Oxford Mail – 19th January – 2015

Recalling Lew Stone and Some Food For Thought –

…..  On my break the other night I took a short walk across Piccadilly Circus and up Jermyn Street. I went in search of The Monseigneur Restaurant. You wont find it in on the map. It closed down in 1934.
So why the interest? Because back in the early 30s, The Monseigneur was home to some of the best music in England. Its founder, Jack Upson, made his fortune in the shoe trade. Dolcis shoes was his family business. When he found himself in need of a venue to entertain his many lady friends a restaurant seemed the obvious choice.
A restaurant like the Monseigneur could stay open long after the pubs had shut. On Thursdays it stayed open as late as 2am.Patrons walked in down through the fan lit door on the right, guided by gold balustrades. Downstairs in the basement the walls were frescoed in lavish red and blue amid rich, silk tapestries. The band swung out to a clientele including the future King Edward VIII.
Roy Fox and Mantovani led bands here. And so did Lew Stones band between 1932 and 1934. Among his personnel were the trumpet player Nat Gonella and 30s heart throb Al Bowlly on vocals. Listening to him, it was said, was like having lemonade poured down your spine. He died nearby aged just 43 when a Luftwaffe bomb exploded outside his flat.
So what’s it like now? First of all the building wasn’t bombed or bulldozed. The ground floor now houses Gotti’s Italian Restaurant. But walk down the steps into what’s now the Jermyn Street Theatre and you’re standing in the very room where Stone’s band broadcast live on the BBC for 90 minutes every Tuesday night at 10.30pm.
Dancing at home was a big deal during the depression. With as many as five million radio sets in the country its easy to understand how Lew Stone became a household name. Nowadays it takes imagination to keep the glamour alive.
After the Monseigneur closed the building was converted to a cinema, later renowned for showing sleazy movies. Its transformation into a theatre in 1994 restored its respectability.
Martin, a helpful member of the theatres staff, is the only person I meet who has any knowledge of the buildings provenance. He walks me through to the office and shows me one of The Monseigneur’s original menus, preserved in a frame. Aside from the backstage dressing rooms its the sole reminder of the hotspot this place once was.
I walk out onto Jermyn Street, home of high fashion, where Beau Brummell once polished his boots with champagne. Directly opposite the former Monseigneur there’s now a Tesco’s Metro.
In true 30s style I buy a pack of fags and pitifully puff my way back to work. I hope to make it onto the X90 before oblivion covers my tracks. I checked, and Lew Stones name didn’t even make it on to the menu.

Stuart Macbeth

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