I love reading and writing about the old music industry, including the more scandalous bits.
Royal Sex Scandal
In 1932, a scandal occurred so close to the British Royal Family that the details are still being hushed up to this day.
It involved an affair between Lady Edwina Mountbatten and a black cabaret singer called Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson.
Lady Edwina was the wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten who was the uncle of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Mountbatten was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and became a close friend and mentor of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales. He was very close indeed to the British Royal family and an integral part of it.
The Cabaret Singer
He was born Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson in March 1900 in Grenada and showed a natural aptitude for the piano as a child. He moved to New York as a teenager, initially to study medicine but soon became attracted by Harlem and the showbusiness life and began earning a living playing piano and singing in bars.
In 1923 he married a black Anglo-Chinese girl, Ella Byrd, and their daughter, Lesley Bagley Yvonne, was born in April 1926. They were to stay together until her death in 1958, but Hutch would go on to sire six further children to five different mothers.
Hutch was a tall, good looking man and was flagrantly bisexual. Before his daughter was born he left America for Paris where he was befriended by the composer, Cole Porter, and became his lover.
He moved to London in 1927 and added a whole string of conquests to his address book, including actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Merle Oberon and leading singer Ivor Novello, at that time at the peak of his fame as a matinee idol.
It seemed Hutch could do no wrong in London and by 1928 he was the headline act at top London nightspots such as the Cafe de Paris, the Cafe Anglais and Quaglino's. He became wealthy very quickly and bought a house in fashionable Hampstead (where neighbours assumed his wife, Ella, was the housemaid) and a Rolls Royce and, fatefully, became a close friend of members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII.
He was a sought-after entertainer at the extravagant parties held by London's upper-crust and he charged exorbitant fees for his appearances. Even so he was still a black man in a racially
intolerant time and he often had to enter his clients' houses by the back door or servants' entrance.
The beautiful young things of London society flocked to him and he was not slow to take advantage. A scandal was inevitable and it arrived in 1930 when he got pregnant the debutante Elizabeth Corbett. She managed to get a Guards officer to marry her, at three months pregnant, and only told him, when she was in labour, that the baby might be black. The child, a girl, was removed at birth and put up for adoption.
Hutch had created a reputation for himself and it was only a matter of time before he met and became intimately acquainted with the most sexually voracious woman in London society—Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
"Hutch" in Cabaret in London, 1933
She was born Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley in 1901, into an extremely privileged background. She was the elder daughter of Wilfred William Ashley, later 1st Baron Mount Temple, who was a Conservative Member of Parliament. On her mother's side, she was the granddaughter of Sir Ernest Cassel who was one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe. He died when she was 20 and left her £2 million, the country estate of Broadlands, Hampshire, and the palatial London townhouse, Brooke House.
Edwina and Louis Mountbatten were married on 18 July 1922 at St. Margaret's, Westminster. It was a glittering occasion attended by all the Royal family and the best man was Mountbatten's cousin, the Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne, (the future King Edward VIII).
Edwina gave birth to two daughters, Patricia in 1924 and Pamela in 1929. Apart from this she lived a life almost entirely devoted to pleasure and the marriage was subject to fevered speculation and barely suppressed scandal ever since it began as she took lovers as and when she pleased. During the 1930's she occasionally traveled with her husband's sister-in-law, Lady Milford Haven, whose bisexual liaisons are well documented. Her husband, Lord Louis, was also involved in extramarital affairs of his own—and, like his wife, was happy to engage in same-sex liaisons. In fact, his nickname whispered round London society, was "Lord Mountbottom."
In 1932 the British newspaper, The People, published a story in which it alleged, "one of the leading hostesses in the country—a woman highly connected and immensely rich" had been caught in "compromising circumstances" with "a coloured man". It took very little time for the name of Edwina Mountbatten to be attached to the hostess, and the "coloured man" was also named—wrongly—as the American singer Paul Robeson. The "compromising circumstances" were "sexual locking"—a condition where neither party are able to unlock from the sexual position and have to be separated by doctors.
The newspaper had made a major mistake in naming the wrong black man. After a highly public libel trial the paper had to make a fulsome apology and pay Lady Edwina full costs. She declined damages.
The day following the libel trial, the Mountbattens were invited by the King and Queen to lunch at Buckingham Palace and a few days later the Prince of Wales gave a party for them at York House. The Royal Family was closing ranks.
But Edwina wasn't finished yet. Now freed from the threat of exposure and from the withdrawal of royal favours, she simply returned to her lover, Hutch, whom the newspaper had failed to identify. She showered him with expensive gifts, a gold and jewel encrusted cigarette case, a gold ring, and a diamond watch. It is also reported that she purchased for him a diamond-encrusted penis sheath from Cartier and she delighted telling her friends that it had to be an extra large one.
The Price They Paid
There is no doubt that the scandal caused Lord Mountbatten great emotional distress, although he, too, had affairs. It seems unlikely that any one man would have been able to satisfy his sexually demanding wife and on a career level, he was concerned that the controversy would risk their much-needed connection to the Court.
Somehow the marriage survived and Mountbatten went on to become a national hero during and after the Second World War. It was he who encouraged the courtship between the heir to the throne, Elizabeth, and his nephew, Philip which would lead to their marriage in November 1947. Mountbatten became a much-respected power behind the throne and a much loved and trusted adviser to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.
Edwina continued to take lovers regularly but she also knuckled down to a more disciplined life of public service. After the Second World War she and her husband served as the last Viceroy and Vicereine of pre-Partition India and she was universally praised for the hard work she put in.
It is widely believed, that Edwina had an affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, during their stay in India, and during Nehru's subsequent visits to England.
Edwina died in 1960 at age 58 of a heart condition in British North Borneo while on an inspection tour for the St John Ambulance Brigade. Lord Mountbatten buried her at sea as she requested. Nehru sent two Indian destroyers to accompany her body.
After the war, Mountbatten remained in India as interim governor-general until June 1948. For his services, during the war and in India he was made viscount in 1946 and Earl Mountbatten of Burma the following year.
Lord Mountbatten died in August 1979, when IRA terrorists blew up his boat near his family holiday home in County Sligo, Ireland. Two of his relatives and a 15-year-old local boy were also killed.
A Strange End
Hutch paid the heaviest price for the scandal. After the court case, his professional career waned dramatically. The Royal Family refused to have him on any Royal Command Performance. He received no formal recognition for his tireless work entertaining the forces during the war and as far as London society was concerned he became an outcast.
It didn't stop his escapades in Royal bedrooms. He allegedly had affairs with two further members of the Royal Family. One was the Queen's aunt, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. and the other, the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, in 1955 when he was 55 and she, 25.
Hutch's career continued to decline. With the advent of modern pop music in the late 1950's, there was much less demand for his sort of music. He was forced to entertain to small audiences in holiday camps and summer season end-of-pier shows.
The once-beautiful black Adonis lost his looks. He was drinking heavily, with a bloated face, heavy stage makeup, and dyed hair and in bad health. His fortune was gambled away and his nightmare continued as he was forced to sell his house to pay his debts. He was virtually penniless when he died in August 1969 at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, from pneumonia, aged 69.
His link to the Mountbattens was not completely severed, however. On the day of his funeral, the undertakers were contacted by Lord Mountbatten and he offered to pay for Hutch's grave and tombstone in Highgate Cemetery. A strange end to a strange affair.
MANZOOR on November 01, 2019:
pl.. go through the story of LADY MOUNTBATTEN . WITH NEHRU .. PM OF INDIA . which affected the division of sub - continent . especially KASHMIR .
Sarah on August 18, 2019:
She was Lady Louis, not Lady Edwina
James.H.Moore. on November 10, 2018:
I have been a fan of Hutch since 1967,never knew the man and care less about the scandals.The man was a superb interpreter of the songs of his era,i am lucky to posses a complete collection.Got to know sevral of his family when helping Charlotte Breese with information for her book on Hutch.Try the music!!You wont be disappointed.
Peter Ward on October 20, 2018:
I saw the show at The Gatehouse. It was very disappointing.
MUB on October 01, 2018:
Can't wait to see the show at the Gatehouse theatre this month entitled 'Hutch' -
Mel Jay from Australia on May 18, 2011:
Really interesting information, I don't think many people appreciate just how influential Lord Mountbatten was on many levels, politically, militarily and with the Royal Family and court. He was a real puppeteer in a lot of ways. It seems that he made a poor marriage choice though. I find it really interesting that Hutch's funeral was funded by Lord Louis. I think there might be a deeper story behind that also, but we will probably never know. Up and awesome from me - Cheers, Mel
JEFF on April 30, 2011:
What ever became of the baby girl? She would be 81 yrs now.
gunsock (author) from South Coast of England on December 26, 2010:
Thanks William. Yes its an interesting story, and one which gets very little publicity, certainly in the UK.
William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on December 25, 2010:
Fascinating history, gunsock. I had no idea!