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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.
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on 5 October 2010
For all his power,wealth and success.
Paul Raymond cuts a sad figure.
For every minute of every day,his only priority in life was to make money.
His chosen path was a type of porn baron come agent provacature.
Such was the finacial rewards,he ended up a property billionare.
But over the many years of exploiting man's prechant for sexual fantasy and imagery.
He totaly negleted his own family life.
Decades of self indulgance, of adulteress encounters,heavey alcohol and drug abuse.
Left him rich in wealth but poor in heart.
A facinating insight to one man's rise to power.
Only to die into an oblivion of bitterness and confusion.
Well worth putting your feet up with a glass of red and toasting ones own normality?
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on 20 September 2010
This is a real page-turner. Paul Raymond is one of those childhood phantoms if (like me) you grew up in the 1970s - a permatanned spiv with a world-class combover, draped in fur coats and with attendant dolly-birds, he started out as a bottom-of-the-bill variety act (mind-reading on Frinton pier) and wound up the richest landowner in Britain. It's a fascinatingly horrible life - a kind of skinflick Citizen Kane - and Willetts does it full justice in his scholarly unjudgemental way. He makes the important point that Raymond was as much a cultural arbiter as a porn merchant, and his impact on the development of the so-called Permissive Society is still being felt today. Look out for the terrific episode in which Raymond stitches up some IRA blackmailers - it's spellbinding, edge-of-the-seat stuff, and the book is chock-full of the kind of period detail that will make you go around for days buttonholing friends with jawdropping factoids about the man and his ways. It's a shame the publishers couldn't have gone for colour photographs of this luridly colourful life, but bangs for bucks this beats Tony Blair's biography hands down. When do we get the Peter Stringfellow story?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2013
I used to walk up and down Soho's Brewer Street regularly in the late 1970s, and frequently passed the Raymond Revuebar in Walker's Court, when I was a 16 year old messenger for a film company. I never went in but was always impressed by the neon signage in the evening, and the plethora of sex shops that were then a feature of the area. That said, I was more interested in the second hand record shops that also abounded in the same streets, however I always enjoyed the frisson created by the sleaze and neon. London's seventies sex industry grew up around Paul Raymond's iconic and groundbreaking bar.

Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond; Soho's Billionaire King of Burlesque was my second book by Paul Willetts (the first being the wonderful Fear And Loathing In Fitzrovia, his biography of Julian Maclaren-Ross).

As with Fear And Loathing In Fitzrovia, Paul Willetts does an entertaining and thorough job of evoking the life and times of his subject. I particularly enjoyed how Paul Raymond helped to erode the once stringent customs and laws around sex and stripping. When the Revuebar opened in 1958 the naked girls had to remain static and recreate classical tableaux. The place was regularly attended by plain clothes police trying to find a way to convict him, or in some cases extort money not to prosecute him.

His empire grew as the sixties began to swing accompanied by a wave of permissiveness. Raymond's astute business skills and opportunism helped to change Britain beyond all recognition. His legacy is now clear to see, as the sex industry has been transformed from an illicit enterprise into a vast, rapacious business that permeates and debases all aspects of modern culture. One of the book's real stars is London's Soho district. An area that has an enduring fascination for me. Raymond diversified into property in the late 1970s, acquiring numerous Soho freeholds, and it was this that ultimately made him one of Britain's wealthiest men.

The book also explores Raymond's extraordinary domestic life. His strict Catholic family, his controlling mother, his attempts at being an entertainer, doing National Service, his post-war period as a Spiv, his acrimonious divorce from his first wife, his illegitimate first son, his daughter's tragic death, an extortion attempt, familial infighting, a love of money, entrepreneurship, London, sex, drugs, tragedy, pornography, and ultimately his own rather sad and lonely demise which his vast material wealth could not alleviate.

Raymond was, in many ways, a repellent man, and yet the book exerts a strong fascination as it details the inexorable success that was so closely aligned to changing public attitudes to sex, pornography and business.

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on 11 October 2013
I really enjoyed this book. It had plenty of atmosphere, was well written, giving a very good feeling of what London clubland was like, and the characters who were around at the time. I would certainly recommend it.
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on 26 July 2014
A fantastic business biography about a determined man who became one of the countries richest men.
It's all in here, wealth, sleaze, corruption, power.. Read it ...
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on 17 January 2014
A fascinating character dealt with in a very thorough and entertaining way. Loved the book will now watch the film.
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on 28 May 2013
I am enjoying this book very much having seen the film and wanting to know more about the King of Soho.
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on 19 January 2011
Willetts third book on Soho, a biography of the club owner and sex trade entrepreneur, Paul Raymond, is as enjoyable as his previous works on the writer McLaren Ross and the bungled armed robbery of a Soho jewellery shop. Anyone who is fascinated by London's quirkiest, fastest changing and most colourful area will find no better guide than Willetts.
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on 10 July 2013
Good quality DVD - played well & clear on my computer.

The principle characters and the scripts were all very convincing, and the focus of the biography interesting, hence it gave my curiosity about Paul Raymond a good run for the money.

The Soho girls looked really lovely.

A biographical drama to treasure.
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