Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thatcher Pornographer Passes

England loses another of its idiosyncratic entrepreneurs:
Paul Raymond, the entrepreneur who has died aged 82, amassed fortunes from nudity and property.

"The King of Porn", as Raymond was dubbed, was an avuncular figure who claimed that he was an honest entertainer.

But some argued that his prurient productions and publications whetted the public's appetite for darker material, and that Britain's moral decline began in 1958, when Raymond circumvented the laws prohibiting striptease by opening a private club, the Revuebar, his flagship and life-long base.

The club could be joined on the door, and within two years it had more than 45,000 members. Its neon sign — the first in Britain to offer STRIPTEASE — became a Soho landmark.

Businessmen and tourists mingled with politicians, shop stewards and nobility, to gawp at Bonnie Bell the Ding Dong Girl and Julia Mendez the Snake Girl.

Such immodesty attracted the attention of the police, who were obliged to spend much time on the premises; in its early years the Revuebar was raided several times, and in 1961 Raymond was fined £5,000 after a magistrate decided that allowing members of the audience to ring the Ding Dong Girl's bells constituted an unruly house — and that, furthermore, Julia Mendez should not have swallowed the snake in public.

....Many — particularly male journalists — found Raymond's candour charming, and he could be generous to employees. Nor did his lifestyle follow the American fashion of vain exclusivity and pretence; he remained a louche and unhealthy man of vulgar tastes, though he wore good suits.

Tall, with an artificial tan that mummified his skin like cracked toffee, a mane of hair like brittle silver lamé and a smear of moustache, he latterly evoked Dracula lurking in the guise of an Oxford Street spiv.

He sported heavy gold jewellery, a gold Rolls-Royce and had a penthouse next to the Ritz. He did not affect intellect; fearful that reading could destroy his instinct for the popular, he claimed he had not touched a book since infancy.

....As one of Mrs Thatcher's most enthusiastic supporters, Raymond was for some time touted as a sponsor for Mark Thatcher's racing career.

He did secure an invitation to No 10, but the only titles he acquired were courtesy of the press.

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