Oh yes, I can boogie
Published January 9th, 1954 Photograph by Jack McManus
It’s time to polish up our velvety frocks and our party pieces. But however well we scrub up this festive season, we’re unlikely to present as singular an appearance as this extraordinary lady.
The occasion was a tea party, organised by the Red Cross and hosted by Denis Guiney and his wife Mary, the owners of Clery’s department store just after Christmas in 1954. The guests were 120 pensioners, all single and – according to the caption – “most of them lonely”. But not on this merry afternoon.
Denis Guiney – on the right of the picture – appears to have enjoyed himself hugely as master of ceremonies for the day. The piano player, Jack Davies, offers a somewhat apprehensive smile to the camera as he prepares to accompany 84-year-old Mrs Leslie for her party piece.
We’re not told her first name, or what song she sang. Given the cheeky expression on her face and the amusement of the pianist, however, it may not have been exactly Hark! the Herald Angels. But she’s shaping up in a delightfully professional manner, her hand resting on the back of the pianist’s chair, her back straight, coat and hat firmly in place.
They give her a regal look, those outdoor clothes: the coat with its mayoral swathe of fur around her shoulders, the hat at precisely the right angle above her glasses, her booted feet those of a tiny dancer.
Guiney, meanwhile, sports a raincoat over his three-piece suit: even the hard-working pianist hasn’t dared to strip to his shirt-sleeves.
It wouldn’t do for party attire in the bling-struck 21st century.
Obviously the ambient indoor temperature, despite the merriment, was pretty chilly. And if you look closely at that Christmas tree you’ll notice that it’s pretty sparsely decorated compared to the groaning, laden trees of today.
What goes around, mind you, has a nasty habit of coming around. Denis Guiney rescued Clery’s from receivership a decade or so before our picture was taken. Since he and his wife Mary died, the shop has had a bit of a bumpy ride.
Hopefully, it will still be with us in another half-century. The return of coats and hats at parties, however, we could probably live without.