Reverie: The Music Of Angela Morley

Though Angela Morley had relatively few credits to her name by the mid-1970s, she had been a significant figure in the light music industry for over thirty years. It was certainly not the case that she lacked talent or ambition, but that Morley herself only came into being in 1970; before then, she was known as Wally Stott. Born in Leeds on 10th March 1924, Stott came from a musical family and his earliest memory ‘was of sitting on the floor surrounded by records of the bands of Jack Payne and Henry Hall and playing them on our enormous wind up gramophone. My dad played the ukulele-banjo that he used to let me tune for him, using his pitch pipe, to either G-C-E-A or A-D-F#-B. My mother had a contralto voice and sang: There is a Lady Passing By and, her favourite, Big Lady Moon.’ An interest in the violin was soon replaced by the piano, although the sudden death of his father in 1933 meant that Stott’s lessons were abruptly ended. Nevertheless, he subsequently taught himself to master it as well as the alto saxophone.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Stott left school to become the saxophonist with a dance band and later joined the Oscar Rabin Band in 1941; three years later, he became a part of Geraldo’s Orchestra. Discovering that he had a remarkable gift for arrangement, Stott found work with the BBC, and later studied composition under Mátyás Seiber and conducting with Walter Goehr.

During the War, Stott met Peter Sellers, who offered him the job of conducting the background music for The Goon Show in 1952, and in 1954, he composed the theme tune for the new radio show – Hancock’s Half Hour. At the same time, Stott was also appointed musical director for Philips Records and was working with stars such as Shirley Bassie, Frankie Vaughan and Mel Tormé, who recalled that From the first downbeat, I knew I was in the presence of a major talent.’ From 1967 to 1970, Stott also worked as an arranger for Scott Walker’s solo albums, with Walker remarking, ‘Working with Wally Stott on Scott 3 was like having Delius writing for you.’

Venturing into the world of film, Stott composed scores for The Heart of a Man (1959), Peeping Tom (1960) and The Looking Glass War (1969) among others. Memorable tunes such as Rotten Row and A Canadian in Mayfair, rightly cemented his reputation and as Tony Osborne, himself a successful arranger and composer remembered, We all looked up to Wally because we knew that he was second only to Robert Farnon, and it was a pretty close run thing at that!’

Above: The opening and closing themes from The Looking Glass War (1969)

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God Of The Witches: The Cult Of Margaret Murray

Denounced in 1938 by the witch hunting and trials expert, C. L’Estrange Ewen, as nothing more than ‘vapid balderdash,’ the work of the Egyptologist and anthropologist, Professor Margaret Murray, has been subjected to even fiercer criticism since her death in 1963. Propagating the theory that in early Christian Europe until the Renaissance, there existed an organised and widespread Pagan cult, which grew around the worship of what she termed The Horned God,’ Murray became known as a leading authority on the subject of European witchcraft, with her controversial books earning her a substantial readership and many of her ideas capturing the public’s imagination. There were even ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims that Murray herself practised the dark arts about which she wrote, and would cast spells to sabotage academic appointments she disapproved. In reality, she was by all accounts a pragmatic and rational thinker, who had little time for superstition in her own life.

Born in Calcutta in 1863, Murray studied linguistics and anthropology at University College London, where her interest in Egyptology brought her to the attention of the renowned Egyptologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie, whom she accompanied on several excavations and who appointed her as a Junior Lecturer in 1898. As a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Murray fought to improve the status of women and for greater recognition of their academic achievements, and in 1908, made history by becoming the first woman to unwrap a mummy in public during a series of lectures she gave at the Manchester Museum. Continue reading

All For Love: The Legend Of Dawn Langley Simmons

Like many other aspects of the life of Dawn Langley Simmons, her date of birth remains a matter of some dispute. While she always claimed to have been born in 1937, official records reveal the year of her birth as 1922; and the timing of some of Dawn’s own recollections certainly make that date far more plausible. Dawn’s mother was Margery Hall Ticehurst, a domestic servant, and her father, Jack Copper, the resident chauffeur at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. Though the pair eventually married, Margery’s family were initially enraged at the thought of her having a child out of wedlock, so much so that her brother viciously kicked her in the stomach while pregnant. Dawn later suggested that she believed this incident was the cause of confusion, among both doctors and her parents, over her gender. Mistakenly believing her to be a boy, she argued, they had consequently brought her up as one.

Christened Gordon Langley Hall, although affectionately known by her family and friends as ‘Dinky’ on account of her slight frame, as an adult Dawn would fervently maintain that she had been born with a condition that caused swelling of the genitals, thereby leading doctors to wrongly identify her as male at birth. In his 2004 book Peninsula of Lies, based upon Dawn’s life, the journalist Edward Ball states that Dawn genuinely was born male, a fact certified to him by the doctor who carried out Dawn’s gender reassignment surgery in 1968. Yet regardless of whatever Gordon Langley Hall’s sex might have been at birth, Dawn Langley Simmons was a most remarkable woman.

Reminiscing about her childhood many years later, Dawn admitted to having a distant relationship with her parents, but an exceptional bond with her maternal grandmother, Nellie, whom she greatly admired. Nellie would inspire Dawn to follow her own path recalling how, ‘Knowing that because of my affliction I would never be able to contract a proper marriage, she decided early to fortify me with so much knowledge that I would be able to hold my own with anybody.’ Growing up at Sissinghurst, Dawn spent much time with the castle’s bohemian owners, Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, both of whom were homosexual; and through Vita’s lover, Virginia Woolf, she would also encounter the highly intellectual and artistic Bloomsbury Group for whom notions of gender and sexuality were often blurred. This was to leave an indelible mark upon her, as a close friend revealed to Edward Ball, ‘All this is what Dawn saw when she was growing up – a bunch of messed up artists.’

When asked by Virginia Woolf what she wanted to be when she grew up, Dawn remembered telling the novelist without hesitation, ‘a writer.’ Woolf’s own work also played a part in influencing the impressionable young Dinky, particularly her 1928 novel Orlando, about an epicene character with the ability to change sex, apparently based upon the androgynous Vita Sackville-West. Indeed, Dawn acknowledged, I had a recurring dream in which I saw an old fashioned glass hearse with plumes turning to go into the cemetery. And in the casket was Gordon. And that was a recurring dream. And of course, I grew up at Sissinghurst. And Virginia Woolf had written Orlando, the wonderful story about her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. How over the years Orlando had turned from a beautiful young man into a beautiful woman. And so I felt in my heart that I was the living Orlando.’ As Woolf had done, Dawn displayed a precocious talent for writing from an early age, and at nine years-old even had a regular column in a local newspaper, The Sussex Express, for which she once interviewed Mae West.

During the Second World War, Dawn was deemed unfit for service, but made herself useful by taking theatre classes and entertaining the troops, an endeavour that would have been unlikely had she been born in 1937. Still living as a man, in 1950 she moved to the United States, where she became the society editor for the Nevada Daily Mail in Missouri. A year later, she left for a brief stay in Canada, and found teaching work at an the Ojibway native reservation, an experience which would inspire her to write her 1955 book Me Papoose Sitter, the first of her critically acclaimed works. Continue reading

If Love Were All: Noël Coward And Prince George

In 1923, during the West End run of his musical revue London Calling, the 24 year-old Noël Coward encountered another young man, who was to play a significant role in his life. With sexual relations between men remaining a criminal offence in Britain, until 1967, the truth about their relationship could never become public knowledge in either of their lifetimes. The dashing fellow who had caught Coward’s eye was none other than His Royal Highness Prince George, the fourth son of the reigning monarch, King George V.

A voracious bisexual who dabbled in the use of both cocaine and morphine, the Prince was instantly drawn to the urbane playwright, who had already made a name for himself through such credits as The Better Half and The Queen Was in the Parlour. They began a clandestine affair, one which resumed intermittently over the two decades which followed their first meeting.

While Prince George maintained a career in the Royal Navy until 1929, Coward became an international celebrity, his popular songs and light-hearted comic plays like Hay Fever and Easy Virtue, as well as more serious works such as The Vortex, which touched upon the taboo subjects of drug-use and repressed homosexuality, earning him the title ‘The Master,’ from his many adoring fans. At the same time, both men continued to have other lovers.

Coward was linked to several young actors including Louis Hayward and Alan Webb, and Prince George to numerous women including the cabaret star Florence Mills, who died of tuberculosis in 1927 at the age of 32, banking heiress Poppy Baring, and American socialite Kiki Preston, the latter such a heavy drug user that that she was dubbed the ‘girl with the silver syringe.’ Rumours abounded that the prince also fathered an illegitimate son with the daughter of a Canadian coal-merchant. By 1932, Prince George’s indiscretions had caught up with him, forcing his elder brother the Prince of Wales to deal with a blackmail plot hatched against his sibling, by a French architect with whom he was engaged in an affair. Continue reading