More than half a century of exposes and assorted tittle-tattle have portrayed the theatre impresario, property magnate, porn baron and owner of the world-famous Raymond Revuebar  strip-club, Paul Raymond, as a blend of the sinister and the risible.

On the one hand Paul Raymond was a spiv, a ruthless businessman, a misogynist, a miser, someone with few interests beyond his obsession with making money.

On the other he was a figure of fun, a rival to Bobby Charlton as the owner of the most preposterous comb-over hairdo, a tanned Lothario with a fondness for busty showgirls many years his junior, an embodiment of nouveau riche vulgarity, his flashy clothes accessorised with gold bracelets, his taste in home furnishings rivalling those of Saddam Hussein for brassy ostentation.

Not surprisingly, when my agent, Matthew Hamilton, suggested I write Raymond’s biography, my initial response was tepid. Admittedly, I had a long-standing interest in Soho, channelled into two previous books, largely set in this colourful neighbourhood. Still, I didn’t relish the prospect of devoting a couple of years to researching, then piecing together the life of someone so profoundly unsympathetic, someone for whom the world of books was an alien landscape.

Paul-Raymond
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It is not as if I was attracted to Raymond’s louche milieu or that I felt he was a figure of unrecognised cultural importance.

Far from it. I could only remember the Revuebar in its latterday incarnation as a seedy strip-joint, with foreign tourists and furtive businessmen scuttling in and out of its neon-fringed foyer. More to the point, I viewed Raymond, despite his accumulated billions, as an essentially trivial person, as little more than a saucy footnote in twentieth-century British social history.

Had I not been becalmed in the shallows of another book, I wouldn’t have pursued my agent’s suggestion. With a flush of liberation, I set aside my other project and ploughed through Raymond’s obituaries, along with a sheaf of old newspaper articles about him. In providing a tantalising précis of his strange life, these tended to recycle the same, frequently inaccurate stories about him, stories that contributed to an alluring and clichéd narrative trajectory.

This took him from supposedly humble beginnings to immense wealth, material success bringing with it tragedy, loneliness and spiritual impoverishment.

Until I’d embarked on this tentative research, I hadn’t realised how varied his life had been, relentless ambition supplying the twine that had bound together a series of disparate ventures.

In addition to his well-known roles as a property owner and publisher of girlie magazines, he’d been a mind-reader in tatty provincial stage shows, a big band musician, a deserter from wartime national service, a dealer in blackmarket merchandise and a producer of touring theatre shows.

Unsurprisingly, the selling point of those shows, which had helped to sustain the ailing variety circuit, had been female nudity. Juxtaposed with the usual mixture of acts, anything from ventriloquists to unicyclists, Raymond and his wife presented shows featuring what were known as “tableaux vivants” or “living statues”: topless, G-stringed showgirls who, in accordance with the prevailing censorship, remained stationary while the audience gawped at them.

It was a gaudy life, packed with absurdity. I wanted to know more. A commission for the book secured, I spent the next year and a half visiting places associated with Raymond and meeting his friends, acquaintances, business associates and employees.

I became as hooked as those men who used to sit in the front row of the Revuebar, drooling over the leggy young performers. I tracked down ex-strippers, cold-eyed gangsters, pornographers as well as retired West End detectives who nervously divulged memories, worried as they were by the prospect of provoking reprisals from former colleagues. Typically, we’d meet in some ravaged London pub, the ensuing interview deepening my understanding of Raymond and the Soho scene he inhabited.

And so it was that, little by little, like a stripper shedding layer after flimsy layer, I abandoned many of my preconceptions about the pornography-promoting property tycoon and his world.

Read the full article here…
Read more about Paul Raymond on Wiki… 


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