Andrew Marr and Ma Meyrick

BBC4 is rebroadcasting Andrew Marr’s 2009 documentary series The Making of Modern Britain. Yesterday, this reached Episode 4: “Having a Ball.” This covered the 1920s, and both opened and closed with a party. Marr began by mixing a drink he called the bathwater cocktail that was featured at the Bath and Bottle Party convened in June 1928. The hosts were “Babe” Plunket Greene, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Edward Gathorne-Hardy, and Brian Howard, all at the center of the Bright Young Things. The cocktail was probably so named because it matched the color of the water in the St George’s swimming baths where the party convened.

Marr then flashes back to the beginning of the ’20s and illustrates the decade with the career of Ma Meyrick, owner of several night clubs including The 43 which appears in Waugh’s novels of the period.  She appears as Mrs Mayfield in Brideshead Revisited and the club as the “Old Hundredth” in both that novel and A Handful of Dust. She flourished thanks to bribery but was ultimately imprisoned several times by her nemesis William Joynson Hicks, then Home Secretary. She always managed to reopen and ultimately got two of her daughters educated at Roedean and married into the peerage. See previous post.

The program proceeds through the decade, with the return to the gold standard followed by the General Strike of 1926. It closes at the Bath and Bottle party in 1928 with which it began. Tom Driberg is a featured guest, at the same time covering the party for the Daily Express; another guest is Brenda Dean Paul, whose description of the party is also quoted. Marr describes the party as the beginning of the end of the Roaring Twenties, with an ominous reference to what is about to happen on Wall Street in 1929.

The episode can be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 4 weeks. A UK internet connection is required. While Waugh himself isn’t mentioned, many of those who are will be familiar.

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