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Lord Berners – The man who left Lesbos

lord berners

Steerforth remembers one of the more flamboyant dabblers of the 20th century…

One of the most colourful and unjustly forgotten characters of the last century is Lord Berners. Born Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson in 1883, Berners went to Eton and worked as a diplomat until he inherited his title. For the remainder of his life, he devoted his energies to painting, composing and writing.

Lord Berners was arguably too much of a dilettante to achieve greatness. However his music – such as the ballet The Triumph of Neptune (1926) – was well received and he had several commissions for film scores, including the 1947 version of Nicholas Nickleby.

He also privately published a novel called The Girls of Radcliff Hall, which featured him and his friends as schoolgirls.

Berners was openly gay. He was famous for his collection of doves, all of which had been dyed pink, and his social circle included Cecil Beaton and Frederick Ashton. He made Noel Coward look positively butch.

In spite of this, Berner’s mother seemed blissfully unaware of her son’s homosexuality and was horrified to hear that he’d been spotted ‘stepping out’ with one of the most notorious society lesbians in London. Concerned that Berners was risking both a broken heart and his reputation, his mother pleaded with him to publicly disassociate himself from this woman.

Berners agreed and place the following announcement in the Times:

Lord Berners wishes to announce that he has left Lesbos for the Isle of Man.

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About Author Profile: Steerforth

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

3 thoughts on “Lord Berners – The man who left Lesbos

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    Mahlerman
    June 30, 2015 at 20:04

    Berners didn’t quite make the shortlist for the piece I am posting on Sunday on Composer-Painters – mainly because I’m broadly in agreement with Stravinsky’s view of him as a talented amateur. This assessment based, presumably, upon the fact of Berners affluence and eccentricity – in short, somebody who didn’t need to work, but chose to do so. His compositions are beautifully crafted, but the inspiration level seems to hover around four or five. And, as you will know Steerforth, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of composers about whom this could be said.

  2. philipwilk@googlemail.com'
    June 30, 2015 at 22:06

    Berners dabbled with great style. Two favourites of mine are a couple of songs, ‘Red Roses and Red Noses” and ‘Come On, Algernon’. The latter was written for the film Champagne Charlie and the words purport to be about a woman with an appetite for confectionery, but, well, sticks of Brighton rock, brandy balls, stickjaw, the whole thing is somewhat risqué. Felicity Lott sings it well on a recording of Berners’ vocal and piano music on Albany, but there are other (less good in my opinion) performances on line.

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