The Pink Past.
of the fogotten sixties
Hello from a Brit now in Los Angeles
Some added London venues from the late
fifties to the mid-sixties; most of the gay bars in London were then membership
clubs although of course there were a some gay pubs as you mention, but
for those of us who were young, these seemed to be more for rent boys and
tourists, The White Bear for example. There was The Carousel Club in Orange
Street, run by a man known simply as "Lennie". It was an upstairs establishment
with a horseshoe bar and on the floor above was another, straight membership
club called The Roundabout, but I don't know anything about its clientele.
It appeared to be businessmen and attractive ladies . . . The building
was later razed and The Carousel moved to Panton Street, next to the Comedy
Theatre and opposite The Stockpot, which is still there, but changed in
decor, atmosphere and ownership!
Off of St Martin's Lane, in an alley
behind the Coliseum, was The Festival Club, run by Ted Rogers who I think
later went to Australia. In Soho was the long running A&B Club (Arts
and Battledress), the premises of which are now offices. The Rockingham
Club (which apparently catered to the well-to-do, older gay men) was somewhere
near the Windmill Theatre but I was never invited! (and there's nothing
on the internet about it either.)
On the other side of Shaftesbury Avenue
in one of the streets running off it (toward the Chinatown part) was an
upstairs bar which we visited only rarely, name forgotten. The Salisbury
was, as mentioned, a theatrical pub with a big gay clientele at lunch time
(closing was 2 o'clock in those days) but in my memory it was not a popular
evening destination in the same way as the clubs. The Coffee House in the
Haymarket (also noted) was divided into straight and gay areas; a corridor
led from the street and the corner immediately to the left as one entered
was predominately gay. (I wonder whatever happened to the huge waterfall/fountain
that was in the middle - very "Festival of Britain"!)
A cinema which I do not see mentioned
was the air-conditioned newsreel/cartoon cinema in Piccadilly Circus and
which was very cruisey, next to what was then Saqui and Lawrence, the jewelers.
The programme ran an hour and one could move from seat to seat!! Same of
course with The Biograph in Victoria which showed it's films in almost
total darkness, save for the light of the exit signs and what was reflected
from the screen. Admission around 1964 was 2/6 (half-a-crown), about 13p
in today's money and coinage. And very good value too!! The lighting was
changed after an article in the News of the World wrote about the activity
Before the advent of the John Stephen
"His" boutiques and the popularity of Carnaby Street in the sixties, there
was Vince, which over time had two locations, one in Foubert's Place. Definitely
aimed at gay men and with gay staff, as I was to discover myself. It may
not seem possible now, but forty plus years ago, Levis and blue jeans in
general were not available in Britain. There was a shop in the World's
End area of Chelsea/Fulham which could get them, and when I first visited
New York (in 1964) they were on my list of things to bring home, along
with US cast albums. I was fortunate to have wide shoulders and a narrow
waist (good lats) and a Levi jacket fitted perfectly, as did the rest.
Having left the Coleherne in Earls Court, a new friend asked me if I was
not embarrassed to wear such well fitting clothes, denim being relatively
rare and only seen in films and on Americans!
The Pink Elephant was one of the first
"cabaret" clubs and was run by two Americans who were appearing at The
Talk of The Town (now once again The Hippodrome) with their puppet act.
They had an American-style mirrored baby grand piano and the mirror of
the bar back was tinted pink, so that everyone looked wonderful! In an
upstairs room they presented live drag shows, the recorded overture for
which was from the album of "Gypsy" which was not seen in London until
many years later - and this contributed to the American atmosphere. At
the time it seemed very glamourous! Real glamour could be later be found
at Danny La Rue's (club) in Hanover Square, and although not strictly a
gay establishment, had it's fair share of gay members.
On a visit home a few years after I
moved here, probably early seventies, I walked with a friend along Old
Compton Street, which was not then the gay centre it is today. A lady of
evening across the road called to me "lookin' for a good time, dearie?"
Of course, I said no. Her reply was " 'ow about me bruvver then?"
I had a brief relationship with a member
of the CID (who had the same first name as myself) and asked him how the
police viewed gays, in general. He told me that they preferred that they
were off the streets and in clubs, and to my knowledge, there were never
any raids on clubs. Those who "cottaged" would get arrested but those of
us who were in clubs were never harassed. A problem for them was drug trafficking,
but that did not occur in mainstream gay clubs.
Although there is a lot written about
arrests and entrapment, between 1959 and 1967 I never knew anyone who experienced
such things and gay life seemed perfectly normal. It may appear that there
was less tolerance then (and probably so in the provinces) but London itself
seemed very safe - far more so than here in Los Angeles. The slightly secretive
atmosphere gave an air of exclusivity, since in the clubs could be seen
stars of stage, screen and television, all of whom felt protected by a
common bond. Interestingly, other than the Boltons and Coleherne in Earls
Court, which catered to a leather crowd, there was not the great divide
between interests as there was in Los Angeles, where there were two distinct
types of bars (not clubs) and one had to choose between "sweater" and "leather"
bars. There were "sweater queens" and "leather queens" and little in between!
KInd regards - David
and all that