Chelsea ball returns with a flourish

IT WAS once described as 'the most scandalous event on the social calendar'. By 1959, concern about nudity and fighting, combined with poor ticket sales, had apparently killed off the Chelsea Arts Ball for good, writes Andrew Gliniecki.

But last night, the event was back. And although the bizarre costumes, inspired by famous paintings, may have raised eyebrows at the Albert Hall, at no time was there any danger that public decency would be offended.

The event's origins were innocent enough. Nineteenth-century artists held an annual ball to subsidise the newly-founded Chelsea Arts Club.

By 1910, the event, which attracted up to 4,000, was staged on New Year's Eve at the Royal Albert Hall. After the First World War it continued to represent the essence of propriety.

But in 1946 two artists' models were persuaded to completely disrobe to add zest to the proceedings. In subsequent years fights broke out, leading police to park tiered vans outside so that drunken revellers could be piled on top of each other on stretchers.

Tom Cross, who has written a history of the Chelsea Arts Club, said: 'I suppose it was the equivalent of a massive acid house party in today's term.'

(Photograph omitted)