Twenties London by Mike Hutton

I was rather excited to find this book and needless to say the wonderful cover did its trick in attracting my attention!

Divided into the rather predictable subject sections but with catchy titles such as ‘The Cat’s Whiskers’ all about the BBC (how else do you do it?) the contents far from disappoint. Well written and readable it is a highly entertaining collection of facts, anecdotes, gossip and stories covering a vast array of subjects that include dancing, drugs, cocktails, hotels, department stores, horse racing, night-clubs, boxing, jazz, tennis, fashion, film, stage, books, magazines, suburbia and scandal and murder. All the usual suspects feature (such as Valentino, Cole Porter, Gershwin and Noel Coward) but there are some rather marvellous sketches of other interesting characters like the infamous night-club hostess Kate Merrick and black performers Florence Mills and Leslie Hutchinson.

I was particularly taken with the fascinating sporting sections and the intriguing sections on painting, books and literature and the origins and development of the BBC.

As ever there are a few disappointments. Firstly it is annoying that there is no index and secondly I am intrigued as to why there were no mentions of rather iconic moments in London’s history in the 1920s like the wedding of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon to Prince Albert in 1922 and the Empire exhibition of 1924.

Although the illustrative content was good sometimes it was not quite good enough. Just one example, there was a wonderful piece about Hannah Gluckstien but no images of her or her paintings which if included would have made a much better impression. Presumably picture fees were too high.

The film section was the weakest as it was totally American-centric. There was after all a thriving film industry in the UK and it would have been better to have seen more information about British Film and British film stars. For example, there was no mention of Britain’s favourite star Betty Balfour and although there were references to Ivor Novello why no detail about his series of superb films like the Rat series or even Hitchcock’s The Lodger ?

However, criticisms aside it is a marvellous, light introduction to the thriving goings-on in one of the major capital cities in the Jazz Age.


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