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Glamour’s Golden Age

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20/10/2009

By | From the Collections

BBC4’s new documentary series, Glamour’s Golden Age, may not initially sound a project with direct connections to the Wellcome Library, but the first episode ‘The Luxe Experience‘ (which was broadcast 19th October) not only alluded to one of our collections, but also made reference to a major figure in Henry Wellcome’s life.

The documentary examined how the architecture and design of the 1920s and 1930s, created and reflected the spirit of the time. Emphasis was placed on how the Art Deco style resulted in a streamlining of design – and how such ideas could be applied to humans as well as to objects.

Reference was made to the Eugenics Society, whose papers are held in the Wellcome Library, and a brief segment of a film produced by the Society, Heredity in Man, was featured in the documentary.

By also focusing on interior decoration, ‘The Luxe Experience’ hailed the work of the hugely influential Syrie Maugham (1879-1955), whose ‘all white room’ was replicated across many fashionable residences. The documentary mentioned Syrie’s success as a decorator grew following her divorce from the writer Somerset Maugham. What didn’t merit attention in the documentary was that Syrie’s first husband was in fact, Henry Wellcome.

Syrie’s life story is a fascinating one: daughter of Thomas Barnado, she married Henry Wellcome at the age of 21, separated from him before she was 30 and seven years later was married to Maugham. She divorced from him in 1929 but then established herself as one of the most respected interior decorators of her day. The section of the documentary on Syrie only alludes to this rich back story: one we hope will form the foundation of a more detailed work in the future.

‘The Luxe Experience’ is available to viewers in the UK through the BBC’s iPlayer.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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