Yes We Have TVs

Yes We Have TVs

Fri 01 Feb

Jack and John opened the first piano bar on Rupert Street. We had been open about two or three months. This man came in one night. They always wear classy suits and have a bit of a swagger. He said, “Can I talk to the guv’nor?’

I said, “Yes, just a minute.”

Jack came up and spoke to him by my desk. He said, “Who looks after you, guv’nor?’

Jack said, “Scotland Yard.”

So he said, “Oh. Right then.”

And he just turned round and walked out.

In the late Seventies I was the lady on the door of the Belle de Nuit, a night-club with hostesses on Rupert Street. I took the money on the door and that was it. they had strippers. But there was a bar here. The people who owned the Latin Quarter owned it. They were an Italian family. The LQ did big cabarets on Wardour Street. The two clubs backed on to each other. Just before 1980 the Belle de Nuit changed into the first gay piano bar in London.

They said to me, “Do you get on with gay people?”

I said “Of course.”

They said, “Would you work on the door?”

I said, “Yes.”

That was the best job of my working life. I loved it because of the people. Kind; there were some horrible bitches but there are everywhere. I met some lovely people and I lost a lot of lovely people as well.

From then on it was all gay clubs. It was just called Number 14. One night someone said, “Do you have TVs?” I said, “No we wouldn’t have time to watch them.”

We did have a laugh there. Hinge and Brackett, Boy George and his set would come along after work. We didn’t open till 10 o’clock. When Oklahoma came to London the entire cast came in and got up on stage and did their show for us. I was always invited to first nights – Covent Garden in a box with sandwiches and champagne; front row at Cats and second to front row at Phantom of the Opera. One of our customers was in the chorus. Another worked at the House of Commons. He took me there for dinner. Anyone who had an equity card got in half price. They’d all come in after work.

Everybody who worked in Soho came in there at one time or another – not just gays. We had singers. Rital was half Egypian half Greek; one of the first sex-change people. She used to sing, very funny.

People used to say “Is that your own hair?”

She would say, “Of course it is. I paid for it.”

She was getting on a bit, but very lively. She would dance a bit. Everyone would get up and sing. We never booed anyone. We just let them all sing.

We also used to have lesbian night. You got the odd argument. They were more foul-mouthed than the men.

Then I moved to Stallion’s off Soho Square on Falconberg Mews. That was a disco. They used to do different nights. Sunday afternoons it was a tea dance. Jo was a little lesbian in a suit. She did the record player. For their entrance fee they got tea, sandwich and a cake. They would queue all around the square. I remember four boys with multi-coloured hair. They looked like a bunch of flowers coming down the stairs.

We had to close down because on Friday night we had a leather night. Jack and John had a row with two policemen who came in drunk one night. It was just an ordinary night but Jack had to throw them out.  They must have made a complaint because the police then closed us down because of the leather night and we lost our licence.

Then Jo phoned me up from Madame Jojo’s on Walker’s Court. I was there from 1986 to 1993. I was there when Raymond’s daughter Debbie died. He was devastated. All the reporters were around for two or three days. I don’t know what they thought they were going to get. No one got to know Paul Raymond. You saw him now and again. We’d see the Rolls pull up outside about once a month.

My husband worked for Jimmy and Rusty Humphries. We went to a Christmas party at their flat on Dean Street. When we were leaving, Jimmy said, “I can’t give you a lift home because the Rolls is in the garage.” In the kitchen there were cases and cases of Crystal champagne. When we went out for a drink it was never a beer or a glass of wine it was Crystal. He liked to show off that he had money.

Bill worked in a sex shop on Greek Street for them. They sold all sorts, bondage stuff, blow-up dolls, handcuffs, leather masks. I thought it was funny. So did the customers. There was a couple come in one day. They bought some handcuffs. An hour later a taxi driver came rushing in. He said to Bill, “You just sold some handcuffs to a couple. Do you have the key?”

Marlon Brando went in one day and bought a whip.

Under the counter they had little bottles full of potion that men were supposed to paint on their winkles. They were kept under the counter. It was winter and Bill had a fan heater on. He noticed they had evaporated because of the heat. Three dozen of them. So he filled them full of water. He sold them all but no one ever came back to complain.

Raymond then let it out and I got a redundancy notice while we were on holiday. I’d never had one before. We went abroad. Just to say hello, I phoned work and a woman answered the phone.

I said, “Who are you?”

She said, “I’m the receptionist.”

I said, No you’re not. I am.”

She said, “You’d better talk to the office.”

I phoned the office on Archer Street and they said, “Didn’t you get our letter?”

They never sent me one. They waited till we went on holiday. We all got the sack.

A friend told me the other day, “Tina you wouldn’t recognise the place these days.” There were girls on the street when I was there. But you could walk around three or four o’clock in the morning. Now it’s full of Eastern European drug dealers and pimps. All the nice clubs have gone, and the poor girls …

Most of all I remember the Barbettes at Madam Jojo’s. They wore black leotards and fishnet stocking, high heels and wigs. Jo picked them out because they were tall. They wore very theatrical make-up. Some of them were over six foot. There was Astral and Scarlett. Astral put so much glitter in his eyes he had to go to hospital one night to get it out. They worked hard, dashing around in those high heels. Ten till three am.

Charles was a very nice, very handsome singer. He sang in all the clubs. Unfortunately he was HIV and then Aids. He was the first one I knew to get it; the first I went to visit in hospital. At the beginning you had to visit them on a locked ward at St Mary’s. You had to ring a bell to be allowed in. The nurses wore masks and asked if I wanted a mask. I wasn’t frightened. I thought it was awful. It was better later on.

I went to the Mildmay and saw two or three people. Mark was our doorman when he wasn’t acting. He was only young. He always said, “I’m an ac-TOR.”  We lost him. Bunty, or Ian, they all had male and female names, was lovely. Ian was like my surrogate son. He said I was his second mum. He was another doorman. The same thing happened to him. I went to see him when he was dying. I knew others –Jeff or Joyce. He was only 19. He was a waiter at the piano bar on Rupert Street. Someone told me he had died. One of my friends had a purple mark on his leg. He spoke to Ian and Ian said he should go to see a doctor. He said, “Oh God.” He came back a few weeks later. Of course he’d got it.

Another guy, an actor, he came to the door to say “hello” to me. I went to give him a kiss on the cheek and he wouldn’t let me.

I said, “What’s the matter?” 

He said, “I’ve got AIDS.”

I said, “So what?”

People were weird when it first started. Not so much people in Soho.

All those young people. I stopped going to funerals in the end. I just think of the nice times. Those were the best years of my working life. From the minute I started working at the piano bar till the end of Madame Jojo’s. They were my kids. When someone asked me if I had any children. I said, “I’ve got four hundred. They’re all boys.”

Tina prefers to remain anonymous. She is 85 years old and has retired to West London.

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