It is 1928, Colonial Kenya in a part of the White Highlands known as Happy Valley. ‘White Highlands’ because the land is of high enough elevation to have a mild climate and is set aside exclusively for white settlement. ‘Happy Valley’ because -- unlike the hard-working, gritty, early soldier-settlers who came to farm an often inhospitable land -- those who settled this lush area were generally rich, largely idle, often escaping scandal or boredom back home and tended to make pursuit of pleasure something near obsession. The Happy Valley set included wealthy American expatriates, titled European aristocrats, Australian and South African adventurers, with a sprinkling of fortune-seekers, gigolos and con men. All in a wild, lush exotic melting pot joyously removed from the ordinary constraints of polite society.
African Nights is based on the foibles and loves of the young Prince George, brother of both Edward VIII and George VI. Most of the characters, the various relationships and anecdotes, as well as the Happy Valley milieu are drawn from history. I have taken only what dramatic license seemed necessary to adapt the events for the stage and to fill in the various unknowns. The play is accurate with the following exceptions: Jose and George were never in Kenya at the same time. They were together in London, and George visited Jose later in Buenos Aires. Hassan actually worked for a different family in the area. The Effingtons are composites of various individuals in Happy Valley during the period. Nothing is on record about Kiki Preston’s pilot, except that he existed, therefore, Angelo can be considered entirely my own creation.
The Happy Valley lifestyle — invented almost single-handedly by Lady Erroll — largely ended with the scandal surrounding the murder of her by-then ex-husband Joss in the early 40’s — either shot by a lover’s jealous husband, or the victim of political intrigue, depending on which account one chooses to believe. George Windsor, later Duke of Kent, enjoyed a successful marriage to Princess Marina of Greece who bore him three children. He died in an airplane crash early in WWII, also the subject of speculation as to possible foul play. Kiki Preston committed suicide on the night of December 23, 1946, jumping out of a window of her fifth-floor apartment in the Stanhope Hotel in New York.
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