Olden Life: Who were The Bright Young Peo­ple? Alan Thomas

The Oldie - - NEWS - Alan Thomas

The Bright Young Peo­ple – re­named Bright Young Things in the 2003 film ver­sion of Eve­lyn Waugh’s 1930 novel, Vile Bod­ies – first came to promi­nence thanks to a speed­ing of­fence.

On 21st May 1924, the Honourable Lois Sturt, the ac­tress daugh­ter of Lord Aling­ton, was caught speed­ing around the Outer Cir­cle of Re­gent’s Park dur­ing a mo­torised trea­sure hunt.

The 23-year-old lover of Reg­gie Pem­broke (aka the Earl of Pem­broke), Lois shot through a po­lice con­trol point at 51mph. When sig­nalled to stop, she re­duced speed slightly but then roared off again. The po­lice caught up with her at London Zoo at the end of the race – in which she won third prize – and charged her with danger­ous driv­ing and fail­ing to stop at the re­quest of a po­lice con­sta­ble.

On 14th July, the pros­e­cu­tor, Her­bert Mus­kett, told Maryle­bone Po­lice Court the de­fen­dant had in­formed the ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer she be­longed to ‘the So­ci­ety of Bright Young Peo­ple’, the body be­hind the trea­sure-hunt­ing craze. She was fined £6, with three guineas in costs, and banned from driv­ing for three months.

As well as Lois Sturt, the main trea­sure-hunters that day in­cluded Vi­ola Tree, Gla­dys Cooper, Tal­lu­lah Bankhead, Loelia Pon­sonby, later the Duchess of West­min­ster, and the Prince of Wales.

‘I want to sweep away the fal­lacy that there is any such so­ci­ety or club known as “the Bright Young Peo­ple”,’ Vi­ola Tree, an­other ac­tress, in­sisted. ‘The beauty about the trea­sure hunt un­til now has been its ob­scu­rity, its vague­ness, its al­most stealthy progress through the thick­est traf­fic. That one of the mem­bers, Miss Lois Sturt, should have drawn upon her­self the at­ten­tion of the law is a pity.

‘Of course, she did it un­wit­tingly in her usual burst of un­tam­able spirit, but even the most cen­so­ri­ous should not be cruel enough to call her be­hav­iour “bright”.’

The Daily Mail re­ported the in­ci­dent in a piece on 26th July 1924, head­lined,

The Prince in a trea­sure hunt: Mid­night chase in London: 50 Mo­tor-cars: The Bright Young Peo­ple

The story be­gan, ‘The Prince of Wales was present in the early hours of yes­ter­day at the fi­nal meet of the “So­ci­ety of Bright Young Peo­ple” – that neb­u­lous body which has in­au­gu­rated a se­ries of hunts for hid­den “trea­sure” through the high­ways and by­ways of London.’

The Bright Young Peo­ple story changed, once picked up by Pa­trick Bal­four, Mr Gos­sip in the Daily Sketch. In 1933, he pub­lished So­ci­ety Racket. In his book, Bal­four tact­fully re­moved the prince and al­tered his ver­sion of the Mail’s head­line to read:

Chas­ing clues: New so­ci­ety game: Mid­night chase in London: 50 Mo­tor-cars: The Bright Young Peo­ple

This is the head­line reprinted in works ever since, in­clud­ing Bar­bara Cart­land’s 1970 mem­oirs, We Danced All Night, and DJ Tay­lor’s 2007 his­tory, Bright Young Peo­ple. None men­tions Lois Sturt’s cre­ation of ‘the So­ci­ety of Bright Young Peo­ple’. Af­ter Reg­gie Pem­broke re­turned to his wife, Lois en­tered into a laven­der mar­riage with the ec­cen­tric Evan Mor­gan.

Dress­ing for din­ner in 1937, Lois died of a heart at­tack, in Bu­dapest. None of her eu­lo­gies men­tioned the fact that, with­out Lois Sturt, the Bright Young Peo­ple would never have come to light.

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