A meal you can shake hands with in the dark: the Arts Club Ball

There comes an affair in the tides of men
When you can’t go back again
Yes there comes a darkness in the affairs of light
When you can’t hold back the night
So you go where your mind will keep
Where the rain plays the restless to sleep
On the notes of a broken piano

1953 street

1950s papier mache apocalypse? Carnival mishap? The set of a Jan Svankmaier film? None of those.

What about a woman with a tail?

CACB 001 - Copy

We’ve got one of those.

And an elephant, ready to dance. Some kind of elephant anyway.

1958 elephant

And we’ve got a strange object on wheels with young women balanced on it.


What does it all mean? Well obviously, the Chelsea Arts Club Ball.

It’s a dance.


It’s a giant costume party.

Some of the costumes look good, like this couple.


Some maybe not.


(What is that man doing?)

It’s also an artistic event.

Laughing devils break out of…something.


Exuberant costumes.

CACB 1953 008
More exuberant costumes.


Maybe we could get those guys out of here. We’ve had enough mishapen heads for one night.


On with the party. See, it’s in full swing now. How did Richard Nixon get in?


The climax will be spectacular…..

CAC Royal Albert Hall 1954-59 Ronald Searle seven seas

The party stopped in the end but for a long while the fun was endless.

I’m going to a wedding
I’m going to a wedding dressed in black
I’m going to a party
I’m going to party, won’t be back

I’m going to a funeral
I’m going to a funeral dressed in white
I’m going to a nightclub
I’m going to a nightclub to sleep with night


For quite a few years the Chelsea Arts Club, that ancient haven for artists and bohemians has kept its archive in our sub-basement. I’ve been happy to look after it. but now they have their own search room which can be visited by the serious researcher and the curious amateur alike.  In remembrance of their stay with us they’ve let me use some of their pictures of the Arts Club Ball. My thanks to Stephen Bartley.

The poet Pete Brown made albums with the group Piblokto including “Things may come and things may go but the art school dance goes on forever” which I referred to in a previous post. His first band was called the Battered Ornaments and from them I got the title of this post, a phrase I have always admired. I don’t believe he ever had anything to do with the the Ball but I’ve always loved his lyrics, particularly the songs he wrote with Jack Bruce. The lyrics quoted above are from “He the Richmond” and “Weird of Hermiston” from the Jack Bruce album Songs for a Tailor.


3 responses to “A meal you can shake hands with in the dark: the Arts Club Ball

  • Nicky

    I note that the couple in the good costume are the lovely Dame Joan Collins and her first husband Maxwell Reid

  • Nigel Vivian

    Thank you for giving us yet another fascinating view of past times!
    Slightly off topic, but the first photo also happens to show a rear view old Kensington Gore before it was demolished to build the Royal College of Art.
    It doesn’t look much from this view, but it was the last remaining part of an old Georgian terrace of houses, the rest of which were lost when the Albert Hall was built.
    Sadly there appears to be no remaining photographic records of these lost buildings. I wonder if anyone else has any memories of them?

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