Alas, there is little solid evidence that many of the famous celebrities popularly associated with the building ever leased flats or took up permanent residence here. The novelist, playwright and columnist Keith Waterhouse certainly lived at Embassy Court for many years. Actors and entertainers Rex Harrison, Max Miller and Diana Dors may well have spent some time here. Graham Greene and Lawrence Olivier are likely to have been visitors, if anyone has any further information we would be very pleased to hear it.
Our most famous resident is the great west-end playwright Terence Rattigan who lived here in 1961 and 62. Rattigan was a close friend of Rex Harrison and also knew Graham Greene and Lawrence Olivier well.
Some of our other residents were indeed famous, if not notorious, but only in their day. Popular playwright and high roller Walter C Hackett had addresses in Mayfair and Embassy Court up until 1940. With warrants issued for his arrest, he was forced to flee to New York to escape debts of a then colossal £12,000. One of Hackett’s many plays; “It Pays to Advertise” was revived last year (2009) at the Metropolitan Playhouse New York.
And there were some aristocrats too. Embassy Court was home to the 6th Lord Burgh, former officer in the Black Watch regiment and heir to a lapsed medieval title dusted off in 1916 for his more illustrious father. Facing crippling death duties Lord Burgh had already sold off most of his inheritance by the time he moved into his 10th floor flat at Embassy Court in 1939. Divorced following his wife’s affair he was forced to declare himself bankrupt after she stopped his allowance of £100 a month. He had given his last valuable heirloom to a New York model. Brains might not have been his strong suit but there was no doubting his courage. A former officer in The Black Watch, he volunteered as an ambulance driver at the height of the London Blitz while he was awaiting a commission in the Navy.
Embassy Court’s connection with the cream of London society came in the form of Mrs Mary Fludyer. Born in Belgravia, she had been introduced at Buckingham Palace in 1896 following her marriage to a distinguished officer in the Scots Guards. She was destined for a life of glittering tiaras, spectacular gowns and polished brass buttons. In her four decades at the Court of St. James she had met almost everyone it was possible to meet, from the Aga Kahn to the last Tsar of Russia and three Princes of Wales. Her cohorts in charity work were titled ladies whose names spoke of new wealth and ancient privilege in the last years of Empire; Cunard, Jardine, Beauchamp, Fitzroy and many others. She died at home in Embassy Court in 1943, leaving her “ever faithful maid”, Elsie Beckwith, a fountain pen, a wristwatch, £5 and – mysteriously – a return ticket to London.
These people were the exception. The voters registers and other directories show the residents of Embassy Court to be solid members of the British middle and upper middle class, and occasionally, their live-in maids and au-pairs. After the Second World War it is these classes that dominate. Embassy Court settled down into a long sunlit afternoon of quiet and unostentatious affluence. Its residents between the 1950s and 1970s included many successful entrepreneurs, senior professionals, barristers, stock-brokers and members of established family businesses, a number of whom had chosen to retire in this secure and well-maintained block at the quieter end of the Brighton sea-front.
Only one resident possessed a Rolls Royce and that was Jack Green, a successful bookmaker from the East End of London. Jack and Rosa Green arrived at Embassy Court in the early 50s and became the building’s lengthiest resident lessees. They were among the few from that period who bought the new 99 year leases offered in the 1970s.
Until 1969, the head porter, retired military man William Harrison, ruled the block from his basement flat ensuring the security of residents with a team of four men and a handy man to keep things working. Rust was his relentless enemy, by the 1960s it was attacking every aspect of the building. With a military discipline, scrupulous attention to detail and an unlimited supply of paint Harrison kept it at bay. It must have seemed like a battle against entropy itself. And ultimately one we all lose. Harrison lost his in 1969. He was replaced by another long-standing caretaker John Corish. These may have been the last people for several decades who made it their personal mission to take care of Embassy Court.
Embassy Court’s decline was decades in the making but the rot truly set in during the mid 1980s. A succession of freeholders came and went, seemingly with little interest in maintaining the block. The decline in the value of leases brought speculators and absentee landlords into the picture. During the 1990s some flats were abandoned, others were squatted, rented out to struggling economic migrants and – to the horror of some – students!
These new arrivals at first sat uneasily alongside the often elderly and temperamentally conservative residents who had made their homes here in the 1970s. But attitudes changed as the building fell deep into decay with waves of litigation passing between the freeholder and the beleaguered resident lessees. In the final chaotic years before the renovation something very like a Blitz spirit seemed to arise. By the time the building was restored in 2005 the sense relief was shared by all and that sense of shared communal feeling still pervades Embassy Court today.
The renovation brought new residents, many professionals, including architects, into the block. But Embassy Court today has a life too diverse to categorise. People of widely differing ages, social strata, occupations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds live happily side by side in ways that would seem impossible in many parts of the world.