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Raymond Revuebar

Raymond Revuebar


Words Kirk Truman

Photography Getty Images/Hulton Archive


Behind its ever-changing façade, Soho’s streets still hold secrets; dig beneath the surface and you can find yourself transported back to a different time. Make your way through the daytime crowds of Berwick Street, head towards the seedy Walkers Court, and stick around until nightfall, when the infamous doors to The Box Soho are open wide. Step inside this relic of Soho’s not-so-distant past and you’re in what was once the Doric Ballroom, which in turn became the setting of the Raymond Revuebar, perhaps Paul Raymond’s most famous legacy to the neighbourhood he reigned over for so many years.

It’s a legacy that still haunts the streets of Soho today. As evening revellers pass along Brewer Street, most don’t look up to see the neon beacon of the Raymond Revuebar that still glows above their heads. But, in spirit at least, the centre of Raymond’s empire of erotic entertainment, sex, publishing and property lives on. Despite the change of name and ownership, The Box Soho remains true to the Raymond Revuebar’s legacy, serving up nightly helpings of titillation, nudity and sex. Paul Raymond pioneered Soho strip clubs and the soft-porn magazine trade and prospered for more than 40 years; it was perhaps an unexpected ascendency for an entrepreneur who started out as a wartime spiv selling black market nylons from a market stall.

Paul Raymond was a stage name he chose early in his career, but he began life as Geoffrey Anthony Quinn, born in 1925 into a working class, Roman Catholic family in Liverpool. His mother wanted him to have a sound job, something steady and respectable, like a railway ticket office clerk, and she never fully accepted his more risqué chosen career.

Despite his success and confidence in later life, Raymond was a shy youngster who often stammered. If his childhood taught him anything, it was the need to establish his independence, something that ultimately defined his character. He left school at 15, working at the Manchester Ship Canal as an office boy. After a stint in the RAF, he embarked on a rather different life. He purchased a mind-reading act for £25, billing himself as a clairvoyant, and in Liverpool became a theatrical agent and impresario. The manager of one theatre told Raymond that he would book his act – but there was a catch. Raymond’s two female colleagues would only be allowed on stage if they appeared entirely nude. He offered the two girls an extra 10 shillings a week and they agreed. At this point, the law stated that nudity was permitted in a theatre providing women didn’t move whilst onstage. Finding away around this obstruction became something of a creative challenge: by putting the girls on a rotating platform, Raymond found a way to make his early shows a success. This set him on a path through a changing Britain – one that led him to Soho and made him one of the richest men in the country.

Raymond saw that the Lord Chamberlain’s restrictions surrounding on-stage nudity could be simply bypassed by turning public theatres into private clubs. In 1958 the old Doric Ballroom at 12 Walker’s Court, Soho, reopened as the Raymond Revuebar, hosting an array of explicit daily shows. At the time, this was one of very few legal venues in London offering full-frontal nudity. Though homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, the Revuebar also operated a Sunday night show targeted at a gay audience. The success of the club was inevitably controversial, and in 1961 the chairman of the London Sessions called the show “filthy, disgusting and beastly”, and fined Raymond £5,000. It might have been a setback, but it also provided publicity for the shows worth many times this amount. By the late 1960s, the Revuebar 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. Performances involved a mixture of solo striptease acts mixed with simulated boy/girl and girl/girl on-stage sex. Known The Festival of Erotica, the show ran for many years, often with three performances a night.

By this time, Raymond had become a British institution. His realisation that the naked female body could deliver far bigger box office once it was relocated from Soho’s seedy cellars to the world of the theatre was the key to his success. Taking over the Whitehall and the Windmill theatres, his stage holdings grew, while his formula of providing nudity without actionable crudity was also applied to print publications like Men Only, Mayfair and Escort. Raymond’s wealth and empire begun to spread throughout Soho: he purchased freeholds of buildings throughout the neighbourhood, and created Soho Estates, amassing around 400 properties in the Soho area and becoming a commercial giant that dwarfed other theatre managements.

With competition from the wave of table dancing clubs that opened during the 1990s, audience numbers for traditional striptease shows were dwindling, and by 1997 Raymond sold the Revuebar to former Marseilles Ballet dancer Gerard Simi. The Revuebar hung on for a few more years, eventually closing in 2004. After the death of his daughter Debbie in 1992, Raymond stepped out of the media limelight and began to loosen his connections with the organisation he had built. A recluse in his last years, he died of respiratory failure, aged 82, in 2008, his granddaughters Fawn and India inheriting an estate estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

You can recapture something of the glory days of Paul Raymond’s Soho in a new exhibition from Getty Images Gallery, which unearths rare photos of Soho’s past, and particularly of its nightlife and entertainment venues. The Raymond Revuebar, of course, is one of the exhibition’s focal points. Running until November 19th, the exhibition will be a trip down memory lane for some and an eye-opener for many others, juxtaposing the neighbourhood’s seedy roots with everyday Soho-ites through a series of beautiful photographs carefully selected from Getty Images’ vast historical archives – from David Bowie at The Marquee Club, jazz greats at Ronnie Scott’s and stunning images of Soho’s nightlife.

 

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.