Category Archives: Background material

Travelling 1920s style

I’ve just updated the Poppy Denby website with information on, and fabulous original photos of, the various trains, boats and automobiles Poppy and her friends use in London, Paris and New York. For readers who have already read the books, you can now see if your imagination matches up to reality. For those who haven’t, don’t worry, there are no plot spoilers as to whodunnit. Although book 3 is not quite out yet, I have included information on that too as a little taster (you can pre-order The Death Beat here). To go straight to the Transport page click here.

Model T Ford

First woman statue in Parliament Square

Next year, 2018, will be the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women in the United Kingdom, over the age of 30, who owned property, the right to vote. It took another 10 years for all women over the age of 21, regardless of their economic status, to be able to vote; but at least the 1918 act was a start. It was the culmination of many years of struggle of brave women (and some notable men), one of whom was Millicent Fawcett. Millicent was the chairperson of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She adhered to a strict code of non-violence (in contrast to the Pankhursts and the Women’s Suffrage and Political Union who feature in The Jazz Files). She retired in 1919 after achieving her goal and died in 1929. She is now going to be honoured by a statue in Parliament Square, London. Incredibly, it will be the first statue of a woman to be erected there; a reminder, perhaps, that the battle for the recognition of women as equal contributors to society still has a way to go. Nonetheless, Aunt Dot and her friends would be delighted to hear that Millicent is finally getting some attention. I hope to be in London next year for the unveiling.

Millicent Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett 2

As slick as Brillantine

As fans of Poppy Denby know I spend lots of time researching fashion trends of the 1920s. Usually this is women’s fashion. But today I’m looking at men’s hairstyles and products. In Poppy Denby 3 one of the characters has a handsome new admirer (you’ll have to wait until the book comes out to find out who!) and he has beautiful auburn hair which he slicks down with Brillantine.

Hands up those of you whose mothers, aunts or grandmothers used to (or still do!) have crocheted doillies draped along the back of their sofas and armchairs? These were first introduced to stop the Brillantine and other hair oils staining the upholstery.

Here is screen heartthrob Rudolf Valentino (who makes a cameo appearance in Poppy Denby 3) and a vintage bottle of Brillantine that would have given him that slick look.

1920s-mens-hairstyle-rudolph-valentino brilliantine-bottle-1920s-art-deco-154x300

Wimbledon – the Frenchy with the short skirt & the gay superstar

What have we got for below the fold?” Asked Rollo.
A voice piped up: “Wimbledon. That Frenchy won again. The one with the short skirt. And Daniel’s got a luv-er-ly pic.”
On cue Daniel walked to the front of the room and presented a picture of Suzanne Lenglen to Rollo who in turn showed it to the room. It was met by wolf whistles. No one bothered apologizing to Poppy.

From The Jazz Files.

Our heroine’s first day at work on The Daily Globe was on 4 July 1920, the day after the Wimbledon Finals. The men’s singles were won by Bill Tilden who defeated Australian Gerald Patterson (2–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4), and was the first American to ever win the title. Tilden also became the first player to reach 10 finals at a single Grand Slam event. His record stood until 2015, when Roger Federer reached his tenth Wimbledon final. Tilden’s personal life, however, was mired in tragedy and his closet homosexuality (illegal at the time) led to scandal and turmoil, including rumoured liaisons with ball boys.

Bill Tilden
Bill Tilden

The women’s singles were won, again, by ‘the Frenchy in the short skirt’ Suzanne Lenglen, considered by many the greatest French sports woman of all time. Lenglen won every year between 1919 and 1925, apart from 1924 when she had to withdraw in the quarter finals with whooping cough. She was a fashion icon and paved the way for women to wear shorter, looser fitting clothing on court, causing a scandal at the time. She was also renowned for smoking cheroots and drinking brandy between sets. Despite this dubious diet, she won an incredible 241 titles, with a 98% winning record over her entire career. She partied as hard as she played, and, in The Jazz Files, she makes a cameo appearance at Oscars Jazz Club the same evening Charlie Chaplin arrives. She died of leukemia on 4 July 1938, after going blind. She was only 39.

Suzanne Lenglen
Suzanne Lenglen
Suzanne Lenglen and Bill Tilden, singles champions at the 1920 Wimbledon Championships
Suzanne Lenglen and Bill Tilden, singles champions at the 1920 Wimbledon Championships

For more on Wimbledon in the 1920s visit the official Wimbledon archive.

Anyone for tennis?

My final corrections are done and dusted on Poppy Denby Investigates, book 2, The Kill Fee. So today I am back with Poppy and Delilah on the cruise ship heading to New York in book 3. They’ve been swimming and now they’ve been invited for a spot of deck tennis by a pair of dashing Long Island fellows. Delilah has just dug this little number out of her trunk (now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, fashion collection). Pimms anyone?

tennisThe Kill Fee

The bathing suit competition

There has been a great deal of light-hearted debate on my Fiona Veitch Smith – author FB page. In book 3, Poppy and Delilah are on a cruise, travelling to New York, on the RMS Olympic. They are about to try out the on-board swimming pool and need to choose outfits. As fans of the series know, I like to dress my characters (whenever possible) in original 1920s outfits that I source from fashion museums, books and archives. So I gave people the choice between eight outfits, as seen in this original photograph, and asked them to choose an outfit for both the girls. See which ones you would put them in then scroll down to see the results! If you agree or disagree I would love to hear from you in the comments below :)

bathing suit parade

And now for the results: These are the top three popular choices for each of our leading ladies in descending order:

Poppy: 6, 1, 2
Delilah: 7, 2, 6

So that’s decided! Poppy will be in horizontal stripes and Delilah the floral pattern. For colours I’m going with dark green and gold for Delilah (gold flowers) and nautical blue and white stripes for Poppy. I’ll make Poppy’s slightly longer though.
Now you’ll have to wait until 2017 to see your choice in print!!!!!

Film footage of Poppy’s cruise to New York

I’m currently writing book 3 in the Poppy Denby Investigates series. Poppy and her friends will be going to New York, travelling on an oceanliner the RMS Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic. As you well know, the Titanic sank in 1912 (in The Jazz Files Elizabeth Dorchester’s mother, Maud, died on the maiden voyage, and in book 2, The Kill Fee, the parents of Delilah’s new boyfriend also went the same way). The Olympic was one of three sisters operated by the White Star Line between Europe and New York. The third ship, the Britannic, was sunk by a German underwater mine in 1916. But the Olympic survived and had a long and illustrious career until 1934 when she was finally decomissioned. Poppy and her pals will be travelling in April 1921. I am beside myself to have found this incredible promotional film of life on board the Olympic. Just imagine what fun Poppy is going to have! It’s 16 minutes long, so make sure you have a cup of tea at the ready – and don’t forget to turn up the sound.

£20 million Faberge Egg nearly sold for scrap

Today I am giving the manuscript for Poppy’s second adventure a bit of spit and polish. In my notes I have come across this article about a Faberge Egg worth £20 million that was bought for a song at a car boot sale and then nearly sold for scrap. This was the article that gave me the idea for Poppy Denby 2, The Kill Fee, which will be coming out in September. To find out what intrigue Poppy unearths with the Romanov Royal family and stolen Faberge Eggs, you’ll have to wait for the book! I’m a tease, I know 😉

In the meantime, you can read about the £20 million egg here.

Faberge 5

Mary Pickford & cinema in the 1920s

I saw this last night on TV and have now tracked it down on YouTube. It’s a documentary about Mary Pickford and the development of early cinema. I wasn’t aware that she was a shrewd businesswoman too and along with Chaplin and Fairbanks started her own studio. If the film industry itself doesn’t interest you then the documentary footage of the time just might. Of particular note is the footage of Mary and Amelia Earhardt speaking about the role of groundbreaking women of the time plus Chaplin and Fairbanks devising some slapstick routines in the garden. I loved it!