Paul Raymond Porn
By Peter Lewis
Philip Larkin got it slightly wrong. It wasn’t sexual intercourse that began in 1963, it was the frank admission and discussion of it.
Until then, it was a subject under wraps, discreetly spoken of with a nudge or a wink in the general atmosphere of uptightness. What made Paul Raymond’s name was that he shattered this on stage.
Nudity was still confined to statuesque posing when Raymond’s Revue Bar opened in Soho in 1958, but, being technically a club, it evaded the Lord Chamberlain’s rules. The nudes were free to frisk, shimmy and twizzle to their and the patrons’ private parts’ content.
Naked ambition: Soho's porn king Paul Raymond
At a price, of course. For this was an upmarket club far removed from the rat-holes in dark Soho alleyways that tempted in customers wearing raincoats for a peepshow.
Let me repeat: this was 1958. The Sixties hadn’t even started. By selling sexual spectacle over the next 40 years in clubs, theatres and magazines, Raymond became one of the richest men in England.
Now, I have no squeamish objection to well-formed youthful specimens of either sex cavorting about without clothes on, provided they do it gracefully and not for too long — for a little goes a long way.
So why is it that I find the fame and fortune of Paul Raymond so depressing to contemplate? He did not, except trivially, break the law. He was never accused of abusing minors or sexually exploiting girls against their will. Yet I find him not just depressing, but deplorable, demeaning, debased — in a word, disgusting.
This book tells his story in great detail with
neither prurience nor sententious moralising, indeed, with witty detachment. It
lets you judge for yourself. It is a retitled re-publication of a book called
Members Only from a few years back, to coincide with a new film that opens next
This is the straightforward story of one man’s
relentless ambition to make money. Raymond’s real name was Geoffrey Quinn, born
in Liverpool to a strict Catholic mother and philandering father who left home
when he was five and was never seen again.
But Geoffrey went to a fee- paying Catholic
college to be taught by Jesuits (nothing like a Jesuit for training rebels to
kick over the traces).
Leaving at 15, he tried to make a living in
the declining variety theatre with a mind-reading act. He switched to managing
shows and soon discovered there’s no business like nude business.
By the age of 26 he managed eight tawdry touring shows that then proliferated.
You have to admire the ingenuity with which he tried to vary posing formulas — nudes shivering in an igloo; nudes dressed entirely in pound notes (‘She gives her last pound away,’ said the poster); nudes in lions’ cages unable to move while the beasts performed trained acts.
When he hit Soho, the posing could stop. You
could have nudes cavorting with snakes, with chimps or with dolphins trained to
remove the girls’ knickers for them in a water tank.
With the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968, he branched out into theatreland, taking leases on the Royalty Theatre, where he installed Oh! Calcutta! — the notorious Kenneth Tynan concoction — and the Whitehall.
Here the show was called Pyjama Tops because the girls wore transparent pyjama tops (and occasionally plunged into a pool).
‘It’s a long time since dialogue so witless,
characters so silly and a plot so pointless has been seen in the West End,’
wrote the Evening Standard critic.
By selling sexual spectacle for over 40 years in clubs, theatres and magazines, Raymond became one of the richest men in England
The Times critic, Irving Wardle, himself a northern lad, thundered: ‘Why bother with art when the West End can be vanquished with a pair of knickers?’
It didn’t do the box office any harm. And
Raymond moved to magazines, marketing an obvious imitation of Hugh Hefner’s
Playboy called King, which combined centrefold pin-ups with articles by
respected authors. The latter were soon dropped.
In 1971, he revamped the dying magazine Men Only, pushing the boundary of soft porn further. It was banned by WH Smith, and seized and prosecuted for obscenity. The £5,000 fine was easily swallowed by the profits.
Until then, Raymond, like other pornography
merchants, had little trouble with the corrupt Obscene Publications Squad to
whose senior officers regular payments were arranged.
When Sir Robert Mark took over Scotland Yard,
that came to an end with a plethora of corruption trials. Here is a typical
Raymond pronouncement: ‘What I have always done is give the public what it
wants, not what I think it should have . . . I am not here to push back moral
boundaries. I am in the business of entertainment, and nudes entertain.’
So this public benefactor who dealt in female
flesh like turkeys plucked and trussed for Christmas had nothing to reproach
Raymond revamped the magazine Men Only, pushing the boundary of soft porn. It was banned by WH Smith, and seized and prosecuted for obscenity
He had merely assisted the swelling tide of the permissive society — a tide that a few, such as Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, tried to turn back and were ridiculed for their pains.
I think what I hold most against the smarmy
and ruthless manipulator is that he did so much to ruin Soho.
It had the atmosphere of a provincial Italian
town when I lived there in the Sixties. Raymond used his porn profits to buy it
up like a Monopoly board.
He raised rents until most of the long-established family businesses — grocers, delicatessens and patisseries, artisans, unique restaurants and cafes — were replaced by sex shops, seedy strip joints and dirty bookshops.
One business magazine calculated he owned
property worth more than the Duke of Westminster’s.
On his late-night tours of the clubs, looking
like an ageing swinger with a medallion, his companion was his adored daughter,
Debbie, the only member of his family he hadn’t quarrelled with and banished.
Early on, she acquired his taste for alcohol
and cocaine, and became more and more dependent on them. He did not notice the
warning signs of her addiction — her outbursts, her depression.
When she died of an accidental overdose at 36,
he was devastated. ‘She had all the money in the world, a beautiful home,
beautiful kids, beautiful cars — she had everything. I don’t understand.’
He spent his last years as a miserly billionaire in total seclusion. He didn’t understand much about human affection, even of the few people he had liked. All he understood was money, which was all he ended up with.