Authors: Marguerite Kaye
Step behind the hotel room doors of The Chatsfield, London…
The first time the doors open on London’s newest hotel – The Chatsfield - disillusioned soldier Justin York expects to be bored by the wealth and glamour on display. Instead he’s entranced by the star of the show – socialite Miss Vera Milton-Kerr… Vera’s felt nothing but ice in her veins since The Great War, but Justin’s dark-eyed gaze has her burning up!
With a key to The Chatsfield’s legendary Dream Suite, he offers her one night only… Resisting their chemistry is impossible, but hoping for more than one frenzied night is Vera’s biggest risk of all!
The Couple in the Dream Suite
As far as I know, there’s never been a gossip columnist called Cordelia Confidential, but the 1920s did see the beginnings of this feature in the main popular newspapers, and I based mine on an excerpt from the
published around about the same time. Some of the party goers Cordelia mentions in the article which opens this story were real people. Lady Eleanor Smith, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Zita and Baby Jungman, are credited by D J Taylor
as some of the original
Bright Young Things
whose story is told in his excellent book of the same name. Charlie Chaplin was a superstar by 1921, though he didn’t actually visit London until September of that year, and to be honest, I’ve no idea at all where Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford really were when I added them to the Chatsfield’s illustrious guest list – they were just married a few weeks earlier.
While there are a number of newspapers called
The People’s Tribune
published currently, to my knowledge there was none in circulation when Red Lancaster wrote his articles for them. He is entirely my own invention, though his rhetoric is my very small tribute to JB Priestley’s English Journey, which was published in 1933.
There has recently been some debate about the ‘true’ state of the economy in the immediate post-war years, with the extent of the depression, and the impact of unemployment being questioned by some economic historians. The unemployment figures quoted in Red’s article are, however, factual, and what matters to me, in this book, is the perception of how things were at the time. There was a growing and significant amount of industrial unrest. Britain was no longer the great industrial power it had once been. Growth was slow. ‘Real’ wages were falling. Conditions, for the majority of the working-class, were abominable – and you only have to read Priestly to get a taste of this, a decade later.
Which does not mean that the Great War changed nothing – I’ve touched on some of those very significant changes in my World War I trilogy,
Never Forget Me.
And to end on a positive note, I’d like to think that in the 1922 General Election, Justin Yorke, aided by his wife Vera (who, if she’d had her thirtieth birthday by then, would have been a voter for the first time) would become one of the newly-elected MPs. I’d like to think that Justin and Vera’s happy ever after really did allow them to make a difference.
It’s the place everyone’s talking about, and it’s where everybody who is anybody will be – including yours truly!
Mr DAVID CHATSFIELD’S brand new hotel in Mayfair will open tonight with what promises to be the party of the Season. The smart set, who need no introduction from me, will be there: LADY ELEANOR SMITH, Miss ELIZABETH PONSONBY, and of course the Misses ZITA and BABY JUNGMAN with their eponymous escorts, to name but a few. The world of the silver screen will be represented by the nation’s favourite tramp, Mr CHARLIE CHAPLIN, and that golden couple, Miss MARY PICKFORD and Mr DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS.
So what’s in store for us beside oodles of champagne? A selection of dishes designed to tempt the most jaded of palettes will be served in the Chatsfield’s white and gold dining room, which has been designed to resemble a wedding cake. The hotel’s foyer, resplendent with Romanesque arches and pillars, will be set up to provide guests with entertainment, including some songs written especially for the occasion by Mr NOEL COWARD.
Rumour has it that the very beautiful Miss VERA MILTON-KERR will be celebrating the occasion with a unique and strictly one-off appearance on stage. Miss Milton-Kerr, as regular readers of this column will know, is the long-term glamorous companion of one of London’s most eligible bachelors, Mr DEXTER MAXWELL. Will Mr Maxwell use this auspicious occasion to make their relationship official? If so, you can guarantee that you’ll hear it from me first.
Dancing at the Chatsfield Hotel will take place in the Mirror Ballroom, and will without a shadow of a doubt go on until dawn, so it’s just as well that yours truly has invested in a new pair of slippers. Then into the wee small hours? Well, I’m not one to gossip, but the hotel boasts a number of extravagant suites, each with their own unique style. As to who will have the honour of occupying that most decadent of all, the Dream Suite? Darlings, just watch this space!
, 29 April 1921
It’s no longer the done thing, I’m told, to talk about the War. A new generation of the elite, those privileged few with wealth and power, want us to put those bleak years behind us. If one were to believe the gossip columns in the popular press, the only thing this new generation are interested in is partying all night and sleeping all day.
Is this true? I hope not.
In February unemployment exceeded one million. The chances are that it will top two million by the summer. The current miners’ strike is only one of a record number of pay disputes going on all across Britain. Our country is no longer a green and pleasant land, but a land of mass unemployment and mass misery. Too many families who sacrificed their fathers, husbands and sons to the Great War have been rewarded with the humiliation of the dole.
We have been wounded, as a people and a nation, by that War to end all Wars. Until we can reward those who fought in the trenches with a better world, with that simplest of things, a decent wage for a decent day’s work, we cannot forget. We must never forget.
The People’s Tribune
, 29 April 1921
The foyer at the Chatsfield Hotel was how Justin Yorke imagined the vestibule of a huge Roman villa would be. One enormous gallery, divided into three spaces by two sets of arches and pillars. Though the floors were not tessellated, each one was set with an ornate marble pattern, black and white cheques leading to blue and cream diamonds, leading to brown and red-veined modernistic swirls. The fountain of champagne glasses stacked six tiers high was set up in the first space, the entrance to the hotel, where the privileged guests would register for their privileged suites. They would be taken there in the gilded lift with its plush red seats, for heaven forfend they have to stand for the few minutes it took to climb to their privileged heights. In the meantime, their mountains of luggage would be hoisted up the back stairs by some poor soul sweating in a preposterous outfit that no doubt reminded him of the uniform he’d left off in the fields of France a few years before.
Justin metaphorically rolled his eyes. Five minutes he’d been here, and he was already on his high horse. The point was not to judge, but to observe. Maybe even do as Dex bid him, and try to remember how to enjoy himself. Maybe.
The stage was set up in the space between the two sets of colonnades. Where future guests would take afternoon tea, there was a crush of night-club style tables for the audience. Soft wall lights were shaded by plaster fans and scallop shells. The air was heady with the scent of hothouse flowers, perfume, powder and too many bodies. A haze of cigarette smoke curled around the huge chandelier that formed its own galaxy of stars in the centre of the room. Almost every woman present puffed from a long cigarette holder. Smoking was no longer improper, merely shocking, and shocking was
these days. It was not only faces that were powdered but knees too. Lips were painted. Eyes were heavily underlined. Hemlines were rising.
Before the War, Justin would have been part of the crowd, dancing, laughing, drinking and rutting from dusk till dawn. Looking around the room, at the couture dresses, the silks and satins and diamonds and furs, at the sleek, the too-well-fed and deliberately under-fed, the rich, the famous and the elite that he’d been born into, gone to school with and served with, reminded him that he had everything and nothing in common with them. It made him uncomfortable. Was he a hypocrite? Given the choice, wouldn’t almost everyone do what they were doing? Would it really make a difference if they stayed at home and vented their spleen as he did? He doubted it. All very well to despise them in theory, but pretty much impossible in practice. It wasn’t the party-goers who were in the wrong, but the world.
The piano at which Noel Coward had sat was being moved to one side. The man really did have the rapier-like wit they all talked about, and the ability to lampoon without turning the crowd against him. Perhaps it was because Coward was one of them, laughing at himself as much as his audience. While Justin…
He sighed impatiently. He had no idea what he was doing. A sense of hopelessness enveloped him. He wished to hell he’d stayed away. He didn’t belong here anymore, but it brought home to him the fact he no longer belonged anywhere. Was he lonely? He hadn’t considered this before. He was certainly feeling very much alone tonight.
‘Here, old boy, get this down you.’ Dex removed the untouched glass of champagne, substituting it with a tumbler of amber liquor. ‘Scotch,’ he added, ‘plain enough, even for you. Drink up, and just for once try to relax.’
Justin grimaced. ‘Sorry. Am I such a pain in the backside? No, don’t answer that,’ he said, grinning. ‘To the Chatsfield. May it become all the rage.’
Dex raised his glass. ‘Oh, I expect that’s already determined, with David Chatsfield in charge. You don’t fool me you know. You’re wishing the place would go up in flames.’
‘No.’ Justin took a swallow of whisky. ‘I’m wishing the world was a different place, that’s all.’
‘You won’t get any argument from me there,’ Dex said, frowning down at his half-empty champagne glass. ‘It’s time for a change. That’s why I asked you here.’
‘Twisted my arm, more like.’
‘I’d have dragged you kicking and screaming if I had to.’
‘Why? What’s going on?’
Dex smiled. ‘I’m leaving. Actually, I’m emigrating. I’m going to try my hand in the movie business.’
‘Good God!’ Justin took a large swallow of whisky. ‘I didn’t see that one coming. When?’
His friend laughed. ‘Tomorrow, actually. Hence the invite. This is my last night in London.’
‘Bloody hell, Dex, why so sudden? Do you know anything about the movie business?’
‘No, but I have a friend who does. A very particular friend.’ Dex smiled awkwardly. ‘You know how I am,
I am. I’m sick and tired of pretending. In California, I hope I won’t have to. And as to the movie business – I have pots of money, and I have sound judgement and an eye for a good investment. More importantly, I need a change. And so, dear boy, do you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Dex smiled, the smile the gossip columnists called winsome. Justin was neither won nor impressed. Justin folded his arms. ‘What’s going on?’
His friend looked not the least bit intimidated. ‘What’s going on, is that I’m tying up loose ends, and doing you a favour in the process. As you might know if you read the gossip columns, I have a girl. A very lovely girl. I’d like you to take her on.’ Dex held up his hand to prevent Justin from speaking. ‘I know, I know, you don’t need a girl, and even if you did, you don’t need me to find one for you. Well, you’re wrong on both counts. I don’t know what happened to you after the War or why you disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ve never asked, because I always hoped you’d trust me enough – but you didn’t, so I’ve no idea, and I’m not asking you now. I do know you’re as miserable as sin, and you’re lonely as hell. Trust me, I recognise the symptoms.’
Flushed, Dex took another sip of his champagne. He was waiting for a response, but Justin didn’t have one. Nothing. Not even a comment on the fact that this was probably the longest and most personal speech Dex had ever made to him, because that would mean he agreed with what Dex was saying, or at least thought it was up for discussion and it wasn’t.