Bunny Roger by Sam Muston
Illustration by Fernando Monroy
After a false start in politics, Samuel Muston decided to become a journalist and writer, first on the The Independent Newspaper, where he was, successively, feature writer and then deputy editor of the Saturday Magazine, and then at MR PORTER, where he is deputy editor.
Bunny Roger didn’t so much defy convention as eviscerate it. In his eighty-six years of life he was an aesthete and businessman; a muscular homosexualist and a dandy with a 29-inch waist; a couturier and war hero; avaricious and the greatest giver of parties in the later part of the twentieth century. He dedicated a large part of his life to having a nice time and who can blame him for that – for he was never dull.
His early life followed the well-trodden path of the pre-war heir: the nannies, the cooks, the country house weekends, the knighthood for his father the Abedonian industrialist, Alexander Roger, and the supporting cast of lugubrious butlers and assorted hangers-on. Naturally he went up to Oxford; naturally he was sent down for “unnatural practices”.
A notorious spendthrift “who charged everything to Fortnums”, when he was sent down from Balliol College, Oxford he left with little rancour. He had spent most of his time trying to dance the Charleston with rugby blues of varying levels of obligingness and passing time in the company of “lesbian tarts and joyboys,” as Evelyn Waugh peevishly called them, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, itself precipitated by a falling out with his own wife and his falling in love with someone else’s.
In possession of a fortune and in search of a purpose, he took the advice of his friend Edward Molyneux and opened a dress-making shop on Great Newport Street in 1937. It was done out in Regency Gothic. He soon had a devoted clientele by means of a simple wheeze – he sent invitations to his shows to everyone in the current issue of Tatler, with the hand-written addendum, “Mary asked me to send you this”. Everyone knew a Mary. The Duchess of Kent and Ms Vivien Leigh were fast friends.
That particular party was disturbed by Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Though Roger even managed to perk up the Second World War. His fearlessness was unbridled and manifold. He enthusiastically joined the Rifle Brigade and saw service as an officer in North Africa and Italy where he led his company into battle while heavily rouged and wearing a mauve scarf.
He lived in no man’s shadow and to no one’s expectation, so when meeting a London acquaintance, also in uniform in the bloodied ruins of Monte Casino, and being asked, “Bun! What are you doing here?”. He replied acidily, “oh, shopping”. His bravery was famed amongst his men; he once entered a burning building to rescue an injured comrade. Describing the Italian Campaign, he wrote: “There were pieces of people flying past my nose and I thought, 'this is perfectly awful but not as bad as being at school'."
After the war, he settled down to spend his fortune, while also finding the time to invent the Capri trouser, revive the tightly cut Edwardian-style of suit and shrewdly invest in Hardie Amies, a course of action that nearly assuaged the ravages of his perpetual spending. His chosen method of divestment was the party. He announced himself on the post-war scene with his 1953 Coronation Ball, where he went as a bejeweled Queen Alexandra. Followed in 1956 with his fetish party where men in leather bondage gear and in high heels mingled with non-plussed aristocrats. That particular party provoked lip-smacking article in the Sunday People, and caused his father, then very much still alive, to explode in anger. Lady Roger, Bunny's mother, merely observed that it was extraordinary that a man could spend an entire night in high heels.
These extravaganzas grew only larger as Bunny aged. His diamond and amethyst balls for his 60th and 70th birthday drawing hundreds of friends. While for his 80th in 1991, he themed his party around “The Ball of Fire” and glided through his 300 guests in a sequined catsuit and organza case. He died in 1997 with no issue but left a couple of nice houses in Mayfair and Scotland.
He had no cause, he was no mascot, he was not the best of men, nor the worst, he was both avaricious and generous, but by the simple nature of his being he gave both pleasure and forced some small part of a hidebound English society to accept him by the simple expedient of not caring what they thought. He was a man of parts – and we were lucky to have him.
Fernando Monroy is a Mexican illustrator currently studying in México city. His work references pop culture, reflecting the work of photographers, designers and fashion. Out Magazine named him one of twenty young queer artists to watch.