It is not often that a book like this comes along – a glowing pictorial history of one of London’s major nightclubs in the 20th century – so this is a gem. Beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated, Levy takes us through the genesis of Murray’s Cabaret Club that was situated at 16-18 Beak Street under the aegis of Percival Murray from the early 1930s through to the 1960s.
Levy evocatively describes the context, the shows, the personnel, the performers and the audience, that included many well-known celebrities. I particularly liked the first-hand accounts from Jean Hendy-Harris, Iris Chapel and Teena Symonds that provided a real glimpse of life behind the scenes.
Of significance, the major part of the book is devoted to the costume designs used in the shows – many of which are now held by Charlie Jeffreys of the Vintage Poster Store in London – and reproduced in colour. As a collector of costume designs from the Jazz Age, these colour plates were stunning. Levy’s identification of some of the main designers namely Ronald Cobb and Michael Bronze is illuminating and so too is his evocative descriptions of many of the show tableaux with provocative themes such as ‘Limehouse Blues’, ‘Seasonal Charms’, ‘April Showers’, ‘Vamps Through the Ages’, ‘Enchantment’ ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Midsummer Melody’.
I have only minor criticisms which are slight contextual issues. For example, Levy says that in the 1930s London nightlife was at a low ebb. This is not strictly the case. Although there had been a major ebb at the end of the 1920s and early 1930s, during the 1930s there were many sumptuous cabaret shows being staged nightly at such places as the Trocadero, The Grosvenor House Hotel, the Piccadilly Hotel. the London Casino and the Dorchester Hotel. He also adds that it was Percival Murray who introduced the ‘cabaret floorshow’ and that his shows were far more exciting than previous attempts. This is again not accurate as there had been numerous elaborate floor shows staged in London in the 1920s including those at the Queens Hall Roof, the Grafton Galleries, the Hotel Metropole, the Trocadero, the New Princes Restaurant and the Piccadilly Hotel to name but a few. Percival Murray’s shows were simply part of an already established tradition of cabaret floor shows that London had enjoyed for over a decade.
These issues aside, Levy’s book is invaluable, a fascinating glimpse at part of London’s cultural and entertainment history and a treasure of visual imagery.
The book is available in Hardback from Amazon – click here
For those of you interested in the original Murray’s club (which was in a different location in Beak Street and not the subject of this book and often the subject of confusion) please take a look at my post here on the Jazz Age Club website – click here