Tag Archives: strip club

What it was like to work in a Canadian strip club in the 1980s.

Yesterday, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, mentioned working in a club called Le Strip in Toronto. Today she expands on that:

Le Strip in its heyday

“I was afraid to ask for work there at first. It looked so sleazy.”

Le Strip no longer exists. It was my favourite place in the world to work. It called itself a ‘Private Gentleman’s Club’. Membership was $5 a year and the entrance fee was $10 or $8 for seniors. It was not a bar, but actually a theater.

I had been afraid to ask for work there at first. It looked so sleazy. There was a blurry television monitor on the street which displayed the vague outlines of whoever was on stage at the time and a flight of stairs, covered in worn red carpet.

The guys could arrive at noon and stay all day if they wanted, without being hustled to buy drinks.

We had a proper dressing room with lightbulbs around the mirrors. We used the lightbulbs to dry our panties on. The owner was never there, so the strippers essentially ran the place, assisted by two men who worked the door and the DJ booth.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

Anna Smith in 1980s (or 1880s?)

We had total artistic freedom and were always finding ways to improve our shows. We would dare each other to do ridiculous things on stage. The place was like a second home to us. We could leave costumes there for weeks and they never got stolen and we were almost constantly laughing, exchanging stories about our adventures.

The customers – or ‘perverts’, as we fondly called them – kept asking “What are you girls always laughing about back there?”

It was a daily six hour party, interrupted only by the fact that every hour-and-a-half we’d have to run out on stage and take our clothes off. Then we’d dash down the steps back into the dressing room and demand of our friends, “What happened? What happened?” to find out what we’d missed.

It paid less than most of the clubs, but had advantages.

The other clubs booked us for one week at a time but, at Le Strip, it was a two week booking. It was downtown, close to the record stores, banks, law courts and other conveniences.

As it was not a bar, we were even allowed to rush our children through the back of the theater into the safety of the dressing room.

One time, an extremely elegant dancer named Zelda Scorch was on stage, sitting on a chair, playing with her bra straps. Her gaunt face had been scarred by acne, but it didn’t show because of the lighting. The audience was suddenly startled by the clear voice of a very young girl, who was being ushered through. She had shouted in astonishment:  “Mommy! You’re Beautiful!”

We knew many of the the ‘perverts’ by name.

Anna Smith in the Vancouver bookshop

Anna Smith at peace in Vancouver this year

There was a pair of them who appeared every year with a trophy, like a sports trophy. It was for ‘The Stripper of the Year’.

They would find out who was the newest, shyest young dancer on the roster, have her name inscribed on it and present it to her. I never got one of those, but it was really fun to see happen. The dancer would return from stage in amazement, almost crying, and say: “Look! Look! I can’t believe it! I just got an award! I’m the Stripper of the Year!…”

When I returned to Canada, after an absence of six years, I stopped in at Le Strip, on the way to Vancouver. I thought everyone I knew would be gone, but the minute I stepped through the door I was surrounded by the girls, and the perverts turned round in their seats and called out: “Nurse Annie! Where have you been!”

One of the dancers, Maxine (real name Janet Feindel) wrote a play based on the dressing room conversations at Le Strip. It’s called A Particular Class of Women and it a very good play.

There is a promo for a 2013 production of A Particular Class of Woman on Vimeo.

A Particular Class of Women last year

If A Particular Class of Woman is being produced nearby I usually offer to help with the details. Things that normal people might not get. For example, the fact that we always brought a towel from home to put on our chairs, so as not to develop a rash from sitting bare-assed on vinyl.

Also, if somebody tries to produce the play without Janet’s permission I contact her immediately. She teaches theater now at a university on the east coast. I’m a copyright spy for her.

There was a real spy scandal associated with Le Strip. Not involving the dancers, but one of the DJs.  It’s one of the most preposterous stories I’ve ever heard. It was very, very frightening, even though I wasn’t there when it happened. It involved among other things, a trip to Libya, Neo-Nazis in Toronto, the South African Embassy, the Brandenburg Gate and a leather jacket.

Obviously, I am encouraging Anna to tell me more.


Filed under Canada, Performance, Sex

Canadian strippers, Carole Pope, Dusty Springfield and Lesbians in the Forest

Regular readers will know of Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She tells me about quirky happenings over there, mostly in Vancouver, which seems to be a hotbed of the bizarre.

A couple of days ago, Anna sent me a link to a YouTube video – someone called Carole Pope singing – after a fashion – Lesbians in The Forest.

I have led a sheltered life and had never heard of Carole Pope.

“The mighty Pope?” reacted Anna, aghast. “Do you not know of her work?”

“Nope,” I told her. Never heard of her or seen her. I think maybe you had to be there.”

Anna replied: “You had to be at The Colonial Tavern, 201 Yonge Street, in 1977.”

No, I had no idea either.

I usually describe Anna as working in a bookshop in Vancouver, which she does. But she has a back-story.

This is a tiny part of it, in Anna’s own words:

In the dressing room at Le Strip, whenever we heard Carole Pope being interviewed on the CBC, the strippers would shout:


We all knew her from The Colonial Tavern in Toronto. It was the first bar to open in the city after World War II. It broke the ‘colour bar’ and became a famous jazz dance venue.

By 1977, the jazz had evaporated. Newspaper ads promised: ROCK BANDS AND EXOTIC BLACK BOTTOM SERVING MAIDENS. I was one of the serving maidens, dressed in lingerie and heels, but my bottom was not black. The serving maidens also danced on stage.

The  ‘house dancer’ was Hot Tamale, a robust and temperamental older Jamaican woman, who did a fire act called HOT TAMALE AND HER FLAMING BATONS .

We tried to stay out of her path because she was often in a foul mood running off the stage, sickened by the kerosene.

Carole Pope sang with Rough Trade

A shockingly sexy slender young woman with short black hair

One quiet afternoon, I was serving beer. I could not fail to notice the band Rough Trade. It consisted of a male bass player and a shockingly sexy slender young woman with short black hair. Carole Pope. She was the first female punk singer I had ever seen, and she was a hell of a lot sexier than any of the serving maidens – whatever colour their bottoms were.

Thick with youthful ignorance, I wondered: Wait a minute – What is going on here? I am supposed to be the sexy one, She’s only a musician.

When I tell someone that I was a striptease dancer they often ask: “So, you did that thing with the pole?” And they wave their arms a bit. It is like telling people you live on a boat. They always ask: “Doesn’t the…(and then they make a rocking movement with their hands)… bother you?”

When they ask about the pole, I have to explain: “I am from before the pole. (It sounds like Beyond the Pale.) I am from before the cassette tape was invented. We had to dance to real live musicians, except in some places where we had to dance to juke boxes, which was a whole other nightmare.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

One of the worst places I ever danced was a country music bar in Toronto. It was not on street level – You had to go up a flight of stairs. Everyone there looked like they had been drunk for weeks, so it was not really dangerous because they could barely stand up. They were all old people, dressed like country music fans, and – of course – smoking

I panicked a bit, trying to pick up the songs, which I didn’t know. People were lurching past me. The first song to play was Ghost Riders in the Sky, which was tolerable, I made an effort but, at some point, I ended up slowly, slowly, very slowly removing my red bra to It’s a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille and the old people started singing to it.

It seemed like the song would never end. I felt like I wanted to die. There wasn’t even a stage in that place, I was dancing on a small parquet dance floor.

I never went back there.

But that’s why I’m fearless on stage now, having gone through that experience.

Now we jump to The Emerald Supper Club in Vancouver on 18th October 2014 – last Saturday.

Carole Pope at The Emerald Supper Club in Vancouver, Oct. 18, 2014 . (Photograph by Anna Smith)

Carole Pope – last Saturday. (Photograph by Anna Smith)

I was sitting in the front row making a fuss.

Carole Pope looked a bit shaken when I yelled out: ”All the strippers in Toronto call you The Mighty Pope!!!”

I settled down eventually, after Carole started to look slightly alarmed. She has enough crazed stalker fans as it is.

So I did my best to sit quietly and leaned against the comfy shoulder of the agreeable slightly plump agoraphobic man sitting beside me whom I had never met before. His name was André.

André was eccentrically dressed, wearing a fedora, a nice navy blue woollen jacket,  a steel cell phone watch and, next to that, another slender gold-lamé watch decorated with diamonds. His other hand was bandaged with tape and he was carrying a very fancy knapsack.

He said that he had met Carole Pope before – they had a photographer friend in common. He was not sure that she would remember him. He knew all the words to all her songs and sang along.

I don’t know her work that well. I just did not want to miss her performance and it certainly was not a disappointment. I laughed all the way through her satiric song Lesbians in the Forest and, halfway through her set, I applauded too hard and burst a blood vessel on my left palm. On my walk home I encountered a happily drunk sixty year old native man who was out looking for his nephew.

“What are you doing down here?” he asked me.

“Do you know Carole Pope?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he answered. “High School Confidential. Everybody knows that.”

“I saw her tonight ” I said.

“You’re kidding!” he said. “Where?”

“She gave a concert in a little club,” I said. “I clapped so hard I busted a vein in my hand.”

High School Confidential was the first song about a lesbian crush to become a mainstream hit in Canada.

That was last Saturday.

A friend just messaged me that he saw her tour bus leaving town and had been worried that I might be on it.

There is a video of High School Confidential on YouTube.

Yesterday, I sent Anna an e-mail.

“Hold on!” I said. “You wrote: That’s why I’m fearless on stage now… NOW????”

I got a reply this morning:

Anna in the dressing room at The Flamingo Motor Inn on August 3 2014 Ian Breslin generously allowed me to dance to his music in order to raise money for children of dancers orphaned by cancer

August 3rd 2014: Anna waiting in the dressing room of The Flamingo Motor Inn, Vancouver.

Did I not mention that hearing The Outbursts’ song Dead To Me compelled me to perform a striptease this August at The Flamingo Motor Inn, a place that I normally would cross four lanes of highway to avoid? It was to raise money for the children of dancers orphaned by cancer. I worked my full shift at the bookstore, took the train to Surrey (in Greater Vancouver), and had one hour to prepare for my show. I told the compere, a lady named Charlie, that I felt a bit nervous and she said: “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not on for an hour.”

Yes, I thought, but I haven’t been ON for 25 years.

Oh – Carole Pope… She was born in Manchester, England. Dusty Springfield was her partner.

In 2000, Carole Pope’s autobiography Anti-Diva included the fact that, in the early 1980s, she had been in a relationship with British singer Dusty Springfield.

There is a clip on YouTube of Carole Pope introducing Dusty Springfield singing Pope’s Softcore.

Also on YouTube, there is a cracker of a video of Carole Pope singing Lou Reed’s I’m Waiting For The Man. Not relevant, but I like it.

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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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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Sex