CategoryAll Venues

The Birth of the Black Orchid – Despite the Disaster of trying to turn the Albert Hall into Babylon

Finding a site for a suitable nightclub in any town or city was always difficult. Especially back the 1980s, when everyone attending a nightclub, restaurant etc after 11pm had to consume a substantial meal so as to allow them to consume alcohol. Add to this the vociferous jockeying of the existing nightclub managers/owners who wanted to retain  the status quo, and often fuelled the police with stories of “streets of fear”. Although  the police generally took the view that enough was enough. Better the devil you know!

Nottingham was no exception. The city was regarded as prime hunting ground for nightclub customers, although it seemed impossible to even find a site. Never mind locking horns with existing nightclubs and authorities.

Then came a breakthrough. Property developers Wilson Bowen had a suitable site for a “Super Bowl” at Derby, and another one at Lenton Nottingham, which “may be suitable” for a nightclub. The infrastructure was complete, plus a completed Showcase cinema and Sawyers Bar Diner. All on the site of a former council rubbish tip.

Deals were done. Plans drawn. Project meetings planned. Spreadsheets prepared, scrutinised, and prepared again… and again. In amongst all this a trading budget was drawn up, with only the slightest hint of reality, which was deemed necessary to obtain funding.

Everything was looking good. Everyone looked forward to the birth of the Black Orchid – despite the disaster of trying to turn the Albert Hall into Babylon.

The plans and artist impressions were amazing. Terry Wheater and his team at Group Northern had really produced the goods – although those guys had also created Paradise Lost Watford, The Dome and Pagoda Park Birmingham, Pink Coconut Derby and a host of other multi-million pounds profit earners.

Everyone was ecstatic until it was realised that this would be one of the first night clubs in the country to fall under the new “Disabled Access” legislation.Then it was discovered that the chairman of the licensing committee had a disabled daughter who enjoyed nightclubs.

Back to the drawing board. Although it seemed that by providing access for a wheelchair to all facilities the project was scuppered, with the new plans presented in sombre mood. The building looked  odd; all ramps, slides and hiding places. Albeit with beautiful lighting and decor. Something of a giant Hamster Utopia.

Matters took a turn for the worse at the Entertainment Licence meeting, when the chairman announced that he had a disabled daughter, who would not want to go to the Black Orchid. Because it looked like a discotheque for the disabled, and she wanted enjoy a discotheque for the able-bodied.

After an awkward silence he smiled and said that she did not need access to every bar, or every restaurant or dancefloor. All she needed was to be able to enter and leave the building safely, get to a bar, toilet, and a dancefloor, and to be able to have a meal.

Smiles all round until he noticed the strapline “Dancing and Cavorting” and asked what was meant by “cavorting”. “Enjoying yourself”, came the reply, his look suggested that he interpreted it as “to behave in a physically lively and uninhibited way”. Mmm!

And the reality was that approximately one and half million customers danced and cavorted at what was to become one of the UK`s most iconic nightclubs.

Finally – In case anyone wonders how the name Black Orchid came about….

That`s simple.

The star of the horseracing world at that time was Desert Orchid!

 

Signing the restaurant deal at the Black Orchid – and the spirit of Mike Hilkene

Nottingham always has been special.

So the Black Orchid had to really turn it on to fit into such a proud city leisure sector; and of course needed the best team of Management, Entertainers, and Security Management to draw people from the existing  city centre attractions.

Steve Taylor from the Pink Coconut Derby became as Deputy Manager; Tracey Slade with her invaluable enthusiasm and local knowledge was appointed Assistant Manager; Shanghai Sam`s DJ Mark Jameson headed the entertainment team,  former Mr Universe Linkie Wilson became reception manager/head of security.

To complete the team Mike Hilkene enthusiastically agreed to move from Pagoda Park Birmingham to take oversee and guide the business as General Manager.

Probably the most difficult, and pleasurable, tasks was to find a franchisee to run the proposed Cantonese restaurant at balcony level. Some restaurateurs thought we were crazy; some suddenly couldn`t speak English. Others wanted more conditions and safeguards than you could shake a stick at, and effectively wanted the Black Orchid to bankroll the franchise totally. When Ocean City  came along everything changed, and it soon became time for –

Signing the restaurant deal at the Black Orchid – and the spirit of Mike Hilkene, who sparkles out of the following pictures –

The first picture below from left to right shows First Leisure MD Tony Spragg, Mike, CY Chung, First Leisure RM Dick Child –  and stunt double – Hollywood actor – and franchise manager Nigel Fan.

The Black Orchid layout plan on the table shows some detail of the ground floor, especially the dance floor, entrance way to the right, and the beer cellar underneath the VIP area to the left.

They are about to do the deal – and Mike is pleased – very!

It`s a done deal

Then girls arrive – left to right Margaret Child – Jenny Sprag – Mike`s friend – and it`s time for dinner.

How do you approach a lobster with chopsticks – Mike is not sure – and can you eat both ends?

The two guys who deserve all the credit for the phenomenal success of the first Black Orchid restaurant franchise.

And so the story of the Black Orchid moves on. There is much more to tell, but that will follow at another time. Mike moved into Europe to be Regional Manager for a company called Whitegates, and the indomitable Ian Bomber Harries took over the Orchid.

CY moved out of the franchise to concentrate on a new restaurant called Ocean City 2, based on a Cantonese nouveau theme, then to the famous Pretty Orchid Thai Restaurant in Bridalsmithgate. Tony and Jenny Spragg opened their own business in Spain, while Nigel went to star with Robbie Coltraine in the film “Nuns on the Run”

Sadly, since then we have lost Margaret, Mike and Nigel to the big C.

Bet they had some tales to tell St Peter when they arrived at the pearly gates.

Absolutely wonderful people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute to a great man – Industry legend Sid Steward has passed away

Tribute to a great man

We were saddened to learn of the death of industry legend Sid Stewart, who  passed away on the 17th of April 2014.

There are a number of articles on Locarno Boy relating to Sid, but the greatest memories are with those who worked with him over the years, and became lifetime friends.

He was both an industry character and an industry professional who worked tirelessly to help others.

Retirement was never an option for him. When he finished his nightclub career he concentrated on his work with the Samaritans, where he worked tirelessly to help others.

Originally from the North East, Sid was one of the key players in the growth of the Bailey Organisation,  which brought him to Blackburn. It was from here that he helped the company open cabaret clubs in the North West, but his heart was always in the Cavendish at Blackburn.

We were lucky enough to meet up with Sid  a few months ago. He was witty and as sharp as ever, reminiscing about his days at the “Cav”, laughing about the occasion when Norman Wisdom wanted to fight with him, and the hours spent with Tommy Cooper and the Cavendish staff – as Tommy ate a basket meal of chicken and chips that lasted from the public leaving the premises to the sun rising.

Those of us who had the pleasure of working with Sid will never forget the honesty and warmth he offered. Sometimes “shooting from the hip”, but never malicious or hurtful. He was a man who knew the importance of loyalty, and was inherently loyal by instinct.

A true professional and a great man.

 

 

 

Graham White has passed away and now joins his old mate Ray Park – what a team! Gun point negotiations – bottle skip races – and a “wonderful” lie.

We are saddened to hear that Graham has passed away. He had cancer, and his sons wanted the funeral arrangements to be made quickly. So his funeral took place last Thursday.

Graham was one of the industries larger than life characters. He began his career with the Bailey Organisation, and eventually with First Leisure, where he worked with Mike Payne at Bailey`s Leicester. He later became manager of Bailey`s Watford where he worked alongside Ray Park.

Graham and Ray were something of a joint enigma. Each had his own style and personality. A pair of opposites forming a management team that entertained royalty and the greatest entertainment acts of the day. Each in their own inimitable style. Ray had his bizarre recruitment policies, including the balcony test, embarrassment test and the 100,000 volts test (each best described over a beer or two). As well as looking after the catering aspect of the business, while Graham dealt with the cabaret, security and overall running of the club.

******

Dealing with cabaret acts can be dangerous, as Graham discovered the night he gave one of the black American soul groups their show time. After which he was quickly confronted by their manager, and the conversation went something like –

Manager: “These guys is going on stage at 8.30”

Graham: “No. Top of the bill goes on at 10.30”

Manager: “These guys is going on stage at 8.30”

Graham: “I told you 10.30. Top of the bill goes on at 10.30

Manager – producing a handgun and holding is to Graham`s neck: “8.30”

Graham: “Dead right. These guys is going on stage at 8.30”

I think you know what time they went on stage.

******

Bailey`s Watford was also famous for after hours “bottle skip races”, whereby the skips normally used to collect empty bottles on the bars became “chariots”. Wives, girlfriends and smaller males became the “jockeys”, as they were raced around the club at crazy speeds, by enthusiastic males.

We have no record of serious injury, although perhaps they were hidden by a “what goes there stays there” doctrine.

******

A favourite Graham and Ray story comes from one of the First Leisure management conferences, and of course alcohol was involved. In fact quite a lot of alcohol. Sufficient for a somewhat inebriated group of individuals to decide to stack as much furniture as possible into the hotel lift, and for Graham to fall asleep in one of the lounge chairs. After which information became somewhat confused.

The following day, back at Bailey`s Watford, a very stern looking Ray approached a very sad looking Graham.

“I am absolutely shocked at you,” growled Ray.

“What. Why?”, spluttered Graham.

“After all that man has done for us and the company, and you treat him like that,” continued Ray.

“Who?”

“Only John Conlan, our Chief Execute,” glared Ray

“What did I do?”

“You were sitting in a lift full of furniture. The door opened and he was about to get in when you told him to “fuck off”.

The last of any colour drained from Graham`s face as he spluttered. “No. I didn`t. Did I?”

“Oh yes you did,” replied Ray sternly. ” and the best thing you can do is go and apologise straight away.”

And so it was that a very ill looking Graham presented himself at the Soho Square London offices, where he sheepishly approached John Conlan and apologised. In fact he apologised for everything else that he may have done (because he had no recollection of anything from the later part of the evening), and could still have been apologising the following day had John not stopped him.

“Graham I didn`t see you after dinner last night. I went to bed early,” he grinned, “who told you this?”

“Ray Park……..Ray Park I`ll……”

And of course when Graham returned to Watford, Ray was nowhere to be seen.

******

Treasured memories and wonderful days to remember.

We would love think that Ray and Graham are together now – playfully tormenting each other and presenting the most amazing cabaret shows with St Peter as Chief Executive.

Really miss you guys!

 

 

 

 

Life was never going to be dull at Bailey`s Liverpool

Stuart Edwards quickly discovered that life was never going to be dull at Bailey`s Liverpool.

Preparation for the opening of Baileys Liverpool began at the Hull club during January 1974. Stuart was appointed General Manager. Jeff Marshall became Bar`s Manager; ten potential trainee managers were appointed, one of which was the inimitable Graham White, who eventually went on to manage Bailey`s Watford.

During the second week in February the team crossed the Pennines and began working at the Liverpool club.

Mike Payne organised accommodation for the management. He was friends with Jack Ferguson. One of the Holiday Inn executives. Stuart took a number of former Hull staff with him. They were allowed four weeks stay in bed and breakfast accommodation, then had to fend for themselves, while management enjoyed ten weeks at the Holiday Inn.

Part of the manager`s package was use of the “Bailey`s liveried” company car, and a company house.

At this point in our conversation Stuart grinned and switched to anecdotal mode.

******

He remembered  The Peddlers topping the bill at Bailey`s Liverpool. They had good album sales. Had previously toured America with Frank Sinatra, and had similarities to the very popular Emerson Lake and Palmer. Consequently they attracted a huge following, but perhaps had something to learn about the dangers of ill conceived announcements to the audience.

So when the keyboard player decided that it would be hilarious to announce  –

“You can always tell when the manager comes Hull”

Brief pause

“Because he always smells of fish” –

The Hull staff decided it was time to start a collection.

The insults increased as the week went along – as did the collection.

The Peddlers show began in complete blackout, followed by a wall of sound and flood of lighting.

But not on the Saturday night.

The blackout went well.

The wall of sound quickly came and went.

And so did The Peddlers – straight off the stage.

The key board player had suddenly realised he was not alone.

A huge dead fish lay across his keyboard – complete with tail, head, any staring eyes.

Revenge!

“You can always tell when a keyboard player comes from Hull………………..”

 ********

Stuart continued –

R Dean Taylor

During the final week of the R Dean Taylor tour, it became apparent that his South American tour manager had severe racists tendencies. Evidenced by his cruel racist comments towards black staff members; some of which came from Hull.

R Dean had wowed audiences throughout the week, and looked forward to end of tour party at the Holiday Inn, so a plot was hatched when he confided to the staff that the man had been “a pain” all week,

Unbeknown to the tour manager he was the subject of much plotting, giggling and scheming. His racist comments and attitude increased, to which his victims merely responded with stoic smiles. He too looked forward to the end of tour party at the Holiday Inn.

Saturday eventually came along, and the hapless tour manager was greeted by a cheerful smiling faces. The same ones he had abused and insulted throughout the week, including some of the Hull staff.

And the same faces continued to smile as they threw him full clothed into the swimming pool.

Of course those faces had now stopped.

They were roaring with laughter, with note more enthusiastic than R Dean Taylor.

“Hell hath no fury like a Hull guy scorned ???”

*******

 Now to Stuart`s final Bailey`s story –

Jimmy Ruffin toured the Bailey clubs when his re-released single “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” went to number two in the charts during 1974. Audiences loved him. Cabaret club owners adored him – but some managers had other views.

Fifteen hundred people went to watch him on the Tuesday night of his week at Bailey`s Liverpool. The majority of which were avid female fans.

His show was exceptional.

Such was the audience response that he “faked” five false tabs. By this time door staff were having difficulty holding back more than 1000 enthusiastic females, at which point Stuart demanded “enough – stop now”.

And off stormed an angry Jimmy Ruffin. Straight to the dressing room to cool down.

On the Wednesday morning he was booked to go to London to record Top of the Pops. Clearly this was an opportunity to further enhance his revived stature and appeal.

The show was to be televised the following night, Thursday.

But he never made to London, or to the Bailey`s stage for the rest of the week.

We went straight back to America.

So for the remainder of the week compère Bob Ellis had to announce –

“Due to circumstances beyond our control Jimmy Ruffin will not be appearing tonight.”

As for Jimmy Ruffin`s disappearance

Rumours quickly circulated regarding a heavy drinking session with Graham White`s brother in law and a certain entertainer with black and very swollen eyes.

As for the truth – Stuart never had the opportunity to hear Jimmy`s side of the story.

 *******

 Stuart detected a fall-out between Bailey executives Ian Young and Ray Copeland, brought on by what he interpreted as a power struggle, and left the company in August 1974.

Jeff Marshall left three months later.

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