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Windmill Theatre

Windmill Theatre


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Achieve(s)


“We never closed… We never clothed.”

Today this staple of performance goes by the name of The Windmill International, though some years ago its Windmill title was synonymous with its ‘keep calm and carry on’ nature and Revudeville ways. Once upon a time, as Britain entered into the midst of war, skimpy see-through outfits and suspender belts thrived in one particular Soho-based theatre. At The Windmill Theatre, as a front-row seat would to be vacated, men stuck at the back of the theatre would rush forward over the stalls in a frantic bid to get close to the scantily clad performers and quietly escape the terrors of the chaos around them.

The once renowned Windmill Theatre in Great Windmill Street was for some years both a variety and revue theatre. The venue takes its name from a windmill that stood on the street from during the reign of King Charles II until the late 18th century. Having originally opened as a cinema in 1909, The Palais de Luxe, where early silent films were shown, in 1930 wealthy and eccentric widow Laura Henderson bought the Palais de Luxe building with other intentions in mind.

Hiring architect Howard Jones, the interior was soon remodelled into a small one-tier, 320-seat theatre. Renamed the Windmill, it opened as a playhouse in June 1931. Unprofitable, its existence as a theatre was short-lived. Henderson soon hired a new theatre manager namely Vivian Van Damm with whom she produced Revudeville, a continuous variety that ran from 2:30pm until 11pm. Putting on shows with dancers, singers, showgirls and specialty numbers, the first Revudeville act opened in February 1932. However, the theatre still continued to be unprofitable all in all causing significant loses during the theatre’s first few years under Henderson’s guise.

Incorporating glamorous nude females on stage into the shows, Van Damm had finally found his breakthrough, inspired by the likes of Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge in Paris. These shows however did not come without difficulty or complication. Due to the restrictions at the time on theatrical performances in London, the display of nudity in motion was illegal. The shows went on to feature motionless nudes, or ‘living statues’, which at the time could not be credibly regarded as morally objectionable, or as it went: ‘if you move, it’s rude.’

Other local theatres such as The Piccadilly soon copied the theatre as The Windmill’s shows became a huge commercial success and the Windmill girls took their show on tour to other London provincial theatres and music halls. Van Damm then produced a series of nude tableaux vivants which were based around themes such as Annie Oakley, mermaids, Native Americans, and Britannia. Later, movement finally was introduced in the acts, in the form of the fan dance: this involved a naked dancing girl’s body concealed by fans held by herself and four female attendants. This was to be another crafty way in which the spirit of the law was evaded, satisfying the demands of the audience by moving the props rather than the girls.

The theatre went by the famous motto of ‘We Never Closed’ which has often been humorously modified to ‘We Never Clothed’. This acted as a reference to the fact that the theatre remained open thought the duration of the 2nd World War. Performances were to continue throughout the war even at the very height of the Blitz with cast members, showgirls and crew moving into the safety of the theatre’s two basement levels during some of the worst air attacks on the city.

Many of the patrons of the theatre were families and troops, as well as celebrities who visited as Henderson’s personal guests, including Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, granddaughters of Queen Victoria. For a period, on the opening night of every new show at the theatre, the Royal Box was reserved for the Hon. George Lansbury (a member of His Majesty’s Government).

Aged 82, Henderson died in November 1944. In her will, she left the Windmill to Van Damm. During his time at the theatre, the venue was home to many famous variety artists including Freddie Eldrett, with a number of well-known comedians and actors having their first real success on the Windmill’s stage: Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsyth and the unforgettable Tommy Cooper. Van Damm went on to run the theatre until his death in 1960, leaving it to his daughter, Sheila Van Damm. She struggled to keep the theatre afloat with the Soho neighbourhood having become a much seedier place, and a wealth of competitors on her doorstep. Having run for over 30 years, the Revudeville shows finally came to close in 1964 amid competition from private members’ strip clubs.

Changing hands, the theatre went on to have a stint as a cinema incorporating a casino for roughly 10 years. Closing in 1974, the cinema’s lease was bought the same year by the late Paul Raymond who returned the venue to its seedier roots. Raymond’s first production at the venue was Let’s Get Laid starring Fiona Richmond and John Inman. Much in keeping with Raymond’s reputation, this no doubt would’ve sat well with Henderson and Van Damm.

 

 

India Rose James

India Rose James


Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi


“…the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts.”

We owe much assumption to age. The older we grow, the weaker we are regarded; whereas the young are assigned wild clichés of unproductiveness, disorganisation and impracticality. Though I cannot thoroughly assure you that this young lady is wholly a Venus, there is no denying that age is no measure of assurance, guarantee or reliability. With a heritage almost like no other here in Soho, the remarkable 23 year old India Rose James is riddled with the charm and experimental nature of her grandfather, with an undeniable affection for her neighbourhood and a fleet of ambitions her age is sure not to halt.

There is no denying India’s youthfulness, though she is by no means uncaring or typecast for her age. Her beauty, the pink-tinge to her lengthy blonde hair is captivating and her height startling, it is no wonder she has found herself modelling for minimalist streetwear brand Goodhood, and a line of swimwear by Sorapol. It is easy to note that India is as ambitious and courageous as all young women, though equally it is difficult to distract oneself from the unimaginable privilege of her life which still has neither acted as obstacle nor distraction from her youth or ambitions: a youth that, despite its privileges, has also seen tragedy with the untimely death of her mother when India was just 9 months old.

Whereas the reputable Paul Raymond began his career applying his talents to showcasing sexual entertainment throughout Soho’s clubs and creating a chain of top-shelf publications, India has re-fashioned his legacy via the arts as a gallerist staying true to her family heritage in entertainment, pushing the limits and making ideas a reality. “I think people realise that the times have changed, and the way in which my grandfather sought to push boundaries are now obsolete; they’re no longer provocative. I want to continue his avant-garde legacy through the arts,” she tells me.

After Raymond’s passing in 2008, his legacy was handed down to India and her half-sister, Fawn. With Fawn and her father John James operating Soho Estates (the company which helms Raymond’s Soho property empire), India’s dream to turn her long-term passion for the arts into a career has been realised in the form of a business venture, the newly opened Soho Revue Gallery: a joint project between India and Will Pelham. India’s motive for starting the gallery is neither strictly for it as a business venture nor passion as a project, but from an underlying want to support young talent, and keep the ideological spirit of Soho itself alive. “I’d always been interested in the arts and, specifically, in Soho’s place within an artistic conversation. The area has always had a strong counter-cultural imperative, but young artists ran the risk of losing ground to the cultural establishment. I wanted to give the best in young talent a platform to share their ideas; to allow non-establishment artists an establishment space. It’s so important to me to keep the vigour and dynamism within Soho’s artistic practice,” she professes.

Its title, a nod to the now diminished Raymond Revuebar, being a reminder of Soho’s heritage; the gallery based on Greek street has been well received by the Soho neighbourhood. India is keen to work with the people of the area in helping to promote and protect the culture and identity of Soho as a whole, not to mention support young artists in their careers. “The response has been fantastic. It’s rare that people respond negatively to any sort of cultural injection within an area. However, because our raison d’etre is to support artists at the beginning of their careers, we’ve garnered even more good will. Everyone pops in to say ‘hi’; there’s a real sense of community spirit in the area. We’re always keen to get involved in any projects that promote Soho, particularly as a cultural destination. The aim of the gallery is to help to keep the arts in Soho fresh and sustainable. I think we’re fulfilling that role.” She says on the gallery.

It is easy to forget that India owns much of the Soho we know and admire. I was surprised, for instance, to find out that she’s not only the youngest owner of a Howard Hodgkin piece, but numerous other pieces of art. It is safe to assume that her desire for collecting art rivals that of her grandfather’s, who sought to collect properties.

Her grandfather’s legacy is one India is sure to not only continue, but redefine in Soho’s years to come. Not only by helping to promote the neighbourhood as a cultural destination, but in its preservation – playing a significant role in the reopening of Madame JoJo’s. Though, running the gallery is currently the primary focus. “My grandfather’s legacy was one of having fun and pushing boundaries. This is exactly the legacy that we want to continue within the Soho Revue. I think it’s important to maintain focus and not to get ahead of myself. Right now, my only thought is to promoting the careers of the artists that the gallery represents. It’s too new a venture to allow myself to get distracted by other plans. I have to give the Soho Revue all of my attention.” Her home and her playground, India insists she plans to remain in Soho for the long run. Soho has indeed found its queen.

Paul Raymond

Paul Raymond


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Luke Stuart


“There will always be sex – always, always, always.”

There is no denying it, I did not know him and neither did you. Though, still his methods and his legacy are forever lingering and echoing about this neighbourhood. About the vibrancy of the evening along Brewer Street, the un-glowing neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar is hung high above the street unnoticed by the people that tangle below. The Box Soho screams obscenity; nudity and sex before our very eyes unravelling. But from whom did this idea prosper: the world centre of erotic entertainment? Sex, publishing, property and Soho – Paul Raymond shall be forever renowned as the king of Soho.

The man who pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade for more than 40 years began his career as an entrepreneur selling nylons and hairnets from a stall. Born into a Roman Catholic family in Liverpool, Paul Raymond was an early continental stage name he had chosen for himself – he was born Geoffrey Anthony Quinn. His mother wished for him to have a sound job in life, such as a railway ticket office clerk, thus never fully accepting his somewhat obscene chosen career path. As a youngster, Raymond’s father absconded from his life when he was just five. Despite his success and the confidence which his trade is known, as a youngster Raymond was shy and often stammered. His childhood would’ve taught him the deep requirement to establish his own independence which ultimately led to define his character.

A working-class boy, Raymond left school at 15 and started working at the Manchester ship canal as an office boy. His first passion was devoted to percussion – though he would claim he was rather good, it wasn’t enough to make it as a professional. Under the direction of wartime labour laws, he went down a mine as a Bevin Boy for one day only with the police bringing him back. After a stint in the RAF he left legitimately, beginning to move toward theatricality. In Liverpool, Raymond became a theatrical agent and a theatrical impresario in a small way later in Manchester. He then humorously purchased a mind reading act for 25 pounds though he was ‘never quick enough’ as he would describe it. The manager of a theatre said to Raymond that he would allow him and his two female colleagues on to his stage with a catch; only if the females were to be entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that on-stage nudity was permitted providing women didn’t move whilst on stage. Being a man who sought to find a way around any obstructions in his path, Raymond found a way to make the women rotate in order to make his earlier shows a success. Here began Raymond on a path through a changing Britain and Soho that would lead him to become the richest man in the country, going on to present risqué sex shows such as Yes, We Have No Pyjamas, Come Into My Bed and Let’s Get Laid.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning theatres into private clubs. The old Doric Ballroom in Walker’s Court soon became the makings of The Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of daily explicit shows. The club was one of very few legal venues in London offering full frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revue bar was also able to incorporate a Sunday night show aimed at a gay audience. Amid the controversy of the club and Raymond’s reputation, the chairman of the London Sessions called his show “filthy, disgusting and beastly,” fining him £5,000 in 1961. The publicity for his shows was, of course, worth many times £5,000. By the late 1960s the venue was solely hosting striptease performances. This in turn made way for big budget erotic shows of the type presented by continental clubs such as the Crazy Horse. With a small number of male dancers, performers were mostly female. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Pieced together with as many as three performances nightly, they were known as The Festival of Erotica which ran for many years.

Raymond became a British institution and in his own words, “there will always be sex – always, always, always.” His realisation that the beauty of the live female body could in fact do better at the box office if relocated from the dark sweaty cellars of Soho to be rejuvenated within the world of theatre was key to Raymond’s success. When taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, the formula he continued was to provide nudity without actionable crudity, which he too applied to publications such as Men Only. Raymond’s wealth and empire began to spread throughout Soho rapidly with the purchasing of buildings throughout the area.

At an early stage in his career, Raymond refused to have partners or even a board of directors, thus leading to his organisation of theatres and magazines, sitting alongside a mass of around 400 properties in the Soho area, becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements. Come the late 1980s, profits from the numerous clubs he owned, his West End theatres and girlie magazines totalled more than £6m a year, continuing to rise yearly. Having acquired the lease of numerous other properties throughout Soho, they went from making Raymond into a multimillionaire then later into a billionaire, with the values of properties in the UK ever-rising. With an estimated fortune of more than £1.5bn, by 1992 he had ousted the Duke of Westminster as Britain’s richest man. Still, Raymond was simply ill-equipped to constructively employ or enjoy such wealth, remaining shy and often stammering in company. Despite his insistence that he was an entertainer, a show business man, he was frequently coined a pornographer and a crook by the British media, leading him to dismiss the much harsher claims made by journalists that he had little interest in anything other than his cabin cruiser, drink and his iconic gold-plated Rolls Royce.

Despite his overwhelming success, his personal life was often problematic, even tragic. In 1974, his wife Joan divorced him after 23 years of marriage after Raymond confessed to adultery with the well-exposed star of some of his shows, Fiona Richmond. With him and his ex-wife not nearly on speaking terms, his turbulent relationship with his son and presumed heir, Howard, had bettered until his drug problems ensued. The year Raymond became Britain’s richest man in 1992, his daughter Debbie Raymond, who had helped him run his business, died of a tragic heroin overdose.

Tortured by the untimely death of his daughter, Raymond came to confine himself in his Green Park penthouse, located next door to the Ritz hotel. Though still his story of financial success continued on. The receiver in 1994 accepted Raymond’s £15m offer to buy the Café de Paris, the Rialto cinema site and shops and offices in Rupert Street and Coventry Street in Soho, with him also buying the Queen’s House leisure complex in Leicester Square for £12m two years later. When appointing Joe Daniel, a Barclays banker, as his managing director it wasn’t long until rumours of cancer and bad health started to spread. In 1997, he sold his legacy, the Raymond Revuebar, to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar dwindled with its eventual closure in 2004.

Raymond progressively thinned his connection with the organisation he had built, despite insistence that he was still in charge with his brother, Dr Philip Quinn, becoming a director of his Organisation in 2000. Falling out of the media limelight in his later years, aged 82, Raymond died of respiratory failure in 2008. Forward to today, his granddaughters, Fawn & India, continue his legacy and love for the neighbourhood that brought the success of his career amid a changing Britain and Soho. The sign of the Raymond Revuebar may no longer glow high above Brewer Street, but his methods and his legacy shall forever last in the neighbourhood which he helped shape. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Mice on the Play

Mice on the Play


Words Hayley Quinn

Photography Astrid Schulz


“A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.”

As I was walking down Brewer Street a man appeared next to me, shuffling a deck of cards, “Do you want to party tonight? I know you like it,” he grinned before disappearing down a side alley. No, this isn’t Victorian London, not even the 1960s, this is 2015 and I am a 28 year-old woman in a Soho that hasn’t quite lost its bite and, late at night, as fellow Sohoite, founder of the Skirt Club, Genevieve LeJeune states, “the mice certainly come out to play.”

It’s easy to mistake Soho’s maze of winding streets, long hotel bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants with white linen table clothes as a sign of submission. It feels like a long time since Paul Raymond would have run off to a pornography shoot in a shaggy coat. However, interviewing a selection of women still very much in bed with Soho’s sexual side shows that the old dog still has teeth; albeit of a seemingly less exploitative kind.

I also speak to burlesque performer, Moorita, who reminisces that, “A big part of the scene has become commercialised, but that’s kind of inevitable as things become commercially successful and eventually go mainstream.” This commercial churn in Soho has led to a string of Burlesque schools like ‘The Cheek of It’ opening their doors (alongside their drawers) to a new breed of Burlesque stars. As every few weeks a new star is born, but a saturated market means that without a distinct ‘edge’ many acts will now go ‘homeless’. Mooritaa tells me that “there is almost no demand from producers and club owners for classic burlesque (nice lingerie + nice moves),” she pauses red-lipped, and describes how her own show differs, “story based, weird and intellectually provocative,” I will only say you will never look at a stuffed animal in quite the same way again…

Now, Moorita is a lady who is very comfortable in her sexuality. When describing how she feels during a performance, “proud and exhilarated” are the two words that purr out first. However, her steely business mind (and day job as CEO of her own tech company) and alpha female personality radiate through with equal strength. I have also spoken to Sonia, another astute European brunette, with a tongue piercing and a love of laughing wide mouthed to show it. She works as a dancer at Platinum Lace – a new generation strip club on Coventry Street which doubles as a late night club/bar, entertainment venue, and hen party pit stop.

Far from being in any state of coercion, Sonia clearly LOVES her job: “I feel so empowered when I take those two steps onto the stage.” The 2.0 strip club culture has clearly made her job more enjoyable and far from exploitative, “it’s much more relaxed… it’s like a family.” She is also acutely aware of the economics of what she does (unsurprising really as I discover that in the Czech Republic she once studied business and accountancy). Sonia knows blunt ‘do you want a dance?’ tactics won’t fly in a club space that sees as many women and couples as it does male bachelors. She has her own client base, which she makes an effort to entertain by dancing until 4am most nights in order to build her profile. There is a lightness and enjoyment that radiates from her when I ask if she enjoys being people’s fantasy object, “I love it! I almost make them promise… before they go to sleep, when they’re in the shower, when they’re you know,” she giggles, “relieving themselves!”

This collaborative effort is reflected by the club’s ownership which networks along the Southern edge of Soho with the hotel bars, nightclubs and hidden speakeasies that border China Town: “They recommend each other, there’s generally a very good vibe amongst the clubs and the other venues.” Rather than seeking out a seedy punter, strip clubs in Soho are now much more mass market – and a place I have often headed for a nightcap in the last 5 years – the low music volumes inside are conducive for 3am conversations.

Everything is exceedingly ‘above board’. In fact, the most ‘underground’ aspect of the Soho sex scene I delved into was an entirely female project: aggravated by the ‘butch’ climate of Soho’s lesbian bars, Genevieve set up ‘Skirt Club’, the UK’s (and possibly the world’s) first bisexual/bicurious women only party; for girls on the Kinsey scale of ‘curiosity’. Recognising a niche for the lady about town who would like to meet other such well-heeled girls, Genevieve went about single-handedly crafting a party tailored to her clienteles’ desire of anonymity and adventure. “At Skirt Club you are effectively anonymous. Boyfriends and husbands are left at home. Friends and family will never know. There are zero prying eyes. So the night is yours to make what you want of it. Body tequila or bubble bath?” This need for discretion has meant a relocation from the bar scene to ‘privately owned penthouses’ where her clients can explore away from prying eyes of anyone outside of Skirt Club’s rigorous membership tests. The barriers to entry also run for Soho’s most prestigious nightspots, including (of course) the ubiquitous The Box. Having been enslaved to its savage door policy, coupled with frantic stage show, I am a confirmed… probably through virtue of having tried so hard to get in.

The Box is in the ‘historical venue’ of the Raymond Revuebar and takes pride in carrying on Soho’s seedy tradition with nightly shows of a sexual nature, striptease and door girls dressed like dominatrices. If anything, its popularity, celebrity and cult following is a testament to how sexual entertainment is now a desirable item in the public space. From high profile nightclubs, to female friendly strip clubs and sex parties it would be easy to chalk Soho up as having achieved an odd kind of gender equality in its exploits. However, many a side street doorway marked ‘models’, with narrow Victorian stairwells leading up to a realm of God-knows-what, tell a different story. “I’ve never seen a prostitute on the streets, at 3-4am in the morning. It’s maybe not direct, there are places to go, though I don’t know in detail,” Sonia gossips, aware of her own employer’s strict rules for employee engagement levels. She does give titbit details though, of shadowy figures, places where people can go long after all the traditional venues shut, and (intriguingly) taxis driving away. So, maybe as Skirt Club moves East and West with its new locations, it seems the oldest profession in the world may also have largely decamped from W1.

As a dating expert with more than a professional curiosity for all things sexual, I can say I’ve never felt unsafe in Soho, and have all but been entertained by its parties (public and private), its titillation and its conspiratorial charm. Whilst I hope that shady figures, and certain doorways, soon fade completely from the area’s backdrop, I doubly hope the female friendly exploits remain intact. It would be a shame if Soho were just nice hotels, and bespoke cafés. As Sonia remarks, to which I greatly agree, “It’s my playground too.”