Despite infidelities on both sides, The Mountbattens remained together - anything else would cause a scandal and threaten their position in society. At this time, both Edwina and Mountbatten were the cream of society, they were an influential match - his looks and Royal pedigree, her looks and wealth, and an invitation to a party hosted by The Mountbattens would mean mixing with members of the Royal Family, rising politicians and theatre & film stars including Douglas Fairbanks Snr (1883-1939) or Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973).
In May 1930, Edwina attended the opening night of a new production of Shakespeare’s “Othello”, starring the black American actor Paul Robeson (1898-1976), who fascinated Edwina and she subsequently introduced him to London society. However gossips suggested that Edwina and Robeson were in fact lovers. Robeson’s wife was to say - “it is most incredible that people should be linking Paul's name with that of a famous titled Englishwoman, since she is just about the one person in England we don't know.” Rumours continue to spread throughout society which caused Robeson’s own marriage to flounder, especially when it became known that he indeed had a brief affair with his leading lady - Dame Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991).
There was of course some truth to the rumours as Edwina was having an affair with a 'man of colour' but it was not Robeson. Edwina - despite the certain controversy, had became friends with the Grenadian black singer Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson (1900-1969), who was an immensely popular entertainer and a favourite of Mountbatten’s cousin 'David' - Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor. However the newspaper “The People” printed an article hinting that “one of the leading hostesses in the country, a woman highly connected and immensely rich...” who had been “associating with a coloured man...” were ”caught in compromising circumstances”. The article went on to indicate that the said hostess had been forced to leave the country for a few years to let the scandal 'blow over' and that “a quarter which cannot be ignored” (ie. Buckingham Palace) had forced the hostess to leave England.
The Mountbattens took “The People” newspaper to Court and sued for libel, explaining that as Mountbatten was a serving officer in the Royal Navy, stationed in Malta - the fact that Edwina had come to Malta could be nothing more than a loving wife, joining her husband. 'Hutch' never recovered from the Court case, as he could not understand how Edwina could deny knowing him, despite many people seeing him at her parties. Of course Mountbatten was concerned that this controversy would affect his chances of promotion and risked their much needed connection to the Court. Mountbatten’s marriage at this time became strained and behind closed doors, perhaps was on the verge of collapse.
Edwina duly won the court case and “The People” newspaper printed a full apology, with Edwina refusing to seek damages. Sometime later Edwina’s sister - The Hon. Mary Ashley, later Lady Delamere (1906-1986) confirmed that indeed Edwina had lied under oath and that she had been outraged at being forced to have lunch at Buckingham Palace with King George V (1865(1910-1936) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) the very day after the trial had concluded as an act of 'fake' solidarity. Edwina found the whole episode hypocritical, put a great strain on her marriage and never forgave The King and Queen.
Despite his own infidelities, Mountbatten seemed to be particularly unhappy with Edwina’s 'on-off' relationship with 'Hutch' and was reported to have said that - “if ever I catch that man Hutch, I’ll kill him.” In 1949, when The Mountbattens were leaving the fashionable Dorchester Hotel in London, they bumped into 'Hutch' on his way in and embraced Edwina warmly. When she introduced 'Hutch' to Mountbatten and he replied - “good God - I thought he was dead!” Sadly Hutchinson’s career did not survive and following his wife’s death in 1958, he struggled with worsening financial problems and was reduced to playing in tawdry clubs and sold the North London home in 1967, where he had lived since 1929.
Edwina’s relationship with 'Hutch' was brought to public prominence again in November 2008, when the UK’s Channel 4 broadcast a documentary on his life entitled “High Society’s Favourite Gigolo”. The TV programme showed how that Edwina and “Hutch” were indeed lovers and how their relationship ultimately ruined his life - leading to social ostracism and the destruction of his professional career. In 2013, a storyline in the successful ITV serial drama “Downton Abbey” echoed the Edwina/Hutchinson relationship, with the daughter of a peer secretly falling for a young handsome black jazz singer.
Edwina - Lady Louis Mountbatten
Dame Peggy Ashcroft & Paul Robeson (right)
in the 1930 production of "Othello"
Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson
"Lady Rose MacClare" (portrayed by Lily James) & "Jack Ross" (portrayed by Gary Carr)
from TV drama "Downton Abbey"
The grave of Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson
in Highgate Cemetery, North London
On 18th August 1969, 'Hutch' died virtually penniless (having lost his fortune gambling) at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London from "overwhelming pneumonia" at the age of 69. He left just £1,949 and no will. Ironically - on the day of his burial (where only 42 people attended), the undertakers received a call from Mountbatten offering to pay for Hutchinson's grave and tombstone in Highgate Cemetery, North London.