Hove in Sussex. This neurasthenic, fastidious but tremendously gifted English composer was born into an aristocratic family and, unusually for a composer, was educated at Eton. He attended the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt together with Percy Grainger and Cyril Scott. He was a prolific composer of the English romantic art song as well as orchestral music. He accompanied George Brooke at the piano on a number of occasions.

The great English art song composer Roger Quilter (1877–1953)

† Guy d’Hardelot (1858–1936) studied at the Paris Conservatoire and was much praised by Gounod and Massenet. The great French operatic soprano Emma Calvé did a great deal to popularize her songs. That rare creature, a woman composer of masterly refinement and form, she was cultivated and befriended by members of the English aristocracy such as Lady Diana Cooper. Her most famous love song Because has been recorded by all the great tenors from the dawn of recording.

Guy d'Hardelot - Wikipedia
The French song-writer Guy d’Hardelot (1858-1936)

However perhaps the most important teacher for George at this time was Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854-1931) who lived on the South Downs at Steyning in Sussex.* He was one of the last personal links with the romantic school of German Lieder composers – Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf – and the greatest concert tenor of his day. This magnificent singer was possessed of a noble style and wonderful Vortrag which powerfully moved the hearts of his listeners.He was also a great teacher with whom many well-known artists had studied.

Clara Schumann regarded him as a special exponent of her husband’s songs, and he was her guest for nearly a year at Frankfurt, studying and singing Robert Schumann’s songs, inspired by her wonderful playing and guided by her intimate knowledge of the music. This phase of study undoubtedly explains the insight Mühlen displayed in the interpretation of Schumann’s Lieder, not only from the vocal point of view, but in his feeling for the dynamic shading and inner meaning of the accompaniments. (‘How one remembers him saying, ‘No! No ! Kinder, that is not the way! Clara’s darling fingers would play it so,’ indicating the exact shading he required.’)

Raimund von zur-Mühlen - Wikipedia
Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854-1931)

Aristocratic circles in Berlin adored his Liederabend recitals. Bismarck, amid scenes of great enthusiasm, placed upon his brow a beautiful silver laurel wreath, inscribed with the words, ‘To the Prince of Singers, Raimund von Zur-Mühlen’.§ At one concert Brahms shouted: ‘Endlich, endlich habe ich meinen Sänger gefunden!’ (‘At last, at last, I have found my singer!’). Mühlen mainly concentrated on strengthening George’s upper voice without forcing the sound. The distinguished teacher had found Australian voices to be generally excellent. George was able to concentrate on interpretation from the outset.

* Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen (1854–1931) was born in what is now Viljandi in southern Estonia, formerly Fellin, a town belonging to the Hanseatic League.

Vortrag was the period style of the interpretation in question.

‡ From the extensive tribute upon his death by H. Arnold Smith ‘Baron Raimund von Zur-Mühlen: The Passing of a Great Artist’, The Musical Times, Vol. 73, No. 1070 (1 April 1932), pp. 316–20. A fine essay indeed.

§ The Musical Times.

The boys now worked hard at assembling programmes that achieved a rare balance between the seriously classical and the merely charming. Never trite, the collections of songs and piano pieces always reflected the innocent sensibility and sentiment that suffused music that preceded the Great War. They avoided the easy seductions, irresistible decadence and effortless wooing of the audience by jazz that was the contemporary rage.

Instead George chose to sing Negro spirituals, many of them refined works of art, which were received with admiration by all social classes. Many of the songs and piano pieces they chose were by now forgotten composers. Eddie and George regarded the musical discernment of Variety Theatre audiences with a respect they clearly appreciated.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is programme-victoria-palace-original.jpg
Original Cahill-Brooke Programme
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is programme-victoria-palace-2-original.jpg
Original Cahill-Brooke programme Victoria Palace Theatre

A newspaper debate erupted on their first appearance at the Victoria Palace in London. It was begun in the Sunday Times under the title Art and the Public by the acerbic and distinguished theatre critic and diarist James Agate. He posed a question and raised an issue:

How far must he [a musician] temper the wind of his artistry to a public, the marrow in whose bones may be supposed to freeze at the bare mention of the classics? Compromise is normally the solution. The artist prints on his programme Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabine [sic] and other fearful wildfowl. But there is no need for alarm … public taste is not so low as those who cater for it insist.*

He then turned to the performance of the two young Australians: ‘I have no doubt these two young artists were anxious to preserve their musical souls provided this was not at the expense of the audience … let me say here that they broke fewer promises than is customary.’ They had been recalled many times. He observed in his characteristic ironic style that the audience were as highly delighted by Eddie’s performance of the ‘enchanting’ Józef Wieniawski Valse de Concert in D-flat major ‘as if the pianist had blacked his face and banged out Back-back-back to  Mazawattee  to  the  accompaniment of hysterical saxophones.’ (James Agate in the Sunday Times). Clearly Agate remained singularly unimpressed by the current jazz madness sweeping London.

* James Agate, Sunday Times, August 1923. James Agate (1877–1947) was the supreme British diarist between the wars cast in the mould of Samuel Pepys. He was also a pungent theatre critic for the Manchester Guardian, the Sunday Times and the BBC. His diaries were published in nine volumes under the title Ego. He believed in chronicling the minutiae of life which he felt would outlive politics in future human interest. How right he was.

† Józef Wieniawski (1837–1912) was a child prodigy, pianist, composer for the piano and brother of the great violinist Henryk Wieniawski. They often performed together in concert. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, for three months with Franz Liszt in Weimar in 1855 and finally in Berlin from 1856–8. He taught and performed in Warsaw and Lublin until life became unbearable under Russian occupation whence he fled to Brussels with his wife and family where he died in 1912. This Valse de Concert was not popular with musical critics of the time but its infectious sparkle and melodic charm was tremendously popular with audiences. A good example of Eddie’s understanding of what contemporary audiences desired.

The theatre critic James Agate (1877–1947)

Eddie had failed to perform the promised Konzertstück by Weber. Agate, in a peculiar lapse of musical taste, did not regret this, but felt that their choice of songs was prosaic. He regretted the replacement of Maori songs and some promised songs by Roger Quilter with ‘more popular fare’. He felt this caution came from a significant underestimate of the tolerance of the music hall audience for the classics. One correspondent in this debate pointed out how a music hall performer needs to be ‘a psychologist of no mean order’ and carefully plan the sequence of the programme ‘so that the changes are rung from one number to another with the maximum of effect’.

James Agate was not a music but a theatre critic, an occupation which had brought him that particular evening to the Victoria Palace. A perceptive man, he had unwittingly touched upon the crux of their London dilemma. How could they earn a living against the stiff competition of the music hall and still develop    as serious classical musicians when confined to performing in popular venues? Most of their previous experience had been on the Australian popular vaudeville circuit. Their personalities and stage presence had flourished there. Agate concluded his article with a further question that shifted the blame from the performers to the organisers: ‘Is the taste of the public low? Perhaps. Is it as low as the managers of our theatres, music halls and picture palaces pretend? No! A thousand times no!’

Increasingly Eddie and George included classical music in their programmes even on the variety theatre circuit.  This  dilemma  goes a long way explaining why, when given  the  opportunity,  they assiduously cultivated the more lucrative and less musically compromising engagements offered by High Society. Chopin himself had cultivated the same social class upon his arrival in Paris in 1831. Eddie almost immediately attracted the same type of aristocratic female support in the London of a different age. They would not have long to wait for social and musical success of no small order.

* * *

The New Year celebrations of the momentous year of 1924 began with fireworks, champagne, the first Labour Government in history under Ramsay MacDonald and the suicide of the distiller Sir John Stewart in the baronial hall of Fingask Castle, Perthshire – the first of many suicides that year as more businesses began to fail. The Maharajah of Patiala took the entire fifth floor of the Savoy, over thirty-five suites of rooms and was reputed to wear underpants costing £200 a pair.* The great British Empire Exhibition was opened at Wembley by King George V and some ten million visitors would see this remarkable event before it closed. Fear of Bolshevism culminated in the forged Zinoviev letter scandal, which destroyed the government of Ramsay McDonald in October and brought the Conservative party to power with Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister.

* £200 in 1924 is the equivalent of £10,000 in 2020. Was the underwear woven with gold thread perhaps?

† The details of the fascinating story of the Zinoviev Letter is contained in Chester, Fay & Young, The Zinoviev Letter (London 1967).

One of Eddie’s favourite novels was published that year. Michael Arlen who described himself as ‘every other inch a gentleman’ published the ‘hard-boiled’ first modern bestseller The Green Hat. The heroine Iris Storm drives a matchless yellow Hispano-Suiza and shockingly for the time enjoys casual sex. With killing effrontery she comments ‘It is not good to have a pagan body and a Chiselhurst mind … hell for the body and terror for the mind.’

La Route d’Houlgate, Bibi with Mamie and the Chauffer, Jean, in her Hispano Suiza 32 HP, 1927 (Jacques-Henri Lartigue)
Michael Arlen in 1925 (NPG)

Change was certainly in the air. Next to America, Russia was the country that preoccupied the imagination of  Londoners  at this time. It is hard to overestimate the excitement caused by any arrival in London of the immortal Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Anna Pavlova - Ballerina, Dance & Death - Biography
Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)

To attract a wider audience for the 1924 London season directed by Serge Diaghilev, the electrifying Ballets Russes starred in a variety bill at the London Coliseum in a production of the ballet Le Train Bleu. A reporter wrote ‘It is as difficult to get a seat for ‘The Blue Train’ as it is to get a seat for the thing itself during the height of the Riviera rush.’

Ballets Russes' "Le Train Bleu" (1924). Library of Congres… | Flickr
Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes stage ‘Le Train Bleu’ 1924

Eddie and George adored this light and fluffy confection, a French modernist ballet which celebrates fashion yet criticizes superficiality, set in a chic French beach resort on the Côte d’Azur. Bathing  costumes,  tennis  and  golfing  outfits  were  designed  by ‘Coco’ Chanel, music by Darius Milhaud, a libretto by Jean Cocteau, the curtain painted by Picasso with the added attraction of charming acrobatic dancers.

This ‘sporting ballet’ for Les Poules and Les Gigolos was created for the 1924 Paris Olympics by Bronislava Nijinska (Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister) and was choreographed to show off the acrobatic prowess of the dancer Anton Dolin.

Le Train Bleu top image
Bronislava Nijinska and Anton Dolin in Le Train Bleu, performed by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, June 1924.

Diaghilev’s programme note is amusing: ‘The first point about Le Train Bleu is that there is no blue train in it. This being the age of speed, it already has reached its destination and disembarked its passengers.’* Everyone thought the ballet ‘perfection’. Harold Acton wrote: ‘one had to sit through the antics of jugglers, trick-cyclists and acrobats, before the curtain rose on a single ballet.’

‘The boys’ never lost sight of the fact they were essentially entertainers. There was no shame attached to performing at such popular, commercial venues in London in the 1920s.

Les costumes de Coco Chanel pour Le Train Bleu
Costumes by Coco Chanel for ‘Le Train Bleu’

˟ An excellent full account of the ballet and a modern production, New York Times Dance Feature, 4 March 1990.

† Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete (London 1948), p. 85.

The year 1924 was also a momentous one for Eddie Cahill and George Brooke. It began inauspiciously with  variety  theatre  performances  at  the raucous Empire Theatre Newcastle and the Empire Theatre Liverpool. The Liverpool Courier commented on Eddie’s playing: ‘He confined himself rather too much to the virtuosic branch of  his art. His accompaniments to Mr Brooke’s singing showed the more artistic player.’ Clearly achieving the right musical balance was proving a challenge in the rugged north. They then toured gentler Brighton, appearing at the Sunday Concerts at the Winter Garden, Bournemouth under Sir Dan Godfrey and at other south coast ‘watering places’ to far greater acclaim.

Bournemouth Winter Gardens Theatre around 1923
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 923aefdf9dd76c0cc21eaed1f910796c6d1a67f8
Bournemouth Winter Gardens theatre in 1924. The original building was a glass clad structure, similar to the Crystal Palace in London and home to the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra between 1895 and 1929.

Eddie had one curious interest seemingly at odds with being  a classical musician. He was interested in motor racing, had even done a little in Australia and arranged to visit the Brooklands circuit over Easter. He felt a connection between the two forms of risk- taking – one with Liszt at the limits of the keyboard concertizing and the other at the limits of a fast car on a race track. The adrenalin rush that resulted from the proximity of an accident, of danger, stimulated his rather neurotic temperament. A moth attracted to the flame.

Brooklands Museum |
A Napier-Railton airborne on the Brooklands Members’ Banking driven by John Cobb

The great golden age of sports car racing was flourishing in these years, although the track itself had been open since 1907.* In Australia the Cahill family loved the new Dirt Track motorcycle racing, in particular Eddie’s sister Elizabeth, an unlikely interest for an operatic soprano.This popular sport was begun by Australian farmers racing motorbikes around rough oval circuits in the early 1920s.

Cec O’Mara and Ben Unwin on their motorcycles at a Speedway race at Davies Park in Brisbane 1930 / Image courtesy: State Library of Queensland, Brisbane

‘Bessie’ had written to Eddie after reading about motorcycle racing at the new Brooklands track and suggested he should go while in London and report back to Beenleigh. After all, she had read that Brooklands attracted wealthy aristocrats and one never knew who Eddie might encounter.

20 May 1922, HRH The Duke of York pictured at Brooklands race meeting with motor cyclist
S.E. Wood.

In May 1922 HRH the Duke of York, mainly interested in motorbikes, had called a Brooklands Royal Meeting. ‘The Duke was greeted by the Earl of Athlone and a Persian carpet was laid out on the track when he arrived. The Duke had entered his chauffeur, S.E. Wood, riding a 350cc Douglas and a 988cc Trump-Azani. Brooklands racing at that time was organised along horse-racing lines. He wore the Duke’s colours (a scarlet jersey with blue stripes and sleeves like a jockey) but was unfortunately unplaced in his races.’

 Chitty Bang Bang IV, the 27 litre Higham Special at Brooklands This was an extreme racing car created by the Polish racing driver Count Louis Zborowski.

The car inspired Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang story. His son had complained to Fleming ‘Daddy, why do you love James Bond more than me?’ and this story was written as a ‘redemption present’

The car was renamed ‘Babs’ and modified by Godfrey Parry-Thomas who was killed on Pendine Sands attempting the land Speed Record in 1927
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is flapper-21-george-hoyningen-huene-colette-salomon-as-the-modern-woman-vogue-1927.jpg
Colette Salomon as ‘The Modern Woman’ – Vogue, 1927 (George Hoyningen-Huene)
1924 JCC 200 Mile Race. Brooklands, Great Britain (Print #18226671)
1924 JCC 200 Mile Race. on the Brooklands Members’ Banking September 1924.
Downton Abbey Backstory: Real Photos of 1920s Auto Racing | Time
A Brooklands race in the 1920s

Eddie attended the 1924 Easter Meeting where the Polish aristocrat Count Zborowski drove incredible aero-engined giants in battle, becoming airborne on the famous but uneven concrete banking.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chitty-bang-bang-1-at-brooklands-easter-meeting-1921.jpg
Count Louis Zborowski at Brooklands in his 23 litre Maybach aero-engined Chitty Bang Bang I

Zborowski pitted his monstrous 27-litre Higham Special against the 21.7-litre Fiat ‘Mephistopheles’ of Ernest Eldridge and ‘Le Champion’ driving the 20-litre Isotta-Maybach.

Higham Park - Wikipedia
Higham Park – the country seat of Count Louis Zborowski
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is zborowski-dinner-party.jpg
A glamorous ‘Roaring Twenties’ party at Count Louis Zborowski’s Higham Park 1922

˟ Brooklands had been built on land near Weybridge in Surrey by an early motoring enthusiast Hugh Locke King. It was the first purpose-built car racing circuit in the world. He finally decided on a 2¾ mile banked oval course 100 ft wide around his estate where British cars could be tested and raced. This vast and pioneering undertaking put his financial future into doubt but Brooklands became one of the most famous racing car circuits of all time.

† Elizabeth Moran (née Cahill, 1888–1963) was the author’s paternal grandmother. He well remembers her taking him as a young boy every weekend to the Brisbane Speedway to watch cinder track motorbike and Midget car racing. She was addicted to this unlikely sport and the smell of hot Castrol R oil. He still finds it exciting.

‡ David Venables, Brooklands: The Official Centenary History (Yeovil 2007), pp. 83–4. A brilliant illustrated book on the history of Brooklands covering the cars, motor-cycles and aircraft.

Society concerts continued to increase apace. They were asked to support many causes that might have led more thoughtful and politically committed artists to question the moral, even political implications of participation. In May,  Lady  Violet  Astor  ‘lent’  18 Carlton House Terrace  for Eddie and George to give the first  of many concerts to raise funds for the Southern Irish Loyalists’ Relief Association. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll*, had come especially to thank ‘Mr Cahill and Mr Brooke’ for ‘arranging such a delightful concert’. British loyalists were suffering in southern Ireland after the Irish War of Independence and the establishment of the Irish Free State at the end of 1922. Clearly Eddie with his Irish background felt his future concert career in High Society, a trajectory that implied support of the British ‘enemy’, was of far greater importance than the independence movement of his ancestral countrymen.

* HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848–1939) was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

PP Instalment 7

Chapter 4

Bach and other fearful wildfowl

They leave us – artists, singers, all

When London calls aloud,

Commanding to her Festival

The gifted crowd.

From overseas, and far away,

Come crowded ships and ships – ea, With scornful lips.

For Her, whose pleasure is her law, In vain the shy heart bleeds –

The Genius with the Iron jaw

Alone succeeds.

When London Calls, Victor Daley*

Cabin trunks marked ‘Wanted on Voyage’ were manhandled into their First Class cabin, the rest safely stowed in the bowels of the SS Naldera.

S. S. Naldera
This passenger liner entered service in April 1920 on the London-Bombay-Australia route

In January 1923 nearly all the Cahill family and many distinguished folk from Beenleigh made the long, dusty journey to Sydney to see them off to London. Their emotions were in turmoil as evidenced by many sleepless nights. This would be a true leap into the dark. England to most Australians of the time remained profoundly the far away ‘mother country’.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-10.png
Edward Cahill and George Brooke in Durban South Africa en route to London 1923                                                               

*Victor Daley (1858–1905) was an Australian poet who represented the ‘Celtic twilight’ school of poetry.

They were carrying letters of recommendation to many influential members of London Society. The bastions of correct form could not have been breached in any other way. One from Lady Stradbroke, wife of the Governor of Victoria, another from the Labor Premier of Queensland and one-time gold prospector, ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Recommendations came from the vaudeville performer Miss Ella Shields and Robert Courtneidge.* Finally the ultimate open sesame for any musical artist visiting London, a letter of recommendation from Dame Nellie Melba herself. ‘Better to be a lamppost in London than a star in Australia,’ she had waspishly commented when she heard them at Government House Adelaide in 1917. ‘You boys have the goods,’ she said in her most robust style. ‘Go to London where there is a market and sell them.’ Melba did not bequeath her patronage lightly.

Eddie and George arrived in London in February in the dark and damp cold of mid-winter. At last they could boast that they had ‘sauntered down the Strand’, the urgent goal of so many colonials visiting the capital for the first time. Clammy, atmospheric fog replaced the pure light of Australia. Passers-by materialized threateningly and were mysteriously absorbed into the gloom. Before they encountered the consolations of smart society, the climate convinced Eddie for some time that he had made a terrible mistake. Yet London in 1923 was a brilliant city. For two young Australians from a small country town it was a heart-stirring experience.

I looked at London, astonished by its size and by the millions of people in it. Could it be possible, I asked myself, that anyone would want to hear me play the piano. An unknown young man from a tiny place in Queensland. The idea was fantastic! Well, perhaps not quite so fantastic.

* * *

*Robert Courtneidge (1859–1939) was British theatrical manager-producer and playwright and father of the famous actress and comedienne Cicely Courtneidge (1893–1980).

Before the outbreak of the Great War, tensions in Europe  had risen to an explosive level. Her Highness Princess Marie Louise (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a later patron of Eddie and George) relates an extraordinary incident that took place when her second brother, Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein was sailing  on the Emperor’s yacht to Norway. She told Eddie of the bizarre incident and later related it in her memoirs:

Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein at Barn Hall (Print #14351197)
Prince Albert of Schleswig-Hostein (1869-1931) at Barn Hall 1910

I can say in perfect truth: the Emperor did not want the war… when the Emperor was shown the telegram sent to Serbia by Berchtold, he was terribly upset … when his agitation had calmed down he turned to my brother and said, ‘Abbie, let us go and wash the dogs’. So they retired to the Emperor’s cabin, took off their coats and scrubbed the dachshunds.*

Five years after the armistice, the English society into which Eddie and George had now moved was in a state of profound transition. Many members of the aristocracy and middle classes would never regain the luxurious standard of living they enjoyed before the war. However opera had returned to Covent Garden six months after the conclusion of the hostilities with a gala performance of Puccini’s La Bohème with Nellie Melba singing the part of the seamstress Mimi. The thousands of hated war profiteers who had avoided mud, rats, flies, corpses, mustard gas and shrapnel were now thriving in positions of power and influence. Sorrow had touched almost every family in the land. The distractions and escapist pleasures of cricket, football matches, the public house, the palais de danse as well as the variety theatre gradually became irresistible attractions. No one ever wanted to fight again. ‘The vulgar, disgraceful, over-fed, godless social order that we call Edwardian was finished.’

Eddie and George, using their influential letters of introduction, hoped to soon be frequenting High Society. The younger generation of aristocrats had been enthusiastic for war. The rhetoric of German ‘frightfulness’ (the killing of civilians) was an irresistible a goad to action. They had sped eagerly into battle and been slaughtered, blinded or otherwise maimed, their families later financially ruined by ‘super-tax’ and crippling death duties. One soldier of the British Expeditionary Force had written: ‘A lot of ships were needed to bring the British Army to France. Only two will be needed to take it back, one for the men and the other for the identity discs.’ Lady Diana Manners, considered the most beautiful woman of the age and a member of the ‘wildly avant-garde’ and ‘outrageous’ group known as ‘The Corrupt Coterie’ lost almost all the young men she had ever loved.

*Her Highness Princess Marie Louise, My Memories of Six Reigns (London 1956), p. 178.

† Kenneth Clark (Lord Clark of Civilisation) in Another Part of the Wood (London 1974), p. 41.

‡ Angela Lambert Unquiet Souls: The Indian Summer of the British Aristocracy (London 1984), p. 149.

As many young aristocratic women, Diana Manners, ‘the most beautiful woman in England’, was working as a nurse among the wounded in the frightful conditions of Guy’s Hospital in London. ‘Our pride was to be unafraid of words, unshocked by drink and unashamed of ‘decadence’ and gambling – Unlike-Other-People, I’m afraid.’* She was later to become one  of the most loyal patrons of Eddie’s recitals in both London and Paris. The war for Diana was ‘a gruesome soul-shattering end to the carefree life I knew.’

Diana Olivia Winifred Maud Cooper, Viscountess Norwich,
née Lady Diana Manners (1892-1986) ‘the most beautiful woman of the age’
(E.O. Hoppé (1878-1972) The famous German-born British photographer – 1916

However, on the surface life little appeared to have changed among the privileged classes. The London Season continued undiminished although the aristocracy were slowly abandoning their London mansions and retreating to the country. Lady Circumference comments in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall ‘Well, we all feel the wind a bit since the war.’ The aristocratic behaviour of society in London was being replaced by a type of louche New York café society. Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross, describes the changes:

In so far as the ‘twenties can be defined they were a period of change: from quails in aspic to eggs and bacon, from champagne to lager, from coal fires to electricity, from mansions to mansion flats, and from balls to cocktail parties; an age in the course of which peers became Socialists and Socialists became peers, actors and actresses tried to be ladies and gentlemen and ladies and gentlemen behaved like actors and actresses, novelists were men-about-town and men-about-town wrote novels, persons of rank became shopkeepers and shopkeepers drew persons of rank to their houses, the Speed King supplanted the Guards Officer as the beau idéal of modern woman and modern woman herself grew each day slimmer and slimmer – and slimmer … It was an age in which traditions of the old dovetailed into the ideas of the new.

* * *

At first Eddie and George stayed in a small hotel near Victoria Station before taking up residence in early spring at 26 Randolph Crescent, Maida Vale  in West London. Known as ‘Little Venice’ it is a unique combination of affluent white-stuccoed mansions, patio gardens and lush greenery reflected in the water of picturesque canals.

Randolph Terrace Maida Vale where Eddie lived during his First and Second UK Tours
1923 and 1927

*Diana Cooper, The Rainbow Comes and Goes (London 1959), p. 82. This volume of memoirs is one of the most moving personal accounts of the destruction by the Great War and the halcyon sunset days of aristocratic Edwardian England.

† Ibid., p. 112.

‡ Patrick Balfour, Lord Kinross, Society Racket (Tauchnitz Edition, Leipzig 1934), pp. 59–60.

The betrothal of the twenty-eight-year-old Prince Albert, Duke of York to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was announced shortly after they arrived. The Royal Wedding would be on 26 April 1923. One of the letters the boys were carrying was from Lady Stradbroke. It opened the doors to No. 7 Carlton House Terrace, the home of the Hon. Lady Herbert.* Although no longer young, this American hostess had married into a distinguished English family. From her drawing room overlooking The Mall, Eddie and George watched the plumed cavalry and splendid carriages of the wedding procession to Westminster Abbey. Here they were introduced to an assortment of fashionable hostesses and members of the aristocracy.

Massive crowds at the wedding

Later they lost themselves in the vast throng that greeted the royal couple who appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace beside the regal, almost austere figure of Queen Mary.

Balcony Scene. [Album RCIN: 2851033]
Three Royal generations on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York 26 April 1923. The Duke and Duchess of York (upper right), and three royal generations on the balcony at Buckingham Palace (lower right), Queen Alexandra on the far left, Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of York, and King George V on the far right.

The bride wore a medieval-style chiffon moiré wedding dress embroidered with silver thread and pearls and incorporating sleeves and train of Nottingham lace. Afterwards the happy couple left to spend their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey, country home of the Royal family’s intimate friend, Mrs Ronnie Greville.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon leaves her Mayfair home for her wedding to Prince Albert, Duke of York, the future King George VI.

‘Lilibet’ surprisingly  did not wear a tiara. The groom, known to the family as ‘Bertie’, wore dress uniform in blue-grey, that of a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon wears a gown by dressmaker Madame Handley-Seymour; Prince Albert wears his Royal Air Force uniform.

Another letter from Lady Stradbroke introduced them to the conspicuous Dowager Marchioness of Linlithgow. She invited them to a luncheon for ‘at least fifteen’ smart London hostesses and they left with seven engagements at one hundred guineas each. They could hardly believe their good fortune (100 guineas in 1923 was worth over £5000 at 2015 values).

Hersey Hope, Marchioness of Linlithgow - Wikipedia
Hersey Alice Hope, Marchioness of Linlithgow (1867-1937)

*The Hon. Lady Herbert (d. 1923) was born Leila ‘Belle’ Wilson, a New York heiress. In 1888 she had married Sir Michael Henry Herbert (1857–1903) who had been British Ambassador to the US in the final year of his life. She had the reputation of attempting to be more English than the English and represented the increasing society influence of a growing number of American London hostesses.

1935 painting of Wilton House by Rex Whistler (1905-1944) The South Façade is the location of the State Apartments created by James Wyatt in the early 19th century, replacing the 17th century arrangement of rooms by Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1665) and his assistant Isaac de Caux and later altered by John Webb (1611-1672)
Double Cube Room at Wilton House

Sir Michael came from a distinguished family whose seat was magnificent Wilton House near Salisbury in Wiltshire, arguably the most beautiful country house, gardens and grounds in England. Many English historical films have used scenes set in the famous Inigo Jones Double Cube Room at Wilton (Barry Lyndon, The Madness of King George, Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Brown, The Crown).

(Photos and captions of Wilton House courtesy of Victoria Hinshaw)

† Andrew Barrow, Gossip: A History of High Society from 1920 to 1970 (London 1978), p. 16.

‡ Hersey Alice Mullins, Marchioness of Linlithgow (1867–1937) was the wife of John Hope, 1st Marquess of Linlithgow (1860–1908) who, as the 7th Earl of Hopetoun, was the 8th Governor of Victoria (1889–95) and a highly controversial 1st Governor-General of Australia (1901–3). Lady Hopetoun’s private character was less formal than her public one. She was a keen angler, an expert horsewoman and an enthusiastic hunter. She was a crack shot, even though shooting was then considered an unusual activity for a woman and disapproved of by Queen Victoria. She was also a photographer and an artist in cartoons, caricatures and watercolours.

The year they arrived in England  was  eventful.  February  1923 saw the glories of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings revealed. In April some 200,000 fans packed the new Wembley Stadium for the first Wembley FA Cup Final. In politics May saw Bonar Law resign his brief premiership of less than a year and Stanley Baldwin appointed Prime Minister. In June the great racehorse Papyrus won the Derby and in July wives were allowed to petition for divorce. October witnessed Southern Rhodesia become a self-governing colony. ‘Popular’ music, the craze for jazz and the associated abandoned life style of drink, drugs and sex was emerging. John Cobb was racing a ten-litre Delage and Count Louis Zborowski his Chitty-Bang-Bang aero-engined monsters at Brooklands motor racing circuit. Many BBC regional stations began broadcasting and the first transatlantic radio broadcast between London and New York took place. The wireless celebrated its first birthday.

The contacts made at the royal wedding led to their first informal engagement. Before their official concert tour they provided a modest entertainment in aid of the District Nursing Association in the village of Great Horwood. This small concert in the village hall was arranged by a Mrs Frederick Denny of Horwood House, who had founded the association as part of her charitable works. ‘Such piano playing had never before been heard in the village … every piece was of course encored.’ observed the local reporter.

The impresario Frederick Shipman, who had arranged their Southeast Asian and Indian Tour, had organised various public engagements at variety theatres throughout England and Scotland. In the few months before their first appearance at the Alhambra in Glasgow they set about shopping for elegant clothes in Jermyn Street and spent a small fortune on costly silk top hats, detachable collars and cuffs, white tie, tails and morning suits, all de rigueur for formal London occasions. Eddie’s experience as a draper had given him impeccable taste in clothes. The gift of diamond cuff-links and shirt studs from the Maharajah of Jaipur could at last be put to good use. They wandered the teeming Caledonian Market in North London and were offered bowler hats, brass doctor’s plates and a skeleton in a box.

Attendance at the royal wedding also led to their first society appearance in April arranged by a mysterious Mrs Webster at 25 Tedworth Square, Chelsea.

View of the Chelsea Embankment 1923

Being merely ‘young colonials’ they felt particularly nervous performing before a distinguished collection of countesses, dowagers, duchesses, lords and their ladies. Eddie suffered from nerves and had a special mixture concocted in Soho supposedly to suppress stage fright. George was of a more sanguine temperament. They both harboured the undeserved Australian cultural inferiority complex faced with the English aristocracy, a common affliction in the early days of Federation, something not shed nationally until much later.

He knows that although his erudition may be sound, his clothes faultless, and his hands as clean as his linen – though he may have much knowledge, much tact, much eloquence, much refinement – his acceptance among the people who can trace their descent for a couple of centuries will be achieved in spite of, and in no way because of, the land of his birth.*

The Times review of the concert was not particularly encouraging, praising Eddie’s performance of Schumann’s Aufschwung but deciding the Chopin Nocturnes and Waltzes were not sufficiently cantabile. George’s lyric tenor voice was praised but not his selection of English art songs. The Morning Post felt they made ‘a favourable impression’ and ‘applauded some excellent singing and piano playing.’ This appearance led to other social engagements such as at the home of the fashionable Mrs Ernest Guinness wife of the Hon. Arthur Ernest Guinness who lived at Grosvenor Place. She is now best remembered as the mother of the ‘Golden Guinness Girls’, the brightest and most notorious of the ‘Bright Young People’ of the 1920s.

*Alfred Johnson Buchanan, The Real Australia (London 1907), p. 303.

1912 Portrait of the Hon. Mrs Ernest Guinness (1876-1949)
Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee (1853-1928)

†Her magnificent 1912 portrait by the eminent artist Sir Frank Dicksee expresses the confidence and opulence of the Edwardian era perhaps more than any other.

They opened their United Kingdom public season in one of the best-equipped theatres in Britain, the Alhambra Variety Theatre in Glasgow on 9 July 1923.*

A Watercolour of the Alhambra Theatre by Robert Eadie RSW from the cover of a 1928 Tatler Magazine
Stage of the A;hambra Theatre 1914

It was able to accommodate almost three thousand people and considered to be the most modern theatre in Britain. Specialising in variety shows, stars such as Harry Lauder, Cicely Courtneidge, Jessie Matthews and Ivor Novello had appeared there. The Australians received star billing. Two days before, the Weekly Record had revealed under the headline ‘Wizard Pianist’ that Eddie had ‘the smallest pair of hands among the world’s pianists’ and could barely stretch an octave. However they assured prospective audiences that once ‘the pocket Paderewski’ had arranged the piano stool to accommodate his diminutive stature ‘there is not one masterpiece in the world of music that will deter him’.

The heyday of the music hall and variety theatre was slowly fading after the Great War as the age of the cinema began to flourish. In November, a theatrical agent shot himself in the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome of St Paul’s, after his business had been ruined by the cinema. The greatest architect of those sumptuous Edwardian jewel-box interiors, Frank Matcham, had died in 1920. Many superb theatres were demolished. ‘The boys’ appeared twice nightly to disappointingly mixed reviews. Shortly after however as some compensation, they were warmly received in Birmingham at the Grand Music Hall.

*The Theatre opened in 1910 and was designed by architect, Sir John James Burnet. It was built on the site of the popular Waterloo Rooms, which had previously been Wellington Street Church. The name derives from association with the Moorish palace in Granada.

A marvelously detailed, truly fascinating illustrated history of this famous theatre :

* * *

Their London concert season that year began in grand style with their attendance in morning dress at an Afternoon Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on 26 July 1923. This was a charming affair with green and white striped refreshment tents and white marquees set out in the gardens of the palace with excellent tea and ‘cucumber sandwiches the size of a stamp and cake’ as Eddie noted. Various military bands provided festive entertainment as distinguished guests were formally presented to the King George and Queen Mary under an awning. Later the King and Queen wandered among the guests, stopping to chat briefly now and again.*

King George and Queen Mary in 1913
King George and Queen Mary at a Buckingham Palace Afternoon Party in 1913

After receiving such invitations so soon after his arrival in England, before long Eddie began to be driven by ambition and a degree of social snobbery. Although outwardly advocating the maintenance of a natural style without affectation and determined not to conceal his Australian accent, he began to fill an address book that by the end of his career in London would appear like a concise edition of Debrett’s.

Their modest London concert debut was held over the August bank holiday at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

An artist’s impression of Frank Matcham’s
Victoria Palace Theatre

The audience were enthusiastic, and ‘cooees’ mingled with the applause. Again the official reviews were mixed. Eddie was thought rather begrudgingly to ‘play the piano with plenty of skill if a little mechanically’. But the Daily Telegraph wrote ‘Edward Cahill is a pianist of unusual skill and talent, whose spirited playing delighted last night’s audience. He has a most delightful staccato touch.’ Concerning George, The Times had ‘Nothing but praise for his attractive voice’ although he was thought to be wasting his talent on ‘hackneyed songs’. The Pall Mall Gazette was more forthcoming: ‘Their reception after the performance was extraordinary; although they were called before the curtain several times the audience could not have enough of them, and actually stopped the following item in order to have a speech.’

*In the 1920s the Buckingham Palace garden parties (called at the time on the invitation ‘Afternoon Party’ were more pleasant, exclusive and far less crowded than today.

† ‘Cooee!’ is a shout used in the Australian bush to attract attention. Loud and piercing, it can carry over long distances. The word means ‘come here’ from the Dharug language spoken by the now extinct Aboriginal people from the Sydney area. One of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries entitled The Boscombe Valley Mystery is solved when Holmes recognizes ‘cooee’ is an Australian word.

For more on the famous Victoria Palace Theatre :

Their fiercely loyal housekeeper, a typical East End Londoner, attended this concert. She was sitting in the gallery.

Eddie’s diary relates her conversation:

‘They all loved yer!’

‘How do you know?’ asked Eddie

‘Well, I stood at the door comin’ out an’ I said ‘How’ed you like ‘em?’

‘We loved ‘em!’ they said.

‘They was lucky. If they ‘adnter, I’d a walloped ‘em!

This season was followed by appearances at the London Alhambra in Leicester Square.

The Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, London, at Night – William Thomas Wood (1877-1958)

Here they appeared alongside the Vaudeville-Revue artists Lee White and Clay Smith.*

A Great Revue Artist.- Miss Lee White, with Mr. Clay Smith. 1922.
A great Vaudeville-Revue Artist – Miss Lee White with Mr. Clay Smith 1922

Decorated in the Moorish style, the venue was ‘the most comfortable theatre in London’ according to Kenneth Clark of Civilisation. The London Morning Post referred to George’s voice ‘of almost honey sweetness and possesses the art of absolutely clear enunciation … They do not want to draw only the trained musician but to interest the casual lover of music. Consequently their repertoire consisted of both popular and classical numbers, drawn from the best sources. Their success was immediate.’

A season at the London Coliseum followed. The Star commented patriotically with fresh wounds clearly uppermost in their mind, appreciative of the war support shown by Australia:

Australia will be There’ was the song of the War, and last night, two Australian artists were there too – with a splendid reception. Both are admirable artists and were a big success.

They appeared alongside the great Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa.

Sessue Hayakawa - Wikipedia
Sessue Hayakawa

They also appeared at the celebrated London Palladium National Sunday League Concerts and also at the Boosey Ballad Concerts at the Albert Hall and the Queen’s Hall. Eddie reflected later in life that when he looked down at the audience of thousands from the stage of the vast Albert Hall he felt his heart almost bursting as his childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist had all come true. The National Sunday League concerts had been established, as the secretary Henry Mills stated, ‘generally to promote intellectual and Elevating Recreation on that Day’. The Daily Mail reported they were so enthusiastically received ‘they could scarcely leave the stage’. The critic further noted the growth of their astonishing popularity after having only spent a short time in England.

*Lee White (1886–1927) and Clay Smith (1885– ?) were an American husband-and-wife Vaudeville team. White and Smith, who are credited with giving Gertrude Lawrence her start in show business, at one time owned and operated London’s famous Strand Theatre.

† Clark, Another Part of the Wood, p. 72. He visited the Alhambra as a schoolboy to see a Diaghilev ballet after a painful session at the dentist.

‡ Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973) was a Samurai and a brilliant Japanese actor of both the silent film era and the talkies. In the late 1920s he was as well known as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. He was one of the highest paid stars of his time. Hayakawa is best known as Colonel Saito in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best Supporting Actor in 1957. This remarkable man was also a theatre actor, film producer and director, screenwriter, novelist, martial arts expert and ordained Zen Master.

Hollywood's Golden Age of Racism | Sojourners
In 1915, with the actress Fannie Ward, Hayakawa had the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Being unused to criticism of any significant kind on their concert tours of Australia, India or Southeast Asia, some of the less positive official reviews came as an unwelcome shock. In London Eddie had already attended a number of piano recitals by internationally famous pianists, something normally denied him in Australia. He heard the superb violinist Fritz Kreisler and the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski at the Albert Hall, both of whom he admired greatly. He managed with his persuasive charm to engage Paderewski’s agent, a Mr L.G. Sharp, to arrange a few suitable alternative venues for them. Because of his small stature Mr Sharp began to refer to him as ‘The Pocket Paderewski ‘, a nickname that stuck.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PAD_1933_Albert-Hall-The-Times.jpg
Ignacy Jan Paderewski on the stage of the Albert Hall in 1933

At the Queen’s Hall Eddie heard the almost forgotten but brilliant Ukrainian-born Russian pianist Leff Pouishnoff*, who specialized in Chopin. Pouishnoff had escaped the Bolsheviks during a concert tour of Persia and had arrived in England only a year before Eddie. His career had been suffocated by the Great War and the Russian Revolution, but after settling and performing in London he was greatly acclaimed. Eddie was influenced by Pouishnoff’s refined touch and sophisticated nuance, a technique in performing Chopin that never lapsed into effeminacy or sentimentality.

Leff Pouishnoff (1891-1959) by Margaret Marks, Lithograph 1942
Leff Pouishnoff (Piano) - Short Biography

He also greatly admired the famous Ukrainian-born pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch and naturally the Pole of genius Arthur Rubinstein, a pioneer of the modern performance aesthetic and only two years younger than Eddie. The remarkable but forgotten Belgian pianist and composer Arthur de Greef was also performing in London at that time. De Greef had studied in Weimar for two years with Franz Liszt. Eddie loved the sparkling, light elegance and charm of the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat major he heard.

File:Arthur de Greef portrait (5599697595).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
The Belgian pianist and composer Arthur de Greef (1862-1940)

Eddie, despite his great natural gifts, now realized that he must work and study harder than ever to make his mark as a serious concert artist. He must improve his technique and significantly enlarge his repertoire if he was to be noticed at all as a virtuoso pianist in the great capital. He now began to practise in earnest. He was worried that success seemed to have come rather late in life and that his Australian beginnings were a mixed blessing.

*Leff Pouishnoff (1891–1959), a pupil of the renowned pianist and teacher Annette Essipova, a pupil and subsequently wife of the great Polish pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky. In 1938 he was the first pianist to be televised.

Autograph / signature of the Russian pianist who specialised in Chopin, Leff  Pouishnoff. Dated June 1928. by POUISHNOFF, LEFF 1891-1959.: Very Good No  Binding Signed by Author(s) | David Strauss

PP Instalment 6

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-9.png
Edward Cahill (1885-1975) at the beginning of the India South-East Asian Tour

As the ship left Sarawak and crossed the Java Sea to their next engagement, plumes of ash billowed into the sky from volcanic craters along the ‘Ring of Fire’. The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party would soon berth at the port of Batavia (present day Jakarta), the capital of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) known ominously as the ‘Graveyard of Europeans’.

Batavia 1920 | Batavia, Cityscape, Chinatown

Javanese natives dressed in colourful batik caps and Dutch traders in white duck crowded the wharf. They were driven with their luggage by ‘fast’ motor coach a few miles to Weltevreden and the Hotel Des Indes.

The Dining Room at the Hotel des Indes

The entrance to this luxury establishment was alive with a flurry of red parasols and batik sarongs, motor vehicles, two-wheeled pony traps and bakeks, a type of rickshaw. They were checked into a private bungalow in the extensive grounds. Huge banyan trees (considered holy by the Javanese) grew in the front garden. Festooned with the tendrils of creepers, the branches were full of tiny chirruping birds. Both musicians had begun to feel the uncomfortable heat. ‘It is as if we are being slowly cooked!’ exclaimed Eddie.

Reviews of these concerts have not survived, but we know they performed in the hotel alongside the tremendously popular Mr Podinovsky’s Russian Quintet, which provided nightly dance music.

The tremendously popular Mr Podinovsky’s Russian Quintet, which provided nightly dance music.

They also performed at the Concordia Club and the Box Club. Eddie gave a successful recital including Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Schumann’s Aufschwung from the Fantasiestücke Op. 12, the second Novelette in D major, and the Staccato Caprice by the forgotten Austrian composer Max Vogrich.*

*Max Vogrich (1852–1916) was born in Hermannstadt, Transylvania (now Sibiu, Romania). A childhood prodigy, he was an acclaimed pianist by the age of 14. He studied in Leipzig under Carl Reinecke, Hans Richter, Moritz Hauptmann and Ignaz Moscheles, completing his studies in 1869. From 1870 to 1878 toured continental Europe, South America, and the United States. From 1882 to 1886 he toured and taught in Australia. He died in New York.

Max Vogrich Weimer 1908

His forgotten works include operas, an oratorio, cantatas, several masses, symphonies, violin and pianoforte concertos and sonatas besides duets, songs, and chamber music.

Probably as a result of years spent in the drapery at Beenleigh, Eddie always dressed in a dapper almost exhibitionist style. After the well-attended afternoon concert at the historic Harmonie  Club he spent some time shopping at Oger Frères, a fashionable gentlemen’s outfitters. Throughout his life Eddie would remain proud of his appearance, taking a perfectionist, almost a prissy care of details and vainly attempting to cultivate the wild mane of hair so characteristic of the ‘inspired virtuoso’. One evening they watched with fascination the traditional Wayang kulit or puppet theatre which had been erected in the hotel garden. For many hours human desires and destinies are acted out by the puppet master, the shadows being cast on a screen illuminated from behind. The drama is accompanied by a small gamelan orchestra*.

Wayang puppet theatre of Bali, Indonesia (Print #14227388). Cards
Wayang kulit puppet theatre with gamelan orchestra cir.1925
Inside the Puppet Box: A Performance Collection of Wayang Kulit at the  Museum of International Folk Art: Katz-Harris, Felicia: 9780295990743: Books
Modern Wayang kulit puppets
Wayang Kulit in Indonesia - Light and Shadow -
Modern Wayang kulit puppets in the shadow theatre

The train travel they had experienced during their concert tour of India had by now become a source of allure to both our artists. Java did not disappoint as they boarded the train to make the long, hot journey to Solo (Surakarta) in Central Java. The carriages were quite open for coolness, and native Javanese seemed to be hanging from every window and door. But these steam trains were fired by wood not coal. This meant that glowing cinders as well as smoke were constantly blown into the carriages burning holes in one’s clothing. It was now the end of May and the wet season had drawn to a close.

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Locomotief en trein van de Nederlands-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij TMnr 10014036.jpg
Locomotive and train of the Dutch Indies Railway Company, Java 1920

Java was divided into two royal capitals,  both  descended  from the Mataram kingdom: the Sultanate of  Yogyakarta  and  the Sultanate of Surakarta (Solo). Eddie and George had been invited to perform and also attend a gamelan concert and Wayang orang classical dance at the Palace of the Royal Court or Keraton Surakarta Hadiningrat at Solo in Central Java.

*A very particular musical ensemble of percussion instruments particular to Indonesia. Generally from the islands of Bali or Java it comprises a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, bamboo flutes and bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included. The tuning, rhythm, intervallic structure and notation of a gamelan orchestra is extraordinarily complex. Many of the greatest 20th century Western composers such as Olivier Messiaen were influenced by gamelan music.

Their host, Susuhunan (His Exalted Majesty) Pakubuwono X, wore a black cap with gold bands with what appeared to be a curious mixture of Western dinner jacket and an elegantly patterned batik sarong, slippers and a short sword decorated with flowers. Eddie wrote to his sister:

It is so strange to see this mixture of Eastern and European styles jumbled together! Decorations, waistcoat and sash, enormous rings, even a watch chain as we are used to in the West yet also wearing a gem-encrusted turban and jewelled slippers. His consort looked far less splendid. The peacock and the hen  in short!

Pakubuwono X - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Susuhunan (His Exalted Majesty) Pakubuwono X

The audience comprised Dutch administrators and ‘various aristocratic Javanese personages’. The concert was followed by traditional refreshments of spiced tea, coffee or chocolate with tiny sweet rice cakes sprinkled with coconut.

A gamelan orchestra of native musicians then assembled. They accompanied a Legong dance by two prepubescent female dancers in fabulously ornate gold costumes moving in a sort of trance as Eddie described it ‘like butterflies visiting flowers’, fluttering wide-open eyes, elegant fingers curving in arabesques and tiny intricate foot movements. There was also a chorus of male and female singers.

Balinese music and dance in the golden age of the 1920s
Image 1 - indonesia, BALI, Beautiful Native Djanger Dancers (1920s) Postcard
Legong Dancers Java 1920
Balinese dancers and gamelan orchestra 1920-36 | Indonesië, Indonesisch
Legong Dancers and percussion orchestra Bali 1920
Legong dancers | Old photos, Bali, Dancer
Legong Dancers Java 1920
nickyskye meanderings: Bali,Borneo in the 1910's, 1920's,1930's, 1940's,  wandering around the Tropenmuseum website
A beautiful Balinese face

He admired the extreme beauty of the male dancers who followed, their ravishing costumes, the gem emblazoned kris tied with a silk band to their waist, their smooth amber skin, the kohl-shadowed eyes that accentuated their noble profiles and the sensuality of their movement.

Sampih | garlic never sleeps
Balinese male dancers and gamelan orchestra cir.1920

After the concert Eddie and George left the palace in the cool of the late evening and wandered under the oil lamps that hung from the banyan trees. They were in a dream, feeling as if they had visited the enchanted realms of a fairy tale.

Their long tour was concluded. As they sailed back to Australia on SS Montoro in late November 1920, they watched fascinated as the distant volcano Mount Bromo spewed a huge plume of ash and pumice. Eddie’s taste for the glamorous luxuries of royal patronage was firmly established on this early, sublimely exotic voyage into the heart of India and Southeast Asia.

* * *

Their return to Beenleigh after so many months of epicurean delights and adulation could only have come as an anticlimax. The sumptuous gifts from their Asian journey that he proudly displayed made a great impression in provincial Beenleigh. Diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and ruby cuff-links were not a common sight in small Australian towns. The voyage had also deeply impressed him musically and would contribute to the development of his repertoire. He began to study Debussy’s Estampes (Prints) in particular the first, entitled Pagodes, with its evocation of the gamelan orchestras he had so recently heard.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gamelan-debussy.jpg
Claude Debussy and a gamelan orchestra

Debussy wrote:

Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play and if one listens to it without being prejudiced by one’s European ears, one will find a percussive charm that forces one to admit that our own music is not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus […] Javanese rhapsodies, which, instead of confining themselves in a traditional form, develop according to the fantasy of countless arabesques.

After being treated with oriental obsequiousness and acknowledged as a musical celebrity it was difficult for Eddie to accommodate to the harsh realities facing the state of Queensland in the early 1920s. The idea of an Australian Federation of States, which had come into force on 1 January 1901, had not been received enthusiastically by what was now defined as the ‘State’ of Queensland rather than the ‘Colony’. Many Australians had been traumatized by the sacrifices of the Great War, in particular the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. The Australian casualty rate after the Great War stood at almost sixty-five per cent, among the highest of any Empire country. At one and a quarter per cent of the population, almost every family had been affected including Eddie’s own. This volatile political mood was hardly conducive to the creative arts.

The pianist showed no interest in politics, the burgeoning Labor movement or the rise of Australian nationalism. Eddie was a confirmed aesthete. He was no tough farmer’s son facing flood and drought, the infestation of prickly pear, venomous snakes or the cane toad. He was never a real ‘cobber’. His diminutive stature and artistic temperament only sharpened his sense of being an outsider. ‘Only girls play the piano, mate!’ was contemptuously thrown at him on more than one occasion.

The state registers a highly masculinist culture, stemming from its penal origins and the pioneering of harsh terrain: rambunctious, brash, violent and larrikin. Women were shown their place … A land always hard like an anvil of survival; a climate in most weathers equatorial, capricious and punishing; and everything befitting living in extremis – the sharper chromacity, the inordinate lushness or barrenness of nature, the roar of insect noise, of cyclone and bushfire, the overbearing humidity and distance – monotonous limitless horizons of red, powdered earth, all drenched in blazing light. *

*Evans, A History of Queensland, p. 270.

The first concert appearance of Eddie and George in Australia after the India and Southeast Asian tour was in February  1921.  As part of a wide-ranging concert tour of the country they were billed with the variety vaudeville act known as ‘The Sparklers’ (songs, popular operatic arias, comedians and ballet) in Brisbane’s Palace Gardens Theatre. The audience was large and rather distinguished. The English Governor of Queensland, Sir Matthew Nathan, a soldier and civil servant attended, together with his ‘suite’ and the Labor Premier ‘Red Ted’  Theodore (a fierce Labor man) as well as the Mayor of Brisbane. The Brisbane Courier made a comment on Eddie’s performance of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 which illustrates how popular entertainment of the time teetered on the cusp of change from being simple entertainment to being appreciated as more musically serious.

Mr Cahill credited his listeners with an elevated musical taste … he exhibited originality of style without extravagance, and was polished without affectation … While he interprets the most classical works, he also contributes the more popular numbers, and thereby meets with the approval of audiences.

Eddie’s popular father died in May at a youthful 64 and was much lamented by the local community and his family. In November 1921 Eddie and George had luncheon at Government House in Melbourne with the ‘cheery-faced’ Governor of Victoria, George Rous, 3rd Earl of Stradbroke and his volatile and rather informal wife Countess Helena, Lady Stradbroke. They were able to renew their acquaintance with another guest at this luncheon, Dame Nellie Melba. The introductions they made at this social event were to be of the utmost importance to their future careers. Lady Stradbroke was to give them substantial patronage and letters of introduction before they travelled abroad.

Miss Helena Violet Alice Keith Fraser, later Countess of Stradbroke and wife of the 3rd earl of Stradbroke in Victorian fancy dress at the Devonshire House Ball 1897
Lady Stradbroke posed with bombs dropped on Henham Hall
Lady Stradbroke, formerly Helena Fraser and wife of George Rous, 3rd Earl of Stradbroke, pictured in nurse’s uniform at the family home of Henham Hall in Suffolk contemplating the bombs dropped by German aircraft in April 1915. 
Historic image of Stonnington Mansion
Stonnington Mansion (Government House, Melbourne) Residence of the Victorian Governor, George Edward John Mowbray Rous (1862-1947) 3rd Earl of Stradbroke
Lord Stradbroke saying goodbye to an officer of the guard of honour. 24 May 1926 – farewell to Victoria, Australia.

†George Edward Rous, 3rd. Earl of Stradbroke (1862–1947) was the 15th Governor of Victoria, Australia. Helena Violet Fraser (?–1949) was the daughter of Lt.-Gen. James Keith Fraser. She was one of Eddie’s most important patrons from the very beginning of his concert career. She married George Rous in 1898 and was created a DBE in 1927.

 After much deliberation on the grim  employment  prospects for them in Australia and encouraged by patrons and friends, Eddie and George finally decided to take that great leap into the unknown for colonial Australians – a passage to London. At the time most Australian musical artists of any talent were forced to travel abroad to study and gain experience. They announced that they had decided to leave Australia for London at the beginning of 1923.

Eddie always planned concerts with a high degree of marketing panache. For the beginning of the 1922 season he proposed an extended series of ‘Farewell Recitals’ around Australia and New Zealand. Using his personal charm and pianistic talents, Eddie throughout his career ruthlessly cultivated his social contacts particularly with the enthusiastic wives of distinguished citizens.

Their first ‘Farewell Concert’ was arranged in the Assembly Hall, Melbourne for 2 December 1921 under the patronage of the Lady Stradbroke and in the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.

Nellie Melba - Wikipedia
Nellie Melba (1861-1931) cir.1907

At  the Grand Opera House Wellington on the New Zealand leg of their farewell tour they appeared on the same programme as the great Ella Shields.* Shields was an American-born vaudeville star, a diminutive male impersonator whose first husband wrote her famous comic signature tune Burlington Bertie from Bow, ‘a study of genteel vagabondage from its best angle’. She was billed as ‘young and pretty with a lad-like figure, modestly controlled, and yet boyishly virile … [she] puts pep into the most jaded audience’. She also enthusiastically encouraged them to go to London.

Ella Shields
The male impersonator Ella Shields (1879-1952)
The male impersonator Ella Shields (1879-1952)

Eddie was becoming increasingly serious about music and tiring of the kaleidoscope of acts that appeared on their programmes. The variety might include ‘Harko’ the Comedy Cartoonist, ‘Togo’ the Miraculous Japanese with Sensations of the Orient, ‘Nancy Cook’ the Winsome English Soubrette with Handsome Frocks, a Dialect Comedian of Pantomime Fame. And yet the silent cinema and music hall had given Eddie a unique and extraordinary apprenticeship for becoming a serious classical pianist.

* Ella Shields (1879–1952).

†Julie Andrews performed this song with great panache in the 1968 movie Star directed by Robert Wise.

Colourful and rowdy audiences trained him to significantly project his personality, subdue his stage fright and carefully plan the entertainment content of his programs. The Sunday Sun reviewed a concert in Sydney at the Tivoli Theatre with the manly vigour of a Regency pugilist:

Edward Cahill, a pianist of quality, proved that he could get a half-Nelson on vaudeville patrons, and hold them enthralled. With Cahill was George Brooke, who sings with fervour, and will be the idol of many a matinee girl.

Their appearance at the Hibernian Hall in Cairns in August 1922 that was excitedly anticipated. The advertisement enthused:

‘Hear the Famous Australian Artists prior to Departure for London and Paris. Dame Nellie Melba wires: ‘Best Wishes for Success of the Tour’.

The two farewell concerts in September at the Theatre Royal in Rockhampton were extensively reviewed by the Morning Bulletin. The paper enthusiastically predicted that in his wonderfully varied program Eddie was ‘on the high road to considerable eminence as a pianist … [ with] the true touch of a master.’

Further concerts at the Tivoli Theatres in Melbourne and Sydney followed before their final embarkation for England and London. George was presented with a handsome tribute from the famous English contralto Dame Clara Butt. She considered him ‘the most artistic singer I have heard since coming to Australia’. Their voyage to ‘the Mecca of Music’ would take them some six weeks.

PP Instalment 5

Chapter 3

‘The East of the ancient navigators’

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were exhausted from their Indian tour as they again boarded the SS Montoro in Calcutta bound for a reappearance in Rangoon (Yangon), Bangkok and Singapore on the return voyage to Australia. The tour of India was reported to be one of the most successful ever attempted by Western classical musicians. They looked forward to resting on the  ship  in  the cool sea breezes. However the water was as still as glass, the sky leaden and the air oppressive. The listlessness, irritable moods and lack of sleep engendered in the deep tropics enervated them, yet Eddie enjoyed the sense of impermanence created by travel. It gave him a heightened sense of reality. George, a more grounded personality, often found himself irritated by the closeness and Eddie’s fluctuating moods.

Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon (Rangoon)

Rangoon. The heat, humidity and thunderstorms of May 1920. The opulent Golden or Shwedagon Pagoda nestled among the palms, its pinnacle dominating the skyline of the city from every angle. Somerset Maugham referred to it as the ‘sudden hope in the dark night of the soul’. Eddie wrote in his travel journal of the vibrant colours of the city, crammed to bursting with golden pagodas and Chinese temples:

I feel I have entered a sort of paradise. The Queensland coast is beautiful but the sense of the exotic East is very strong here.The air itself seems perfumed. How Debussy would have loved this place and painted it in impressionistic sound pictures! The refined Burmese dancing girls wear lilac, pink, green and lapis lazuli silks and ornaments. They have a natural elegance of carriage, graceful hand movements and seductiveness imitating mystical birds or guardian spirits, all moving in a manner as beautiful as a musical phrase.’

90 Amazing Myanmar ( Burma ) ideas | myanmar, burma, myanmar (burma)
Burmese (Myanmar) Dancers 1920

During the Calcutta season Josie Westaway had met an admirer, the dashing Captain H.A. Keywood. Unknown to the boys they had become secretly engaged during their appearances in Quetta in Balochistan (now Pakistan). Keywood ardently followed the party to Burma (Myanmar) where the couple were married in Rangoon in a small but picturesque ceremony.

Gymkhana Jive – Taj Mahal Foxtrot
Gymkhana Club Rangoon 1920

Reluctantly the happy party broke off touring the resplendent sights to prepare for the concerts at the Gymkhana Club. The Rangoon News wrote of their second concert: ‘Saturday night’s audience was larger and even more enthusiastic than that on Friday … Cahill showed his mastery of the instrument.’ Eddie and George slept on board ship for the few nights of their stay. They impatiently waited for the stevedores to load fuel, mail and supplies before sailing on to Singapore and a short season at the legendary Raffles Hotel. With the marriage and departure of the femme fatale their own relationship resumed its usual friendly course.

* * *

Although certainly no intellectual, Eddie had always been a great reader and was particularly fond of the novels of Joseph Conrad. Lazing in a deckchair on a rare sparklingly clear day at the beginning of the southwest monsoon of late May 1920, he marked a passage in a dog-eared copy of the narrative story Youth as they sailed close to the coastline of the Malay peninsula to take up their engagement at Raffles.

The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.*

*Joseph Conrad, Youth (London 1902) pp. 45–6.

When in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles signed a trade treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company, the current idea of Empire was rather more idealistic than our later corrupted perception of it.

He wrote:

If the time shall come when her empire shall have passed away, these monuments will endure when her triumphs shall have become an empty name.’*

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles remains one of the great symbols of British imperial colonial life and yet it was founded neither by Sir Stamford Raffles or any other British national. Four sharp entrepreneurial Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, recognized the trade potential of the port. They purchased the Raffles Girls’ Boarding School in Singapore to convert to a hotel. Raffles opened in 1887. Rudyard Kipling, an early distinguished guest, commented ‘the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad.’

In time the port of Singapore grew to become the seventh biggest in the world. Opium dens rubbed shoulders with luxury hotels. Between 1897 and 1899 Raffles was extensively renovated transforming the modest hotel into ‘The Savoy of Singapore’. Renaissance-style architecture with cool verandahs, a vast columnar dining room paved with Carrara marble, bronze statues and sweeping staircases illuminated by ‘decadent’ electric light. Fans circulated lazily although punkahwallahs were retained to foster an exotic Eastern atmosphere. Fortunately the last Singapore tiger had been shot under the billiard room in 1902.

Arriving at Raffles Hotel Singapore 1920

Eddie and George were collected from the ship by hotel jinricksha for their concert season. Their suite had its own sitting room, bedroom and dressing room with an attached bathroom and direct telephone, luxuries unheard of outside the great European capitals. They looked forward to ‘all the comforts of home’ with an English breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs or kippers followed by tea, toast and rough-cut Seville orange marmalade. Later in the day a tiffin would be served.

*Quoted in James Morris, Pax Britannica (London 1968) p. 154.

† A ‘coolie’ who moved a large hinged fan attached to the ceiling above the hotel guests via a pulley system. At Raffles they were operated with sublime lethargy by way of a string attached to the big toe.

‡ A light afternoon meal often of delicately curried dishes originating in British India.

The ‘Bright Young People’ of Singapore had begun to patronize Raffles in the 1920s and tea dances had become de rigueur. An orchestra played every night. The atmosphere of the city tended to the morally casual. In the exaggerated class-conscious atmosphere of the Straits Settlement, white tie and tails together with long   ball gowns were insisted upon even in the stifling humidity. Eddie and George with their vaudeville experience kept everyone entertained. They sweated through the night and failed to sleep in the afternoons. In competition with their classical repertoire, jazz was the predominant musical passion at Raffles.

The entertainment provided by the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party was particularly welcome in an atmosphere of colonial ennui. The sheer enthusiasm that greeted these two talented musicians, the relief from boredom they offered, comes as no great surprise. The Singapore Times wrote:

‘Because his name does not end with a ‘ski’ or a ‘vitch’ some people would think that Mr Cahill’s playing would not compare with that of the great foreign pianists but the pitch of enthusiasm aroused last night soon dispelled this idea. He is undoubtedly the best pianist heard in Singapore for many a rainy year.’

Eddie and George were a close team both emotionally and musically, discussing and noting accounts of the formidably eccentric colonial characters they encountered. Many distinguished writers were to paint literary portraits of such bizarre personalities. Somerset Maugham described the White man in Malaya as ‘a pale stranger who moves through all this reality like a being from another planet … they are bored with themselves, bored with one another.’*

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dr. P.V. van Stein Callenfels TMnr 10018797.jpg  - Wikimedia Commons
Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels

One such eccentric they encountered was a commanding figure who haunted the Raffles Bar of an evening. The archaeologist and anthropologist Professor Pieter van Stein Callenfels was a distinguished graduate of Leiden University.He was rumoured to have eaten human  flesh  when  living  among  the  cannibals of Sumatra. This giant of a man entered Raffles mythology by insisting on quarts of beer and consuming ten bottles of gin at breakfast. According to one report ‘his monstrous body heaved and shuddered like a shaken blancmange’. Arthur Conan Doyle modelled Professor Challenger on him in his novel The Lost World. Raffles was probably where Eddie also first made the

*Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (London 1949), Readers Union Edition, 1951, p. 169.

† Pieter van Stein Callenfels (1883–1938).

acquaintance of the notorious and glamorous Russian physician Dr Serge Voronoff who grafted monkey glands (thyroid and testicles) into humans in pursuit of the secret of eternal youth. Little did he realize at the time what an important role this mournful-looking individual, accompanied in the tropics by a statuesque young blonde, would play during his own declining years on the Côte d’Azur.*

Serge 001
Dr. Serge Voronoff

* * *

After this entertaining season of concerts the Cahill–Brooke Concert Party took passage in late May 1920 on a Danish freighter from Singapore to Bangkok. Officials in white ducks and solar topi leaned against the rails of the promenade deck, gazing vacantly out to sea. Siam (Thailand) had held its mysteries in the European imagination for centuries. Eddie was increasingly attracted to the high social status and luxurious lifestyle of the aristocratic audiences that patronized them in Southeast Asia. They had been summoned by His Majesty Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) to play Chopin and sing at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) in 1920 (1880–1925)
Coronation portrait of King Vajiravudh (Ram VI) on 11 November 1911. by RAMA  VI. | Krul Antiquarian Books
Coronation portrait Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (Thailand) (1880–1925).

As Crown Prince, Rama had led a remarkably cosmopolitan life, opening up his previously isolated country to foreign influence. He represented his father in Europe for the first time at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and subsequently at her funeral. He also attended the coronations of King Alfonso XIII of Spain as well as King Edward VII and his consort Queen Alexandra in England. He invited many crowned heads of Europe to his own coronation ceremony in 1911, the first time foreigners had been invited to any royal event in Siam.

Educated at Sandhurst and Christ Church Oxford he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club and read law and history. Unusually fascinated with the eighteenth-century history of Poland and the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin, in 1901 at the age of twenty he published the recondite volume The War of the Polish Succession.

In 1904 he temporarily became a monk according to Siamese tradition. After accession to the throne in 1910 he carried through many wide-ranging reforms, in the face of fierce opposition from the aristocracy.

*Ilsa Sharp, There is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (London 1981), pp. 101–3

† Vajiravudh Rama VI, King of Siam (1880–1925).

During the Great War this Anglophile brought Siam (Thailand) in on the side of the Allied Powers. He became effectively the father of modern Thai nationalism. A gifted writer and poet he produced modern novels, short stories and plays. He translated three Shakespeare plays into Thai – The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. After a remarkably colorful sex life and many tragic love affairs involving various marriages, broken engagements, concubines and homosexual lovers, he passed away in November 1925, a mere two hours after his only daughter was born. Such was the remarkable man for whom Eddie and George were to play and sing in private audience.

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

The exoticism of the palace and its opulent interiors were breathtaking. Tears formed in the eyes of the King as Eddie  played Chopin nocturnes on a fine English Broadwood grand. The nationalist spirit of the polonaises seemed to inspire the king with a curious fervour. He leant forward attentively on his throne at climactic moments. His love and knowledge of European music also became apparent as the unaccustomed harmonies of Schubert and Schumann songs filled the oriental space.

Their concert of undemanding classics was also very successful in the rather less august surroundings of the Bangkok Sports Club. George was singled out for particular praise by the Siam Observer: ‘We have never heard a tenor whose enunciation was so perfect  or who so manifestly sets himself to interpret the meaning, the spirit, the message of a song.’ Eddie’s charismatic personality was favourably commented on, but so too was the frightful state of the piano.

The clubhouse in around 1910
Royal Bangkok Sports Club around 1910

The Observer continued:

‘That he should attempt one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies for example, on a piano which seemed likely every minute to fall to pieces left one aghast; yet he scored perhaps his greatest triumph here. If Bangkok does not pack the halls at the remaining place, then it may be set down as a soulless place and a disgrace.’

Without complaint Eddie always dealt with the unpredictable instruments he often encountered.

Bangkok canals and Markets around 1920
Thai Dancers Bangkok c.1920

* * *

Eddie and George paced the deck of the steamer Kuching taking their morning constitutional. An early morning thunderstorm had cleared the air. The soft tropical sunrise over Sarawak revealed distant mountains framing a wide bay dotted with islands. Mount Santubong rose almost a thousand meters directly from the northern end of the bay. The two friends had almost recovered from their concert a few days earlier at the Jesselton Hotel in Jesselton (Kota Kinabalu), the capital of the West Coast Residency of the British Protectorate of North Borneo. They found the exoticism of the location tremendously exciting. The concert took place on the broad verandah among the British officials of the British North Borneo Company reclining on rattan chairs in white ducks sipping gin pahits.

The town of Jesselton. North Borneo c.1911

Western classical music was unexpectedly accompanied on instruments by hundreds of local Bajau people known generically as the ‘Sea Gypsies’. These native peoples, dressed in bright cloth and ornamented with seashells and turtle shell, had come ashore from their boats and were sitting on the grass outside the hotel. The men played drums while the women enthusiastically performed on suspended brass gongs and large wooden xylophones. They completely drowned out the romantic melodies of Chopin and gave Eddie moments of great hilarity. His inborn sense of Irish theatre played up to this ‘spontaneous madness’.The Liszt piano pieces and Maori songs attracted even more frantic beating on the drums and gongs. An unprecedented scene unfolded with dances, singing and general gaiety. The eruption of such wild spontaneity exhausted Eddie and George. ‘What a devilish racket but such fun! This is living! More please!’ Eddie noted in his journal.

* * *

Some weeks before, during one of the regular tea dances at Raffles in Singapore, Eddie and George had encountered HH the Ranee Sylvia Brooke *, daughter of Reginald Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher and the wife

*Sylvia Brooke née Brett (1885–1971)

† Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount Esher (1852–1930) ‘Reggie’ was an historian and Liberal politician. This rather modest description entirely belies the extraordinary ‘behind the scenes’ influence of this éminence grise on virtually every important aspect of British government and royal policy of the day. The marriage had its moments.

of the third and last White Rajah of Sarawak, Vyner Brooke*.This wild eccentric lady was slowly but surely building a reputation for cultivated outrageousness. In later life she adopted a flamboyant Hollywood-inspired social style, wrote books, painted, piloted wood and wire biplanes and led a Technicolor love life of outstanding mendacity. The popular press adored her.

File:Sylvia Brooke.jpg
Sylvia Leonora Brett (1885-1971)
Ranee of Sarawak (1917-1946)

Opinions could be mixed however as evidenced by two MPs sent from Westminster to sound out local opinion as to the possible cession of the Kingdom of Sarawak to Britain. The Labour MP D.R. Rees-Williams thought she had ‘brought  the  charm  of Mayfair to the Tropics and  some  of  the  exotic  perfume  of  the  Tropics to Mayfair.’ The Conservative MP David Gammans however objected to her dancing with prostitutes at the Cathay Cabaret in Kuching, remarking in a private memo to the Secretary of State: ‘She has these girls to the Palace and paints their pictures. A more undignified woman it would be hard to find.’ Sex in marriage she once described to her sister Doll ‘As an act it is both ridiculous and awkward, and I take a very poor view of it indeed.’ Despite her physical aversion to ‘the act’ three ‘dangerously beautiful’ Brooke daughters were produced during the marriage. They would add to their mother’s fitful lustre by marrying eight times between them including an earl, a band-leader and an all-in wrestler.

During the cocktail hour one evening Eddie and George had found themselves chatting animatedly to the  Ranee, lubricated by quite a few of the hotel’s notorious Singapore Slings, a drink invented by a Raffles’ barman, a Hainanese immigrant named Ngiam Tong Boon. They were tipsily attempting to trace a highly unlikely family connection via surnames between George Brooke and Vyner Brooke. When she learned of their coming concert in North Borneo and later heard them perform at the hotel, she insisted that they give a concert at the Astana Palace in Kuching, the capital of the Brooke’s jungle kingdom.

*Charles Vyner Brooke GCMG (1874–1963) the third and final White Rajah of Sarawak was born in London. His life is more than worthy of the wildest fiction.

† I am indebted for details of Sarawak and Sylvia to Philip Eade, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters (London 2007). The detailed history of the Kingdom, the relationship of Sylvia and Rajah Vyner Brooke and the antics of the rest of the remarkable Brooke family is chronicled in this hugely entertaining volume.

The Cahill–Brooke Concert Party thus found themselves on a tramp steamer sailing down the Malaysian coast of the South China Sea. Steaming up the Sarawak River towards the capital Kuching they passed small Dayak villages clinging to the muddy banks. Scattered groups of amber-skinned women and children stood motionless in the sea as the steamer passed, figures in a landscape of mangrove swamps, screeching monkeys and head-hunter’s jungle. Eddie and George were taken ashore to the landing stage by canoe. Sarawak in 1920 was a brilliant and entertaining British colonial anomaly. Originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei, it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke in 1842 as a reward for assisting the Sultan put down a local rebellion.*

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.png
Sir Charles Vyner de Windt Brooke; Sylvia Leonora (née Brett), Lady Brooke, Ranee of Sarawak
(National Portrait Gallery – Bassano)

As the first White Rajah, James ruled Sarawak as his personal kingdom and greatly increased the area under his control. However by May 1946, submerged in an intrigue of bureaucratic smoke and mirrors, Sarawak had become the last colonial possession to be acquired by Britain. The Astana, where Eddie and George were to perform, had been built by the acerbic second White Rajah, Charles Brooke. The Ranee Sylvia Brooke was musical and played the piano. Before her marriage she was the percussionist of the Grey Friars Orchestra, a band made up entirely of eligible young girls. This band had been cunningly formed by Margaret de Windt, the mother of the future Rajah, Vyner Brooke, in order to provide potential spouses for her three shy sons. The idea was successful.

The Astana, Sarawak, around the time of the Cahill-Brooke Party Concert 1920

*James Brooke (1803–1868) the first White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Benares, India. He never married. Like many adventurers associated with the British East India Company his actions in Sarawak were directed to expanding the British Empire, assisting the local people (by whom he was treated as a type of deity) in fighting piracy and slavery and expanding his own personal fortune in the process. Brooke features in much English literature including The White Rajah by Nicholas Monsarrat and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim as well as the Kipling short story ‘The Man Who Would be King’.

† Charles Brooke (1829–1917) the second White Rajah of Sarawak was born in Burnham, Somerset in England. He ruled Sarawak from 1868 until his death. He adopted similarly stern patrician values to his uncle James and improved the lot of the native peoples of the region and suppressed the passionate head-hunting activities of the Dayaks.

The Brookes had a unique relationship with the Dayak head-hunting chieftains and their people. Many hundreds of Dayaks assembled in the beautiful gardens of the Palace in the late afternoon before the concert. Vyner was a passionate gardener and the native people sat almost suffocated by the heady perfume of gardenias, tuberoses and frangipani. Again Chopin and Schubert were accompanied by brass knob gongs, xylophones and drums. Sadly, the Sarawak Gazette has left us no account or critical musical assessment of the concert. Can you imagine this extraordinary scene of an opposition of cultures in 1920 ? Eddie and George were not particularly dejected to leave the poor instruments and the disappointing rooms of the dilapidated Astana.

Ibu Dayak warrior headhunters from Longnawan, North Borneo
The Dayak Head Hunter from Kalimantan, In Search of the headhunting tribes  of Borneo – BE BORNEO
Gallery inside a Kayan Dayak house with skulls and weapons lining the wall
The shrunken, smoked heads of slain enemies (Photo circa 1912: Charles Hose)
Pin on RETRO
Shaven-headed Dayak bearing a spear with a parang hanging from his side

PP Instalment 4

Chapter 2

Of Maharajas and Palaces

By the end of March 1920 the weather was heating up to an uncomfortable degree and the company were pleased to learn that after an unnoticed concert they gave in New Delhi, their next point of call would be the cool, pleasure-loving hill station of Mussoorie.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of Mussoorie in Kim:

‘Who goes to the hills goes to his mother.’

Under the great ramp to Mussoorie he drew together as an old hunter faces a well-remembered bank, and where he should have sunk exhausted swung his long draperies about him, drew a deep double-lungful of diamond air, and walked as only a Hillman can. Kim, plains-bred and plains-fed, sweated and panted astonished.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-8.png
Edward Cahill during the South-East Asian Tour

As summer strengthened rendering the plains a sweltering crucible, the British, especially the women, fled the relentless heat like migrant birds. They settled in the clubs, hotels and rented houses of the hill stations of the Punjab from April to the end of June. Many single girls in optimistic and party mood were ‘fishing’ for a suitable aristocratic sun-burnished officer on leave when they made the two thousand metre ascent to beautiful Mussoorie, the ‘Queen of the Hills’. The husbands were abandoned to ‘do their lofty duty’ and baked on the plains while their wives adopted a young ‘bow-wow’ for the duration.* Mussoorie had a ‘rather naughty’ reputation for theatricals and loose moral behaviour. Here individualism was allowed a freer rein than the more famous and ‘proper’ Simla, the official summer capital ironically known as ‘The Abode of the Little Tin Gods’.

Mussoorie | Mussoorie, Tourist spots, Uttarakhand
Mussoorie 1920
The Mall, Mussoorie, 1920

The variety of its scenery and spectacular views marked it out from other hill stations. Mussoorie had two breweries, a polo field, a small golf course and at the glamorous centre of social gatherings, the Himalaya Club and the Happy Valley Club. Anglo–Indian bungalows, decorated with hanging baskets of sweet peas and geraniums, were named with nostalgic Englishness Holly Mount or Rosemary Cottage. At Stiffles Restaurant the tables overflowed onto the summer pavements. The restaurant had once catered for the visit of the Princess of Wales, later to become Queen Mary. Balls, dinners, theatricals and  tea  parties  attracted  all  manner  of respectable and louche aristocracy. Lovers languished in the exoticism of the East longing for leave. Maharajas built summer residences in the guise of French chateaux.

Maharaja of Kapurthala’s chateau (far left) seen from the gorge near Wild Flower Hall, Benares 1920
Kempty Falls, Mussoorie 1920

The Cahill-Brooke Concert Party were in great demand as by the early 1920s the hill station had become the epitome of the ‘roaring twenties’ in India. Dance teachers of German origin conducted classes on the finer points of ballroom dancing. After travelling by train from Delhi to Dehra Dún, the concert party were taken up the serpentine road to the main town by tonga. Fragile railings were the only barrier against terrifyingly precipitous drops. The first motorcar only managed to reach Mussoorie in 1920.

The Savoy Hotel – Agatha Christie used the circumstances of a murder here in her first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles

They stayed at the fashionable Savoy Hotel, a place with a certain ‘reputation’. The American writer Lowell Thomas, who spent several weeks with Lawrence of Arabia in the deserts of Palestine, visited Mussoorie in 1926 during his extensive travels in India. In his book The Land of the Black Pagoda he wrote of what became known as the ‘separation bell’ at the Savoy. He laconically observed:

‘There is a hotel in Mussoorie where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious get back to their own beds.’

*A ‘bow-wow’ was an admirer who with the greatest rectitude would do all those little tasks a colonial lady so often required – fetching, carrying, standing on attendance for wants and needs, dealing with Indian tradesmen, providing company and status at afternoon tea, balls, soirees and so on.

† A romantic horse-drawn carriage.

* * *

The parents of many British children were not sufficiently well   off to send them to public school in England. Mussoorie had an equable climate, crystalline air and was more easily accessible than many hill stations. As a result many fine boarding schools opened to satisfy this demand for education. The teachers were recruited in England and the first students were mainly the daughters of British officers.

Some music students and staff at the Woodstock School. Mussoorie

The concert party had been invited to perform at Woodstock School, which at that time functioned as a finishing school for well- bred young ladies. Since its foundation in 1854, excellence in music had been a priority and the students and their guests were highly appreciative of Eddie’s mastery of the piano.* The  programme was similar to others on the tour but Chopin’s so-called ‘Military’ Polonaise was a particular hit together with Liszt’s stirring Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Eddie was surprised at their depth of knowledge as they requested specific works by Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and even Borodin. George sang Grieg and Schubert songs as well as those of a more religious nature such as ‘Angels Guard Thee’ and ‘Song of Thanksgiving’. Throughout his life Eddie  preserved  great  enthusiasm  for  the talent of the rising generation. The musical education of the young was often at the forefront of his thoughts.

*Woodstock School continues to thrive. In 2021 it had around five hundred pupils from almost thirty different nationalities. It is considered one of the finest schools in India and its music department now has an almost legendary reputation for excellence.

He accompanied this recital with a short detailed talk on each composer and his inspiration in composing the piece. Vain certainly but never an egocentric performer, he cultivated a strong personal interaction with the audience.*

* * *

While wandering Bombay between their concert  engagements, the concert party had witnessed various street disturbances. They had been subject to mysterious personal taunts. They discovered these insults were the direct result of the turbulent atmosphere in the town of Amritsar, some three hundred kilometres distant. The reverberations of an atrocity that had recently occurred there destabilized the entire country and was the catalyst that began the disintegration of the British Empire in India.

The Golden Temple of Amritsar today

The reflection of a golden temple trembled in the breeze on the surface of the lake known as Sarovar (Holy Pool of Immortal Nectar). Turbaned Sikhs in scarlet robes sat cross-legged on carpets in the shade of spreading trees in contemplation and prayer. Eddie was rendered speechless by the sight. More thoughtfully he found it difficult to believe that only a year before, this holy city, the spiritual and cultural heart of the Sikh religion, had witnessed an unparalleled act of savagery.

As Herbert Asquith, former Prime Minister, put it to the Hunter Committee in 1920:

There has never been such an incident in the whole annals of Anglo–Indian history, nor, I believe, in the history of our Empire, from its very inception down to the present day.’

Mounting disorder in the Punjab had been fertilized by the passing of the notorious Rowlatt Act of March 1919 in response  to perceived threats of revolutionary  terrorism.  Suspects  could be imprisoned without trial or legal representation for up to two years. The spectre arose of a repeat of the vicious Indian Mutiny and Cawnpore Massacre of 1857, outrages that were deeply etched into the British imperial psyche.

*I am indebted to Ganesh Saili and his book Mussoorie Medley: Tales from Yesteryear (New Delhi 2010) for my descriptions of old Mussoorie. All the perfumes and spices of India erupted from the wrappers when I unpacked this book from the post in Warsaw.

Hansard: Punjab Disturbances. Lord Hunter’s Committee, HC Deb 8 July 1920, vol. 131.

Opinion | The Massacre That Led to the End of the British Empire - The New  York Times
Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer (1864-1927)

In the face of political activism in Amritsar, the officer in command of the area, the coercive and psychologically unbalanced Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, issued stringent proclamations against public meetings. Any assembly would be fired upon without warning, a proclamation ineffectively communicated to the populace at the time.

By April 1919 British civilians in Amritsar were being subjected to terrorist acts, looting and murders. On the evening of 13 April several thousand Indian men, women and children had assembled for a meeting in a walled open space of the town known as Jallianwalla Bagh. Dyer felt this group posed an unacceptable threat to law and order.

A convoy of Rolls Royce armoured cars believed to be near Peshawar in 1918

He arrived in his Rolls-Royce armoured car (unable to pass through the narrow entrance) together with a small body of carefully selected Gurkha and Pathan troops whom he knew felt little affection for Punjabi civilians. He lined his men up and without prior warning ordered them to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The firing continued uninterrupted for ten to fifteen minutes with panic-stricken knots of people wildly fleeing bullets, unable to escape in any numbers from the enclosed walled field. He ceased firing only when the ammunition ran out, leaving hundreds dead and perhaps a thousand or more wounded.

The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, months after the massacre.
The Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919, some months after the massacre

He subsequently imposed a curfew which effectively prevented recovery of the dead, dying and wounded. ‘I thought I would be doing a jolly lot of good and they would realize that they were not to be wicked,’ he commented during the official investigation of the incident. The effects of doing ‘my horrible, dirty duty’ (as Dyer put it when he was relieved of his post) can hardly be overestimated. Huge support was given to Dyer by the British in India, at home and by the Army. This compliance with such savagery alienated Indians previously respectful of British moral prestige. The atrocity galvanized Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. He remarked after the long drawn out official inquiry ‘We do not want to punish General Dyer; we have no desire for revenge; we want to change the system that produces General Dyers.’

‘The Golden Temple Amritsar’ by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

When Eddie and George arrived in Amritsar to give a concert barely a year later in April 1920, Dyer had just embarked for England in disgrace. A profound legacy of hatred remained and they were justifiably worried about appearing in such a light matter as a classical concert in these volatile surroundings. However exercising a degree of personal courage they ‘soldiered on’ and the evening performance passed off peacefully enough. Those British civilians and officers who attended said it was a welcome emotional release from the ‘trying times’ they were then experiencing.

* * *

A postcard of Jamrud Fort , Khyber Pass

Another long train journey followed through Rawalpindi to ancient Peshawar and the Jamrud Fort on the North-West Frontier at the entrance to the Khyber Pass that connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. While changing trains they noted with alarm a rough placard nailed up at Peshawar station. Eddie copied it into his notebook:

‘Active resistance will crush the viper’s head. Burn their offices, mutilate their railways and telegraphs, induce the police and Army to work with you and slay these dogs of Britain every – where you find them.’

They continued the short journey to the fort in a ‘blue funk’ as Eddie put it. He had read of the perennially imminent Russian threats to British India at this place, the ‘Great Game’ as it was known, but tried rather to concentrate on the music he would play, drumming his fingers on the dusty seat back of the railway carriage.

Khyber Pass Afghanistan/Pakistan -Train & Tunnel (Print #4405461)
Train emerging from a tunnel, Khyber Pass 1920

The line passed through awe-inspiring mountains, tunnels and over bridges and deep culverts. Fierce local Afghan tribesmen perched on the cowcatcher. Eagles swooped and at night the jackals howled. It is scarcely credible that a concert of European classical music was being given in this fortress during the Waziristan campaign surrounded by colourful caravanserai plying the Silk Road. The battered piano in the fort had not been tuned for years and Eddie finally abandoned his solo numbers leaving the floor mainly to George who sang stirring tunes to a gentle accompaniment. The officers and troops were delighted. The soprano Rita Erle had by this time returned to Australia, exhausted by the debilitating heat. Eddie and George continuing the tour as a double act.

* * *

Benares – Goddess Kali on Shiva – Kangra Painting (1800 – 1825)

The red tongue of the Hindu Goddess Kali sprang from her mouth in shame, the black female figure with flailing arms was surrounded by fire. Her powerful eyes skewered one’s heart as she stood on the indigo body of her husband, the Hindu deity Shiva. The image wore a necklace of skulls. The street down which Eddie was walking contained this forbidding mural, a dark and narrow alley littered with refuse and reeking of ordure, dissolution, death and decay yet the nearby bazaars teemed with life and colour. Bright stalls sold a riot of mortuary paraphernalia. Pilgrims wearing perfumed garlands of flowers prayed at tiny wayside shrines or passed in crowded knots seeming to flow like the tide towards the banks of the Ganges, like tributaries of the great river itself. Ascetic holy men (sadhus) were covered in ash with matted, dusty, hennaed locks, long beards and fierce expressions.

A sadhu (ascetic holy man) in Benares (Varanasi)1910
Benares (Varanasi) 1922

By early May 1920 the Cahill-Brooke Concert Party had reached Kashi (Benares or modern Varanasi) the spiritual capital of India, a city associated with death and its transcendence. They had travelled by train for days on the East Indian Railway from Bombay, some 1600 kilometres. This ancient site has produced great writers, thinkers, philosophers and a remarkable school of music, a city famous for its woven cloths and ornate silks. The British writer, photographer and painter Richard Lannoy describes it ‘a state of mind’ rather than a place. The Maharaja of Benares would be their host and they would play Western classical music for him.

Benares (Varanasi) – Ghats 1920

Eddie Cahill was a concert pianist but also a man possessed of  a passion for exploration and insatiably curious about unfamiliar cultures. He drifted through the pungent haze that lay over the city, clambering  down  myriad  steps  through  dizzying  levels  of complexity, passing ornately carved pinnacles of blackened temples, terraces, the bastions of palaces, arcaded blocks, cracked platforms, crumbling walls of brick, pyramids, domes, patios and hanging gardens with withering plants, desiccated leaves fluttering onto filigreed cast-iron balconies. Large grey monkeys skipped about.

Feeding the ‘sacred’ monkeys – Benares (Varanasi)
Bathing Ghats – Benares (Varanasi) – Ganges 1918

Suddenly the Ganges, the colour of old gold, lay before him. Beneath the terraces at the water’s edge a panoply of tattered woven leaf parasols sheltered bathers and Brahmins from the sun. On platforms over the water, men exercised in incredible postures or swung heavy batons. Temple bells mixed with chattering voices. The colours of draped cloth – yellow, mauve, saffron and green – radiated a festive atmosphere of a floral display while clouds of pigeons whirled in spirals. There was a solemnity, even nobility, in the draped figures of women carrying polished brass pots glittering in the sunlight.

‘On The Ganges River, Benares’ (Varanasi) by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

Early one morning Eddie and George took a boat and glided down the Ganges at sunrise. The entire river bank was thronged with bathers and the river itself dotted with boatmen disposing of remains or ashes. An occasional corpse or dead dog floated past. The water was clearly polluted yet the pilgrims drank of it to purify themselves, believing it miraculous. The panorama reminded Eddie of Arcadian classical paintings by Poussin or Claude, Carthage in ruins. In the evening the shore was lit fitfully with oases of light. These were the Burning Ghats* of Kashi, the most exalted of them being the Ghat of Manikarnika.

The Burning Ghat of Manikarnika near Benares
Benares (Varanasi) Burning Ghats

In a mental state bordering on horror they saw wooden biers, shrouded bodies roped to them then immersed in the Ganges and allowed to dry. A pyre of selected woods was constructed, the body reverently placed upon it and lit with a flaming torch after incantations had been intoned. Waves of heat and smoke carrying the sound and smell of flames devouring flesh rose to the visitors’ viewing towers where they stood. Funeral priests moved through the haze like phantoms, striking the corpses with batons. Eddie was aghast to hear the cracking of the skull with a bamboo pole, to release the soul. They watched the compelling scene with fascination, their inexperienced natures stunned by the sight.

Ramnagar Fort Benares (Varanasi) around 1920

Eddie and George were to perform at the magnificent eighteenth-century Ramnagar Fort before HH Maharajadhiraja Sri Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur and his guests. He had been created Maharaja of Benares of the  new  Princely  State  by  the  British in 1911 and had been granted a personal salute of 15 guns. This imposing and exotic red sandstone confection of Hindu and Islamic architecture is situated some fourteen kilometers from Varanasi  on the opposite bank of the river. Monumental walls and bastions reminiscent of crusader castles line the river front. Airy open formal courtyards, fountains and carved arcades adorn the interior spaces.

Prabhu Narayan Singh, Maharaja of Benares (1855-1931) 1903 before whom Eddie and George performed

Chopin was historically performed before the Maharaja for the first recorded time

*A ghat is a defined length of river frontage between some 30–200 yards long. Most are in the form of terraces of steps leading down to the River Ganges. The ‘Burning Ghats’ are those where corpses are cremated.

†Lt. Colonel HH Maharajadhiraja Kashi Naresh Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur (1855–1931).

The Maharaja lavished gifts of diamond-encrusted cigarette cases and diamond cuff links upon them and placed his magnificent Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at their disposal. Early motoring in India was a dramatic activity as they discovered en route to their concert. As the car made its stately progress past bullock carts, their occupants tumbled out in fear onto the road, the animals plunging into nearby ditches at the manic blowing of its klaxon. The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ wafted past sacred cows and elephants, supplicants before wayside altars, screaming children and colourfully turbaned pilgrims. Dogs fearlessly charged the car head on emerging unscathed from beneath barking wildly in the choking dust. One of the British guests, a Deputy Collector, told them of an elderly Indian woman walking in the middle of the road who was run over and killed by a speeding car carrying the Nizam Mahbub Ali Pasha of Hyderabad. His Highness being troubled by the event sent a generous gift to the family. Observers noticed that from then on whenever the Nizam went driving the road suddenly filled with the elderly poor placed there by impecunious and optimistic relatives.

Thank you Letter from the Maharaja of Benares

The concert was a great success and an historic occasion. They performed in the opulent Durbar Hall within the Maharajah’s palace, a room lined with precious marbles, brocades of silver  and gold, inlaid ivory furniture, a sandalwood throne, crystal chandeliers and tiger skins. For the first time in the history of the palace Eddie performed Chopin (the first time his music had been performed for a Maharaja), Liszt, Beethoven and Chaminade whilst George sang Schubert and Brahms Lieder, English art songs as well as Negro spirituals. A Hindustani late-night raga native to Benares was movingly performed on the sarod, mridangam and tabla at the conclusion of their concert