Thursday, 6 October 2011

Some Still Like It Hot at Mr Lobb of St James's Street

After all the fame and the fortunate years, starring in Coward musicals, the musical stage actress, Ivy St Helier, fell on hard times and, according to Brian Dobbs' fine book, about John Lobb: "The Last Shall Be First" [Elm Tree Books, 1972], she visited Mr Lobb in St James's Street for a new pair of shoes. But, before I get to what happened then, I pause just to mention that the book's title is Lobb's motto and is derived, in a very Victorian way, from a few references in the New Testament. In fact it is a double pun because not only does the shoe last come first in the shoe-making process but John Lobb, as an upstart, intended from the very beginning, to be at the head of his trade: 'the first'; whether or not they make the very best bespoke shoes (actually, I'd say that Foster-Henry Maxwell make better), the whole world has heard of 'John Lobb shoes' as very fine shoes: hence the double pun.

Anyway back to my abandoned sheep, grazing nonchalantly on the hillside, and Ivy St Helier. On entering the shop, she encountered a Lobb employee who asked how he could help and Ivy St Helier said that she wanted to order a new pair of shoes but that she could afford only £so-and-so. The employee then went up the stairs to Eric Lobb's office, off the gallery, and explained that there was a lady downstairs who wanted new shoes but could not afford the full price. Eric Lobb told the employee to tell her that the shop was not an eastern bazar and there could be no haggling. The shopman went back down and relayed the message but Ivy St Helier persisted and the shopman returned to Eric Lobb who asked the shopman for her name. The shopman then found out that she was called Ivy St Helier and told Eric Lobb, who remembered seeing her playing Manon in Cowards' original, 1929 production of Bitter-Sweet and so he smiled and told the shopman to go down and say to her Hey-ho! If Love Were All, from the title of one of her songs from the show.

So the shopman trundled back down the stairs and delivered the line, before rushing back up to Eric Lobb, panting: "You've done it now, sir, you'll have to come down - she's burst into tears."

Eric Lobb then went down to the shop and greeted Ivy St Helier, telling her how much he had enjoyed her performances and what an honour it was to have her back in the shop, and then he told her to choose any shoe style she liked to be made with his compliments.

It is not then only because of its fine structure that John Lobb's deserves Esquire magazine's description as "possibly the most beautiful shop in the world".

As Ivy St Helier was leaving, she turned and said that today 'cool' is the thing but that, when she was young, they had "liked it hot."

Here is a short clip of a recording of the song sung by Ivy St Helier:


  1. What a lovely story.

    Promise I'm not doing a Burgess runner - that was very funny!

  2. Thanks B&P. Have a safe journey. And, for the rest of you, who wonder about the 'Burgess' reference, have a look at B&P's blog - link in the sidebar; because if you like it over here, you'll like it over there.

  3. This blog is like a secret goldmine.
    Jeff Baldwin.

  4. Dear NJS,
    this story just made my day! Many thanks indeed.

    David H.-U.H.

  5. Thanks for the appreciative comments. I am 'trying' as many people know!