Nicknamed ‘The Master’ after his roaring successes in song and on stage in the 1930s, Noel began performing at the age of 7, adoring songs, music and his mother. Noel was invited to Burgh Island for the weekend by Archie Nettlefold in the late 1920s and reputedly loved it so much he stayed for 3 weeks… who knows whether ‘Room With a View’ was penned here?
Position 503/4 10º.80N 043/4 15º.90W… Height 51 metres… Range 24 miles… Intensity 570,000 candle power… Light characteristics: White group flashing twice every 10 secs. Subsidiary fixed red light covers a 17 degree arc marking the ‘Hands Deep’ reef. The original lighthouse was established in 1703 and its Victorian progeny stands 14 miles out from Plymouth Breakwater.
From basic beginnings, Jo Baker took the swiftest route she could, dancing and performing vaudeville, to New York City and thence to Paris. She was gorgeous; Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”, and she was soon the lead and the star of the show, billed as the ‘highest-paid chorus girl in Vaudeville’.
In May and October we entertain dolphins in the Bay, so why not mermaids? This pretty suite overlooks the Mermaid Natural Rock Pool and is made special by the bequest of Queenie’s original bedroom suite, now fully restored to its ’30s polished glamour. Queenie was a regular guest at Burgh Island, and she is still remembered, dancing along the corridors after dinner.
Another of the beautiful, self-made celebrities who haunt our corridors, Jessie Matthews was a gamine, graceful dancer, with a warbling voice, and waif-like sex appeal – the embodiment of ’30s style. She looked as good in a sheer chiffon tea dress as in a DJ, dressed as a boy. Matthews danced from an early age, and worked at elocution lessons to create her trademark plummy accent.
Intrigued by all elements of design, in 1920, W. O. Bentley designed and built a high-tech four-cylinder engine and stylish chassis – his Bentley 3 Litre. The car was a breakthrough for the Fast Set, matching durability with pizzazz when it won the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924 (Bentley models then won each year through to 1930). Archie Nettlefold owned three and garaged one always at Burgh Island.
‘The Queen of Crime’ needs no background synopsis. Agatha met Archie Nettlefold through his financial backing of a number of London stage productions. The views are eternal at Burgh Island and the same as Agatha would have pondered on between murders. Probably the best selling author of all time, with one billion copies sold in English and a further billion in 103 other languages, Agatha defied convention.
Oscar Deutsche, the chain‘s founder, claimed that ‘Odeon’ was an acronym for ‘Oscar Deutsche Entertains Our Nation’ Tapping into the Zeitgeist to bring Art Deco spectacle to the masses, by 1937, there were 250 Odeon cinemas in Britain. Just before the outbreak of WWII, Oscar, his wife Lily and their companion, WW1 fighter ace Sol Joseph travelled to Burgh Island in Sol‘s Ford V8 Pilot.
How did Major Edward Dudley ‘Fruity’ Metcalfe acquire his moniker? Nothing in his generally decent life gives a hint at a seamier side. The aide de camp to Edward, Prince of Wales, ‘Fruity’ was a brick. Escorting the Prince through Europe and on frequent trips to Burgh Island, ‘Fruity’ was constantly touched for the odd fiver, or to ease the Prince‘s travels by greasing the hand of an official, a husband, or two.
The world of Victorian music hall was a competitive place and this may explain George Chirgwin‘s bizarre guise as a black faced minstrel. Billing himself as ‘the white-eyed kaffir’ (ahem!) Chirgwin had worked his routine since childhood, in an act that mixed sentimental songs, wisecracking comedy, costume and make-up.
One of the few Burgh Island ghosts to have been born into privilege, Nancy‘s mother was a friend of Wallis Simpson and through her Nancy came to discover the peace at Burgh Island that her life in Paris and London could not offer. A ’20s wild child with truly intellectual leanings, Nancy had numerous bohemian affairs; she was muse to every left-leaning poet, writer or artist to throng around the cafes of post War Paris.
Mountbatten accompanied Edward, then Prince of Wales, on a 1922 royal tour of India, and the pair emerged as great chums. No doubt Mountbatten first visited Burgh Island with Edward, although relations with Wallis Simpson were frosty and their friendship hit a low during the abdication crisis in 1936. Siding as always with the royals, Louis chummed up with Prince Albert, the Duke of York, later George VI.
A bright spark, Reginald dazzled the world of aeronautics. Having studied engineering and mathematics at night school, at 22 he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works as Chief Designer. By 24, he was Chief Engineer, at 31 Technical Director. Mitchell used Burgh Island as a retreat during his battle with cancer; it is said that his Spitfire was inspired by a seagull’s flight.
“I am not what you’d call wonderfully talented, but I am light on my feet and I do make the best of things.” So said Gertrud Alexandra Dagmar Klasen with cute understatement; At ten Gertie met a boy named Noel Coward, who wrote, “She gave me an orange and told me a few mildly dirty stories, and I loved her from then onwards.” Noel and Gertie were passionate friends for life and his plays gave her emotional depth.
Over a 40 year career, George Formby appeared in 21 hit films, made 230 records, hundreds of stage performances, two Royal Command Performances and entertained an estimated 3 million Allied Servicemen and women during WWII throughout Europe and the Middle East. Burgh Island guests did not know what to make of the cheeky Northern chappie who proudly played on his Northern accent.
Named for the former Zeigfield Follies dancer and sometime femme fatale, Miss Button. Miss Button is now immortalised in the phrase coined by the last white Maharani of Sarawak with reference to the Maharaja, Captain Keith Anderson, who was taken with Miss Button during a monsoon. Commented the Maharani, in 1946: “button up!”.