Wednesday 31 October 2012

Holland & Holland

 Holland & Holland was founded by Harris Holland (1806–96) in the year 1835.
At first the guns bore the inscription H.Holland, without an address, and it is probable that these were built in the trade to his design. It is not known when Harris started his own manufacturing but it is estimated to be in the 1850s. This start makes him very unusual among the London Best makers, as others such as Purdey, Boss, Lang and Lancaster had apprenticed with Joseph Manton, while others such as Beesley, Grant and Atkin apprenticed with Purdey or Boss.
In 1883 Holland and Holland entered the trials organized by the magazine The Field, and won all of the rifle categories. This set a new standard of excellence for the competition among English gunmakers. In 1885 patents were granted to Holland and Holland for their Paradox gun, a shotgun with rifling in the front two inches of the barrel.
In 1908, they patented the detachable lock feature with small lever, for sidelock shotguns. The last major development in the evolution of the sidelock side-by-side gun occurred in 1922, when the H&H assisted-opening mechanism was patented. This gun, the self-opening Royal side-by-side, has been hugely influential in gun-making throughout the world.
In the period after World War II, under the leadership of new owner and Managing Director Malcolm Lyell, the company made sorties to India, where guns from the famous collections of the princes and maharajahs were bought back, developing an important market for second-hand pieces. In 1989, all remaining shares in H&H were bought by the French cosmetics group Chanel. Since then, the factory building, in use since 1898, has been extensively renovated and equipped with modern technology. Guns such as the Royal Over & Under or side-by-side double-barreled shotguns were improved and reintroduced, and they are available in 12, 20 and 28 bore and .410 inch. A hand-built gun from H&H can cost around GB£60,000 for a shotgun and close to GB£100,000 for some rifles, with prices roughly doubling with luxury engraving, and there is a waiting period of 2–3 years between ordering and delivery.
In the 1990s, Holland and Holland started on a major program of expansion. The company has stores ("gunrooms") in New York City and Moscow. The company's London flagship store on Bruton Street has been completely renovated and expanded.

Portrait of Harris Holland.

Harris Holland was born in 1806 in London. Although accounts of his background are somewhat sketchy, it is believed that his father was an organ builder, while Harris had a tobacco wholesale business in London. Obviously he was successful, as he was often seen at various pigeon shoots at important London clubs, as well as leasing a grouse moor in Yorkshire.
Having no children of his own, he took on his nephew Henry Holland as an apprentice in 1861. In 1867 Henry became a partner and in 1876 the name changed to Holland & Holland. Although Henry was a full partner, Harris kept strict control and was the only one who could sign a cheque until he died in 1896.

Holland and Holland Film

Just watch the film below : "How to ... dress for shooting"

Monday 29 October 2012

Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: a 17th Century History for Girls, BBC Dr Lucy Worsley

 Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: a 17th Century History for Girls, BBC Four, review
Chris Harvey reviews the BBC documentary Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: a 17th Century History for Girls, which looks at the lives of women in Restoration England.
By Chris Harvey, 23 May 2012 in The Telegraph
Everyone’s favourite Curator at Royal Palaces, Lucy Worsley, was back on our screens in BBC Four’s Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: a 17th Century History for Girls. And not only was she striding purposefully around in a dramatic red coat, but also modelling the autumn/winter collections of the 1650s and 1660s to show us the changing fashions for women in the puritan era of Oliver Cromwell and the court of Charles II.
The Cromwell look was a heavy black uniform with no hair or flesh showing, which Worsley said made her feel “very submissive”; the Restoration look, she soon realised, was “little more than a negligee” that felt as if it could “just suddenly fall off”.
Worsley, though, was interested in the negligee wearers, spinning an unusual line on the gender politics of the time: the concept of powerful “career mistresses” as a new breed of woman, possessors of a new type of wealth and influence. She visited Althorp to show
us a wall hung with portraits of beautiful women, many of them mistresses of Charles II. The King faced them from an opposite wall, competing lock for lock for most luxurious hairstyle.
Worsley told us the stories of the already married Barbara Villiers, who bore Charles five children, and was made Duchess of Cleveland; and Louise Renée, whom the King made Duchess of Portsmouth. She also visited the site of the pad where Charles installed his most celebrated mistress, Nell Gwynn, to show us a fetchingly racy portrait.
Worsley imagined a modern equivalent: “A leading member of the Royal family acknowledging a mistress, her being a Cockney actress, her being photographed nude by Mario Testino; and circulating the images for everybody to see.” Sounded plausible to me.
Worsley’s very good at those odd little conjunctions between then and now, and engaging company, as ever. Plus she looks great in a cardie.

TV review: Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: 17th Century History for Girls
Lucy Worsley has a winning manner, but her sexed-up History for Girls is a bit lame
Zoe Williams in
The Guardian, Tuesday 22 May 2012 23.00

A fondness for dressing up … Lucy Worsley in Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls. Photograph: BBC/Silver River/Lauren Jacobs
Lucy Worsley has a pert, interrogative manner, and a lot of cardigans, and a fondness that I can only think is unique in someone of her age and intelligence for putting on dressing-up clothes. Here she is as a puritan, 10 years before the fun starts, in the 1650s. She tells us Cromwell was a manic depressive, which I think is a bit rum. If you're going to posthumously diagnose someone with a mental illness, you'd at least say bipolar. The restoration of Charles II brought in a different atmosphere altogether, in which women cast off their modest flaps of ear-covering muslin and started to wear something more like a nightie, liable to fall off at any moment. "These must have been erogenous zones," says Worsley, stroking the area above her collarbones. Not exactly, love. I think if you look at the portraits, the appeal of the garment is that you can see everybody's bristols.

Here's what I imagine was the pitch for Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: 17th Century History for Girls (BBC4) – it's a new era for women in England, in which they garner unprecedented power by sleeping with the king. It's totally different from Cromwellian times, but I think Cromwell, rather than his successor, was the aberration, outlawing not just shagging around but also Christmas and baiting bears. You wouldn't conclude that the Restoration Court was a great place for bears; merely that bears enjoyed more social events than they would have done in the previous, bizarre decade. That's going to be my next pitch. 17th Century History for Bears: 1660, and you've never had it so good.

I found the intrigues unremarkable. "For the first time in history," she says of the wrangle between Charles's mistress and his wife, "it wasn't clear who'd come out on top." Sort of. Certainly, it was the first time in history since it wasn't clear who'd come out on top between Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. "And that's another hold [Barbara Palmer] has over the king, her ability to reproduce." I don't know if you'd call this a USP.

Of course, we know these were licentious times, because Pepys recalls coming in his pants (or, as he puts it, "But here I did make myself to do la cosa by mere imagination") and Rochester writes a play called Sodom, in which he recasts the plague and the fire of London as God's punishment for the King's behaviour. "His sceptre and his … dash … are of equal length," Worsley quotes Rochester. "He's saying he's got a big one." No, no, no. The line runs on: "his sceptre and his prick are of a length/ and she may sway the one who plays with th'other." It's a metaphor for a king who governs with his dick. It really has nothing to tell us about the actual length of anything. Without wishing to be rude to the telly historian, whose manner I find winning, the thesis is lame and the exposition hobbles it further. Charles II was by no means the first king to sleep with women he wasn't married to, give them money, and listen to them; he won't be the last. If you could have extrapolated that any of these women had an impact on his kingship, then we'd be talking. But it looks from this as though all they did was squabble and gamble, and that's all the king did, too: have japes, shag around, manage not to get beheaded. Just on that last score, it probably looked like a triumph to him but, historically speaking, it was the 17th century governance equivalent of having Boris Johnson as mayor.

Oh, but there was one thing – Charles II's actual wife, Catherine of Braganza, left a lasting legacy to the women of England by introducing tea. "It changed the lives of women because now women had tea parties." Mmmm. I'm just going to leave that there.

Dr Lucy Worsley is a British historian and curator.
Worsley was born in Reading but when she was a week old went to live in Canada. Her father is a geologist and expert in glaciers and permafrost and Emeritus Professor at Reading University; her mother a consultant in educational policy and practice.
Before going to university Worsley attended St Bartholomew's School, Newbury. She graduated from New College, Oxford in 1995 with a first-class honours BA degree in Ancient and Modern History and in 2001 was awarded a D.Phil from the University of Sussex for a thesis on The Architectural Patronage of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, 1593-1676. In 2005 she was elected a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London; she was also appointed visiting professor at Kingston University. She is known for having a rhotacism (a speech impediment which makes her pronounce her r's as w's).
Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity looking after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace State Apartments, the Banqueting House in Whitehall and Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. She is currently overseeing the £12 million refurbishment of the Historic Royal Palaces, state apartments and gardens.
In 2011 she presented the four-part television series If Walls Could Talk exploring the history of British homes, from peasant's cottages to palaces; and the three-part series Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency.
In 2012 she co-presented the three-part television series Antiques Uncovered, with antiques and collectibles expert expert Mark Hill  and (broadcast at the same time) Harlots, Housewives and Heroines, a three part series on the lives of women after the Civil War and the Restoration of Charles II .

Historian and writer Dr Lucy Worsley, currently presenting Harlots, Housewives and Heroines, about Restoration women. Photograph: Richard Saker

The death of celebrety historians is much exaggerated
Don’t write celebrety TV historians off just yet – as long as they don’t stray for their expertise.

By Richard J. Evans in The Guardian Sunday 27 May 2012
For about 15 years, history has been experiencing a popularity boom. History books now sell more than 5 million copies a year in the UK and feature regularly in the bestseller lists. You can hardly switch on your television without seeing Simon Schama, David Starkey, Niall Ferguson or their younger, often female rivals holding forth in some exotic or historic location. Natasha's Dance, Orlando Figes' study of 19-century Russian culture, was advertised on huge posters in London's tube stations. The latest volume in Dominic Sandbrook's multi-volume history of postwar Britain is prominently displayed in bookshops across the land. "History," a BBC television producer is said to have remarked, "is the new gardening."

Not surprisingly, younger academics are keen to jump on the media bandwagon, given the continuing relative decline in academic pay and the continuing absolute increase in the amount of work they are forced to do by the burgeoning audit culture; continuing cuts in teaching funding; and steep rises in student fees, leading students to make ever-increasing demands on their time. When I set out in the academic profession decades ago, nobody would have thought of using a literary agent or being trained as a television presenter. Now it's almost a matter of course for our more ambitious younger colleagues – as Sir Keith Thomas, chair of the judges of the prestigious Wolfson history prize, has recently complained.

A case in point was Amanda Foreman, whose Oxford history thesis was considered, as they all are, for publication in the respectable but little-read Oxford Historical Monographs series and, after lengthy consideration by a battery of referees, turned down. It was too late anyway: it had already appeared in print as Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, entered the bestseller lists, and been set up for filming with Keira Knightley in the title role. Meanwhile, its young author had featured in a promotional photograph standing naked behind a pile of copies of her book large enough to avoid any serious unseemliness.

Yet the compromises Foreman had to make to reach a wide audience did not in the end seriously undermine the book's scholarship, any more than putting the notes at the end of the book instead of at the foot of the page, or using them for the discussion of academic disputes, instead of the actual text, means the end of academic respectability. Sandbrook's writings on postwar Britain, Starkey's on the Tudor monarchy, Schama's on the early modern Netherlands, and many other, similar books manage to combine popular appeal with solid scholarship. It's when they abandon the latter for the former that they get into trouble. The latest row involving Orlando Figes concerns allegations of poor scholarship, misattributions and basic factual mistakes. But this isn't a consequence of his celebrity; allegations of the same kind have been made against obscure academic historians in the past as well.

Celebrity historians are especially likely to get into trouble if they desert their own field of expertise and enter the rough-and-tumble of political debate. David Starkey aroused accusations of racism when he said on television that the summer riots of 2011 showed that white people had "become black". Historians who court controversy by being provocative are likely to get more than they bargain for. Two years ago, Niall Ferguson's much-publicised divorce drew down upon him the kind of fake moral disapproval combined with salacious and intrusive comment usually reserved for footballers or soap-opera stars. Perhaps one of the outcomes of the Leveson inquiry will be to put an end to this kind of reporting, though, unfortunately, one suspects it won't.

Does all this mean the death of the celebrity historian? Are the media and the public getting fed up with the whole phenomenon of popular history? Will we go back to the old style of television history programmes – where there was no historian to be seen, only visual images backed by an anonymous voice- over read out by an actor? Is the day of the bestselling history book and the big advance finally over?

Despite all the media controversy, there's no sign of it. History continues to have a broad popular appeal, and long may it continue to do so. Good publishers and television producers know that history works best when written or presented by a historian who really knows the subject, such as Thomas Asbridge on the Crusades or David Reynolds on postwar international summits. It's when historians leave the territory of their expertise, get things wrong, appear on Question Time, host chatshows or write newspaper columns, that they become real celebrities; and, as some of them have found out, you become a celebrity at your peril.

HHH: At Court 1/5

Thursday 25 October 2012

Remembering ... Keith Irvine.

An English Country Stylist, Unrepentant

By PENELOPE GREEN in The New York Times
Published: October 23, 2008
KEITH IRVINE turned 80 last week and threw himself a garage sale to celebrate. “A very elegant garage sale,” he said dryly, raising silvery eyebrows.

GREAT SCOT The decorator Keith Irvine, wearing his Graham clan tartan in his ballroom, has downsized, auctioning off 200 objects that he's collected.
A day into his ninth decade, he spent the morning moving furniture at Doyle New York, the genteel auction house on East 87th Street, in preparation for the sale of about 200 of his antiques and decorative objects, which was held yesterday. He was putting the finishing touches on the displays he had assembled for the sale; in one was a red Louis XVI-style chair he seemed particularly reluctant to part with. “I could just eat that chair,” he said sadly, patting it.

“Chippy made me do it,” he continued, referring to his wife. “She said she keeps bumping into things.”

Mr. Irvine, a Scotsman who has practiced English decorating with a theatrical flair for more than 60 years for clients like Katharine Graham, Jacqueline Onassis and Pat Buckley, has recently moved his business from Manhattan to his farmhouse in Putnam County, north of the city, and winnowed the results of a lifetime’s worth of voracious collecting. While his birthday may have marked him, as he likes to say, as “the oldest living decorator in captivity,” Mr. Irvine said he had no plans to retire, although Thomas Fleming, his business partner of nearly five decades, left the firm last year. Saddened by their parting and a year of ill health, Mr. Irvine said he is glad to be finally looking at the back of what he described as “my annus horribilis, as the Queen said.”

Nearly half a century ago, the English country house look brought fame to Parish-Hadley and other American companies, yet their versions of it were paler and a little more restrained than the originals they aspired to. It was in Mr. Irvine’s interiors, lapped with chintz, paisley throws, Staffordshire pottery, Regency chairs and armadas of pillows, that you could glimpse the real thing: rooms that were eccentric, a bit arch and oh-so-slightly frayed.

If Sister Parish, the grande dame of American decorating, created interiors that spoke softly and whispered of privilege and provenance, Mr. Irvine was after a bolder effect, and tended to work for clients who had the stomach for it.

“We all borrow from the Old World,” said the designer Mario Buatta, who once worked as Mr. Irvine’s assistant and said that Mr. Irvine taught him all he knows. “But Keith has the knack of the real Englishman. His settings are a little more dramatic, a little more idiosyncratic. He has flair.”

Mr. Irvine was born in Scotland and educated in England. He served in Southeast Asia after World War II, where he learned a few things, like how to wear a sarong and what his life’s work would be: included in one care package from his mother was the latest Vogue and a new magazine, House & Garden, which introduced him to the idea of interior decoration. (By his own account hopeless at school, Mr. Irvine is fond of saying that he was educated by Condé Nast and Warner Brothers.) He met his wife, Chippy, at the Royal College of Art in London, after which he went to work for his hero, the autocratic and imperious English decorator John Fowler.

Mr. Irvine’s first job in New York was with Sister Parish, whom he loathed. “Domineering old dictator,” he said. He lasted nine months, then set up his own business, with clients Mrs. Parish declined to work for, in 1959.

Describing his own style, Mr. Irvine said, “I like an edge of grandeur, but I like it knocked down a bit.”

He fingered an eight-foot-long petit-point bell pull given to him by Mr. Fowler. In front of it was a small chair, “a little piece of Edwardian nonsense,” Mr. Irvine said dismissively. “It’s not my period, but it adds a bit of sauce.”

It is Mr. Irvine’s opinion that decorating right now has no sauce whatsoever, the expression of a culture that’s afraid to commit. Take, for example, he said, “the modern habit of propping pictures against the wall. It’s A, sort of pretentious and B, tentative.”

He continued: “And that applies to color; they’re scared of it too. Most of the rooms today end up looking like some set piece from Crate & Barrel. I don’t mean to knock Crate & Barrel, because it’s a great resource, but you don’t have to emulate their showroom.”

Mr. Irvine loves gold-framed convex Regency mirrors, anything with a key pattern, miniature furniture, Oushak rugs “that look like they’re on their last week” and needlepointed mottos on pillows.

He frowned at a wooden bench upholstered in gold lamé. “That’s waterproof gold lamé, not really my thing,” he said. “That was a job that ended in tears.” He added that the client “sent a whole truckload of stuff back, saying, ‘I don’t want it and I’m not paying for it.’ ”

“There used to be ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “Now they have no manners and too much money.”

He stopped again at a red velvet récamier, which was freighted with a cargo of needlepoint pillows, and looked up at the Chinese painted screen behind it. Mr. Irvine said that the screen was made from painted panels and that he had found papers documenting the panels’ trip from China to a ship in Brooklyn. He used a few of the panels in the offices of the Wells Rich Greene advertising agency, which he decorated in the 1960s. He added, “When I told Mary Wells” — a principal of the agency — “she said, ‘They came from Brooklyn? Just like all of us.’ ”

Mr. Irvine said he worked for Ms. Wells until one Friday night when she phoned him to say that she had bought a house in Acapulco and to ask if he would fly down the next morning with her and take a look.

“I told her I don’t work on Saturdays,” Mr. Irvine said. “And Billy Baldwin did her next five houses.”

“I’d rather not be devoured by my clients,” he explained. “Still, it was a stupid move.”

Mr. Irvine can be balky. In the 1980s, he said he suffered a midlife crisis, which he expressed by building an addition to his early 19th-century farmhouse. The addition included a very grand ballroom, and did not include any input from his wife.

“It was very irritating,” she said in a phone interview last week. Mrs. Irvine, who has written 13 books on architecture and decorative arts, took her revenge by threatening to have an image of the new wing engraved on expensive stationery emblazoned with the words “Keith’s Erection.”

The stationery never materialized, and Mrs. Irvine persuaded her husband to cut the ballroom in half. Some of the objects they filled the addition with made their way to the sale at Doyle, including a tufted mahogany reading chair covered in an old tiger-print fabric, a fine example of Mr. Irvine’s credo that furniture should look as if “it’s just drifted into a room,” and not as if it was bought new for the job. Other pieces aren’t budging, like the watercolor of Mr. Irvine as Queen Victoria, painted by his wife.

(That tiger-print chair sold for $2,375; the Chinese screen, $12,500. Indeed, most of the objects sold for well above their estimates: the entire sale totaled $320,775, which includes a 25 percent commission paid to the auction house, and was at the high end of the auction house’s estimate of $207,145 to $329,780.)

Mr. Irvine may not be retiring, but he admitted that he is working on a roman à clef, “a polite tell-all,” he said.
It’s a murder mystery, and its working title is “I Want It All.”

Interior decorator Keith Irvine steamed into New York Harbor in 1957 and immediately embarked on designing the unique, inspired interiors that have ensured him a place at the pinnacle of his field. His designs are characterized by feeling—wit, grandeur, comfort, drama—as well as by exquisite use of color, pattern, lighting, furniture, and accessories. Born in Scotland and trained in his profession in London—notably by the decorating legend John Fowler—Irving combines old-world wisdom and new-world enthusiasm in his mostly traditional rooms and houses. The first book on his work, Keith Irvine: A Life in Decoration—written by Irvine and his wife, noted design writer Chippy Irvine—is at once illustrated autobiography, collection of work, and elucidation of design philosophy.

Irvin is known worldwide as an originator of the English country house look—a look not inherited, the decorator points out, but invented in the twentieth century. His characteristic played-down grandeur includes signature touches such as authoritative use of antiques of all eras, exquisite painted effects, rare scenic wallpaper, faded old carpets (his favorites are those that "look as though they might be in their last week"), spirited English and French chintzes, and loads of busts and books ("one can never have too many!").

Included in the book are more than twenty-five projects—including homes for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Katherine Graham, Rex and Mercia Harrison, and Joan Kennedy—illustrated with exceptional color photographs drawn from Irvine's own archive. Irvine also presents his most personal projects—those designed for his own family.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

White Mischief 3. "The Bolter" by Frances Osborne.

Decline and fall of a flapper
Frances Osborne's The Bolter lovingly lays to rest the ghost of the eternally frivolous but diehard manhunter Idina Sackville, says Robert McCrum
Robert McCrum
The Observer, Sunday 4 May 2008

The Bolter
by Frances Osborne

At heart, The Bolter is a work of family exorcism by the great-granddaughter of a scandalous Edwardian woman, Idina Sackville. Like all such family reckonings, it contains both less, and more, than meets the eye. Perhaps nothing is more seductive than the fascinated contemplation of distant shames. In coming to terms with an exceedingly high-spirited skeleton in her ancestral cupboard, Frances Osborne also paints an enthralling portrait of upper-class English life just before, during and immediately after the Great War. 'In an age of wicked women,' writes Osborne, 'Idina pushed the bounds of behaviour to extremes.' How can we not read on?

The child of conventionally irresponsible, moneyed parents from a family dating to the Conquest, lovely, weak- chinned Idina haunted the bars and ballrooms of Edwardian London like a character in fiction. She was inseparable from a black Pekingese named Satan, cultivated an immaculate, more than slightly dangerous, image and married one of the youngest, richest and best-looking of the available millionaires a year before the Great War broke out.

After her marriage fell apart, she lived the life of a flapper until the crash of 1929 ended her revels. Twice divorced before she was 30, she fled to Kenya, the spiritual home of the damned and the beautiful. There, in a dissolute spiral of house parties, gin-fuelled country club binges and long weekends of wife- swapping, Idina became the focus of the Happy Valley set, a complicit witness to the thrilling excesses first described by James Fox in White Mischief.

Idina was, in fact, only a spectator at the 'Jock' Delves Broughton murder trial, but she was certainly close to the principals. In Kenya, her bed was apparently known as 'the battleground', she welcomed her guests from a green onyx bath and encouraged the kind of heartless gaiety typical of her class and generation. In this version, her life was certainly the stuff of fiction. Painted by Orpen and photographed by Cecil Beaton, she lived in a world that, on Osborne's account, lay somewhere between Wodehouse and The Waste Land, but was probably closest to the Waugh of Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust.

So, with half an eye on her market, Osborne writes that her great-grandmother's life was 'uncannily reflected' in 'the Bolter' of the great Nancy Mitford novels, Love in a Cold Climate, The Pursuit of Love and Don't Tell Alfred. This makes commercial sense, but it's slightly misleading. Osborne presents no real evidence that Mitford was writing more specifically than about a familiar Edwardian type. Idina Sackville was the kind of woman who excited gossip and her behaviour was, no doubt, shocking to her family, but if she can be found between the pages of a novel, it's a now forgotten interwar bestseller. In her day, Idina Sackville inspired the fictional character of Iris Storm, the tragic heroine of Michael Arlen's bestseller The Green Hat. This was a role that would be played by Greta Garbo in the film version, A Woman of Affairs. 'There is some taste in us that is unsatisfied,' says Iris Storm. 'Life's best gift is the ability to dream of a better life.'

To her family, possibly, Idina Sackville was a 'bolter', but she was also a tragic figure of a young woman whose life was broken by the catastrophes of 1914-18. It is in its evocation of these seismic years that Frances Osborne's book becomes truly interesting.

The Edwardian England in which Idina Sackville came of age was a fun palace of champagne breakfasts, boating regattas and thé dansants, but it was also cruelly oppressive to unmarried women. If you were single, you were chaperoned until you found a husband. If you were divorced, you were beyond the pale.

Idina was unmarried, at first; her mother, Muriel de la Warre, was divorced. In this socially perilous situation, it's hardly surprising that, as Osborne writes, in her rather breathless prose: 'Idina threw herself into the rounds of bals blancs with abandon. Nobody forgot a dance with her.' Soon, she had landed a fiancé, a dashing cavalry officer named David Euan Wallace, an heir to one of Scotland's richest families and a close friend of Stewart Menzies, the fabled British intelligence chief, and model for 'C'.

For a few months, the newlyweds enjoyed a late-Edwardian idyll, dinner at the Ritz, nights out at the theatre, dancing to ragtime on the gramophone until the small hours. Briefly, it seems, Idina was happy and fulfilled. Then the war came. Wallace was dispatched to the Western Front where, as a junior officer, he was lucky to survive. Occasional leave was frantic and distressing. Slowly, Idina's perfect match unravelled, pulled apart by loneliness, boredom and desperation. Osborne, who has done a prodigious amount of valuable social research, is particularly good on the strangely opulent life of the home front, the comforts of infidelity, the cabaret nights of the women left behind and the caprices of soldiers on leave looking for a good time.

Rather contradicting the title of her book, Osborne makes it clear that it was Wallace's 'Edwardian friendships' with girls named Barbie, Dickie and Avie that wrecked his marriage to Idina. At least to start with, she was less a 'bolter' than a 'bolteree'. Once the war was over, not surprisingly, Idina found a lover of her own, the first of many, and plunged into a jazz-age haze of morphine, cigarette smoke and American cocktails. At the age of 25, a full-blown flapper with two small children, cruising the streets of London in her Hispano-Suiza, her life was already emotionally derailed.

Frivolous, rich, sexy, achingly fashionable, but not (you suspect) too bright, she remarried and set sail for Kenya and Happy Valley. Osborne notes that her great grandmother once again 'had bolted'. On the evidence of her book, Idina's behaviour looks rather more like a desperate expression of a quest for 'the dream of a better life'. I think it is commendable that, in the absence of hard evidence about Idina's feelings, Osborne does not indulge in speculation, but sometimes the reader does long to know more about the emotions seething beneath the surface.

In Kenya, this already sad tale becomes sadder and darker. Osborne paints a picture of an abandoned woman, tormented by unsatisfied sexual appetites, becoming a social outlaw. She was, writes Osborne, reported to have had 'lovers without number' and would teach her men 'how to touch the four strategic points on a skirt that would make a pair of stockings slide to the floor'. On her rare interludes in London, her friends were Oswald 'Tom' Mosley, one of the most promiscuous men in a madly promiscuous age, and Tallulah Bankhead, who taught her how to bathe in champagne. (Just open a case and pour.)

The closing 100 pages of this compelling biography slide into a minor key. By the time war broke out again, in 1939, Idina was on her fifth husband and still living the life of Riley in the heady highlands of Kenya. Such a creature was ill-suited to the age of austerity and by 1955 she was dead, from cancer. She left behind half-a-dozen hairbrushes, several pots of cold cream, scent bottles with silver trimmings, nail files, a glove-stretcher, a cocktail dress and a large, black taffeta bow. After her death, a tender portrait of her first husband was found by her bedside. In reporting this touching detail, we can see that Frances Osborne has probably made her peace at last.

Goddess of Mischief
Published: June 30, 2009 in Sunday Book Review. The New York Times.

Alcohol. Cocaine. Promiscuity. Nympho­mania. Wife swapping. Divorce. Profligate spending. ­Sixties swingers? Merely rocking in their cradles. The beautiful and damned of New York’s Roaring Twenties? Neophytes vomiting on the sidewalks. It was the British colonialists in 1920s Africa, the Happy Valley set, who took partying to mythic heights, or depths, depending on your perspective. They didn’t stop until their lives were in smithereens. And the internationally celebrated and reviled high priestess of this crowd — as James Fox called her in “White Mischief” ­— was Idina Sackville (yes, English majors, related to Vita), a rich, smart, slender, blue-eyed, tawny-haired, elegant, narcissistic fashion plate of a woman who painted her nails green, and had a black Pekingese named Satan and a green onyx tub filled with Champagne from which she entertained her dinner guests. She was divorced five times by the end of World War II.
When she was 13, Frances Osborne, author of “The Bolter,” a weirdly rumbustious and harrowing biography that takes us from London to Newport to Kenya, discovered that this insanely glamorous character was her great-grandmother. Osborne became haunted by the feeling that her ancestor was “beneath my skin”; this was mixed with revulsion when Osborne became the mother of two boys and fully appreciated the profound mess Sackville had made of her own life. Naturally it was only a matter of time before she began to dig up family secrets. Everyone knows that British attics, having belonged to generations of the same inbred aristocratic families, are much better endowed than our impoverished American ones — we move around too often and we have tag sales. Out of countless trunks and boxes of letters and diaries pours the unremittingly sad story of a legendary woman, and an unnerving portrait of upper-crust London and colonial Africa in the early 20th century.

Devotees of Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate” will instantly recognize “the Bolter.” She is a seductive, charming, mysterious shadow of a character, but that’s fiction for you. The truth is tawdry. In an “age of bolters,” Sackville was notorious. The book opens with a surreal scene in 1934 at Claridge’s Hotel. A 19-year-old boy is seeing his mother for the first time in 15 years. He has had to find out his mother’s name, for Sackville had abandoned her rich, charming, handsome (and philandering, but everyone was) husband and her two sons, ages 4 and 3, to live on a farm in British East Africa.

Osborne’s descriptions of life in upper-class Edwardian London, “an age overflowing with millionaires,” are bracing. Adultery is commonplace. The country enters World War I, and while husbands and entire families of sons are obliterated on French battlefields, Sackville’s set is desperate for fun, injecting morphine, attending “bottle parties” and downing vats of White Ladies, whiskey sours and Bronxes. (“The Bolter” does double duty as a history of cocktails.) Osborne vividly describes a social class unhinged by too much money and too much death. By 1921, “nudity was all the rage.” Women were dancing on tables, wearing transparent dresses. One hostess greeted her guests “wearing nothing but a famous string of family pearls which reached her pubic hair.”

Sackville’s husband falls in love with the architect Edwin Lutyens’s daughter, prompting Sackville’s first bolt. From there the narrative moves to Mombasa, where Osborne deftly sketches in the milieu of a colonial empire, with its 600-mile Iron Snake, the Uganda Railway, which would make it possible for the British to control Egypt and the Nile. “All that was needed was farmers,” Osborne writes, “for no fewer than two and a half million acres needed tending to. . . . Given the unwillingness of the indigenous people to surrender their lands, all the better, went the thinking, that the territory should be occupied by men who knew how to handle a rifle.” With the end of the war, Britain was flooded with soldiers who wanted a new life; Africa was “an earthly paradise” whose landscape was “genuinely familiar, indeed almost Scottish,” and would provide food for a hungry Europe.

Africa became Sackville’s true love. Over the course of five marriages, she would build — and leave — three farms, working side by side with the African laborers. “Like the local Kikuyu tribesmen and much to their amazement,” Osborne writes, “she both walked and rode barefoot” over thorny fields. But she also kept servants, rode out on safari for weeks at a time and partied hard. She thrived on sexual adventure and set up a mirror over her bed so as not to miss anything. Osborne is fascinating on the social rounds of this new African empire. We catch glimpses of the Sitwells; Cecil Beaton; Stephen Spender; and Beryl Markham, Karen Blixen and their lover Denys Finch Hatton. People met at weekend house parties, races and livestock auctions. Sackville was a magnet. Within several years of her arrival, there were so many partners changing beds that it became a political scandal, with the British government appalled at the inability of the colonial administration to control the miscreants. “The joke ‘Are you married, or do you live in Kenya?’ was doing the rounds.” The Crash of 1929 seems to have done little to stop the dizzying frivolity. The spending never stops. And the houses! The extravagance of the furnishings!

At some point, as the Happy Valley crowd sank into an addled haze, I wanted to cover my eyes — probably during the “sheet game”: men would hide behind a sheet strung across the room, circles were cut into it through which a woman would grope a hand, a nose, an elbow, to identify the owner; as the alcohol content went up, the holes in the sheet were cut lower, and the men unbuttoned their trousers.

Sackville is finally reunited with her eldest son, but the chaos does not end. World War II arrives and Sackville’s newfound connection to her family is cut short. The last decades of her life are unbearably sad; she seems cursed. It can be hard to appreciate Sackville’s incessant charm, her ability to engage and seduce anyone she wanted, her generous and kind nature, and her capacity for lifelong friendship. But the reader falls under her sway, too.

Osborne’s mother had kept Idina Sackville a secret from her children, scarred as she had been, during her own adolescence, by scandalized whispers: “I didn’t want you to think her a role model. . . . You don’t want to be known as ‘the Bolter’s’ granddaughter.” Well, actually, she does. To her credit, Osborne doesn’t sanitize her family’s shenanigans (though we don’t hear much about Sackville’s relations with the Africans except for rumors that some fled for fear of being asked to bed their mistress). Yet none of it would have been broadcast if it didn’t add to some sort of ultrasmart cachet; there’s a faint whiff of bragging in these pages. Enough time has passed that a notorious relative simply casts a sequined halo of glamour over her descendants, an inherited chic. Osborne is still haunted — and thrilled. Which leads to a problem American readers may have with this book: the tedium of meaningless names dropping to the ground. After a while, I couldn’t keep track of all the families. I have the distinct feeling that any British readers even remotely related to the upper classes (a relatively small club with an outsize reputation) would experience a tribal frisson of recognition; these are, after all, the grandparents of their classmates. “The Bolter” is a feast for the Anglophile; followers of the charmingly bizarre blog An Aesthete’s Lament will find long-lost soul mates. But give me love in a cold climate any day

Monday 22 October 2012

White Mischief 2. / 70-year-long mystery finally solved.


Happy Valley ?

The White Mischief Murderess: 70-year-long mystery over murder in debauched Happy Valley set finally solved
, 23 September 2010 in The Daily Mail on line

During her heyday, Alice de Janze kept a pet lion in her house and was seldom seen without a small monkey on her shoulder.
Rich and exquisitely beautiful, she captivated men from London to Nairobi with her dreamy grey eyes, bee-stung lips and fashionably boyish figure.
Nor was the exotic American heiress averse to their attentions. In an age when the average Englishwoman guarded her reputation like a priceless jewel, Alice was famed for being a party-girl who drank eye-wateringly strong Absinthe cocktails and could lure any man she wanted to her bed.
And there was plenty of opportunity for sex in Kenya's Happy Valley, the decadent Shangri-La created by upper-class white colonials between the wars.

White Mischief Murderess: Alice de Janze is now thought to have murdered Lord Erroll in Kenya.

As a key member of the Happy Valley set, she thrilled to the continual round of louche parties, fuelled by alcohol and sexual intrigue  -  where one daring after-dinner game involved male guests sticking their appendages through holes in a sheet so the women could vote on their favourite.
For all that, Alice would have been long forgotten but for one detail: her passion for Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll.
Not because their affair, which outlasted two marriages on both sides, caused any great scandal  -  but because he was cut down in his prime at the age of 39.
The shockwaves caused by the violent death of this good-looking aristocrat have continued to reverberate to this day.
At least half-a-dozen books have been published about his murder at a deserted crossroads in the dead of night, and a movie about it  -  White Mischief  -  even featured Alice as a minor character, played by the actress Sarah Miles.
No one, however, has yet come close to solving the mystery of who killed Lord Erroll. Until now.
The breakthrough, 70 years after the event, comes not from a professional historian or forensic investigator but a retired international businessman who has doggedly pursued fresh leads for the past 12 years.
Paul Spicer started his quest with a considerable advantage: not only had he lived for two extended periods in Kenya himself but his mother, Margaret, had been a good friend of Alice since meeting her in 1925 when they both arrived in Kenya.

Patiently, he returned again and again to see the very few remaining survivors of the Happy Valley era, collecting ever more compelling evidence.
To his astonishment, it all seemed to point to just one culprit: the fun-loving Alice de Janze. Far from being little more than a footnote in history, it appeared that she had literally got away with one of the most celebrated murders of the 20th century.
So why would Alice have wanted to kill her lover? And how can Spicer be so sure that she pulled the trigger? To answer these questions fully, we must go back in time to her first marriage  -  to a French count.
Alice Silverthorne  -  as she was then  -  was the daughter of a millionaire from Buffalo, New York, and had been packed off to Paris at 21 when her relatives grew alarmed at her growing closeness to a young mobster.
There, she soon met and married Frederic de Janze, a mild-mannered French count who remained steadfast and loyal to her until the end of his life.
For Alice, though, the marriage was a disappointment. The unfortunate de Janze lacked the powerful masculinity and sexual chemistry that she was later to find with other lovers, and she was soon casting her dreamy gaze elsewhere.
It had been Count Frederic's idea to whisk his young wife off to the balmy valleys of Kenya  -  then called British East Africa  -  after the birth of two daughters in quick succession left her feeling listless and trapped.
And their host there was none other than Lord Erroll and his new wife, Idina, whom they had met briefly in Paris.

 Alice was a party girl who could lure any man to her bed
In 1925, Erroll was already a pivotal figure in the new community of British aristocrats and rich socialites, who left their black servants to tend to their farms and their kitchens while they hunted, partied and played polo.
Blond, clever and an ace card and polo player himself, the Earl had begun devoting a good deal of his energy to seducing women, especially those who were married.
Everything conspired to intoxicate the previously listless Alice: her sexy host, the hot sun, the high altitude and the carefree bohemianism of her hostess.
Far from the restrictions of British society, Idina and Erroll had cast old repressions aside with abandon, sometimes throwing parties that would last for days at a time.
It was even rumoured that every person had to sleep with someone other than the one they'd arrived with before the party could finish.
For now, though, Idina was pregnant and she preferred to titillate her houseguests by inviting them to watch her take her daily bath or by asking them to dress in pyjamas and dressing-gowns for dinner.
As for Alice, she quickly swapped her Paris designer wardrobe for the loose shirts and corduroy trousers favoured by her hostess. And she was soon having secret sexual rendezvous with her host.

By all accounts, Lord Erroll was an extremely accomplished lover, so he may well have been responsible for her sexual awakening. Certainly, Alice could not hide her new-found joy.
Her forgiving husband decided to wait patiently till she came to her senses. Idina, meanwhile, positively encouraged the affair as she grew ever larger: better that Erroll bedded someone she knew and liked than an outsider, she reasoned.
Not surprisingly, Alice decided that she wanted to live in Kenya, and persuaded her husband to buy a nearby property, Wanjohi Farm. The affair with Erroll continued sporadically for nearly 20 years. Not that Alice let it cramp her style.
A year after her arrival, she fell wildly in love with the 26-year-old youngest son of a British baronet, who had decided to try his hand at big-game hunting and farming in East Africa.
The darkly handsome and athletic Raymund de Trafford was also a gambler and a cad, who had already left a trail of broken hearts. And once again, he behaved true to form.
After first promising Alice he would marry her if she left Frederic, he abruptly changed his mind a year later while they were both on a visit to Paris. Deaf to her anguish, he told her he'd be leaving on the evening train.

 She shot her lover but it was seen as a 'crime of passion'
That afternoon, Alice went into a gun shop and calmly bought a 3.8 pearl-handled Colt revolver and shot him in the chest, before turning the gun on herself.
The scandal made headlines all over the globe as the lovers hovered for weeks between life and death.
But they both pulled through; and at the ensuing trial, Alice received a six-month suspended sentence for what was viewed by the French as a magnificent crime of passion.
The sweet-faced Alice de Janze had definitely proved that she was capable of shooting a lover.
Afterwards, she returned to Africa, where Lord Erroll had by now divorced his wife and acquired another  -  apparently more for her money than her beauty.
Alice resumed her affair with the dashing Earl, though she also pined for Raymund, pursuing him to England for regular visits.
In the end, her long- suffering husband agreed to a divorce and Raymund finally agreed to marry her. It was a pyrrhic victory, however.
Marriage, it seemed, brought out the worst in her new husband, who within weeks was gambling away her money and rowing with her in the street.
They quickly agreed to part, and she returned alone to Kenya to resume where she'd left off with Lord Erroll.
Perhaps Erroll and Alice would have continued their liaison for years had it not been for the sudden arrival in November 1940 of a new couple in their midst: Sir Jock Delves Broughton and his bride Diana.

Almost immediately, 27-year- old Lady Diana  -  who was 30 years younger than her husband  -  became the new reigning beauty of the Happy Valley. Everything about her conspired to irritate Alice.
Not only was the newcomer much younger than herself, but she was Alice's exact opposite in looks: blonde, blue-eyed and so voluptuous that there was much comment on her blatant sex appeal.
Nor did it contribute to Alice's peace of mind to discover that one of her potential beaux, a dashing Coldstream Guards officer called Dickie Pembroke, was completely smitten  -  though Diana evidently turned him down because he didn't have a title.
Lord Erroll, though, was another matter.
By Christmas, he and Diana were regularly being seen dancing together at the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi, in a manner that some members considered indecent. And very soon it became obvious they were having a raging affair.
Within weeks, Diana's husband, Sir Jock  -  a friend of Erroll's  -  gracefully bowed to the inevitable and agreed to a divorce. But Alice, who had never known her lover to be so enthralled, was consumed with jealousy.
At 40, she suddenly became aware that the powers of seduction that she had always taken for granted were finally on the wane.
Perhaps to prove to herself that she could still attract a man, she took Diana's leavings and threw herself into an affair with the snubbed Dickie Pembroke.
She was in bed on the night of January 23, 1941, when he rolled in from a night out at the Muthaiga club and reported to her that Sir Jock had just proposed a toast to the future of his wife and her lover.
He had then told Erroll to make sure his soon-to-be ex-wife was back at the marital home by 3am.
So Alice planned her revenge. She knew when Lord Erroll was likely to be driving his Buick back alone to his own house.
No one can be exactly certain about what happened next, but we do know that he was persuaded to stop at a crossroads leading to his home.
Two shots from a .32 calibre revolver were then fired at close-range. His body was discovered by two African dairy workers not long afterwards, and they alerted the police.
Even after everyone had trampled over the scene of the crime, it was still evident that there was a second set of tyre tracks that were peculiarly thick. No one appeared to make the connection with Alice's DeSoto car, which had enormously wide tyres.
When news broke of the murder, Diana was inconsolable  -  but Alice, far from breaking down, immediately demanded to see the body at the mortuary.
An ex-lover who accompanied her there remembered her passionately kissing Erroll's cold lips and declaring: 'Now you are mine for ever.'

 Kissing his lips, she said: 'Now you are mine for ever'
The most obvious suspect, of course, was the cuckolded husband, Sir Jock Delves Broughton.
He was duly charged with murder  -  even though many could have attested that he was drunk on the night, had a broken wrist and suffered from night blindness.
Alice, who had never previously shown any desire to befriend him, became one of his most regular visitors in jail as he awaited trial. He could not possibly be found guilty, she assured him, because there was no evidence.
To her friends, however, she talked incessantly about how worried she was that the trial might go against him. Was she dreading that she might have to confess in order to save him from the death penalty?
When the trial finally got under way, Alice attended court every day, always arriving early to secure a good seat and taking copious notes.
Among those who gave evidence was her lover Pembroke, who had been brought in by the Crown to rule her out as a possible suspect, and duly testified that he'd been in bed with her at the time of the murder.
The prosecutor, meanwhile, had been sent two anonymous letters suggesting that the killer might be a discarded mistress, for whom Erroll would naturally have stopped his car. He chose to ignore them.
In the end, Sir Jock was found not guilty. At least two authors who have written about the case since believe he did commit the murder, and one writer is even convinced that Sir Jock's wife Diana was responsible.
In virtually every depiction of the Erroll murder to date, Alice is described, suspected and cleared of suspicion.
Eight months after Erroll's death, Alice told several friends over lunch that the first of her two 'deep wishes' had already come true, and now she wondered if the second would occur. She then drove straight to the graveyard where her lover was buried.
Twelve days later, on the morning of September 27, 1941, she went into her garden to collect several armfuls of flowers. Returning to her bedroom, she placed some in vases and scattered the rest over her outsized bed.
Then she wrote out tags with the names of close friends and attached each to a piece of furniture  -  including two large African drums that served as night-tables.
Finally, after putting on her best nightgown, she swallowed a huge dose of Nembutal, lay down on the bed and shot herself through the heart.
Alerted by her hysterical servants, her doctor, William Boyle, arrived to find five letters at the scene: one to Pembroke, two to her daughters, one a suicide note and one to the police.
No one knows where the one addressed to the police is now. The contents were never officially released, possibly because the coroner was so shocked at their implication that he handed the letter to the attorney general.
If so, the attorney general  -  who also happened to be the prosecutor at Sir Jock's trial  -  may well have decided not to re-open that particular can of worms.
But Alice's friend Dr Boyle had already read the letter before handing it to the police, and he had also shown it to his wife. It contained nothing less than her full confession to Lord Erroll's murder.
Paul Spicer had known about the existence of this letter, but was unaware of its explosive contents until he tracked down Dr Boyle's daughter, Alice Fleet.
Only after meeting him several times did she decide finally to reveal what her mother had told her about the letter.
It made perfect sense. After all, Alice had the motive. She had the knowledge of Erroll's movements. She had the nerve, having already tried to shoot a previous lover dead. She had always been a good shot and seldom left home without her revolver.
Her route to the crossroads would have been swift, and Erroll would have immediately recognised her slim figure in his headlights.
But what of her alibi that she was with her lover Pembroke at the time? Spicer believes that it's certainly possible that Pembroke slept through her departure and return on the night of the murder.
And even if he'd heard her coming back, he loved her enough by then to want to protect her.
Other small pieces of evidence also slotted neatly into place.
Julian Lezard, another of Alice's lovers, had always suspected her, and had said as much to friends in later years.
Mary Leslie-Melville, a neighbour of Alice's, had told her daughter-in-law that a few years after the murder, a revolver of the exact calibre used to shoot Erroll had been found under some rocks on the border between their properties.
What did you do, asked her daughter-in-law. 'Nothing,' said Mary. 'Erroll was dead. Alice was dead. What good would it have done to tell anyone?'
Spicer was plagued with one unanswered question: why didn't Alice kill her hated rival instead of her lover? He discovered the answer after finding Alice's old housekeeper, Noel Case.
Alice, recalled Case, had been obsessed with the occult and firmly believed she would meet all her loved ones on 'the other side'.
Suddenly, the meaning of Alice's words to her friends about two 'deep wishes' was illuminated. Her first deep wish had clearly been to kill Erroll. Her second was to kill herself so she could join him on the other side.
Now that 70 years have passed, the evidence against Alice is likely to remain circumstantial. But it does appear overwhelmingly probable that she did indeed murder the man she loved, goaded beyond endurance by his love for her rival.
Certainly, any remake of the film White Mischief could no longer get away with featuring Alice de Janze as a bit-part player.
Adapted from The Temptress: The Scandalous Life Of Alice, Countess De Janze by Paul Spicer, to be published by Simon & Schuster on April 29 at £14.99.

Read more:

Sir Jock Delves Broughton and his bride Diana.

Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll.

 Alice de Janze

Is this the Happy Valley murderer?

Seventy years after the Earl of Erroll was shot dead, author Paul Spicer claims to have unmasked the true culprit
Elizabeth Grice 27 Apr 2010 in The Telegraph.

There is nothing like the cocktail of money, aristocracy, sexual intrigue and unsolved murder to keep a story fizzing in the public imagination long after it should have expired from lack of oxygen. How else to account for the pull of Kenya's Happy Valley set, the vividly decadent colonials whose amorality was almost a condition of residence?
Even so, it is bizarre that nearly 70 years after Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll, was shot dead at the wheel of his Buick at a crossroads in the middle of the night, we're still interested in who killed him. Film-makers, biographers, amateur sleuths, they just can't leave it alone. Convention has it that the killer was Sir Henry "Jock" Delves Broughton, in a fit of jealousy over Erroll's affair with his young wife, Diana. He was acquitted of the murder in 1941 but later committed suicide, which was considered tantamount to an admission of guilt. Another theory is that Diana herself put the gun to his head because Joss, one of whose wives was the insatiable Lady Idina, refused to marry her. (Being married was never regarded as a complication.) An odder one is that M16 assassinated the peer because he had fascist leanings.
Now along comes Paul Spicer, retired deputy chairman of Lonrho, a man with connections to some of the key players, who claims he has solved the murder more or less by accident. He started researching a biography of his mother's scandalous friend, the American heiress Countess Alice de Janze, and gradually found he was looking into the cool, wide-apart grey eyes of a murderess. She was a rich, beautiful basket-case who kept boredom and melancholy at bay with a string of dubious lovers, in full view of her tolerant French husband, Count Frederic de Janze.
"Her technique with men, I'm told, was to gaze at you and move her head from side to side, looking up in wonderment. It was a sort of hypnotism of a man, really," he says.
Aware of her deficiency as a mother, Alice left her two daughters to be brought up by their grandparents in Paris. A lion cub travelled with her luggage. For kicks, she would ride out alone among wild animals, and kept a Nile crocodile in her bathtub. Crucially, she had form with a gun, having shot both her lover, Raymund de Trafford, and then herself, in a rather ostentatious display of crime passionnel at the Gare du Nord in Paris. They both survived their injuries and eventually entered into a disastrous marriage but the scandal was immense and Spicer recreates her dramatic court appearance, on a charge of manslaughter, with great brio.
"The courtroom was packed with French women," he says. "I think they were all rooting for her because they thought her lover, Raymund, was such a shit, which he was." She was given a suspended sentence and later, on appeal, her name was cleared. How on earth did she get away with it?
"Well," says Spicer, "in France they understand crimes of passion totally. We don't. It was a crime committed for love. The tribunal reflected this belief by fining her 100 francs (about £1), less than she would have had to pay for shooting a deer out of season."
Though Alice had an on-off affair with Joss Hay over many years, her role in the White Mischief mystery, albeit colourful, has been fairly peripheral until now. Spicer puts her in the frame. He believes she killed Erroll (while still in love with him) because he had taken up with the 22-year-old Diana Delves Broughton, and she realised that her own days as a femme fatale were over. If she couldn't have him, no one else would. He establishes convincingly that she suffered from cyclothymia, a strain of bipolar disorder, which increasingly skewed her judgment.
"She had the motive and she certainly had the nerve," says Spicer. "She would not fear carrying out that act. She was consumed with jealousy. She had shot a man before. There wasn't a precise moment when I knew, but gradually the clues, one by one, began to stack up. You get your moment."
What clinched it for him was finding Alice Fleet (née Boyle), whose father, Dr William Boyle, was called to the scene of Alice de Janze's suicide. Dr Boyle (another of Alice's old lovers) found five letters and distributed them to the addressees. One was addressed to the police. It was submitted to the original coroner's inquest but its contents were never released and it has since disappeared. Boyle showed his wife, Ethnie, all five. The fifth, she related to her daughter in unforgettable terms. It contained a confession that Alice de Janze murdered Erroll. "And she told me," says Spicer.
Through Mrs Fleet, Spicer tracked down Alice de Janze's former housekeeper, a white-haired old lady by then living in Norfolk. Noel Eaton-Evans readily agreed that Alice, with her belief in the occult and in "the Other Side", could have killed Erroll, intending to kill herself, too, so they could be united in the afterlife.
However, it was several months later that Mrs Eaton-Evans (then Case) found Alice, barely alive, in a bedroom filled with flowers, her chest heavily bandaged. Spicer reconstructs the scene with forensic dedication. "After putting on her best nightgown and swallowing a huge dose of Nembutal," he says, "she lay down and shot herself in the heart. Her housekeeper told me she had put a large bandage round her bosom. I think she was conscious of the fact that blood would be going everywhere and she wanted to stem it, not make a nasty mess."
Why then, asks Spicer, did Alice not kill herself at the same time as she shot Joss? The answer lay with yet another lover. On the night she purportedly flagged down Erroll in his Buick, put a bullet through his head and returned home, a rather sweet man called Dickie Pembroke was fast asleep in her bed. Pembroke was Alice's alibi on the night of the fatal ambush. Much too loyal to let her down in court, he testified that Alice was indeed with him. No one seems to have doubted it. But then Alice had an astounding track record in influencing lawyers.
"She was very fond of Dickie. And he was madly in love with her."
James Fox, who first laid bare the reckless hedonism of the Happy Valley set in his 1982 book White Mischief, praises Spicer for bringing "an extraordinary character" out of the shadows, but prefers to stick with the theory that Delves Broughton shot Lord Erroll.
Paul Spicer, 82, who grew up with stories about Alice, and as a boy met the hapless Raymund de Trafford, makes a fascinating psychological case for the prosecution. He thinks there was a serious failure of imagination in arraigning Jock Delves Broughton. "The prosecutor had a conventional outlook on life: You steal my wife, I'll get you for it. It was not so simple. Jock was a man accustomed to losing. When he realised he had lost Diana, he wrote her off. He had backed the wrong horse and he lost. There was no question of murder in his mind."
By way of illustration, he tells a delicious story of how Jock saw his friend Erroll holding a towel out for the naked Diana as she emerged from a swimming pool. " 'Joss', he shouted from a window. 'It's my turn to dry Diana today.' They had that sort of camaraderie."
For someone with a new theory to air, Spicer is unusually insouciant about whether he is believed or not. He has talked to people who knew Alice – including one daughter and two lovers – studied her illness, and investigated her life in four countries with the dogged persistence of a private detective. What would his mother, Margaret, have thought of his verdict on her friend? "She would probably be horrified."
'The Temptress' by Paul Spicer is published by Simon and Schuster.