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Sex, Soho and Paul Raymond

The late strip club owner and bon vivant, Paul Raymond would certainly have approved, as a fair number of old ‘faces’ joined author Paul Willetts for the launch of ‘Members Only’, his racy biographic remembrance of the man who put the sex into Soho, London.

Raymond, who died recently, probably did more to push the permissive boundaries in the fusty, rather staid old England of the early 1960s, with his topless shows and burlesque dancers in his infamous ‘Revue Bar’. So shocked were the authorities that they used to station police in umarked cars outside his club, in the hope of catching him and his staff out. It must have been a popular posting for London Constables at the time.

At the party, Johnny Murrell, one time doorman of the Pink Pussy Cat Club and childhood mucker of former London underworld figures, the Kray twins, joined an eclectic collection of Paul Raymond devotees including family members, as well as author Cathy Unsworth, writer Virginia Ironside, Sohemian Club founder, Marc Glendenning and a geezer who preferred to be known simply as ‘Sparrow’, in a Soho shabeen that was fit to bursting. “He was a real Gent”, recalled Murrell “he always looked after us staff”. Which is more than can said of a horse called ‘Beauty’ which Raymond had specially trained to remove stripper’s bras, by the simple expedient of placing sugar lumps in them, and which was for a while a regular on stage at the Raymond Revue bar. One evening a combination of low ceilings and a tall stripper immobilised the horse as stripper and beast became wedged together. Proceedings were firther enlived by the appearance of burlesque dancer extraordinaire, Amber Topez, that is until, mid act, her bra somehow became entangled with her nipple tassle. Fortunately for Amber and her tassle, a member of the audience deftly managed to unhitch the offending item. “Paul was quite good at that too!” bellowed someone from the back of the bar.

As it happens, I remember Paul Raymond from my childhood, since his son Howard went to the same school as me. In fact as schoolboys we always used to get excited as he drew up at the school gates in his Silver Shadow Rolls Royce. Dressed in a long camel coat, this long faced man with big eyes, cut an exciting, racy and somewhat dangerous, figure.

Hilariously, the school authorities couldn’t possibly approve of a man who made his money from smut, and whose staff included a number of ‘faces’ from the London underworld. Still, what was obviously more important to them was the money he paid in school fees. A classic, and rather touching example of British hypocrisy in action, I suppose!


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