Discover more from Secret Sleuths
A musical divorce and a double-crossing detective
Did musician and conductor Thomas Beecham simply have a fan club of adoring women, or was he having an affair with one of them?
In 1911, George Sherwood Foster, an artist, petitioned for a divorce from his wife of four years, the music-loving Maud Christian Foster. The couple had been living separately for some time, and George was convinced that Maud had been committing adultery with a married man - Thomas Beecham. Beecham was described at the time as a musician and piano-player, but today he is remembered, as Sir Thomas Beecham, for founding the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946. Beecham was something of a ladies' man, and the divorce case centred around whether he had had an affair or whether Maud Foster was just one of his coterie of close female friends.
Thomas Beecham, as depicted in the Weekly Dispatch of 29 October 1911 (via British Newspaper Archive)
When the case reached court, Foster detailed how Beecham had been seen playing the piano while Maud Foster was draped around him, that she had been seen kissing him and patting his cheek. In turn, though, Beecham said that he had paid a private detective to watch George Foster, arguing that "it was only fair, if the husband was going to take action, that the wife should have every means of obtaining evidence for herself."
The detective employed by the alleged lover was a man named Roche. He said he had employed Roche because he suspected that Foster was going to petition for divorce, citing himself as co-respondent, and wanted to accuse him of adultery in turn. What Beecham didn't realise is that a divorce petition automatically failed if the petitioner (in this case, Foster) was found guilty of misconduct. However, he also felt that Maud Foster was very unhappy, and so he offered her the services of Roche in case her husband didn't petition, so that she could instead.
Roche does not seem to have been a career private detective - he had willingly offered his services in this case because he actually wanted a longer-term job with Beecham, either as the caretaker of a house Beecham owned but didn't live in, or as a private secretary to help with Beecham's musical affairs. In fact, he formally applied for the latter role, and perhaps thinking it would help him gain that position, he volunteered to work as a private detective in this case (Beecham having apparently told him about it), putting together a plan that also involved 'putting a lady' in George Foster's house to find evidence. This had, throughout the latter 19th century, been a common tactic in such cases. A woman would gain a position in a household as one of the servants, and use that position to overhear conversations, or to spot visitors to the house. They were silent spies whose presence was barely noticed by those who employed them.
Thomas Beecham first met Roche around 13 September 1909, at Elstree Station. On that night, a man had called at Beecham's house in Borehamwood and asked for him, saying he was a member of Beecham's orchestra. When Beecham went to the door, the man was running off down the road. However, a bit later, Beecham was at the station to get the train to London, and saw the man again. They got into the same carriage, at which point, Roche told him that he was a private detective employed by George Foster to watch him, but that he was tired of the job.
Beecham suggested he work for him instead, but Roche "refused to entertain the proposition whilst he was employed by Mr Foster". Shortly afterwards, though, he decided to leave Foster, and came back to Beecham's house to offer to work for him instead. Beecham, now aware that both he and Maud were being shadowed, agreed to employ him. What he didn't know was that Roche was cleverer than he thought, and was acting as a double agent. He was still being employed by Foster, and passing on letters from both Beecham and Maud Foster to Maud's husband.
Roche had been employed by December 1909. It was on 18th December 1909 that Thomas Beecham had sent him a telegram:
Serious renewed activity. Philanthropist. Please call Regent Street, three o'clock Monday.
The two men corresponded using code words, and it was argued in court that Beecham also used code with Maud Foster - the code being devised by Roche in conjunction with another friend of Beecham's, Catherine 'Kitty' Heyman. Common code words used by Beecham and Maud included ones that represented 'meet me at', 'Ritz Hotel', 'Langham Hotel' and other hotels in central London. Kitty Heyman said these were placed where Roche was to meet the other individuals. 'Philanthropist', along with 'Tottie', meant 'Thomas Beacham'; Kitty was 'Brangane' - a character from the opera Tristan and Isolde, who was a woman who kept watch while the two lovers met. Kitty saw herself as a female detective, and said Beecham had told her that he wanted a female equivalent of Roche to help him.
The Ritz Hotel - one of the hotels where Beecham and Mrs Foster apparently met - under construction in 1905 (public domain)
Beecham claimed that he didn't know anything of any code, and never used code with Maud either), and seemed to have a good relationship; but soon, Beecham claimed, he started to distrust the detective, having no faith in his judgement, and stopping him from carrying out some of his plans. On 10 March 1910, Roche sued Beecham for nearly £100 he said was owed for services rendered; the total he had charged for his services was £235.
Roche certainly seems to have found evidence of a close friendship, at least, between the pianist and the artist's wife. She called him Tommy (calling a man who wasn't your husband by his first name, let alone a contraction of that, was seen as tantamount to adultery), and he called her 'my love, my darling'. Beecham even admitted that 'with the exception of his wife, he was on terms of greater intimacy with Mrs Foster than with any of his other lady friends'.
The case was convoluted, with a mass of detail about the relationships between Beecham and various ladies - he was certainly very popular. It was argued that there were signs of perjury and 'the most absurd evidence' against Beecham and Maud, but the jury at the divorce court took less than 20 minutes to find that Maud Foster was guilty of misconduct with Thomas Beecham, and George Sherwood Foster was granted his decree nisi.
Roche the private detective, whose first name was never even mentioned in court, faded back into obscurity. However, he is likely to have been Daniel Roche, a native of County Cork in Ireland. Aged 35 at the time of the Foster divorce case, he had been working as a confidential clerk back in 1901, and a private secretary in early 1911, and so had the right background to be the private detective mentioned in the press.
This case showed some of the methods he used that were common among more established private detectives, though, from trying to play clients off against each other and working with women detectives to get results, to using codewords to arrange meetings and transmit information without others getting wind of it. The confusion of the Foster divorce case, his struggle to get paid, and the resulting publicity in the press may well have put him off taking up the occupation permanently.