A great read on a very unique man! Given the pivotal position he held, it is also a well written history of the Soho sex industry across the last half of the 20th century. Paul Willetts has definitely done his homework given all his life Paul Raymond used the media for his own ends. As the book end credits makes clear, he has relied heavily on extensive interviews with many people who knew the man.
Early on Raymond seems to have accepted he was always going to live on the edge in making his way in life. His early involvement in black markets in London, early ejection from his period of service in the RAF and then provincial theatre revues where his mind reading act failed to succeed, by his own later admission probably benefitted him. Like many great football managers who were not great players, he succeeded at other options in the same industry. The early attempts at bringing to small UK regional theatres the sexual titillation he had seen attempted in the Windmill Theatre during World War 2 met with such an enthusiastic response that his early wealth was quickly established from having several such shows touring.
Sensing the demise of such tours with the rise of TV in the late 50s, he took the gamble of establishing the Revuebar in Soho, copying what he had seen from the striptease shows then performing in Paris. Early support from many high profile media stars of that era plus a national push to establish a large population of members helped his success and a level of acceptability that many other Soho strip clubs could never imitate. While he still had numerous brushes with the police of Scotland Yard and licencing authorities of Westminster, by ensuring top legal advice plus as many friends observed always being at his personal best when faced with a problem, he saw off all such challenges across the years.
The growing sexual freedom of the '60s allowed him to keep pushing the boundaries. By continually attempting new gimmicks plus importing new European and US acts, his venue had an aura of quality that ensured its longevity versus the usual Soho short term business model of ripping the punters off and profiteering as quickly as possible. While by the '70s he had to move to attracting foreign tourist trade, it ensured the punters still kept coming.
Raymond's success at property investment provided his fortune in later life but it is clear from the early 60s he was always attracted to this asset. The early acquisition of the Revuebar's freehold was due to his landlord assuming he would not last and granting a long lease with no rent increase (!). Other Soho premises acquired at auction were immediately rented out to Soho porn merchants with the resulting high rents that could be charged. This approach evidenced the hard double edged personality of Raymond. While Soho porn merchants ruled, he could charge short term high rents they were only too willing to pay. With the later gentrification of Soho, higher longer term rents were paid by the newer class of tenants moving in, often displacing many old family businesses who could not face such hikes. To Raymond it was simply good business and in so doing he continually showed the cold and to some brutal decision making needed to become as wealthy as he subsequently did.
Moves into soft porn publishing (Men Only, Club International etc.) and long running sex farces staged in central London theatres which the critics continually panned, kept the cash flowing to fund further property acquisitions and the odd dud venture - early attempts at gay revues and more normal nightclubs all failing abysmally.
The book is also a very full account of Raymond's personal life which is the publicised area where his notoriety will inevitably always stand. Till his body gave out, he lived the lifestyle of the oldest swinger in town but as endless quoted evidence shows this never produced any personal happiness. A bitter divorce had far reaching consequences with a wife who in his early years was a true business partner but then was always at war with him till her death; a daughter who extended her emotional control from childhood by siding with her father but through endless drug and alcohol abuse led to an early death; and a son who was a victim of his sister's jealousy and despite later reconciliations with his father was never accepted back into the inner fold, being ostracised in his father's will in favour of his daughter's children.
While the book cover makes reference to Raymond being the UK Howard Hughes, one is left feeling that a much better comparison is with oil multi-millionaire Paul Getty who similarly led a high profile life and became reclusive in late life but never throughout lost the ability to know a good business deal when he saw it. The likes of Paul Raymond represent what many people probably admire and hate in equal measures - success financially but a disaster as a likeable human being. Paul Willetts has captured this all in writing a fascinating biography.