TagFirst Leisure

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.


“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!





Former Black Orchid Nightclub Nottingham Opens for Special One Nighter on Saturday 23rd – Sunday 24th March 2013

It`s absolutely true and everyone at Locarno Boy is delighted!

Former Black Orchid Nightclub Opens for Special One Nighter on Saturday the 23rd – Sunday 24th March 2013

Neglected and abandoned after years of mismanagement and abuse, the former entertainment icon – The Black Orchid Nottingham, once again opened its doors for “Shakedown” – possibly the first nightclub squat.

This time there was a massive obstacle to overcome – the interior of the building resembled a bomb-site .

But the organisers were not deterred.


Health and safety risk assessments were undertaken. Electricity generated. Toilets connected with running water. And the mother of all clean-up operations completed.

This may have been the first nightclub squat, but the organisers had no intention of scrimping on safety aspects

Four police officers made a short visit to the event, saw no problems and left.

“From Nottingham and around the country Shakedown brought together the best soundsystems, party collectives, performers, visual artists and community groups for a big DIY all night party” – quoted Nottingham Indymedia. Which is exactly what the building was designed and built for.

Furthermore it  ridiculous that the building has stood empty for so long, victim to to the folly and foolishness of poor management, ground-hog day thinking and incompetence.

What the organisers of this event achieved in such a short space of time is outstanding, and we complement them for giving the former Black Orchid the opportunity to entertain as only she knows best.

Yes – we are aware that the “Orchid” was refurbished as “Isis”, but by then magic was fading.


Isis was as Egyptian goddess, and the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden……….. And we at Locarno believe that she was also the friend of those who go out and make things happen in a responsible and peaceful manner


The image on this post is from Nottingham Indymedia. You will find further images and details of the event by using the following link –



Note – Many thanks to Nick North for supplying this link



The biggest cheer went up for the Pink Coconut Derby mug

We`ve had pictures, fliers, booklets, stories, uniforms, secrets, memories, rumors and confessions sent into the Locarno Boy office – but the biggest cheer went up for the Pink Coconut Derby mug.

Anyone who bought a mug would have bought it from Sonia – who doubled up as one of the first CCTV operators – and she was the master!

While those inside the club danced to Madonna, Huey Lewis, The Thompson Twins, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Starship, Tears for Fears, WHAM, Phil Collins, USA for America, Chicago etc – Sonia kept  a watchful eye on those outside.

A moving camera at the bottom of the street identified those misbehaving – and a camera secreted at the front door captured the rest of the action.

Unfortunately the local idiots knew nothing about such technology – among which was the under brained  local football hooligans the Derby Lunatic Fringe (DLF) – who were upset at being banned from the club.

As retribution they contacted the Birmingham City hooligans – the Zulu Warriors – and asked them to create mayhem at the Pink Coconut. Which they did.

They charged the front doors with scaffold poles – which were jabbed through the slatted glass doors in an attempt to injure the security staff.

Eventually the police arrived, none of the staff was hurt, and the idiots dispersed. Any that were caught later denied ever having been near the Pink Coconut, and had an “alibi” from the DLF. Eventually solicitors pleaded their innocence, in the name of poor identification and wrongful arrests.

Alibis crumbled when they saw the CCTV images – and Sonia became a legend.

Word soon spread that if you caused any problems in range of the cameras Sonia would find you.

And her fame spread even further when Douglas Hurd, the then Home Secretary, viewed the footage when he visited Derby Police Station in 1985, to see the pioneering partnership work being undertaken between the Police and the licensed trade.

The working title of the partnership was PubWatch –

But that`s a whole new story for another day!










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