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!


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.


“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!





The tale of Ray Park`s letter of complaint about himself

If all the people who ever worked with Ray were to get together for of an evening of Ray stories, someone would have to tell the tale of Ray Park`s letter of complaint about himself.

It all began when Ray and various EMI Leisure executives, including Operations Director Mike Payne, met with Bernard Lee from John Smith`s Brewery to discuss the supply of beer to the company, and the importance of the quality of the beer. Ray was responsible for all food and drinks at the highly successful Bailey`s Cabaret Club at Watford, which included all beers sold there.

So you can imagine the explosive response to the letter of complaint that landed on the Mike Payne`s desk, not only within days of the meeting, but also regarding Ray Park and Bailey`s Watford.

Mike demanded that Ray attended a meeting at his office. Which he did.

Few people ever saw the letter, but the general content  went as follows –

Dear Mr Payne

I am writing to complain about the attitude of your catering manager Mr Park, at Bailey`s Watford, and about the quality of the beer on sale there.

When I spoke to him about the poor quality beer he insisted there was nothing wrong with it.

When I asked him how he could be so sure, he replied – “I know there is nothing wrong with it because I poured two buckets of fresh water into it this morning”.

Mr Payne was furious.

Mr Park smiled and asked, “Who is the letter from?”

Mr Payne went silent then growled, “A Mr John Smith from Tadcaster.”

Shouting and laughter sounded from the office.

And Ray`s final comment as he left the office –

“No Mr Payne, my parents were definitely married”.

More laughter,


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Now for the small matter of your 20.000 volts test

I never heard Ray Park use personal pronouns. He had no need of them. He was a self assured professional, whose clients included Elton John, Princess Margaret, Princess Ann and a whole host more. He was responsible for the catering at the incredibly successful Bailey`s Cabaret Club Watford, and everyone knew he was the best.

The club General Manager was Graham White; a strong and powerful Middlesrough born man, who dealt with the idiosyncrasies of Freddy Starr, ensured that Les Dawson had a piano that was in tune-  and a bottle of whisky each night. He was also the person the manager of a successful soul group pulled a gun on when he disagreed with their stage timing.

In temperament they were absolute opposites, but in reality they were a very successful team.

Ray was also an astute business man, with a zero tolerance for those he considered to be time-wasters. So you will imagine his annoyance at the steady stream of “job applicants” from the Job Centre, who had no interest whatsoever in the job advertised. All they wanted was a signature to say they had attended the interview, which would allow them to continue receiving benefits.

In such cases Ray would only provide a signature after one of his special interviews –

He had advertised at the job centre for a kitchen porter. The applicant arrived on site, Ray began the interview, then announced – “Now for the small matter of your 20,000 volts test. You can stand 20,000 volts can`t you?”

“I don`t know.”

“Then we must test you.” announced Ray.

Contractors had been working in the kitchen, and Ray had asked them to plaster a length of thick electrical cable into the wall, leaving the bare copper inner cable protruding, then twisted to form two handles. The cable was only a couple of feet long and not connected to anything.

“There you go,” announced Ray. “Luckily you are wearing the correct type of shoes, so nothing to worry about.” By now the applicant was beginning to tremble “Ready, steady……GO”. At which point Ray threw the switch that produced an enormous roar from the kitchen ventilation.

The scream from the poor applicant was said to  echo through the kitchen for weeks afterwards.

Ray helped the man to his feet, signed the form, then watched the fastest ever exit from the building.

Fortunately I never had to be interviewed by Ray, but I did have pleasure of working with him on a number of occasions, and enjoyed every minute.

God bless you  Ray


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“You don’t need doormen in Paradise”

It all started on the Thursday night in what was billed “The most beautiful discotheque in the World” Paradise Lost in Watford. And what a truely beautiful venue it was, lakes, waterfalls, fountains, bridges two dance floors and three restaurants one being French.

The General Manager – Andy McGrath had recently arrived from the Pink Coconut in Brighton, and on this particular Thursday night there was an incident where a customer was stuck by one of our doormen.

On the Friday night Andy interviewed the doorman in question and decided to suspend him while he conducted further inquiries. The remaining Door staff did not like this course of action and threatened Andy that if he did not change his mind they would walk out. It was a Friday night with an expected crowd of 2,000 ,coupled with the fact that the club had a troublesome past, only six months before one of our doorman was shot whilst standing on the front door and things had only started to calm down with the induction of this new door team.

Surely Andy would find a compromise… His reply to the threat was “I’m not changing my mind” with that the doormen collected their belongings and left. The time was 22.30hr’s and I was left on the front door on my own.

I stopped letting people in, closed the doors and cleared reception.

Andy then appeared in reception asking why the doors were shut. I said Andy we haven’t got any doorman!!!

Andy replied…”You don’t need doormen in Paradise” with that the doors were opened and between the four Managers we got through the night incident free.

Andy Mcgrath a living legend.


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