Among the awkward questions put to Reggie de Veulle in the wake of the death of his friend Billie Carleton was an inquiry about a certain book recounting his adventures. ‘Were not you present at a party at Maidenhead where men were dressed in women’s clothes, and the party was broken up by the inhabitants?’ asked a lawyer seeking to shift the inquest’s attention away from his own client.
At that point the coroner imposed his ruling that the book was inadmissible evidence; and twenty years back, before the internet, I spent a lot of time not finding out what it was called or who wrote it. Now it just takes three googled words to reveal what the coroner didn’t want to hear:
Puis, voilà-t-il par qu’il s’est mis au balcon aprés souper et a jeté des fleurs, des fruits, des shillings aux gens qui se trouvaient là parce que, naturellement, tout Maidenhead était là à écouter .. C’a été terrible à la fin, on a lancé des pierres dans les fenêtres et la police a dû intervenir …
It’s from Les Fréquentations de Maurice, which appeared in instalments in Akademos, a Parisian arts journal published by Jacques d’Adelsward-Fersen in 1909. The author’s nom de plume was Sydney Place (Sidney in the standalone edition that appeared three years later); in real life he was Marcel Boulestin, who later wrote a book that brought French cooking to British tables, and established an expensive London restaurant on the strength of its success. He is, in fact, the missing link between Reggie de Veulle and the celebrated food writer Elizabeth David.
Boulestin’s Reggie de Vere is strikingly similar to Roy Horniman’s Reggie Vandeleur, another thinly disguised appearance by de Veulle in Edwardian satirical fiction. Although he protested that Boulestin had ‘rather exaggerated’ his adventures, he had been happy enough to provide his acquaintance Don Kimfull with a copy of the book that Kimfull’s attorney tried to use against him in court.
Much of Les Fréquentations is available online in a digitised version of Akademos’s later issues. My favourite bit is where Reggie makes an entrance – ‘vêtu d’une délicieuse flanelle verdâtre à filet bleus’ – at Skindle’s, then the premier restaurant of the river resort along the banks of the Thames at Maidenhead, a convenient train ride from central London. Much later in the century, when it wasn’t quite so dressy, I used to frequent the place myself. Which makes Skindle’s the missing link between Reggie and me.