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Smoke and mirrors: Willy Clarkson and the role of disguises in inter-war England.

 "I, who have studied disguise almost as deeply as the great Willy
 Clarkson, will transform you into a perfect ruffian."
 Sax Rohmer, The Golden Scorpion, 1919.

The notion of the "historian as detective" has a long lineage. (1) Today social and cultural historians investigating questions of sex, gender or race frequently find themselves grappling with issues of masking and passing. (2) Dealing as they so often do with once tabooed topics, historians of sexuality are especially likely to see the need of reading against the grain, of searching for evidence of desires or practices that the subjects of their inquiries felt obliged to hide. An appreciation of how and why some were either forced or chose to lead double lives promises to enrich enormously our knowledge of the past.

The need or desire to disguise oneself has, of course, long been a key theme in western culture. Greek legends are filled with references to gods and humans adopting false identities, much of our theater, beginning with Shakespeare's plays, abounds with characters who attempt to pass as someone else, and innumerable modern mystery stories climax with the shrewd shamus unmasking the villain. Our interest in individuals' attempts to re-invent themselves seems to be perennial, yet in each historical epoch specific sorts of masquerading have had a special resonance. Attempts to understand why the public at certain times was sensitive to the employment of specific disguises, promises to provide us with a better sense of a society's particular cultural preoccupations.

Questions of identity and disguise certainly fascinated late nineteenth and early twentieth-century English culture. A society made anxious by shifting class, gender, and racial relationships was naturally preoccupied by dress and role playing, by visual codes and clues. One has only to recall the stratagems used by those in positions of power to penetrate the underworld. This was the great age of "slumming" by members of the middle and upper classes including James Greenwood, Jack London, Beatrice Webb, and last but not least George Orwell. In the world of fiction Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and E. W. Hornung's Raffles perhaps best embodied the elite's conviction that gentlemen detectives could easily "pass" as workers. Similar masquerading--as depicted in the works of Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Richard Burton, and T. E. Lawrence--was employed by whites to penetrate non-European cultures. (3) Here again the complacent English reader assumed that the white man could successfully pass as native, whereas the native's attempts to cross the racial barrier were always doomed to fail. (4)

Disguises were, of course, not simply used by the powerful for the purposes of policing and surveillance. To obtain better paid work, some laboring women donned male attire. In pursuit of freedom, even higher-class women on occasion adopted similar tactics. For example, in 1910 an official was quoted by the press as asserting, "It is by no means an uncommon practice for young women in long-distance liners to pass as boys in order not to lose, by confinement in the female quarters, the company of a father or brother." (5) Intrepid feminists publicized their use of disguises to explore the city. In Elizabeth Robins' play Votes for Women (1907) a middle-class activist describes how disguising herself as a working-class woman opened her eyes to male power. "You'll never know how many things are hidden from a woman in good clothes. The bold, free look of a man at a woman he believes to be destitute--you must feel that look on you before you can understand--a good half of history." (6)

Homosexuals, who necessarily had to lead double lives, were perhaps the most appreciative of the multiplicity of roles one individual could play. (7) At the turn of the century a Bostonian wrote a friend: "You would be amused could you know how in my secret thoughts of late I have been chiefly engaged in trying to penetrate my own disguise to find the real Dwight, for it is ridiculous that I should all unconsciously have played a part so well as to deceive so many intelligent and respectable people. I dare not think of the time when they will discover their mistake." (8) Valeri Arkell-Smith in passing as "Colonel Barker" and Radclyffe Hall in making male attire a sign of the mannish lesbian of the 1930s, underscored the fluidity of gender identities. (9) "We are what we wear," was Virginia Woolf's optimistic view, "and, therefore, since we can wear anything, we can be anyone." (10)

At the turn of the century disguises empowered, frightened, and amused. The anxious repeatedly warned the naive that confidence men and painted women employed false fronts to entrap their victims. (11) Yet in the music halls and early movies male and female impersonators who toyed with gender expectations and "swells" who appropriated the dress and manners of gentility were a staple form of entertainment. (12) In the arts the younger generation was tired of the nineteenth century's fixation on realism. In "A Defense of Cosmetics" which appeared in the Yellow Book in 1894 Max Beerbohm presented the fin-de-siecle interest in makeup as evidence of a cultural revolution. "Artifice must queen it once more in the town ... For behold! The Victorian era comes to an end and the day of sancta simplicitas is quite ended. The old signs are here and the portents to warn the seer that we are ripe for a new epoch of artifice." (13)

Investigation of the cultural role of the disguise could lead on to subjects as disparate as the rise of the spy story, the proliferation of costume books, and the popularization of psychoanalysis. So far the study of passing, role-playing, and performance has tended to be dominated by literary scholars. (14) Such studies often begin with the knowledge that the subject--say Radclyffe Hall or T. E. Lawrence--played a certain role and then the author seeks to explain their motivation and the public's response to their performance. Stories of passing often ended with exposure. A point sometimes missed is that the character who perfectly performed their role, like the criminal who committed the perfect crime, would never--at least in their lifetime--be detected and would thus escape examination. The subject of this paper--the man who knew more about costumes and disguises than any other individual in early twentieth-century England--was just such a paragon. The purpose of the essay is not simply to tease out the reasons why one man led a double life, but to reveal how in inter-war England such disparate "deviances" as homosexuality, Jewishness, and criminality could be linked in the public mind. The goal is to better understand a society which in principle praised candor and condemned subterfuges yet in practice fostered a culture of duplicity.

"I am the great Clarkson," was the favorite boast of William Berry Clarkson, (better known simply as Willy or Willie Clarkson) a familiar theatrical personality of early twentieth-century London. Were he alive today he would no doubt be disappointed to discover that he has been almost completely forgotten, even by the historians of the theater. I had certainly never heard of him until a few years ago when, attempting to piece together the activities of a gang of London extortionists, I kept on coming across stray references to this curious character. Given the fact that Clarkson was--as Sax Rohmer testified--an acknowledged expert in costuming and disguises, it occurred to me that an examination of Clarkson's career might reveal something of the early twentieth-century discussion of both the policing and broaching of social boundaries. A key complaint of those made anxious by a more urbanized, anonymous world was that it was increasingly easy for outsiders to assume false fronts. Clarkson actually made his living in providing just such deceptive dressing and accordingly my hope in tracing his activities was to gain insights into the process of how and why particular notions of sex, race, and respectability were "forged."

Clarkson was not as reliable a guide as I had hoped. Indeed, to my surprise the more I learnt about him, the more rather than the less mysterious he became, which meant that the unraveling of his own mysterious undertakings demanded more attention than I first envisaged. In what follows I will describe the Willy Clarkson the public knew; I will then attempt to determine the extent of his duplicity, what secrets he might have guarded and why. I cannot explain exactly what made him tick--there is simply not enough in the way of letters or personal papers to allow that--but I intend to show what a range of cultural issues can be unearthed in tracing the career of a man who knew more than most of the importance of being elusive.

Clarkson was already famous by the 1890s as the theatrical wigmaker of London. Born in 1861, he came from a family of perruquiers and by the age of twelve had begun working in the business himself. It was a skilled trade, nineteenth-century wigs being made of human hair which had to be purchased on the continent. (15) Clarkson would be best known as a wig-maker but extended his line into make-up and costumes.
 Mr. Clarkson's business, [noted a 1883 reporter] it is almost
 superfluous to state, is of a most extensive character. Holding
 contracts with the Alhambra, Her Majesty's, Drury-lane, Adelphi,
 Vaudeville, Avenue, Royalty, Princess's, Opera House, New York, &
 c., & c., and supplying half a hundred companies, besides attending to
 music-hall requirements and amateur performances, not a little care
 and supervision must be exercised, so that the huge connection may be
 kept going. (16)

I suspect that Clarkson had a hand in this article. He was always the self-promoter. His apartment was full of portraits of himself and inscribed photographs from the leading actors testifying to their friendship. When he was asked to write a chapter titled "On Making-Up" for A Guide to the Stage he took the opportunity of puffing the quality of "Clarkson's Lillie Powder" and his "well-known Kleeno" which, he boasted, was "used by Sir Henry Irving and most other theatrical celebrities." (17)

It is certainly true that Clarkson was successful. In the 1890s he was supplying the wardrobes for the private plays and entertainments that Queen Victoria had her children and courtiers put on at Windsor and Balmoral. (18) Edward VII appointed him "Royal Perruquier and Costumier." Clarkson assisted in 1920 in the staging of the first boy scout world jamboree at the Olympia in London and was portrayed by the Daily Sketch cartoonist standing next to "The Chief," Sir Robert Baden-Powell. (19) Through the 1920s Clarkson was also responsible for equipping the performers of the Aldershot Tattoo. More importantly, for half a century he provided the wigs and costumes for most of the West End theaters. (20) Indeed he was so well known that when the correspondent Philip Gibbs imagined how the First World War might be portrayed he immediately thought of Clarkson. "It seemed to me that a clever stage manager desiring to present to his audience the typical characters of this military drama--leaving out the beastliness, of course--would probably select the very people and groups upon whom I was now looking down from the window. Motor-cars came whirling up with French staff officers in dandy uniforms (the stains of blood and mud would only be omitted by Mr. Willie Clarkson)." (21)

A collection of Clarkson's costume designs is now housed in the Harvard University Theater Collection. He was probably right in thinking that he was better known that many of the actors he supplied. At the peak of his career he purportedly had on hand 50,000 costumes and on occasion employed a staff of close to a hundred. He knew everyone on the London stage including Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilly, Dame Melba, Lily Langtry, and Henry Irving as well as writers like Frank Harris. When Irving toured America, Clarkson provided his company with eleven hundred wigs. (22) He made trips to Paris to work for Lucien Guitry (father of Sacha) and Sarah Bernhardt. Indeed in 1905 the divine Sarah herself unveiled the plaque on the opening of Clarkson's new London shop on Wardour Street. (23)

Clarkson was not content to remain behind the scenes. He attended every West End first night, his "red hair, curly moustaches, and full Edwardian beard ... dyed and crimped, his face patently rouged and powdered." (24) All who described him noted his dwarfish appearance. Some portrayed him as "grotesque," others simply as short and plump. At times sporting a toupee and false beard, he had a reputation for being pompous and vane. For half a century he was a fixture at every theatrical event, gossiping in his lisping Cockney accent to the cream of London society who had made of him a sort of pet. (25) His betters enjoyed laughing at the nervous, "queer little man." Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the leading actor-producer of the early twentieth-century London stage, while relying on Clarkson's assistance, liked to bait him. "The famous perruquier, Willy Clarkson, once criticized the natural hair of an actress, [reports Hesketh Pearson] thinking it an ineffective wig. Tree explained: 'Hair is the stuff that grows on the head. How should you know what hair is?'" (26)

Clarkson was so much associated in the public mind with the turn of the century theatricals that he played himself in Ever Green, the 1930 Rogers and Hart musical which portrayed the world of the Edwardian music halls. (27) He was apparently at the height of his financial success in the early 1920s, the proud owner of the Duchess Theatre. Thereafter his business declined. By the late 1920s he was beginning to be bested as wig-maker by rivals like Madame Gustave of Convent Garden. Appropriately enough he was not in George Saville's film version of Evergreen made in 1934. (28) Due in part to the rising popularity of the cinema and the concomitant decline of the music hall, Clarkson's business affairs deteriorated.

As his fortunes waned Clarkson purportedly became increasingly erratic and miserly. (29) Nevertheless it was assumed that he died a wealthy man. The actual cause of his death was never cleared up. On the night of 13 October 1934 the seventy-four year old wig-maker was found sprawled on the floor of his bedroom with a nasty gash on his head. He was attended by Lord Dawson of Penn, the king's personal physician, but never regained consciousness. (30) A post mortem was carried out by England's most famous forensic scientist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury. No evidence of foul play was detected. Clarkson's funeral service took place at St. Paul's cathedral, his friends placing a "wig" of white flowers on the alter step. (31)

Clarkson presented a smiling face to the public. "Having lived always in his little land of make-believe," reported one fawning interviewer, "he looks on life with the beaming eyes of humor and tolerance. Life, he tells you, has been kind to him. Thus he is kind to it." (32) But had life been kind to him? Once Clarkson was buried the question of who he actually was began to force itself onto the public's attention. In December, 1934 his ground rent of [pounds sterling]1,500 per annum on a theater in the Strand and his properties on Wellington and Wardour Streets, along with their stock and good will were put up for sale. (33) Controversy broke out in January, 1935 when his will was probated at the High Court of Justice. Clifford Mortimer, solicitor, presented himself claiming that William Hobbs was the sole executor and legatee. Max Brezinski--a conjurer who was also known as Fred Brezin--responded that he and his daughter Simonne had been named in a later will.

It must have come as a shock to some to read that Clarkson, the man who supplied the royal household with costumes, might have made William Hobbs his beneficiary. They were in fact contemporaries--Clarkson was born in 1861, Hobbs in 1865--and had known each other since 1886. Clarkson had many strange friends but undoubtedly none more unsavory. Hobbs, the most infamous blackmailer of the inter-war period, had played a central role in the successful 1919 plot to extort [pounds sterling]150,000 from the maharajah of Kashmir. When he was arrested in April 1925, just as he was about to flee the country, the police found on him [pounds sterling]1,500 in cash. Clarkson showed up at the Bow Street Police Station to say that the money was actually his and produced a deed to prove he had advanced Hobbs that sum. Sir Charles Biron, the magistrate, accordingly ordered the money to be handed over to Clarkson. (34) The suspicion was that in fact Clarkson was simply acting on Hobbs' orders to make sure the money did not fall into the hands of the authorities.

Now in 1935 the public learnt that Hobbs was claiming to be Clarkson's sole surviving legatee based on a will dated 24 June 1929. Brezinski responded that he was the executor of a will Clarkson made out two years later after a 1931 fire at the Wardour Street premises. This will had stated that Brezinski was to run the business after Clarkson's death. Brezinski asserted that the will had been written in Clarkson's personal note book, but after Hobbs had seen it the two pages had vanished. (35) Brezinski further stated that while he and his daughter were treated like family, Clarkson made a point of avoiding Hobbs. This account was supported by two witnesses to the 1931 will who were friends of Clarkson, Emanuel Isaac Ryness of Johannesburg and Will Joe Shoebridge. Moss Leon of National Talkies also gave evidence that Clarkson had spoken of the 1931 will. The Probate Court accordingly in July, 1935 accepted Brezinski and his daughter as heirs. (36) Indeed in 1938 Hobbs was convicted of forging his version of the Clarkson will and sentenced to five years imprisonment. (37)

But did Clarkson in fact have any money to leave to anyone? In March, 1935 an accounting of Clarkson's estate determined that he had left in gross [pounds sterling]64,519 with a net personality of [pounds sterling]3,030. (38) When the properties purportedly worth [pounds sterling]65,000 were put up for auction in 1936 only [pounds sterling]13,250 were bid and the sale was canceled. (39) His accountant subsequently described Clarkson's books in a state of "hugger-mugger." Potential buyers were clearly suspicious of the real worth of the properties. And Hobbs and Brezinski were not alone in squabbling over whatever monies the Clarkson estate might produce; insurance companies now appeared on the scene seeking compensation for what they stated had been the wig-maker's filing of fraudulent fire claims. (40) Was Clarkson, the respectable wig-maker, in reality a fraudulent businessman and arsonist?

In the inter-war period London had about 6,000 fires a year. Wardour Street perhaps had more than its fair share because of the many film and theatrical businesses it harbored. In October 1924, for example, a blaze at the Topical Film company at 76-78 Wardour Street led to an explosion resulting in the windows of Pathe Brothers being blown out and a nearby car engulfed in flames. Several people were injured and one woman died. Firemen needed gas masks because of the fumes, leading the London County Council to discuss the safety precautions that should be taken by firms with large supplies of inflammable celluloid. (41)

On 7 September 1931 The Times reported that fire had struck Clarkson's premises at 41-43 Wardour Street. "Seven fire engines were called to deal with a fire which broke out on Saturday night in the basement of the premises of Mr. Willy Clarkson, the theatrical wig and fancy dress maker of Wardour-Street, W. It was quickly got under control." (42) In 1933 yet another fire broke out at Clarkson's.

Four years later, in March 1937, the London Assurance, British Equitable Assurance, and Lloyd's underwriters filed suit on Clarkson's estate for return of [pounds sterling]25,000, arguing that the claim that he had submitted in 1931 had been fraudulent. They furthered sought [pounds sterling]1,748 for investigating his 1933 claim. (43) According to the insurance companies, Clarkson was in desperate need of money in 1931 and had filed for [pounds sterling]83,000 damages for the first fire, having extravagantly overvalued a stock worth only [pounds sterling]31,000. His accountant was now willing to admit to having been forced to lie. (44)

The insurance companies had paid off Clarkson in 1931, but they refused his 1933 claim and launched an investigation into his company's history. They belatedly discovered that he had reported one gas explosion and eight fires--in 1895, 1898, 1901, 1910, 1915, 1918, 1924, 1931 and 1933--over a period of forty years. As early as 1902 Sun Insurance had refused to renew Clarkson's policy. The other firms seemed to be curiously unaware that on average Clarkson suffered an unfortunate conflagration every five years.

What finally brought these damaging disclosures to light was the trial and conviction in the summer of 1933 of Leopold Harris, the ring leader of a fire conspiracy gang. (45) The trial of Harris and sixteen other "fire-raisers" which involved fraudulent claims worth millions of pounds was one of the longest and most complex in the history of the Central Criminal Court. Harris had been an insurance assessor whose job it was to make up the claims for victims of fire or burglary. Working as he did on commission--he received a percentage of whatever his clients obtained--he soon saw how inflating claims was in his own interest. The next step, which he seems to have taken in 1927, was to guarantee business by actually setting fires. The third and final step was to use front men who would set up companies for the sole purpose of burning them down and submitting fraudulent claims. There were so many suspicious fires in London that they became the topic of jokes. One fire assessor supposedly said to his colleague, "I hear that there was a fire at so-and-so's last Wednesday." "Shut up, you fool!" snarled the second assessor, "It's next Wednesday." (46)

As a result of the dogged investigations carried out by one of Lloyd's solicitors--subsequently rewarded with a knighthood--the Harris gang's activities were exposed in 1933. The following complicated trial proceedings dragged on for weeks and required the services of twenty-two counsels. Two of the accused committed suicide. Harris was found guilty and given a fourteen year prison term for his arson activities; he in turn testified against Captain B. E. Miles, head of the London salvage corps who was sentenced to four years in prison. (47) The trial received an enormous amount of press attention and once it was concluded a film titled The Fire Raisers had a brief run in the West End. One critic dryly commented that it was timely and entertaining though "by no means a continuous blaze." (48)

Now four years later Harris was to reveal the ways in which that the late lamented Willy Clarkson had defrauded the insurance companies. Harris, accompanied to court by two warders, testified that Moss Leon and Isaac Ryness had introduced him to Clarkson in 1931. Choosing a Saturday night, after all the staff had left, Ryness and Leon set the fire at Wardour Street by Harris's preferred "tray and taper method." (49) That is, they used a candle which burnt down and eventually set alight the highly combustible photographic tray on which it was placed. The fire starter, in beginning the blaze, consumed itself and thus no suspicious evidence was left. (50) Representing Clarkson as his insurance assessor, Harris' essential task was to bribe the salvage operator not to notice that most of the theatrical stock--which was supposed to have been destroyed--had been removed before the fire took place. The actual loss was only [pounds sterling]5,000 but the insurance companies paid out [pounds sterling]25,000. Harris received [pounds sterling]775 for himself and [pounds sterling]100 for his manager. Ryness was paid [pounds sterling]200 and left for South Africa. Moss Leon received [pounds sterling]200 in 1931 and a further [pounds sterling]500 in 1933 for starting a second fire at Wardour Street. (51)

We do not know why Harris volunteered to provide the very sort of evidence at the 1937 trial which the insurers so badly needed. We must assume that he had been promised something in return. When asked why he agreed to testify, he declared with a straight face that he was only motivated by the desire "to right the wrongs I have done to the insurance world." (52) It is unlikely that many believed him. Nevertheless the jury accepted the insurance companies' argument that Clarkson's 1931 and 1933 claims were fraudulent though they failed to agree on whether or not he was privy to the fact that the 1931 fire was due to arson. (53) The plaintiffs were awarded [pounds sterling]26,174. (54) Once the insurance companies won back their settlements Clarkson's estate was insolvent. (55)

The 1931 and 1933 fires were set. What of the earlier ones? The evidence seems to suggest that Clarkson had turned to arson long before he met Harris. The wig maker was supposedly put onto the arson business by his blackmailing friend Thomas Hobbs. When Hobbs was convicted in 1925 the press reported that he specialized in "running down" insurance claims and had an amazing ability to produce the witnesses of accidents. (56) At a 1924 trial an accomplice of Hobbs recalled that he had met him in November, 1919 at Clarkson's in Wardour Street where a fire had just occurred. (57) A counsel noted, "Sunday was the day Hobbs was always arranging fires, I understand." (58)

Clarkson was a well-known and venerable figure in London society, but the arson investigation forced on the general public the realization that in reality they knew little of the many lives that he led. His own solicitor noted that he was secretive. John Gielgud, a rising young actor in the 1930s, left in his autobiography an account of Clarkson's passing that was suitably theatrical:
 Willie's end was sudden and dramatic. He became somewhat involved in
 a blackmail case. Then a fire broke out on his premises which no one
 seemed able to account for, and soon afterwards he was found dead in
 bed in his flat above the shop ... I have always thought what an
 effective central character he would make in some lurid thriller, for
 he was certainly an amusing old rip--a mysterious, highly coloured
 eccentric of the deepest dye. (59)

Most of what we know about Willy Clarkson comes from a biography written shortly after his death by Henry J. Greenwall. Greenwall actually said little about Clarkson's private life, only mentioning at the outset that a number of lawsuits had followed the wigmaker's mysterious passing. A reviewer of the biography perceptively noted that "there seem to have been some secret places in that life which his biographer leaves unexplored." (60) It was only after his death that contemporaries found themselves asking "Who was Willy Clarkson?" It was, of course, fitting that a man who was an expert in wigs and make-up might not always show his true face.

Producing costumes and disguises put one in contact with a curious crowd. Clarkson, the obituary writers remembered, provided costumes for two of the great turn-of-the-century hoaxes--the visit of the Sultan of Zanzibar to Cambridge in 1905 and the inspection of H. M. S. Dreadnought by a delegation of Abyssinian dignitaries in 1910. In the first hoax the exotically attired Horace Cole and Adrian Stephen--two undergraduates--hoodwinked Cambridge's mayor into providing them with an official welcome to the town and a tour of the colleges. In the second, Virginia Stephen (who on her marriage two years later was to become Virginia Woolf) donned a turban, gold chain, caftan, and grease paint provided by Clarkson to join her brother Adrian, his lover Duncan Grant, Horace Cole, Anthony Buxton, and Guy Ridley in pretending to be representatives of the Abyssinian government. (61) The Express and Mirror newspapers revealed to an amused public and an embarrassed admiralty that the Royal Navy had been gulled into welcoming aboard Britain's most powerful warship a party of pranksters. (62)

If Clarkson provided young people with costumes to fool their elders, he no doubt also had as clients cross-dressers who sought to blur gender roles. We know that Radclyffe Hall, who in the 1930s created the image of the mannish lesbian, purchased some of her clothes at Nathan's, Clarkson's rival costumier. (63) Women of easy virtue who wished to pass themselves off as ladies were also reputed to have availed themselves of his services. In one of Marie Lloyd's music hall songs a prostitute was portrayed "bedecked with make-up and a wig from Clarkson's, the theatrical supplier." (64)

Disguises were also used for more nefarious undertakings and accordingly the police showed an interest in businesses which supplied them. Clarkson claimed to have had as clients the famous murderers Charles Pearce and Dr. Hawley Crippen as well as the latter's theatrical wife Belle Elmore whom Crippen killed in 1910. (65) Crippen's mistress disguised herself as a boy for their famous trans-Atlantic dash to freedom. (66) Ronald True, the murderer, whose successful use of the insanity plea in 1922 sparked public protests, was supposedly a customer of Clarkson. The wig maker was particularly proud of having helped the police track down Herbert John Bennett, a murderer involved in arson and blackmail--two crimes which would prove to have a special resonance in Clarkson's life. (67)

Clarkson provided costumes and disguises for a variety of reasons and took his role as costumier and perruquier seriously. "Before an actor can act a part thoroughly," he asserted, "he must look it, and he cannot look it unless he knows how to make up." (68) The question which was posed after his death was, did he disguise himself? Those who wrote about him all mentioned that there were mysterious or unexplained aspects of his life. Did he take a personal as well as a business interest in the playing of roles?

The revelation that Clarkson was involved in arson demonstrated that he needed money. Why? Several contemporaries claimed that he was being blackmailed. Blackmail was a familiar theme in inter-war novels and movies. (69) Indeed Ever Green, the musical in which Clarkson had a minor role, centered on a music hall star being blackmailed by a man who knew of her having given birth to an illegitimate child. (70) Did the "great Clarkson" have skeletons in his closet? In describing Enrico Caruso, the opera singer, as a target for extortionists, Clarkson seemed to be providing a self-portrait. "He was so superstitious and so sensitive that the slightest threat sent his hands scurrying to his pocketbook." (71) Clarkson's own assistant similarly described him as having "a somewhat nervous and jumpy temperament." (72) Greenwall, his biographer, stated that when Clarkson died he was the victim of blackmailers. He had been threatened two weeks before his death and Greenwall assumed that the full story would all come out at the trial. John Gielgud also recalled that there were rumors that the wig-maker was the victim of extortionists.

Why might Clarkson have been blackmailed? What secrets did he have? As we sift through the evidence a number suggest themselves. Perhaps the most obvious one is that this purportedly successful businessman was involved in arson and the criminals with whom he associated might have made him pay for their silence. He risked far more than they did if such disclosures came to the attention of the police. But if Clarkson was blackmailed because of the fires set at his premises, it is curious that no mention of such demands was made at the trial of the arsonists. The fact remains, however, that Clarkson had good reason to fear an exposure of the state of his Wardour Street business.

Was Clarkson afraid of being exposed as a Jew? The Times obituary stated that he was "of Jewish descent." All his biographers assumed that he was Jewish. Jews had for decades been central to the Soho rag trade and more recently had a large presence in the film industry centered on Wardour Street. (73) Clarkson's closest friends were Jewish. Why had he always denied his ancestry? In the First World War some extortionists attempted to blackmail resident aliens in England (including Jews) with the threat of having them deported. (74) In 1914 a judge describe an attempt to extort money from a homeopathic chemist in this way as a "mean and cowardly offence." (75) In June 1915 a Bow Street magistrate heard that a druggist, though a naturalized citizen was the victim of such a crime. (76) In September two waiters were remanded for trying to extort money from a Turkish diamond merchant. (77) The same month Emanuel Goldman pleaded guilty to forty-six cases of going to the homes of aliens and extorting money with the threat that would be interned; he was sentenced to four years in prison. (78) In 1925 a gang used fear of deportation to extort money from Julius Weiss. (79) In 1937 Reginald List, claiming to represent the police, threatened David Yaskell, a Jew, that he would be sent back to Germany--where he faced execution--unless he paid. (80)

Clarkson obviously did not have to fear deportation. Yet one wonders what he felt about the anti-Semitic slurs which were still common in inter-war England. (81) Even the most assimilated, secure and prosperous of Jews were aware of the pervasiveness of a sneering bourgeois anti-Semitism. In relating to a reporter the career of Madame Scaasi, "a beautiful American Jewess," Clarkson discreetly noted the power of such prejudices. "She has a splendid voice," he observed, "but when she came to London she did not take on. It was finally decided that her name was, in those days, against her. So she changed it by reversing it from Isaacs to Scassi, and her success was immediate." (82) Similarly, Norman Zions, an ambitious young Australian doctor who was soon to become England's leading sexologist, thought it prudent, when in 1919 he moved to England, to change his name to Norman Haire. (83) This preoccupation with the complexities of passing was touched on in Betty Miller's novel Farewell Leicester Square, written in 1935. The Jewish hero--a movie director--points out to his gentile girl friend that, unlike him, she has never known what it is to be made happy when "someone happened to mistake you for other than what you are." (84)

Not surprisingly the author of the account of Leopold Harris and his gang of "fire-raisers" played on the old anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew as thief. The writer thus imagined Louis Jacobs, one of Harris's associates, experimenting with an arson device: "He had a round, fleshy, clean-shaven face, and from behind his tortoise-shell spectacles his eyes, heavy lidded and unmistakenly Hebraic, gazed at the bucket with a thoughtful and almost detached expression." (85) Harris himself was described as constantly seeking to make life easier for himself, which behooved a man "who belonged to a race supremely favoured throughout history in the matter of opportunities for practising this activity." (86) In the United States the authorities who asserted that Jews were over-represented in arson cases referred to suspicious fires as due to "Jewish lightning." (87) Similarly, the only arsonists specifically cited by Frederick Wensley in his account of his forty years at Scotland Yard were Jews. (88)

England had its anti-Semites but it was not Germany. Across the Channel the Nuremburg racial laws which stipulated that Jews could not have sex with Aryans, nor employ for the first time any female German under forty-five nor continue to employ any under thirty-five, led to blackmail. Even foreign diplomats and visitors could be compromised. (89) In 1935 the British government protested that Rudolph Selz, a British Jew, had been arrested in Munich for "racial disgrace." (90) In another case a female member of the Nazi party picked up Lev Smechow, a stateless Jew, and then tried to use the racial law to blackmail him. The court found that he had not, as she claimed, made improper advances, but still sentenced him to six months in prison for having had in mind "attempted race defilement." In 1936 the New York Times reported that the Nuremburg racial laws had resulted in the jailing of thirty-two Jews for "race defilement" and the blackmailing of an undetermined number. (91)

Given his profession Clarkson had an insider's appreciation of the ways in which race was "performed." He claimed to have provided make-up for King Tewahao, the last ruler of the Maoris, to assist him in his pursuit of the women who frequented the Alhambra music hall. (92) More importantly Clarkson was a supplier of "nigger-black" and burnt cork for making up minstrels and nose-paste and crepe hair for "all the stage Jews." (93) He prided himself on being a friend of Beerbohm Tree whose portrayals of Fagin, Shylock, and Svengali continued to reinforce Jewish stereotypes on the London stage. (94)

Clarkson for whatever reason would not admit his inheritance. Given the crude racial slurs which were still met with even in "polite" society, his timorousness is understandable. Yet when all is said and done it is highly unlikely that an extortionist threatening to exposed Clarkson as a Jew would have been regarded as much of a menace. Jews in England did not face the open harassment they met with on the continent and in any event most people already assumed that Clarkson was Jewish.

Was Clarkson afraid of being exposed as a homosexual? In post World War One England this was a serious threat. (95) Homosexual acts could be punished by a two year prison term and the discreet accordingly tried not to draw attention to themselves. The barrister and legal historian C. E. Bechhofer Roberts believed that Clarkson was driven to arson because of his need to obtain hush money. And why was that? The cautious Roberts simply described Clarkson as "effeminate" (a code word for homosexual) and went on to claim that what he called "Clarkson's habits exposed him to wholesale blackmail and theft." (96) The popular press reported each year on dozens of cases of homosexuals being blackmailed and the theatrical world was particularly associated with homosexuality. "Historically," notes one theater scholar, "the theatre has been a safe-house for unconventional behavior. Although its public nature has required it to endorse norms, its space is specially licensed to harbor unorthodox individuals and otherwise inadmissible conduct. Commonly accepted reality may be inverted or parodied within this space." (97) Yet, if the London stage was quite liberal, everyone recalled how a charge of indecency had so swiftly destroyed Oscar Wilde's brilliant career. Noel Coward, for example, took great care to avoid any open avowal of his sexual orientation for fear that it might endanger his pursuit of fame and fortune. (98) In The Vortex (1924), his first stage success, he presented the main character as addicted--not to same-sex practices--but to drugs. That did not stop Gerald du Maurier from protesting that the play's popularity proved that "the public are asking for filth ... the younger generation are knocking at the door of the dustbin." (99) Edgar Wallace, England's most prolific writer of thrillers, similarly chastised the theatrical world by a blustering 1926 Daily Mail article titled "The Canker in Our Midst," in which he implied that some well-known stage personalities indulged in sexual perversions. (100) Such attacks were taken seriously by a profession intent on asserting its respectability. (101)

Clarkson lived and died a bachelor. Much was made by the newspaper press of his having no family and only ever being away from his shop for weekends in Margate or Brighton. From 1930 on his "personal servant" was an illiterate young man by the name of Ivan Godwin. The one person described as his friend was Isaac Ryness with whom he made his weekend trips to the seaside. Clarkson had been in Hastings the night of the 1931 fire at his premises. Ryness, who had helped to set the blaze, left shortly thereafter for South Africa.

A number of contemporaries described Clarkson as "effeminate." (102) In 1936 his biographer would go no further than to say that "there was a sexual kink in Willy Clarkson, and this made his life all the stranger, a man living alone in two rooms 'over the shop.'" (103) Virginia Woolf, who was interested in the subject and read the biography, noted in her diary that Clarkson "had a sexual kink ... but all details are lacking." (104) Writing in the liberated 1970s John Gielgud, who had himself been arrested in the 1950s for homosexual offences, was able to be more candid about Clarkson's sexual interests. The actor recalled how, in the first years of his career, he often had to visit the Wardour Street wigmaker.
 Clarkson's shop was rather spooky; poorly lit, with stained-glass
 windows on the steep stairs to the first floor, dusty and cluttered
 with suits of armour, weapons, play bills, masks--a positive Aladdin's
 Cave of theatrical paraphernalia, and the walls covered with signed
 photographs of Willie's most famous clients, presented to him with
 flattering dedications. Clarkson lurked in the recesses of the shop,
 but nearly always darted out when he heard the bell which rang as the
 front door was opened. He would sometimes proffer free theatre
 tickets, as well as a stream of snobbish reminiscences and
 encouragement, to young male customers, and we always took care to
 avoid getting too close to him, in case his hands should become unduly
 familiar or a visit to his private sanctum be proposed, though I never
 heard of him actually making a pass at anyone. The best one could hope
 for would be that youthful looks might be a passport to a rather
 better wig, since the stock ones usually provided for the hoi polloi
 were inclined to be shabby, much worn, and unattractive both in
 quality and in appearance. (105)

A decade later the actor Donald Sinden retold the same Russell Thorndyke stories about Clarkson that Guilguid had employed, but now flatly asserted that Clarkson was known as "a homosexual with a predilection towards choirboys." (106) In the trials that followed his death Clarkson was described as timorous and often robbed. Albert P. Rayson, whom Clarkson had dismissed for theft in 1931, testified at the 1937 arson trial that he stole some of Clarkson's papers that he in turn gave to a "biographer." What information the papers contained was not revealed but they were of sufficient importance that Clarkson obtained a court order requiring the destruction of every copy. (107)

In his history of homosexuality H. Montgomery Hyde provides one additional piece of evidence regarding the reputation enjoyed by Clarkson among the more knowing inhabitants of Soho. Noting that in the inter-war years public urinals provided a meeting place for homosexuals, Hyde states:
 The most famous or rather notorious of these urinals in the West End
 was situated in Dansey Place, off Wardour Street, and within a stone's
 throw of Leicester Square, know popularly as "Clarkson's Cottage" from
 its close proximity to Willie Clarkson's theatrical costume shop. It
 had two entrances and contained four or five "stalls," was quite large
 and high, usually well lighted, while its grey iron work had no
 perforations in its construction.... Visitors from as far afield as
 Australia and Tasmania are said to have spoken of "Clarkson's Cottage"
 with nostalgia. Its disappearance shortly after the Second World War
 was occasioned by its sale to a wealthy American, allegedly on account
 of its architectural interest, for re-erection in the large grounds of
 his country house outside New York. (108)

Hyde goes on to note that at night roughs hung around such "cottages" with the intent of either robbing or blackmailing their occupants. "A blackmailing gang, which was broken up shortly after the First World War, operated in the neighbourhood of "Clarkson's Cottage," where they entrapped their victims; one ruffian named Arthur Taylor, subsequently caught and sentenced to a long term of penal servitude, is said to have extorted [pounds sterling]100,000 from a wealthy homosexual." (109)

The Clarkson case forcibly reminds us that English society's contorted view of homosexuality created a milieu in which dissimulation necessarily flourished. On the one hand homosexuals sought to pass as straight, while on the other those who sought to blackmail them often passed themselves off as the police. As early as 1808 Thomas Cannon and James Coddington, posing as police officers, charged Joseph Butler with attempting to commit an unnatural crime. They bundled him into a cab and threatened to take him to Bow Street until he gave them money. (110) On the same page of The Times for 8 May 1895 which reported Oscar Wilde being charged with "indecency between males" was the story of two men claiming to be detectives who tried to extort money from an Oxford Street hairdresser. A third man had accosted him coming out of a lavatory and then the others appeared and menaced that if not paid they would arrest him for "Some Oscar Wilde business." (111) Whether or not the victims actually believed such claims was not important. The threat was that one way or another one's private life would be exposed. Accounts of such crimes peaked in the inter-war period. For example, on February 12, 1924 The Times reported that a man had been lured into Hyde Park by one man and then two others showed up impersonating police officers. (112) Similarly, newspaper readers learnt in 1927 that Arthur Brown, having heard that a Captain Dixon was an easy mark, pursued him all the way to Amsterdam and, claiming to be a detective specializing in blackmail, extorted money from him. (113)

Other blackmailers played the roles of friends or male relatives of the youth who had acted as their bait. In 1928 after forty-eight year old Mr. X, a West End shop owner, struck up a friendship with seventeen year old youth, the youth's "father" and another accomplice who claimed to be a solicitor demand [pounds sterling]250 for Mr. X having acted like a "filthy swine." (114) In December 1929 an unemployed twenty-seven year old man took advantage of a sixty-four year old man. The accused and an accomplice posing as his father obtained over [pounds sterling]500 until their victim's attempted suicide brought the case to public attention. (115) Some blackmailers even impersonated churchmen. The most bizarre was Raymond Mullineux who in 1934 and again in 1939 was convicted of bilking homosexual victims out of hundreds of pounds. (116)

The most notorious inter-war blackmail gang which preyed on homosexuals was led by a man by the name of Harry Raymond. (117) In seeking to entrap their dozens of victims one gang member playing the role of the gullible youth would lure the victim into a compromising position and then Raymond and his accomplices--posing as either brothers or as policeman, detectives, and probation officers--would burst onto the scene and make their demands. Ironically enough, Raymond began his working life as a stage actor. He was an extra in Israel Zangwill's The King of Schnorrers (1925), a "soldier" in The Firebrand (1926) which starred Ivor Novello, and "Benny" in The Ringer (1926) which was Edgar Wallace's first stage success. (118) In The Ringer a man posing as a criminal turns out to be a policeman. In real life Raymond the criminal played the role of the policeman. For turning his theatrical training to criminal purposes, he was convicted in 1933 and again in 1937. (119)

The laws which criminalized homosexual practices thus created a disorienting world in which both the victims and perpetrators of blackmail adopted disguises. Indeed in a 1931 case the blackmailers were so accustomed to individuals assuming false identities that they refused at first to believe that the police officers who were arresting them actually were the police. (120) Harry Raymond and Willy Clarkson were both products of this world of masquerade. They both made their homes in Soho, a neighborhood long known for drawing to its night clubs and cafes a raffish clientele of entertainers, prostitutes, punters, and minor criminals. The two men's paths may well have crossed. Clarkson's Wardour Street premises was minutes away from the cafes on Carnaby, Lisle, and Berwick Street where Raymond and his young associates gathered. And Clarkson actually provided the wigs for The Firebrand, the play in which Raymond appeared.

The evidence that points to Clarkson having been a victim of sexual blackmail if persuasive, is still circumstantial. All we know for certain is that his contemporaries were convinced that the cloak of secrecy in which he enveloped his financial, cultural and sexual lives hid some dangerous secret. Clearly the fascination which the accounts of the life of this little man held for people such as Woolf and Gielgud sprang from their conviction that they, like him, inhabited a world increasingly riven by its hypocritical treatment of "sexual deviants."

As I noted at the start of this paper I first came across Clarkson when I was investigating the activities of a London blackmail gang. My working premise was that since blackmailers exploited dangerous sexual secrets, in tracking their activities I would be given some sense of the sexual underworlds they helped the authorities in policing. Like other scholars setting out to chronicle a particular sort of criminal activity I quickly realized that I was necessarily writing about only those crimes that came to public attention, most often because the perpetrators were charged, tried, and convicted. Blackmail in this way was like other, more common crimes in that we can only guess at the true extent, or the "dark figure" of incidents not known to the police. But blackmail was unlike most other crimes inasmuch as both the victim and the villain usually shared--at least initially--the concern of maintaining secrecy and hiding their transactions from third parties. Accordingly the police frequently expressed their frustration when a person, whom they knew was being blackmailed, refused to cooperate. Because of his or her reluctance to provide evidence or testify such cases could not go to court. I now have some sympathy for such investigators, having collected a good deal of material on a man whom I suspect was being blackmailed, but who refuses to share his secret. (121) The police had to drop such cases. Social and cultural historians are reluctant to do so, believing that as important as the evidence that proves that a specific crime was committed, is an understanding of the social context that allowed certain types of crime to be committed. The purpose of this paper was not simply to prove that one man led a double life, but to tease out the reasons why he might have done so; to reveal how a society which in principle praised candor and condemned subterfuges in practice fostered a culture of duplicity.

Was Willy Clarkson an arsonist? a Jew? a homosexual? It is a testimony to his cunning that it is difficult to answer. Did it make any difference if he was any or all of these? He certainly thought so, as did respectable society. Arson was, of course, a crime but so too were homosexual practices. And evidence of flare ups of anti-Semitism at home and abroad necessarily worried English Jews. In a world in which identities--be they racial or sexual--took on an ever greater importance so too would the anxieties of those who hoped to "pass." Clarkson's story thus highlights the enormous importance modern societies attribute to questions of identity and disguise. It throws into relief several key cultural preoccupations of the inter-war period. The Clarkson case particularly reminds us how, in the twentieth century, both courts and blackmailers policed and punished sexual deviants. It foregrounds the teeming metropolis as the site where such encounters would most likely occur.

The desire to winkle out the secrets that lay behind Clarkson's toupee and false beard was sparked by a few tantalizing clues. What began as a simple investigation of one man's many lives was soon complicated by the recognition that the society which produced him would have to be to reconsidered. The evidence revealed that only when framed by the power relationships and prejudices of his time could Clarkson's career begin to be made intelligible.

Department of History

Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3P4


This paper has benefited enormously thanks to Sara Beam's comments on an early version, Matt Houlbrook's generosity in providing useful leads, and Judith Walkowitz's wonderfully thorough reading. The research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

1. Robin W. Winks, ed., The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence (New York, 1969).

2. On the combining of the scope of social history with the detail of cultural history which this essay attempts, see Paula Fass, "Cultural History/Social History: Some Reflections on a Continuing Dialogue," Journal of Social History, 36 (2003): 39-46.

3. See Michael Booth, Victorian Spectacular Theatre, 1850-1910 (London, 1981).

4. Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault's History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, NC, 1995); but see also Judith Walkowitz, "The Indian Woman, the Flower Girl and the Jew: Photojournalism in Edwardian London," Victorian Studies, 42 (1998-99): 3-46.

5. Julie English Early, "A New Man for a New Century: Dr. Crippen and the Principles of Masculinity," in George Robb and Nancy Erber, eds., Disorder in the Court: Trials and Sexual Conflict at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1999), 218.

6. Elizabeth Robins, Votes for Women (Chicago, 1907), 31.

7. Kevin Porter and Jeffrey Weeks, Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men, 1885-1967 (London, 1991), 7, 110.

8. Douglass Shand-Tucci, The Art of Scandal: The Life and The Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner (New York, 1997), 87.

9. James Vernon, "'For Some Queer Reason': The Trials and Tribulations of Colonel Barker's Masquerade in Interwar Britain," Signs, 26 (2000): 37-62; Laura Doan, "Passing Fashions: Reading Female Masculinities in the 1920s," Feminist Studies, 24 (1998): 663-700.

10. Sandra B. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, 1989), 2: 327.

11. An earlier time period and a different set of preoccupations is the focus of Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven, 1982).

12. Peter Bailey, "Conspiracies of Meaning: Music Hall and the Knowingness of Popular Culture," Past and Present, 144 (1994): 138-70; J. S. Bratton, "Beating the Bounds: Gender Play and Role Reversal in the Edwardian Music Hall," in Michael R. Booth and Joel H. Kaplan, eds., The Edwardian Theatre: Essays on Performance and the Stage (Cambridge, UK, 1996), 86-110.

13. Max Beerbohm, "In Defence of Cosmetics," Yellow Book, 1 (April, 1894) cited in John Felstiner, The Lies of Art: Max Beerbohm's Parody and Caricature (New York, 1972), 3.

14. See, for example, Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London, 1990); Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York, 1992); Maria Carla Sanchez and Linda Schlossberg, eds., Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion (New York, 2001).

15. Roger Jenkin's biography of the Clarkson family only carries the story as far as 1905 when Willy moved the business headquarters from Wellington Street, near Drury Lane, to 41-43 Wardour Street. Roger Jenkin, The Wig-Making Clarksons: In Search of their Lives and The Times (Ilfracombe, UK, 1982).

16. Michael R. Booth, ed., Victorian Theatrical Trades (London, 1981), 9.

17. W. Clarkson, "On Making-Up," in Austen Fryers, ed., A Guide to the Stage (London, 1904), 71-81.

18. George Rowell, Queen Victoria Goes to the Theater (London, 1978), 90-91.

19. The Jamboree Book (London, 1920), 10.

20. For all the productions in which Clarkson was listed as perruquier between 1900 and 1934, see J. P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1900-1909; A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ, 1981), The London Stage, 1910-1919; A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ, 1982), The London Stage, 1920-1929; A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ, 1984), The London Stage, 1930-1939; A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ, 1990). The Clarkson firm continued to operate until 1939.

21. Philip Gibbs, The Soul of the War (London, 1915), 227-228.

22. Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: The Actor and His World (London, 1951), 320, 405; Ellen Terry, The Story of My Life (London, 1922), 182-183.

23. Clarkson introduced Sarah Bernhardt to Mrs. Patrick Campbell; see the latter's My Life and Some Letters (New York, 1922), 176; and see also Daniel Farson, Marie Lloyd and Music Hall (London, 1972), 92.

24. John Gielgud, Backward Glances (London, 1972), 48.

25. The "bright young things" who patronized Clarkson include the Conservative M. P. Duff Cooper who in 1928 hired a party costume to look like a "ruffian." See Diana Cooper, The Light of Common Day (London, 1959), 93.

26. Hesketh Pearson, Beerbohm Tree: His life and Laughter (London, 1956), 198.

27. Clarkson also supplied the wigs for this successful production. The Times, 4 December 1930, 14a.

28. The title was changed from Ever Green to Evergreen. The Times, 8 June 1934, 12c.

29. The Times, 7 January 1936, 17c; 8 February 1938, 5e.

30. The Times, 15 October 1934, 19c.

31. The Times, 18 October 1934, 10c.

32. Willy Clarkson and Genevieve Parkhurst, "The Chronicles of a Wig-Maker," Pictorial Review, (April, 1926): 20.

33. The Times, 7 December 1934, 25e.

34. The money was actually carried by Roderick Morrison, Hobbs' traveling companion. Public Record Office [hereafter PRO] HO 144 21492 / 474 398 / 14; The Times, 21 April 1925, 11e. Morrison had been previously sentenced by an Austrian court to five years in prison for swindling. PRO HO 144 21492 / 474 398 / 21.

35. The Times, 29 June 1935, 4b.

36. The Times, 24 July 1935, 4c; 29 October, 17d.

37. Hobbs was convicted 8 March 1938 and released 21 July 1941. PRO HO 144 21492 / 474 398 / 25-34; and see also A. M. Sullivan, The Last Serjeant: The Memoirs of A. M. Sullivan (London, 1952), 303-10; Leonard Burt, Commander Burt of Scotland Yard (London, 1958), 181-199.

38. The Times, 9 March 1935, 17g.

39. The Times, 19 March 1936, 8c.

40. The Times, 1 May 1935, 4d.

41. The Times, 24 October 1924, 11d; 29 October, 11b; 25 November, 11b.

42. The Times, 7 September 1931, 7g.

43. The Times, 2 March 1937, 5c.

44. The Times, 3 March 1937, 4a.

45. The Times, 7 July 1933, 4c.

46. Douglas G. Browne, Sir Travers Humphreys: A Biography (London, 1960), 304.

47. Harold Dearden, The Fire Raisers: The Story of Leopold Harris and His Gang (London, 1934); Roland Wild, Crimes and Cases of 1933 (London, 1934), 27-57; Roland Wild, Crimes and Cases of 1934 (London, 1935), 159-176; C. E. Bechhofer Roberts, Sir Travers Humphreys (London, 1936), 297-316; Stanley Jackson, The Life and Cases of Mr. Justice Humphreys (London, 1952), 190-192; Browne, Sir Travers Humphreys, 302-319; Donald Scott, The Psychology of Fire (New York, 1974), 43-53.

48. The Fire Raisers, a Gaumont-British Production, was directed by Michael Powell and starred Leslie Banks as the insurance assessor. The Times, 18 September 1933, 10b.

49. Albert P. Rayson testified that he had been asked in 1931 to burn "stuff." When he refused, Clarkson called him a fool. He dismissed Rayson shortly thereafter for theft. The Times, 5 March 1937, 4a.

50. On arson methods see Fred Lord, Fire Alarm (London, 1957), 34-38.

51. The Times, 5 March 1937, 4a.

52. The Times, 4 March 1937, 4c.

53. The Times, 10 March 1937, 4c.

54. The Times, 17 March 1937, 4b.

55. The Times, 22 March 1938, 11a.

56. News of the World, 15 March 1925, 15.

57. The Times, 7 January 1925, 7a; C. E. Bechhofer Roberts, The Mr. A Case (London, 1950), 244.

58. Roberts, The Mr. A Case, 257.

59. Gielgud, Backward Glances, 51.

60. The Times, 7 January 1936, 17c.

61. Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography (London, 1972), 1:157-158, 213-216; Peter Stansky, On or About December 1910: Early Bloomsbury and its Intimate World (Cambridge, MA, 1997), 17-46. Clarkson's own recollections of the prank are not reliable, but see Willy Clarkson and Genevieve Parkhurst, "The Chronicles of a Wig-Maker," Pictorial Review (May, 1926): 121-122.

62. A few years earlier the English reading public had relished reports that in Germany an ex-convict who donned military attire and presented himself as a captain had successfully cowed a squad of unwitting soldiers into assisting him in "arresting" the burgomeister and confiscating the treasury of Koepenick, a suburb of Berlin. Foreign observers concluded that only the Prussians' exaggerated respect for the military uniform made such a spectacular case of fraud possible. The Times, 18 October 1906, 5b; 19 October, 3c; 20 October, 5e; 23 October, 5e; 27 October, 7a; 3 December, 5c.

63. Michael Baker, Our Three Selves: A Life of Radclyffe Hall (London, 1985), 132.

64. Tracy C. Davis, Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture (London, 1991), 146.

65. As Clarkson was only fifteen in 1876 when Pearce was tried, the story is unlikely.

66. Filson Young, ed., The Trial of Hawley Harvey Crippen (London, 1920).

67. Clarkson related his adventure to Maurice Lewis in The People. See Harry J. Greenwall, The Strange Life of Willy Clarkson: An Experiment in Biography (London, 1936), 150-59; Edgar Wallace, ed., The Trial of Herbert John Bennett (London, 1929).

68. Clarkson, "On Making-Up," 81.

69. Angus McLaren, Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History (Cambridge, MA, 2002).

70. Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain (Oxford, 1995), 131-133.

71. Willy Clarkson and Genevieve Parkhurst, "The Chronicles of a Wig-Maker," Pictorial Review (June, 1926): 13.

72. The Times, 6 March 1937, 4a.

73. Gerry Black, Living Up West: Jewish Life in London's West End (London, 1994).

74. See, for example, The Times, 9 September 1914, 3c.

75. The Times, 12 November, 1914, 15e.

76. The Times, 25 June 1915, 5b; 10 September, 5c; 27 October, 12e; 29 October, 5d; 2 November, 5e.

77. The Times, 26 August, 1915, 3c; 2 September, 8e.

78. The Times, 9 September 1915, 3c.

79. The Times, 16 September 1925, 9a.

80. The Times, 19 June 1937, 4b.

81. Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876-1939 (London, 1979), 104-174; Andrea Freud Lowenstein, Loathsome Jews and Engulfing Women: Metaphors of Projection in the Works of Wyndham Lewis, Charles Williams and Graham Greene (New York, 1993); W. D. Rubinstein. A History of the Jews in the English-Speaking World: Great Britain (London, 1996), 192-223.

82. Clarkson and Parkhurst, "The Chronicles of a Wig-Maker," Pictorial Review (May 1926): 123.

83. Ivan Crozier, "Becoming a Sexologist: Norman Haire, the 1929 London League for Sexual Reform Congress, and Organizing Medical Knowledge About Sex in Interwar England," History of Science, 39 (2001): 301-302.

84. Betty Miller, Farewell Leicester Square (London, 1941), 132.

85. Dearden, The Fire Raisers, 2.

86. Dearden, The Fire Raisers, 18.

87. Jenna Weissman Joselit, Our Gang: Jewish Crime and the New York Jewish Community (Bloomington, 1983), 36-39.

88. Frederick Porter Wensley, Forty Years of Scotland Yard: The Record of a Lifetime's Service in the Criminal Investigation Department (London, 1931), 155-159; and on the trial of Engelstein, Stolerman and Brust which Wensley describes see, The Times, September 19, 1923, 15f; September 26, 7b; September 27, 7e; September 28, 15e; and S. Theodore Felsted, In Search of Sensation; Being Thirty Years of a London Journalist's Life (London, 1945), 95.

89. New York Times, 17 November 1935, 1:6.

90. Selz, a fifty-nine year old engineer had been born in Germany but became a naturalized British subject prior to the First World War in which he fought as a British soldier. His arrest and eventual expulsion from Germany was taken by the press to mean that the Nuremberg laws for "the protection of German blood" would apply to both Germans and non-Germans. The Times, 26 October 1935, 11b; 18 December, 11b; New York Times, 18 December 1935, 20:6.

91. New York Times, 20 May 1936, 11:3.

92. Clarkson and Parkhurst, "The Chronicles of a Wig-Maker," Pictorial Review (May, 1926): 122.

93. Clarkson, "On Making-Up," 76, 77.

94. Shearer West, "The Construction of Racial Type: Caricature, Ethnography and Jewish Physiognomy in Fin-de-Siecle Melodrama," Nineteenth-Century Theatre, 21 (1993): 16-36.

95. Heterosexual scandals were less feared. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Clarkson's friend and the most famous of the Edwardian actor-producers, had three daughters by his wife and five sons and a daughter by a Miss Pinney who took the name of Reed. One of her sons was to be Carol Reed the film director and one of her grandsons Oliver Reed the actor. Madeleine Bingham, 'The Great Lover': The Life and Art of Herbert Beerbohm Tree (London, 1978).

96. Roberts, The Mr. A Case, 36.

97. Lawrence Senelick, "Introducton," in Lawrence Senelick, ed., Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts (Boston, 1992), xi.

98. In the 1960s Coward finally produced in A Song at Twilight, a play that dealt with the blackmailing of a homosexual. Noel Coward, Suite in Three Keys (New York, 1967); Clive Fisher, Noel Coward (London, 1992), 244.

99. Fisher, Noel Coward, 63.

100. Margaret Lane, Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon (London, 1939), 313, 319-22.

101. James Harding, Gerald du Maurier: The Last Actor-Manager (London, 1989), 149.

102. Greenwall, The Strange Life of Willy Clarkson, 19.

103. Greenwall, The Strange Life of Willy Clarkson, 281.

104. Anne Oliver Bell, ed., The Diary of Virginia Woolf (New York, 1984), 5:7.

105. Gielgud, Backward Glances, 50.

106. Donald Sinden, Laughter in the Second Act (London, 1985), 22.

107. The Times, 5 March 1937, 4a.

108. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name (New York, 1970), 206. On the history of the London urinal see Paul Pry [Thomas Burke], For Your Convenience: A Learned Dialogue etc, (London, 1937) and Matt Houlbrook, "The Private World of Public Urinals: London 1918-1957," The London Journal, 25 (2000): 52-70.

109. Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name, 209.

110. Rex V. Thomas Cannon and James Coddington (1809), Crown Cases Reserved, 148. R and R 146.

111. The Times, 8 May 1895, 4f; 20 June, 3g. On the blackmailing of homosexuals see also H. G. Cocks, Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the Nineteenth Century (London, 2003), 115-135.

112. The Times, 12 February 1924, 5g; 20 February 9f; 19 March 11b.

113. The Times, 21 May 1927, 11c; 24 May, 13c, 25 May, 13 a; Robert Jackson, The Chief: The Biography of Gordon Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England, 1922-40 (London, 1959), 176-177.

114. The Times, 9 February 1928, 11b; 20 February 7d; 27 March 18b.

115. The Times, 16 January 1930, 5d; 20 January, 9b; 24 January, 7e; 25 February, 5d.

116. The Times, 24 September 1934, 18b; 1 October, 9b; 30 October, 7c; Police Journal, 8 (1935): 3; The Times, January. 7, 1939, 7d; January 14, 9f; February 15, 9c.

117. On London inter-war blackmail gangs see Sidney Horler, London's Underworld (Leipzig, 1935), 56-65 and Arthur Tietjen, Soho: London's Vicious Circle (London, 1956), 117-129 in which Raymond is described as a "modern Fagin."

118. Wearing, The London Stage, 1920-1929, 662, 702, 729.

119. McLaren, Sexual Blackmail, 108-120.

120. The Times, 21 January 1931, 11c.

121. Robert Louis Stephenson produced the classic account of the double life in The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and a reader of an earlier draft of my manuscript pointed out that Stephenson's tale--with its references to blackmail, Soho streets, and a suspicious will, as well as its insinuation of the dwarfish central character's homosexuality and/or Jewishness--bears an uncanny resemblance to Clarkson's story.

By Angus McLaren

University of Victoria
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Author:McLaren, Angus
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Date:Mar 22, 2007
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