Tag Archives: Comic Strip

Paul Raymond’s Revuebar: striptease, false teeth & Peter Stringfellow’s peas

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Johnny DeLuxe off Leicester  Square last week

Johnny DeLuxe reminiscing off Leicester Square last week

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.”

The Raymond Revuebar at its height

Soho’s Raymond Revuebar at its height

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.

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Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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