In 1922, Wyndham Lewis, the novelist and painter, recalls the wedding of the poet Roy Campbell: “It was in the Old ‘Harlequin’ night-cafe in Beak Street. He married the very beautiful Miss Garman. The marriage-feast was a distinguished gathering, if you are prepared to admit distinction to the Bohemian, for it was almost gipsy in its freedom from the conventional restraints. It occurred in a room upstairs. In the middle of it Campbell and his bride retired. The guests then became quarrelsome. Jacob Kramer and Augustus John were neighbours at table and I noticed that they were bickering. Kramer was a gigantic Polish Jew and he was showing John his left bicep. ‘I’m just as strong as you are John!’ he kept vociferating. John shrugged his shoulders and looked down… at his spoons.
“At this moment Roy Campbell entered in his pyjamas. There was a horrid hush. Someone had slipped out to acquaint Campbell with the fact of this threat to the peace.
“‘What’s this, Kramer?’ barked Roy. He pointed his hand at his guest and began wagging it about as if he might box his ears or chop him on the neck with it.
‘Nothing, Roy! I’m not doing anything!’
‘Could I throw you out of that window?’
‘I know you could, Roy.’
“‘Well then let my guest alone, Jacob. You let my guest alone. Don’t let me hear you’ve interfered with John again. Mind I’m only just upstairs, Jacob. I’ll come down to you!’”
In October 1950, Barbara Skelton marries the critic Cyril Connolly: “After a year’s talk of marriage, we have decided that this is to be the day. Cyril very slow in getting up, has even talked of putting it off on the pretext of having time to find another witness. Later, tells me I am nagging him into it. We have to pick up PC Boot, who is to be the main witness, and as soon as we leave the house we immediately start quarrelling. We arrive late at the Registry. Announce ourselves, then Cyril suddenly disappears. ‘Is he a nervous type?’ Boot asks. Cyril reappears looking harassed, laden with glasses, a bottle of champagne and a second witness he has picked up on the street…
“Cyril is asked to repeat the necessary words with great solemnity and I after him have to say the same words. Towards the end of my recitation I get terrible giggles and can barely complete the sentence. Am reprimanded. Feel furious at being ticked off and forget my hysteria. We are both asked to sign away our freedom. When PC Boot has to sign, the clerk says, ‘Your initials are N N?’ ‘No, sir. W W.’ ‘And they stand for?’ ‘William Wellington,’ says Boot proudly.”
In January 1965, Cecil Beaton attends the wedding of Lucinda Lambton and Henry Harrod in Northumberland: “Came up on the night sleeper. A pre-nuptial gaiety in cold dark King’s Cross Station with Lucien Freud and Ann Fleming, Paddy Leigh Fermor and [his wife] Joan, Ali Forbes… Arrival in north before daylight, cold, bleak moor scenery, Cheviot Hills and our goal a turretted black and white Gothic house with light blazing in every window. Fires were also blazing in the hearth of every room and the corridors were a serried mass of blue hyacinths which, with the wood fires, scented the air…
Tony [Lord Lambton, the bride’s father], whom I like despite his appalling caddishness, said the bridegroom’s father had got drunk last night. (Later Billa and Roy explained they were so worried—Lucy had refused to speak to her fiance, shouted that the whole thing was a mistake, which the Harrods thought too, hence Roy took to the bottle and had to be guided to bed.)…
For the Breakfast the board not only groaned but bellowed with the suckling pig, the geese, gammons of beefs, hams, game pastries and eclairs (of which I had brought 300 with me on the night train). Mulled claret made of marvellous claret, the bride nervous, shrieking at her sisters with a frown on her face and brandishing a knife at the photographers who wanted the conventional picture of her cutting the cake.”
In June 1967, Kathleen Tynan marries Ken Tynan: “A couple of days before, we discovered that guilty parties in divorce cases cannot remarry in New York State until three years have elapsed. So on a rainy Saturday morning we set off by rented Cadillac for New Jersey. With us was Marlene Dietrich, our matron of honour, dressed for service in navy blue, every hair of her ash-blonde head in place from shoulder to strawberry root.
“We were met by an impatient young judge, who led us to a little office full of golf trophies. He asked, ‘You sure you want to go through all this marriage baloney?’ We said we were. The judge asked Ken for his address. ‘In New York or London?’ ‘Whichever is quicker,’ he snapped. He was elaborately unimpressed by Dietrich and asked how to spell her name. Marlene, to cut out the noise of typewriters from the next room, edged backwards towards the sliding door and tried to close it behind here. The judge interrupted himself with no pause or change of tone: ‘And do you, Kenneth, take Kathleen for your lawful wedded—I wouldn’t stand with your ass to an open door in this office, lady—wife, to have and to hold…”
In September 1971, Roy Strong, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, writes to a friend: “By the time this reaches you it will have happened. I will have eloped with Julia Trevelyan Oman! Unbeknown to practically everyone, to parents specially, I asked Julia to marry me on 21st July. I can’t tell you how thrilled and happy I am about it all… No one knows. It has been a vast operation doing it so that no one does and very romantic. In the church at Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon lies locked in a safe a huge special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Gerald Irvine, a very good friend, is marrying us and his curate is my best man—the old lady sacristan of 91, sworn to secrecy, is witness. Tomorrow morning an elaborate operation begins when the vital parties proceed to Wilmcote. Julia is going to wear a huge black velvet hat and beautiful skirt and blouse with masses of tucks and folds. I will be in a beautiful pale grey velvet suit… The service begins with an exchange of rings, then the communion service. Then off for lunch and then on to Brighton.”