I had always heard an archive myth of the red silk pyjamas held in our collections, so I felt for this year’s LGBT History Month it might be time to order them up and take a look for myself. The outfit was collected as evidence in a court case regarding the ‘corruption of the morals of His Majesty’s liege subjects’ – essentially, the individuals were accused of running a brothel. The red pyjamas, or as it was noted on the list of exhibits, the ‘red costume’, was seemingly a lounge suit worn by one of the parties (CRIM 1/638). Slowly unpicking a story surrounding an item is an exciting process. The police reports are from many different perspectives allowing the scene to be pieced together.
‘Live, love and laugh’
On 20 December 1932 two undercover police offers were invited to a premises in Holland Park, and upon arriving they were each greeted with a kiss on the hand from a man in exaggerated makeup and an evening dress known as Lady Austin. Welcoming them in, Austin remarked: ‘Don’t go and get too fruity yet’.
Once inside the ballroom 50-60 people were found to be present. ‘One half of them were attired in evening dress, the other half being dressed in lounge suits. All were male.’ The set up was explained to the undercover officers; the men in dresses were termed ‘queenies’ and the men in lounge suits termed ‘kings’. The officers each adopted a role and, in keeping with their disguise, pretended to be a couple.
The police reports note that every so often the lights went out and squeals of delight could be heard.
A flyer included as evidence sums up the event with the compelling phrase ‘Live, love and laugh’. As the handbill notes the event was aimed at ‘hotel staff’, many of whom contributed oral testimonies to the case (CRIM 1/638).
At the time this type of event was considered a criminal activity, especially as there was a charge for entry, which led to comparisons with a brothel. The undercover police investigations led to a police raid on the Holland Park dance in the early hours of the morning.
As the premises were raided Lady Austin defended the dance, and when the police read out the warrant by Austin said, ‘Surely only members of our cult are here. What harm are we doing? You don’t understand our love.’