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Playboys and Mayfair Men

Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London

In December 1937, four respectable young men in their twenties, all products of elite English public schools, conspired to lure to the luxurious Hyde Park Hotel a representative of Cartier, the renowned jewelry firm. There, the "Mayfair men" brutally bludgeoned diamond salesman Etienne Bellenger and made off with eight rings that today would be worth approximately half a million pounds. Such well-connected young people were not supposed to appear in the prisoner’s dock at the Old Bailey. Not surprisingly, the popular newspapers had a field day responding to the public’s insatiable appetite for news about the upper-crust rowdies and their unsavory pasts.

In Playboys and Mayfair Men, Angus McLaren recounts the violent robbery and sensational trial that followed. He uses the case as a hook to draw the reader into a revelatory exploration of key interwar social issues, from masculinity and cultural decadence to broader anxieties about moral decay. In his gripping depiction of Mayfair’s celebrity high life, McLaren describes the crime in detail, as well as the police investigation, the suspects, their trial, and the aftermath of their convictions.

About the Author

Angus McLaren is emeritus professor of history at the University of Victoria. He is the author of Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History, Impotence: A Cultural History, and A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream.

Endorsements

"Angus McLaren is the most imaginative, productive, and thorough scholar I know in the history of modern sexuality and gender studies. Clear, witty, and thematically rich, his engaging book effectively brings alive the social, cultural, and urban scene of 1930s London in a way that readers of crime dramas and mystery thrillers will enjoy. A tour de force."

- Robert A. Nye, author of Crime, Madness and Politics in Modern France: The Medical Concept of National Decline

" Playboys and Mayfair Men is a rich, innovative and exciting cultural history of 1930s Britain. McLaren uses a sensational robbery case as a starting point, before taking us on a thought-proving journey encompassing the topics of crime, class, gender, sexuality and politics. Essential reading for anyone interested in the 'devil's decade'."

- Adrian Bingham, coauthor of Tabloid Century: The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the Present

"A fascinating story, a model of research and analysis, and beautifully written, Playboys and Mayfair Men is that rare thing: a book that entertains the reader as much as it challenges the boundaries of existing scholarship. This is essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century Britain."

- Stephen Brooke, author of Sexual Politics: Sexuality, Family Planning, and the British Left from the 1880s to the Present Day

"If London society found the 1938 sensational trial of the 'Mayfair Men' riveting, so too will readers of this exhilarating book. Combining accessibility with erudition, Angus McLaren brilliantly demonstrates how the 1930s’ 'playboy' became a cipher for current anxieties concerning gender, class, crime, generation, and politics. This is cultural history at its best."

- Lucy Bland, author of Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper

"With four 'idle and seductive' London upper-class men’s violent crime in 1938, atop resonant evidence of their generation’s resistance to Depression-era impingement upon expected class, gender and sex privileges—in a grim contra-parallel with flappers (for which see Lucy Bland, Modern Women on Trial)—McLaren has done it again. A riveting tour de force, shrewd, erudite, compelling."

- Judith A. Allen, author of Sex and Secrets: Crimes Involving Australian Women since 1880
Johns Hopkins University Press
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