It Cost Us Seven and SixFri 01 Feb
“Me and my husband had a coffee bar in the early Sixties on Wardour Street. Ronnie Scott used to borrow paper cups from us when he ran out. Ronnie’s was a funny little place then. They had sofas and armchairs and odd bits of furniture.
My coffee bar was called The R’N’B, rhythm and blues. It was opened late at night. In those days you could get a licence quite easily. You went to County Hall, which is now an aquarium. They didn’t inspect the premises or ask you anything. It cost us seven and six.
We were in the basement, underneath a musical instruments shop. It had been there for donkey’s years. We made the tables out of fish barrels. It was all right until you picked them up at closing time, and the smell of fish was awful. We used to charge one and six on the door or two shillings. For that you got a cold drink and a roll. I used to run it on my own. It was the days of mods and rockers and Wardour Street was full of kids. When they had the riots at Brighton I knew in advance because some of the boys told me. They were nice kids.
I remember one time we had a girl in there – there was this fashion for topless dresses. Well, this girl must have had a size-42 bust. She took her cardigan off. All the boys were staring. I said, ‘No, no, no. Put your cardy back on or leave.’
We had a jukebox. We rented it from a music company down the road. Every week we gave them a list of records we wanted. Just posted it through their letter box. They’d bring the records down. It was sixpence a go. We had all the up-to-date records. The kids would request them.
Where the old coal cellars were under the pavement, we put some seats in there. The kids loved huddling there round a table. Everyone smoked. There was no air. The pill-pushers would go into the back there. But the kids knew I would not have drugs on the premises so they would hustle the guys out.
We never had any trouble. But I was working behind the counter one night and two fellas came in, obviously would-be gangster with the shoulders and everything. They had a coffee and then they said, ‘Who looks after the place?’
I said, ‘I do,’ not thinking. And one of them said, ‘No. Does anybody mind it?’
I said, ‘No. Why would I need a minder?’
So he said, ‘Have you got an old man?’
I said, ‘Yes.’
I asked one of the kids to go and get Bill, who was having a drink in the club next door. He came back and sat in a corner with the two fellas. I didn’t hear what they were talking about. But when they’d gone, Bill came back and he said, 'Can you believe it? They are hinting about protection money for a coffee bar!'
I said, ‘Well, what are we going to give them? We’re only charging a shilling a drink. What did you tell them?’
‘Oh, I mentioned a few names,’ he said. ‘People I don’t know really– and they said, “Oh. Right. Okay,” and off they went.’
We never saw them again. We only had The R’n’B for eight months. It didn’t make much money but it was good fun.”
Tina prefers to remain anonymous. She is 85 years old and has retired to West London.