The shocking true story of a diamond theft gone wrong.
In December 1937, four respectable young men in their twenties, all products of elite English public schools, conspired to lure to the luxurious Hyde Park Hotel a representative of Cartier, the renowned jewelry firm. There, the "Mayfair men" brutally bludgeoned diamond salesman Etienne Bellenger and made off with eight rings that today would be worth approximately half a million pounds. Such well-connected young people were not supposed to appear in the prisoner’s dock at the Old Bailey. Not surprisingly, the popular newspapers had a field…
The shocking true story of a diamond theft gone wrong.
In December 1937, four respectable young men in their twenties, all products of elite English public schools, conspired to lure to the luxurious Hyde Park Hotel a representative of Cartier, the renowned jewelry firm. There, the "Mayfair men" brutally bludgeoned diamond salesman Etienne Bellenger and made off with eight rings that today would be worth approximately half a million pounds. Such well-connected young people were not supposed to appear in the prisoner’s dock at the Old Bailey. Not surprisingly, the popular newspapers had a field day responding to the public’s insatiable appetite for news about the upper-crust rowdies and their unsavory pasts.
In Playboys and Mayfair Men, Angus McLaren recounts the violent robbery and sensational trial that followed. He uses the case as a hook to draw the reader into a revelatory exploration of key interwar social issues, from masculinity and cultural decadence to broader anxieties about moral decay. In his gripping depiction of Mayfair’s celebrity high life, McLaren describes the crime in detail, as well as the police investigation, the suspects, their trial, and the aftermath of their convictions.
a detailed contextual analysis of the period and its obsessions.
I found Playboys & Mayfair Men riveting.
[McLaren] succeeds in extracting from a seedy tale some novel insights into the culture of pre-war Britain.
McLaren uses an impressive range of sources, both primary and secondary, to plunge deeply into the world of Mayfair men not only in the 1930s but also in the postwar world. In a sense, they were the successors of the flappers and the Bright Young Things of the 1920s.
The book is a delight to read, due largely to its effective organization, clear analysis of the playboy identity, and the timeliness of its portrayal of class and gendered entitlement... McLaren's style is compact and clear throughout, and the book would be an excellent addition to readers' lists for students interested in gender, class, and interwar Britain. On a more general level, the subject matter will appeal to anyone aware of the class privilege and playboy mentalities increasingly on display in our contemporary world.
Clearly written and well-organized... Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London makes a very useful addition to the growing literature on the history of masculinity... To read McLaren's book is to enter a world of outrageous snobbery that is not quite as remote from our own as many of us would like to believe.
[Playboys and Mayfair Men] makes for an enjoyable read, demonstrating effectively the fascination that such high society cases could have for a wide readership, as much today as at the time they were reported... McLaren makes a number of interesting points about the socio-cultural significance of the case, principally around the importance of economic production and conspicuous consumption to definitions of masculinity in this period, which enables him to date the emergence of the playboy to two decades earlier than has generally been argued.
Angus McLaren is the most imaginative, productive, and thorough scholar I know in the history of modern sexuality and gender studies. Clear, witty, and thematically rich, his engaging book effectively brings alive the social, cultural, and urban scene of 1930s London in a way that readers of crime dramas and mystery thrillers will enjoy. A tour de force.
Playboys and Mayfair Men is a rich, innovative and exciting cultural history of 1930s Britain. McLaren uses a sensational robbery case as a starting point, before taking us on a thought-proving journey encompassing the topics of crime, class, gender, sexuality and politics. Essential reading for anyone interested in the 'devil's decade'.
A fascinating story, a model of research and analysis, and beautifully written, Playboys and Mayfair Men is that rare thing: a book that entertains the reader as much as it challenges the boundaries of existing scholarship. This is essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century Britain.
If London society found the 1938 sensational trial of the 'Mayfair Men' riveting, so too will readers of this exhilarating book. Combining accessibility with erudition, Angus McLaren brilliantly demonstrates how the 1930s’ 'playboy' became a cipher for current anxieties concerning gender, class, crime, generation, and politics. This is cultural history at its best.
With four 'idle and seductive' London upper-class men’s violent crime in 1938, atop resonant evidence of their generation’s resistance to Depression-era impingement upon expected class, gender and sex privileges—in a grim contra-parallel with flappers (for which see Lucy Bland, Modern Women on Trial)—McLaren has done it again. A riveting tour de force, shrewd, erudite, compelling.
1. The Robbery
2. The Investigation
3. The Suspects
4. The Trial
5. The Aftermath
with Hopkins Press Books