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EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
Scandal - 'Hutch'

Edwina 1930.jpg

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). 

RIGHT: Edwina in 1930

 

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 but they never met.  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 continued to spread throughout society which caused Robeson’s own marriage to flounder, especially when it became known that he indeed had 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 at that time.  Edwina - despite the certain controversy, had became the lover of the Grenadian black singer Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson (1900-1969), who was an immensely popular entertainer and a favourite of Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor and who had been a lover of Mountbatten's cousin Queen Victoria Eugénie of Spain, Princess Victoria Eugénie Julia 'Ena' of Battenberg (1887-1969).  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 'anonymous' article had everything to sensationalise their readers - a hint of racism, with 'rich', titled (if not Royal) people whose morals could easily be questioned, combined with class envy.  Although initially The Mountbattens thought it best to ignore the article and not give it more publicity, King George V (1865(1936-1952) said that the newspaper should be sued for libel and put pressure on them to.  The Mountbattens were forced to return home and sought legal advice. Even Robeson's wife - Eslanda 'Essie' Robeson, née Goode (1895-1965), who was well used to her husband's infidelities said - "it is most incredible that people should be linking Paul's name with that of a famous titled English woman, since she is just about the one person in England we don't know."  Privately 'Hutch' told a friend that Edwina had indeed had a brief affair with Robeson before they became lovers.

The Mountbattens took "The People" newspaper to Court and sued for libel.  The Court of The Lord Chief Justice - The Rt Hon. Sir Gordon Hewart, 1st Lord (later Viscount) Hewart (1870-1943) opened at the unprecedented time of 9.30am on 8th July 1932 to enable the sensational and intimate libel case to be heard 'in camera' - without the press or public in the Court.  Edwina's lawyer - The Rt Hon. Norman Birkett, later 1st Lord Birkett (1883-1962) said of the newspaper article - "it is not too much to say that it is the most monstrous and most atrocious libel of which I have ever heard."   Both Mountbatten and Edwina gave evidence - Edwina stated on oath that she had never met the man inferred to in the gossip (ie. Paul Robeson) and Mountbatten stated that the only reason why Edwina had left the country, was as a dutiful Naval wife - stating 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 the actions of a loving wife and denied that Buckingham Palace had ordered her out of the country.

'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, despite "The People"  newspaper spending over £25,000 trying to find evidence to support their claims.  Their barrister - The Rt Hon. Sir Patrick Hastings (1880-1952), a former Attorney-General of England, was forced to settle out of Court, and issued a grovelling apology in Court and the newspaper printed a full apology.  Edwina did not seek damages, despite Birkett telling the Court that she was clearly in a position to seek heavy damages but he stated - "no money that could be named would be adequate to compensate her for the anguish, misery and distress which this libel has caused."  However, Edwina was awarded full costs.  Following their success in Court, The Mountbattens celebrated at the fashionable nightclub - The Café de Paris, near Leicester Square, London.  A few days later, Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor hosted a party for The Mountbattens at his York House apartment in St James' Palace, London.

A short film by Pathé showing

Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson performing live in 1932

 Dame Peggy Ashcroft & Paul Robeson (right) in the 1930 production of "Othello" ​

(Dame) Peggy Ashcroft

& Paul Robeson (right)

in the 1930 London

production of "Othello"

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Edwina - Lady Louis Mountbatten ​

Edwina - Lady Louis Mountbatten

Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson

Edwina (and of course the Mountbatten name) was now free from the fear of social disgrace, however 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 with Mountbatten and she never forgave The King and Queen for their 'frosty' attitude towards her.

Despite his own infidelities, Mountbatten seemed to be particularly unhappy with Edwina’s behaviour (which might affect his promotion prospects) and her '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, he replied - "good God -  I thought he was dead!"   Mountbatten was famously reported to have staggered into London's fashionable Quaglino's restaurant and drunkenly said to bandleader Leon Van Straten (1899-1966) - "that ni**er Hutch has a penis like a tree trunk and he's f**king my wife right now."  Hutchinson had been a hugely successful entertainer, having played piano alongside jazz greats like Thomas 'Fats' Waller (1904-1943) and Edward 'Duke' Ellington (1899-1974).  His love life had been equally full of celebrity, having been a lover of Hollywood film star Merle Oberon (1911-1979); actress Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968); actor and composer Ivor Novello (1893-1951) and composer Cole Porter (1891-1964).  It was also rumoured that he had also been a lover of Princess Marina, The Duchess of Kent (1906-1968) and even Princess Margaret (1930-2002), the youngest daughter of King George VI (1895(1936-1952).  Despite being at the height of his popularity and on friendly terms with most of high society including The Prince of Wales, 'Hutch' was still a victim of the racial discrimination of the day and was often told to enter aristocrats homes (where he was due to perform) via the servants entrance.

 

Sadly Hutchinson’s career did not survive the scandal, Buckingham Palace refused to allow him to perform at any Royal Command Performance, and the great newspaper tycoon - The Rt Hon. William Maxwell 'Max' Aitken, 1st Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964) ordered that none of his publications mention Hutchinson by name.   During World War II, 'Hutch' was one of the first to volunteer to entertain the troops, and even entertained thousands of troops in Weymouth, Dorset prior to the 'D-Day' landings in 1944, but he received no formal recognition or honour.  In 1958, his financial situation was so bad that he was forced to bury his wife in an unmarked 'pauper's grave'.  He continued to struggle with worsening financial problems and was reduced to playing in tawdry clubs and even at Butlin's holiday camp at Skegness, Lincolnshire - he was no longer 'top of the bill'.  'Hutch' sold his North London home in 1967 for just £13,037, where he had lived since 1929 but most of this went to pay off his ever increasing debts and was forced to live in a small flat.

 "Lady Rose MacClare" (portrayed by Lily James) & "Jack Ross" (portrayed by Gary Carr) from TV drama "Downton Abbey" ​

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, due to the now out-dated attitude of his race and standing in society - 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 Marquess secretly falling for a young handsome black jazz singer.

'Lady Rose MacClare'

(portrayed by Lily James)

& 'Jack Ross' (portrayed by Gary Carr)

from the TV drama "Downton Abbey"

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Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson in later life

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 69yrs.  He left just £1,949 and no will.  Ironically - on the day of his burial (where only 42 people attended), the undertakers (J. H. Kenyon Ltd) received a call from Mountbatten offering to pay for Hutchinson's grave and tombstone in Highgate Cemetery, North London.

 The grave of Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson in Highgate Cemetery, North London ​

The grave of Leslie 'Hutch' Hutchinson

in Highgate Cemetery, North London