Right about now, I really should be spilling something on the floor in memory of my old gaffer Paul Raymond, who died yesterday at the age of 82. But I can’t bear to think what.
Comparisons are being drawn to Hugh Hefner, but let’s not be silly; Paul Raymond did it first and did it best. The abridged version of his story, recounted to me by the staff at the Paul Raymond Organisation when I started work there back in the day, goes something like this; Liverpudlian post-war traveling mind-reader cottons on early to the fact that the men in the audience are far more interested in his Debbie McGee-like assistants, so he ups the raunch content. Luckily, it's the fifties, so he doesn't have to up it all that much. For example; the UK's archaic laws permit nudity on-stage as long as the ladies stand stock still. Solution? Fly them in on suspended podiums above the stage, and let 'em jiggle away. And then get someone to bellow "Naked - AND SHE MOVES!" outside the theatre.
His shows - which all sound like a Troy McClure resume ("You might remember me for such revues as Come Into My Bed, Let's Get Laid and Yes, We Have No Pyjamas!") - become so popular that he can afford to buy a ballroom in Soho, which he renames the Raymond Revuebar. Naturally, he makes so much more money out of that (particularly after he's fined five grand in 1961 for a show described by a judge as “filthy, disgusting and beastly”, which is worth about a million quid’s worth of publicity in a time when £1,000,000 is a lot of money), that he starts to not only dabble in magazine publishing, but also buys up chunks of Soho. Although this is seen by outsiders as a canny bit of entrepreneurialism that anticipates the property boom, it’s nothing of the sort; he just doesn’t want the local Maltese gangsters who plague Soho lowering the tone of his exceedingly arty, all-done-in-the-best-PAHSSIBLE-taste shows, so he simply buys them out.
By the mid-70s, after an internal police investigation of the Obscene Publications Squad that results in 500(!) coppers resigning and small-time Charlie Endell types packing up their dog-sex vids and retiring, he buys even more of Soho. By the time the 80s roll along, he’s the richest non-aristocrat in the UK. His grot department (now expanded to magazines such as Men Only, Mayfair, Escort, Club and Razzle) more than pulls its weight (like Richard Desmond and David Sullivan, he makes an absolute killing from wank lines), but that’s just the side-action. He’s the King of Soho. You know the cover of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? I'm guessing that Paul Raymond practically owned that street.
By the time I started working at Paul Raymond Publications at the turn of the century, there was a distinct end-of-Empire feel about both it and Soho. The rot set in as early as 1980, when his one and only attempt to break the film market was exposed as a shoddy Emanuelle copy years after anyone wanted to watch the original (he pops up in a cameo halfway through the film, agonising over the colour of the tablecloths in the Revuebar. He chose blue). After that, the flood of imported mags from Continental Europe and videos from America poured in, Desmond and Sullivan took the market relentlessly downmarket, and Paul's bit of high-class sauce was as fashionable as an all-in-one panty-girdle. The buzz surrounding the place, you felt, was a fraction of what it used to be.
Although there was still money to be made from the mags (and the website was making approximately £40K a week, which was precisely £40K more than 99% of UK-strength porn sites), the power of the brand had diminished. You also got the impression that you could say the same about its owner. The former had been blindsided at both ends by Lad Mags who were selling more by offering less, and websites that were offering pretty much everything for fuck all. It was obvious that my bosses were far more concerned with the business of property management than flatplans and websites; when you know that the meeting before yours involves the negotiation of a million-pound monthly rental of a property on Shaftesbury Avenue, you realise that your niggles about a bruise on a model’s arse are the smallest possible beer in the world.
The latter had been devastated by the death of his daughter in 1992 (who, according to the old-timers there, was an incredibly generous and down-to-earth woman who would have made the perfect heir to the empire), and was a virtual recluse. In the time I was there, I only met him once, as he was coming out of lift. He was dressed like Tom Baker’s great-grandfather, with a long scarf wrapped around him as if it was protection from the outside world. It was one of the weirdest encounters I’ve ever had in my life; meeting a man who could have easily bought every house, school, hospital, office and factory I’ve ever been in on the spot, and feeling a bit sorry for him.
The media reaction to his death says much about pornography in the UK. If Paul Raymond had lived and died in America, he would have been celebrated as both a champion of anti-censorship and entrepreneurial spirit; the man who overthrew stuffy 50’s sensibilities with a thrust of Bonnie Bell the Ding-Dong Girl’s hips, and the son of a lorry driver who ended up owning an entire postcode of prime real estate in one of the world’s biggest cities. But he was British, so he was a smut pedlar who got lucky. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the mags now. Fondest regards to all the people I knew who still work there.