Party Time: Vile Bodies and Bruno Hat

The anticipation of New Year’s Eve parties inspired media references to Vile Bodies. In an entertainment news blog (, several memorable party scenes from films were recalled. The opening scene from Stephen Fry’s film adaptation of the novel (retitled as Bright Young Things) was among them:

The fast-paced opening sequence of Stephen Fry’s fabulous adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” features a divinely decadent costume party titled “Inferno.” Miles (Michael Sheen) confides to his dancing friend Nina (Emily Mortimer) that the party is “too dull,” to which she responds, “I’ve never been so bored in my life!” It’s “vile,” but a typical, absinthe-fueled party for the Bright Young Things, who host “masked parties, savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Circus parties,” and more in 1930s London. Of course, the war soon breaks out and the party crashes once and for all. All these frivolous high society partygoers are faced with the “nausea, terror and shame” that awaits them. Fry’s film is a sly satire that still resonates today.

Several German-language newspapers in Switzerland also carried a listing of items to be considered in planning seasonal parties. This quote is from the version that appeared in the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich:

Celebrate like the Bright Young Things. The English upper-class kids, who called themselves “The Bright Young Things”, celebrated a different way in the 20s and 30s. They actually celebrated throughout [?] and created creative mottoes for their parties. For example, there was a party called «The Second Childhood Party». There was the circus party, the Watteau party and wild treasure hunts in the city. Sometimes they disguised themselves as someone from the circle of friends. Makeup for men and androgyne fashion for women were the order of the day. Among the bright young things were, for example, the author Evelyn Waugh, whose novel “Vile Bodies” is a kind of portrait of the time, and the photographer Cecil Beaton, who began his career with photographing his party friends.

The story is accompanied by a Cecil Beaton photograph of costumed BYPs dressed as infants in prams, no doubt taken at the “Second Childhood Party” mentioned in the article. The translation is by Google.

Two postings from earlier this week provide background for another party prank in which Waugh took part. This was the Bruno Hat exhibition in 1929 where art was on display from a bogus modern artist. Waugh wrote the catalogue and Brian Howard did most of the paintings. The postings appear on (an eclectic website that urges readers to submit items of interest based on recent findings or researches). The postings are dated 26 December and 27 December 2016 and are based on the blogger’s discovery of a book by Patrick Balfour (Society Racket: A Critical Survey of Modern Social Life (London, 1933) in which he provides backgound information about the hoax exhibition. Balfour’s role in Vile Bodies is also explained in the introduction to the blog post:

At the time of this book [Balfour] was ‘Mr Gossip’ at the Daily Express and the character Adam in Waugh’s Vile Bodies was probably partly based on him (Adam becomes ‘Mr Chatterbox’ at the ‘Daily Excess’.) Balfour covers the 1929 hoax surrealist exhibition at the Guinness’s house in Buckingham Gate SW1.

There is also a quote in the second posting from Waugh’s hoax catalogue (“Approach to Hat”), which he wrote under the name “A.R. de T.” Here’s a sample:

The painting of Bruno Hat presents a problem of very real importance. He is no Cezanne agonisedly tussling to reconcile the visual appearance of form with his own intuitional perception of it… Bruno Hat’s work definitely accredit him with a similar power [to Picasso], developed, because of his youth only, to a less degree. The significance of this cannot be sufficiently stressed. It means, among other things, that Bruno Hat may lead the way in this century’s European painting from Discovery to Tradition. Uninfluenced, virtually untaught, he is the first natural, lonely, spontaneous flower of the one considerable movement in painting to-day.

The quote comes from an earlier Leicester Gallery catalogue where one of Bruno Hat’s paintings was for sale. This is also available online here.

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