A Life in Revue - Glossop Lad Paul Raymond
PUBLISHED: 11:27 24 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:13 20 February 2013
Paul Willetts looks at the colourful life of Paul Raymond who journeyed a long way from his Glossop childhood
The Peak District town of Glossop was, by a peculiar coincidence, the childhood home of a couple of the most famous and flamboyant characters to embellish the pages of Britains newspapers over the past few decades. Those two people, dissimilar in so many respects yet united by their sartorial idiosyncracy, are the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, and the billionaire theatre impresario, pornographer, nightclub owner and property magnate, Paul Raymond, once hailed as this countrys richest man.
Nearly three years after his death, Raymond is at the centre of a renewed flurry of attention. Besides being the focal point of a forthcoming movie financed by Channel 4, hes the subject of Members Only, my recently published book about his extraordinarily strange life and louche world. That gaudy, drug and drink-saturated world, populated by aristocrats, Hollywood stars and sequinned showgirls, couldnt have been further removed from the middle-class propriety of his life in Glossop which he always regarded as his home town, even though he was born in Liverpool.
When he was growing up, people knew him by his baptismal name: Geoffrey Quinn, Geoff to his friends. During the summer of 1939, his staunchly Roman Catholic mother who had earlier been deserted by her feckless husband fled from Liverpool because the city was certain to be a target for Nazi bombers as soon as the looming war broke out. She took the 14-year-old future billionaire and his two brothers to live with their kindly uncle, Felix Quinn, a Glossop-based G.P. Their new home was Moorbank, Dr Quinns house-cum-surgery at the Town Hall end of Victoria Street, currently occupied by a combination of flats and a veterinary practice.
Shortly after the beginning of the 1939-40 academic year, Geoff Quinn was enrolled at Glossop Grammar School where Vivienne Westwood would later study. This ramshackle establishment, situated at the junction between Talbot and Fitzalan Streets, had a reputation for offering what was in those days a rare path into higher education and the professions. But the boy who would subsequently adopt the suave-sounding stage-name of Paul Raymond failed to take advantage of these opportunities. At the earliest moment, he left school and, much to the disapproval of his snobbish mother, became an office boy, a musician in a dance-band, a market stallholder, a deserter from wartime service down the mines, a Soho spiv, a post-war RAF ground crewman, and then a dealer in second hand prams.
The turning point in Raymonds life occurred during the summer of 1948 when he took an ostensibly unpromising job manning a lottery stall on Clacton Pier. While he was working there, he got to know an old variety performer who had a mind-reading act. From him, Raymond bought a set of prompt books with which he created his own mediocre stage routine. Following the theatrical vogue of the early 1950s, he soon started putting together touring variety shows as well as performing in them.
By the mid-1950s hed decided to concentrate on the production side of the business. Though his shows featured Shirley Bassey and other up-and-coming artistes, he quickly carved a reputation as a specialist in a different form of entertainment, his name synonymous with static nude tableaux. Exploiting the censors willingness to allow unclothed women to appear on stage provided they remained motionless and discreetly lit, these nude shows were a staple ingredient of provincial variety theatre. More often than not they bore titles evocative of Gallic sauciness Toujours LAmour, The French Peep Show and, best of all, Oooh, La, La, Oui, Oui.
Thanks to his touring productions which incorporated such novelties as the Nudes in the Lions Den, Raymond was now on his way to establishing himself as a wealthy businessman. The upward trajectory of his career steepened when he moved from being a variety producer to being the founder of the Raymond Revuebar, among Britains best-known and most luxurious nightclubs. Located in the cosmopolitan central London district of Soho, his club opened during April 1958. It offered well-choreographed cabaret in addition to striptease, a newish American craze that would have been illegal outside the confines of a private members club. Such was the Revuebars raffish allure, its auditorium and piano-bar hosted celebrities of the magnitude of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, plus the Beatles who would film part of The Magical Mystery Tour there.
Steering an astute course round the obstacles presented by gangsters and over zealous or corrupt policemen, Raymond gleaned vast profits from his club. With these, he had the foresight to purchase the freeholds of rundown Soho property. He also diversified into publishing girlie magazines and acquired a string of West End theatres where he staged Pyjama Tops and other long-running, bare-breasted romps. Alongside his strip-club, these played a crucial role in pushing pornography from the margins into the mainstream of British society.
But Raymonds success as a businessman was counterpointed by his painful private life, by his acrimonious divorce, by the collapse of every ensuing liaison, by the death of his daughter, by his alienation from both his sons and their families, by the psychological ravages of an extortion plot that possessed the escalating tension of a bigscreen thriller. In many cases his problems stemmed from the same facets of his personality obstinacy, belligerence, workaholic obsessiveness that had propelled him from Glossop to a penthouse flat beside the Ritz Hotel.
No biography can capture an entire life, yet I hope that Members Only conveys a vivid and accurate flavour of the tragi-comic existence of one of Derbyshires most colourful and influential sons. Reared amid some of Englands most beautiful landscape, he went on to reinvent himself as that most quintessentially urban figure, the tanned playboy. Often photographed sporting chunky jewellery, a pencil moustache and a busty young woman on his arm, he projected an absurd tabloid image which distracted from the fact that he, more than most politicians of his generation, exerted a profound not always positive impact on British society.
Members Only: the Life and Times of Paul Raymond is published in hardback by Serpents Tail, price 15.99.