Cover

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Half Title, Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

When I first came across newspaper accounts of the Hyde Park Hotel robbery, I was puzzled to read that the villains had attacked their victim with a “life preserver.” For Americans a life preserver (or life jacket) is a flotation device. My difficulty in understanding what the papers meant by the phrase proved once more the truth of the line (often attributed to George Bernard Shaw) ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

In the spring of 1938 the English author Fryniwyd Tennyson Jesse wrote to her friend Grace Burke Hubble, the wife of the American astronomer Edwin Hubble: “I do not know whether the respectable newspaper which I am sure you and Edwin take, had an account of the trial over here known as the trial of the Mayfair men. Anyway I went to it. ...

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Part I: The Crime

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pp. 13-14

In 1929, under the headline “Mr. Edgar Wallace on the Murder Men of Chicago,” the Daily Mail reported that Britain’s most prolific writer of thrillers had gone to the United States to gather material on the lives of gangsters. His apparent hope was that he could reinvigorate his fictions by larding them with references to ruthless “racketeers,” ...

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1. The Robbery

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pp. 15-24

Monday, December 20, 1937, dawned cold and wintry in London. On Sunday there had been snow at midday; ice and fog made driving treacherous and contributed to the interruption of commuter rail services. There were even delays on several underground routes, but not on the District Line that served Putney. ...

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2. The Investigation

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pp. 25-36

In the 1930s the authorities recorded about 80,000 offenses each year in the 700 square miles of London’s Metropolitan Police District. Setting aside the Special Branch, the chief constable had at his disposal 1,000 detectives, 150 working out of Scotland Yard. They had access to 60,000 photographs of rogues and over half a million sets of fingerprints.1 ...

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3. The Suspects

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pp. 37-53

In constructing an image of the Hyde Park Hotel robbers the press drew as much from popular notions of the lives of the rich as from police reports: “Four men who gate-crashed parties, night clubs and restaurants. All of good family, all four public school boys, one the son of a general. High life they certainly had—all of them. ...

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4. The Trial

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pp. 54-67

In February 1938, James Agate, London’s leading theater critic, went along to the famous Courtroom Number One of the Old Bailey to witness the trial of the Mayfair playboys. As he wrote in his journal, he found their performances unsettling: “A horrid glamour about the whole affair. ...

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5. The Aftermath

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pp. 68-82

In his comic novel Decline and Fall (1928), Evelyn Waugh’s lead character, being a former public school boy, finds the prison regime surprisingly familiar. “Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums, ...

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Part II: The Context

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pp. 83-84

Alarmed by a young man’s lack of scruples, an interwar diarist confided to his journal: “For some hereditary or physiological reason his normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence.” The writer wondered if it were a case of what doctors called “arrested development.” ...

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6. Pain

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pp. 85-105

“Lash for Robbers.” “20 Strokes of Cat.” “Mayfair Men on Trial.” “Cat for Two Mayfair Men.” “Prison Warders Lash English Playboy.” Headlines across Europe and North America hailed the sentences doled out by Lord Chief Justice Hewart. It was no surprise that the trial of the Hyde Park Hotel robbers made worldwide news. ...

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7. Masculinity

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pp. 106-133

The 1938 Hyde Park Hotel robbery trial broadcast the notion that a new type of modern man had appeared—the playboy. Few men embraced this role, but the playboy was not as marginal a figure as one might assume. Indeed, the evidence suggests that this evocative persona appeared as a result of changes in British culture, particularly in gender and class relations. ...

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8. Crime

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pp. 134-156

In a trilogy of novels set in interwar England, Patrick Hamilton presented as his antihero Ralph Gorse, a consummate womanizer and opportunist. Though beguiled by this playboy, his female mark senses something amiss. “She now believed that he was a ‘gentleman.’ His blue suit, his hat, his manner and success at the Metropole, ...

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9. Class

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pp. 157-174

Two hundred years before the trial of the Hyde Park Hotel robbers, William Hogarth depicted the rise and fall of a ne’er-do-well in his famous series of paintings The Rake’s Progress (1733). Rebecca West, responding to the belief that this type of character seemed to be flourishing once more, produced in 1934 an updated version with illustrations by the cartoonist David Low. ...

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10. Fascism

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pp. 175-196

In his autobiography Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, devoted several pages to explaining how he determined that his followers should wear black shirts. He recalled wanting something that radiated strength and virility. He then added: “Soon our men developed the habit of cutting the shirt in the shape of a fencing jacket, ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 197-208

Britain was not alone in having to deal with outrages committed by young men from respectable families. In the United States the famous Leopold and Loeb trial of 1924 raised some of the same issues evoked by the Mayfair men’s court appearances in the late 1930s.1 Nathan F. Leopold and Richard Loeb—young, rich Chicago Jewish youths (aged nineteen and eighteen) ...

Notes

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pp. 209-254

Index

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pp. 255-264