Tuesday 24 July 2012

Fond Memories Pt4

However, being young and carefree, we could be quite reckless at times.

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.
Berwick St
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!!".
Trenchard House
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. 
Cat Stevens
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!
The Astoria
Falconberg Mews
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.
Knightway House
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 £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. 
Yellow Submarine
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!!

In retrospect

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 

Monday 23 July 2012

Fond Memories Of Soho Pt3


Soho memories part 3

In part one of this blog, I described how my mates and I had originally arrived in Soho, in 1957 and had found ourselves in an amusement arcade in Wardour Street. 
The arcade was to become our starting point whenever we visited Soho. However, after one visit in the summer 1960 we ended up in this particular arcade as usual, tied and skint, or to be more precise, enough dough to have a couple of goes on one of the fruit machines, and also a bit more wiser!

Just next door was a drinking den called the Log Cabin. The Cabin faced the Swiss Tavern, on the corner of Leicester Sq.
We later found out it was a well known hangout for Soho villains, or the (Faces) or the (Chaps), names they liked to call themselves, It was just down the road from Great Windmill St and a snooker club, which had been managed by Tommy scar face Smithson at no 41-44. It was also a boxing gym owned by promoter Jack Solomon, and jazz club rehearsal space. 
Great Windmill St
In 1953-4, I believe, Tommy had given the Kray twins refuge when they were on the trot from the army during their stint doing National Service, he would let them kip down on the snooker tables in the club overnight.
Tommy was finally gunned down by a Maltese villain in 1956 ( the word gangster is a fairly recent invention used to describe British villains and is an Americanism). According to news reports, Tommy, had been taking money from prostitutes in the Brewer St, and Berwick St area, who were being looked after by other gangs, of whom some, had moved into Soho, from the Brick Lane area, in the East End of London. Being born in Brick Lane, I new the Lane area very well.
It had a seedy reputation in the 1950s, and earlier, with lots of brothels and Spielers, like Soho had, and were being controlled, by local villains and, also the Maltese, who by then had started to make their homes in the area. They were either, referred to as Malts, or Maltesers, as a term of affection by local cockney and Jewish villains who were their main rivals.
Wardour St
I digress to set the scene, which as you will see, will not be quite so dramatic, but nerve racking for us young street urchins, up west for a night out in Soho. However, within a few moments of arriving in the Wardour St arcade, a rather dodgy looking blonde geezer came in, wearing what I would have called a DICK TRACY mackintosh with its collar up. 
Me and me mates, stood there striking up a pose, like something out of a Bogart film, but in reality look more like a bunch of marshmallows straight out of a sweet factory! 
After eye-balling the joint, and making himself heard above the general din. Dick (I'II call him Dick for now) sidled up to me and my two mates, "Like a fag boys"? (a cigarette ). As we had none, we eagerly accepted his offer. 
However, it now started to look a bit strange, (never take sweets from a stranger, mum always said, mums always right! aint she?) But we were dying for a woodbine (cigarette brand) these had come from a full pack of twenty, so he had plenty to spare. We weren't that naive, but street wise, and soon, started to wonder what the bottom line was going to be?
Piccadilly Arches
A school friend of mine had ended up on the "meat rack"Which was a well known pick up point for male prostitutes, runaways, and drug addicts, looking to make some cash. It was situated on the corner of Piccadilly Circus under the arches. 

I only found out when I meet him in Soho in 1980 in Berwick St. He'd just been to Oxford St buying clothes.
He claimed, he was on his way to visit a regular client who lived in Paris, someone he first meet, in Piccadilly Circus in 1969. I think it even had a reputation during times of Oscar Wilde.
At school, he was good at art like myself, and we got on very well. I was saddened to see him in such a precarious predicament, as he told me he was being beaten, and humiliated by his client. He said jokingly ( I think he meant it) "why don't you try it, you can earn lots of money", I said, "LEAVE IT OUT! YOU MUST BE JOKING!", maybe my sympathy towards him was misplaced?
After accepting, Dicks offer of a cigarettes, (could we end up in Morocco as white slaves?) I think Dick was about 24yrs old, he then asked, how old we were, and would we like to play for free, on any of the pinball machines including the jukebox in the arcade, which was opposite the Swiss Tavern. It was in the Tavern where, some of the performers at the 2 I's coffee bar would have a drink, in-between performing. "Okay" we said, as by now we had no dough left, just our fare back home.
He then started to wink at this goon who was wearing a white laboratory coat, like what a chemist wears. He appeared to be running the joint, dishing out change from a kiosk by the door to the punters playing on the machines. He then came over with a big bunch of keys, and proceeded to unlock the various machines, we were playing on, and by doing so he was able to give us as many free goes as we wanted.
By now Dick had gone to the entrance, and being nosey, I followed to see what he was up to? Just then a black car drew up outside of the building, which contained three heavy looking geezers. The nearside window was wound down, and Dick said something to the driver, and turning round, he clocked me behind him.
He said "where do you boys live", I replied "East London" , "That's where we're going, will give you a lift". "Hold on a second, I'II tells my mates" Its arrived PAY BACK TIME! What he'd just given us was a bung, for services to be redeemed later on. 
Now, my bottle went, I was smelling raticus crapitus big time, which reminds me to wear plus fours next time I'm up west, or a good pair, of bike clips!! After alerting my two mates, we proceeded to creep out of the side door, (and not dance the CREEP that had recently been a dance craze a couple years earlier) and creeping was something we were good at. Squeezing between the punters playing on the machines.
We legged it towards the neon lights of Leicester Sq, passing Dick, who was standing next to a hot dog stall, on the corner of Wardour St, stuffing his face with a hot dog. Spotting us, he shouted out "Where the fuck do you think your going" I was that close, I could even smell the fried onions on his breath. 
Leicester Sq
With Dick in tow, we sprinted towards the twinkling lights of the square, passing the Swiss Tavern, and then onto Charing Cross Rd, but he soon gave up to our relief! I guess he, and his investors, were trying to get something for their investment, but they would never get it now! 
Being out of breath, and laughing to ourselves, which was brought on by nervous tension, we speculated how we might have ended up in the north Africa, being traded in the casbar as white slaves. Indeed, reports in the press confirmed this kind of activity was taking place, but mainly with unsuspecting, young women and girls.
We found out later on, from people in the arcade, that Dick was part of a firm from east London, that had been in there that night when we were there, and warned us to be on our guard in future.
Much later we started to hear stories, about who they really were, but they were only stories. One way or the other our experience proved to us, Soho, could indeed be a dangerous place, if you weren't street wise as we were.
Naive kids, still runaway to Soho, looking for thrills and excitement, but soon become easy prey and are easily exploited, and fall straight into the honey trap. Our experience on the streets of the east end, came in very handy, being street wise, and knowing how to duck and dive, and spot bother, before it has a chance of getting out of hand!
PART 4 Coming soon...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Second-Hand Rose

Can you remember 'Second-Hand Rose'?

by Ian Stewart

A recently catalogued Museum of Soho artefact comprises a cardboard-mounted black & white photograph and its envelope.

  The envelope has written on it: "'Second-Hand Rose' / A Soho character from the 60s / Funeral at R.C. Church Warwick St, c.1970. / (Donated by Peter Jewell)". Also written onto the back of the cardboard is "©1970 Gordon Sandle", with a Surrey address and phone number. 

The mounting has a pinhole at the top, suggesting the picture was at some time displayed.

Second Hand Rose. A Soho Character. Berwick St. Market. 1960's.

The photographer has captured a portly, middle-aged man, disarmingly sat in the sun on a market cart. He’s confidently at ease amidst untroubled market traders and what's probably British produce. ‘Rose’ is tootling a penny whistle, lifting his play slightly turned to the camera. He has a necklace of several strands of beads pinned to his cardigan, and what looks like a colourful cravat. A white headband could be a bandage: given the flourish of pearl-like beads, it could as likely be adornment. His receding hair is neatly combed.

The older gents are dressed in working class clothing typical to the first half of the last century. By the time this picture was taken such attire would already be deemed old fashioned -- witness the younger fellow in his polo shirt (hitched-up whilst he's munching an apple, toying with a nipple through his vest). With people in jackets and layers, the apple; perhaps it's early autumn?

The spontaneous and rapidly shifting everyday scene is charged with sound and gentle movement. It was certainly snapped with a deft eye, undoubtedly upon swift engagement. The good fortune of a painterly composition has saved this bygone instant, and miraculously preserved into the present day that passing, sunny moment. Until otherwise disproven, we have to assume that this scratchy print is the sole surviving copy.

A former Soho-born resident, straightaway naming "Rose" from the picture, said that he was a "notorious gay man," associated with Berwick Street Market, and subject of "a running battle" with that informant's mother, as "a foul-mouthed alcoholic." Such resonant childhood testimony brings sweeping insight to the image.

Being gay had only just been partly decriminalised in 1967. British police aggressively hunted-out homosexuals, who endured organised social hatred and brutal prison terms. (Our laws from the period still apply in former colonies like Malawi, where in May 2010 two young gay men were sentenced to 14 years with hard labour, solely for vowing their love for one another).
Did the bottle offer refuge? Trifling with gender? Berwick Street Market?
The pet name 'Secondhand Rose' featured in musical theatre. 1962 and 1965 Barbra Streisand recordings gained widespread radio play. The song’s female character, shamed by her worn goods and cast-offs, rallies her pride on the boisterous urban milieu she’s a part of.

In the rare spells when time frees from assisting researchers, Museum of Soho volunteers continue diligently to catalogue artefacts, documents and images related to our neighbourhood.

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