(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)
Different people’s lives, eh?
And the random, rambling, briefly intersecting nature of people’s lives.
Someone at Westminster Reference Library, just off Leicester Square in London, has a taste for the bizarre. They have occasional fascinating evening events on the strangest of subjects – Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are coming up and, last week, they had a very strange, rambling event called Confessions of a Stage Manager with Johnny DeLuxe, organiser of an exhibition called 100 Punks, sometime member of various punk bands including Fist Fuck Deluxe and, more relevant to the Westminster Library gig, sometime stage manager at the Raymond Revuebar in Soho… although he only started in 1993, a little after its peak.
Paul Raymond started the Raymond Revuebar in 1958 in what was formerly the Doric Ballroom. It offered burlesque-style entertainment, including striptease. Eventually, by turning itself into a members only club it was able to evade the Lord Chamberlain’s Office‘s rules which barred naked female performers from visibly moving while on stage.
In 1980 Peter Richardson rented the Boulevard Theatre – part of the Revuebar property – for his Comic Strip club, putting on alternative comedy shows featuring Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle. It ran until 1981 and later, in 1989, Eddie Izzard ran his stand-up venue, Raging Bull there. I never went to the Revuebar, but I have vague memories of being shown upstairs to the Raging Bull by a rather distracted and vague Eddie Izzard.
As for Johnny Deluxe, he arrived in 1993 and someone (I think maybe he himself) said that “Johnny DeLuxe has removed more sequined bras and knickers from hot lighting rigs than he has had dinners”. His memories of working at the Raymond Revuebar last week (when he got round to them after espousing the philosophy and art of punk) were interestingly non-linear:
“Can everybody remember Captain Scarlet?” he said at one point. “Do you remember how Captain Scarlet used to drive his SPV backwards? Well, the control board at the Raymond Revuebar was backwards to the stage. So you were looking at a very small black & white screen showing where the dancer was. You saw the cues visually, you listened to the cues and one day I was almost comatose watching a dance number for the thousandth time when I suddenly heard someone scream Fuck!
“If you hear someone shout Fuck! it usually means you have to do something very quickly and what had happened was… the front of the stage was about two feet from the front row of the audience and this man in the front row had coughed his guts up and both sets of his false teeth had ended up on stage between a girl’s feet. The poor girl was in mid-dance, heard a cough, looked down and saw a set of false teeth on the stage. What do you do?
“On another occasion, a stage hand blew his false teeth out and hit a girl on the side of her head. She was in the middle of an incredibly complex dance number.”
That type of exotic dance show – one of the Raymond Revuebar shows was alleged to have cost £300,000 – has ceased, to be mostly replaced by cheap table dancers and pole dancers pioneered in London, perhaps, by Stringfellow’s club.
Stringfellow’s opened in 1986 as a disco/nightclub but, in 1996, Peter Stringfellow introduced table dancing.
“Peter Stringfellow used to come into the Raymond Revuebar a lot and watch the shows,” said Johnny DeLuxe last week, “and we used to pea-shoot him. I used to love pea-shooting people. There was a raised stage at the Revuebar. On one side of it (to create effects) there was a CO2 pit and, on the other, a dry ice pit which had a curtain which you could peek through to monitor the audience. It also meant you could pea-shoot people in the audience if they were getting out of hand. Which used to be fun. I was a very good shot.
“Peter Stringfellow used to come in a lot and there was an awful lot of paranoia at that time. At first, Peter Stringfellow owned the Hippodrome and we didn’t see him as anything other than another Wow! There’s another part of beautiful Soho! like the Batcave, Vortex, the Roxy Club and all these bizarre clubs that we used to go to… All these punky, rocky, glamorous places that were available to us after hours, because we got off at 11.30 or 12.00 at night. A lot of us had a lot of fun at the Hippodrome where a lot of us had found a bizarre home at all those nights when they would give you free passes if you were a freaky kid.
“When Peter Stringfellow started coming in to the Raymond Revuebar, he had already been to America. We knew this idea of table dancing was coming in and so, when he came in, we used to pea-shoot him. It wasn’t Peter Stringfellow’s fault that the Revuebar closed, though.”
Paul Raymond was psychologically badly affected when his daughter Debbie died in 1992 from a heroin overdose.
The Revuebar name, leasehold and control of the theatre (but crucially, not the actual property itself) was bought by Gérard Simi in 1997. Paul Raymond, according to Johnny DeLuxe, immediately doubled the rent. Gérard Simi turned the show into a more conventional striptease revue.
The Revuebar closed in 2004 and became a gay cabaret venue Too2Much. In 2006, it changed its name to the Soho Revue Bar for club nights and special events. That closed in 2009, but it re-opened in 2011 as The Box Soho, billed as ‘a theatre of varieties’,
In its obituary, the Guardian described Paul Raymond as “a self-confessed spiv who once sold nylons and hairnets from a stall and was part of a mind-reading act… He boasted that throughout his life he had never read an entire book… He remained shy and stammered in company… He had no interests apart from his cabin cruiser, his gold-plated Rolls Royce and drink… He was invited to Downing Street by Margaret Thatcher as an exemplary entrepreneur, but his social life tended to be confined to escorting strippers from other girlie clubs.”
In 1992, he became Britain’s richest man, with an estimated fortune of more than £1.5 billion. He owned around 400 properties in Soho including, it was said, the whole of Brewer Street. This was the same year his daughter Debbie died.
In 2004, the Sunday Times Rich List estimated his fortune at £600 million.
Paul Raymond spent his last years as a recluse, living in a penthouse next to the Ritz Hotel. He died in 2008 of respiratory failure at the age of 82.
So it goes.