Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Is She a Lady?

Nina Hamnett wrote a second volume of autobiography Is She a Lady?  (1955) which picks up her story from 1926 when she returned from France to Fitzrovia.  Compiled might be a better word, as the book is really just a string of anecdotes, many rather inconsequential, probably of the kind with which she would regale a visitor to the Fitzroy or Wheatsheaf after asking them to 'Buy me a drink deah'.  It does, however, cover the period when I believe my drawing was made and the book sheds more light on her interest in boxing – another way of socializing and meeting young men and staving off the boredom of Sundays.

On Premierland, a boxing venue in East London (see here) ‘by far the most amusing and entertaining show in London.  The hall held about two thousand people and a battle nearly always raged near the ringside.  The audience never ceases to scream out insults and vulgar jokes at the unfortunate boxers who are unpopular from opening to closing time.  The payment is terrible.  There is any amount of talent to be discovered, but, as they all have to work, they never have sufficient time to train unless, by some extraordinary stroke of luck, someone pays for their training.’(p.51)  She mentions making drawings on many occasions.

Prof Newton’s Academy of Boxing 241 Marylebone Road: 'I went down one Sunday to see the boys training and to meet the great Professor.  Sunday morning is the best time, as most of them have to work during the week, many as navvies.  Nipper Pat Daly was then in his prime.  He was a funny little boy of fifteen and a half, and a very fine boxer.  If ever there should have been a champion it ought to have been Nipper.’ (p.49)  One of the book’s illustrations is a signed photo of Daly, who was a bit of a local celebrity at the time, a photo of Daly with the Professor and more information here.

She also mentions staying at the Hotel l'Etoile: (p.12) ‘I invited people to lunch and dine with me at my hotel, not worrying much about the future, as I had been paid for the drawings in Seymour’s book   [Seymour Leslie The Silent Amen (Jonathan Cape 1927]. '  Perhaps the list of names on the back of the drawing are those she entertained there.  She also illustrated The People's Album of London Statues - with droll commentary from Osbert Sitwell, it is the source, as I discovered, of his description of William Huskisson's statue in Pimlico as 'boredom rising from the bath'.  Illustrations of both books above.

Many characters acquainted with Aleister Crowley pop up in the book including Nancy Cunard, Lord Tredegar and that strange individual William Seabrook.  She produced a portrait of the speedboat racer 'Joe' Carstairs , who I'd never heard of before, but seems interesting (can't trace the picture).

In conclusion on Hamnett I should also direct those interested to the always excellent Strange Flowers resource.  A film was made about her starring Siobhan Fahey out of Bananarama.

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