On many trips to Soho during 1960, on our way from Tottenham Crt Rd Tube Stn to the Top Ten Club in Berwick St, we had to pass through Soho Sq. We passed many knocking shops in seedy (then) St Anne's Court which runs between Dean St and Wardour St. There would be signs pinned on the door of these establishments.
Next to the door bells were the words " YOUNG MODEL" followed by "FRENCH LESSIONS GIVEN" or "BIG CHEST FOR SALE" another one was "STERN MISTRESS HAS NICE CANE CHAIR FOR SALE". If a client fancied an older woman, he could use one of the adverts, which the pros would often place in local shop windows example "ANTIQUE CHEST FOR SALE" or ANTIQUE FURNITURE FOR SALE IN GOOD CONDITION" another "OLD CHEST NEEDS FRENCH POLISHING" For us kids, it was part of the fun reading this stuff, and trying to work out what it all meant.
|St Anne's Court|
We soon worked it out though!. Once you understood one, then all the others fell into place. Not every door had a bell to ring for a service. Some just said MODEL UPSTAIRS- FIRST FLOOR. For a laugh, what we would do, was ring the bell if there was, one and hide in the alley or, a doorway close by, to see what would happen. Usually a window would opened, and one of the girls, would look up and down the court and go back in. We were hoping one would come down, so we could see what she looked like, as they always appeared a strange exotic species and bit mysterious. "RING THE BELL FOR JIGGY JIG" what's that all about we thought? Well we soon worked that one out! Some of the prostitutes we had seen in Old Compton St, looked very horny indeed, to three hormonal 16yr olds.
In retrospect some were probably not much older than we were! On one occasion we almost got caught by a pimp who just happened to be coming up the street. As we rang the bell he shouted out "What the fuck you kids doing" Seeing him, we bottled out, panicked and legged it. As he chased us, I lost one of my shoes, and had to hang around to try to retrieve it.
As usual, "Spud" our mate, was always been teased, with us taking the piss out of him. We always wound him up at every opportunity. So when he told us he knew a girl on the game who worked from her gaff, in Berwick Street market near the fish and chip shop. I said "Leave it out you must be fucking joking" He claimed, she had told him, if he was up West anytime to give her a ring. We thought he was looking for a bit of credibility, pretending to be "˜One of the boys"
So we started to wind him up. "Okay" we said, we'll all go and say hello". Thinking he would bottle out, me and my other mate, gingerly, followed him along Broadwick St, turning left at the Blue Post Pub we passed the wine store to an open door, with the usual sign next to the bell, with the words "Young Model first floor" We said, "Go on then big boy, ring the bell" to our surprise! he rang it and stood there waiting! "COME ON!" we shouted! By now, me and my mate's bottle had gone. Leaving Spud, we legged it to the other side of the street, standing in the shadow of the old Post Office on the opposite corner of Berwick St and Broadwick St, shouting are you "FUCKING MAD RUN FOR IT!!".
From past experience, we knew there were always lots of police nearby, as next door to the Post Office (now demolished) was Trenchard House a Police section house, where they would often take trouble makers, and drunks, before they got rolled for their spare cash. The coppers then wouldn't think twice of smacking you in the gob. I had been on the receiving end a few myself. There would often be, coppers in the fish shop buying their supper, when we had been in there on previous occasions. However Spud kept on shushing us. After a minute or so, this tasty bottle blond (peroxide) piece of crackling came down in a kinda negligee. He later told us she was about 25 yrs old.
To our amazement, she started talking to him, we could just about make out what was being said. "˜Hello Billy, what you doing up West? ", "going to the "˜Top Ten Club up the street, with me mates" he said. By now, feeling like a dog with two dicks, we both appeared out of the shadows and came over to greet him. Just then, after a brief chat, she went back upstairs. Our admiration for Spud was now sky high never mind "˜BIG CHEST FOR SALE".
By now, our hormones had kicked in, and our trousers started to get a bit tighter in a certain area. "˜I told you didn't I!" he said. "You doggy little git" I replied, "what's your game"?
Just then she came back down again, and gave him half a crown, ( I thought, you get change as well) and he aint done nothin.
She said, go next door, and get yourself and your mates some chips! 'awe lovely" I thought, as I was starving. I thought what the fuck's going on here then?. There should also be enough for 10 cigarettes as well! "˜Give my love to your Dad", she said, and "stay out of trouble", then trotted back upstairs. As we walked away, we were feeling a bit light headed, knowing that we too, also knew a brass just like Spud.
|Comboco-- site of Sam Widges Coffee Hse and Top Ten Club in the late 1950's|
By now, his credibility had been restored well above what it had been previously. We all felt like big shots, as we swaggered up Berwick St, stuffing ourselves with chips, and smoking our free fags. I said "How the fuck did you know that bird then"? He said, she used to work as a barmaid, in a pub, his step dad sang in, in the East End and ended up in Soho, on the game to earn extra dough, looking after her baby.
Still on the subject of brothels, there was an old girl and her husband that I used to have a drink with, who were neighbours of mine in Covent Garden. After a few pale ales, she would often reminisce about the old days, when she worked in Soho, in one of the brothels. She told me a bit about her time working as a prostitutes maid, which was what she did for pin money.
It was sometime, in the 1960s. "Weren't you scared" I said, "˜No!--dear! the girls always made sure I was well looked after. She must have been about late 40s or early fifties? at the time, she was now a grey haired old granny and wore those round John Lennon gold rimmed glasses. I said, "what did you have to do" ,"Well" she said, I use to do a few shifts in the afternoon in a place of Great Windmill St. I would answer the phone and put on my posh accent, change the towels and tidy up, and do a bit of shopping for the girls.
Her main job, was to let in the clients. When the bell rang she would open the door. Letting in the clients, she would try to cover up her strong cockney accent and try to speak in her best posh accent, "MADHUM is engaged at the MOE- MENT DEAH, (dear) with emphasis on the H, would you please sit down SERRH and MADHUM will be with you in just a MOE-MENT!"
"Laughing as she told me, as she was saying it, she was KNITTING a pair of woolly socks for her latest grandchild!
I nearly fell off the chair laughing! The funny thing was, she looked like a sweet old granny, that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Every time I saw her in the pub she would laugh as I pointed to a chair and say --- "˜sit down sir, madam will be with you in just a moment".
A while later about 1966/68, I was working in an ad agency in Soho Sq in Knightway House, where I would take their ads to Fleet St for inclusion in the national dailies, and the bring back voucher copies for their clients to see.
Being close to Tin Pan Alley we often received phone calls from the fans of Cat Stevens ( a big pop star at the time -whose family had a restaurant in New Oxford Street) who had got our Soho Square phone number by mistake. These fans would phone our number and ask if Cat was in, and could he come out and sign their autograph books. I would tell them to wait outside, the Spanish cafe' the "˜Battista"on the corner of Goslet Yard facing Tin Pan Alley.
It was in the Yard Freddie Mills the boxer had his club the "Nite Spot" and where he was found shot dead in his car in 1965. Today his death still remains a mystery. Anyhow I digress, what I would then do, was pretend to be Cats manager, and tell them to stay where they were, and Cat would come down to sign their autograph books. This had to be done during our lunch break between 1-2 O'clock. Being naughty, (right) me and my mate Rickie would then slip out, and casually walk to the cafe' where we saw, a handful of young girls all clutching their autograph books and waiting for their idol to turn up. We would then ask them,"˜are you waiting for Cat?" "Yes" they said, "do you know him"? "Oh yeah, we work with him, and he said he will be down in a minute or two to meet you, just hang on".
Leaving then in a highly excitable state, we would then nip into the Battista and get a sandwich, and then slowly, walk back to the agency, giggling and pissing ourselves, with laughter. We would just leave them waiting there!
Later in the year, we spent some of our time hanging out of the agency windows watching the crowds queuing up to see Andy Warhol controversial film "˜Flesh" which was being shown at the Astoria Cinema (left) at the rear of the agency in Falconberg Mews now all demolished for Cross Rail, with crowds of mainly old men, (well they looked like old men to us youngsters,) queuing around Soho Square. We would shout out "Dirty old bastards".
It was finally closed down by the police for indecency. It was bit like D.H Lawrence's novel "˜Lady Chatterley's Lover" all over again. Same street different time. We have today's version (2012) a best seller by E.L. James "Fifty Shades of Grey" nothing changes!
|Lady Chatterly's Lover|
However, much later in the 1990s I would be paid back, but in the meantime,(1967) was there gold of sorts, in Soho?
One day there were about 100 fans, in Soho Sq who had come to greet and get Tony Blackburn autograph who had made a visit to agency to see a film being edited.
Anyhow, unbeknown to us, the Beatles were having their cartoon "The Yellow Submarine" made in a studio on the top floor of the agency in Knightway House, which is opposite MPL Paul McCartney's music publishing company in Soho Square.
After I found out, I would often take the lift, to the top floor studio to see what was going on. There was always bags of rubbish outside the studio door, which contained lots of outtakes, most of it was rubbish waiting to be disposed of by the cleaners.
One evening when I was riffling through one of these bags, I came across about dozen psychedelic 10x8 acetates of the Beatles, which had been either rejected or cut from the final film and thrown away.
There were more but to damaged for me to bother with. Anyway, not being aware of their historical significance, why would I? I just thought they were interesting to look at the time, and to good to throw away so I took them home. However, to my amazement during the 1990s, on the TV news, some of these acetates had come up for auction a Sotheby's in a Beatles Memorabilia sale.
Six of these acetates were identical to the ones I had of John, Paul, Ringo and George, and were sold for about Â£15,000!! I nearly fell of the sofa!!
I was shocked and excited at the same time. I immediately tried to find them, thinking I had £30,000 quid stashed away waiting to be rediscovered!! Panicking, I searched high and low, where were they? To my horror I was unable to located them.
I had forgotten about them. It must have been almost 20yrs since I had last seen them, and most probably thrown out with the rubbish, when I had decorated my flat. It seemed ironic that this had been the second time they had been thrown away, but could I have literally, thrown away gold dust? I will never know! What a pension! what a Wally!!
One day during 1960 the same period "Lady Chatterley's lover" had sold out at Foyle's Bookshop, I was pulled over on my Vespa scooter by a copper on his motor bike outside Foyle's in Manette St.
I had a girl on the back at the time. Being surprised, I said what's up? All of a sudden he took out a tape measure from his top pocket, and then fell to his knees. I thought he was about to do three hail Mary's, or going to measure my inside leg for a new pair of strides!
He then started to measure my exhaust pipe which he claimed was illegal. It should have had a fish tail on the end of the pipe, but it wasn't there. To us Mods it made the scooters sound to girly, with its purring PUT-PUT- sound which was not very macho.
You see, the first thing any self-respecting Modernist would have done after purchasing his scooter was to change the sound from a girly PUT-PUT to a roar, just as loud as a Rockers motor bike. In order to achieve this unique sound you would go and buy a 3 inch diameter Ford Consul chromium exhaust pipe, then take it to a mechanic with the right tools to do the job and have the modification wielded on while you waited.
You can imagine the noise this created when 20 machines came roaring up the street. By now the cops had cottoned on, and loved it. They already had the hump, and were never, to keen on us Mods anyway, and started to nick any body with a modification or any other so called infringement.
In a round about way, it spoilt, our image and put a big dent, into our macho egos as Mods, it took us down a peg or two which the cops loved. Anyway, he nicked me and my dented ego and I was fined at Bow Street Magistrates Court six quid. George Skeggs 2012