TagPagoda Park

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!


A New Years Eve to Cherish – Mike Hilkene at Pagoda Park

When I think of a Birmingham New Year`s Eve, one of my happiest  thoughts is of Mike Hilkene and Pagoda Park – brilliantly supported by Andy Foster on the “ride up and down” DJ consul, plus lots of very pretty people and a sea of Moet Chandon from giant bottles.

Mike and his club was a perfect match. Each had style and confident aspiration.

Who else would call one of his wealthy customers to ask how much champagne to put on ice, and then ring another customer to say what the first had ordered?

If one ordered a bottle – the other ordered a Magnum – then Mike called the first one again – and the order went up to a Jeroboam – then another phone call – and a Methuselah was put on ice.

I don`t think he ever got up to a Nebuchadnezzar, but it certainly wasn`t for the want of trying.

Mike was a showman, with a style of his own, and his New Year`s Eve events resembled the aftermath of an Oscars ceremony.

Everyone was treated like a star

Because Mike knew that was how it should be.

One minute you are up – the next you are down. Riding the DJ lift at Pagoda Park

It looks as though the former Pagoda Park club has reopened under another yet guise and with another image.

Yet of all the images it has portrayed, Pagoda Park will take some beating.

The first club on the site was La Dolce Vita, which was a tremendous success, bringing star cabaret into the centre of Birmingham as part of the Bailey chain of clubs, with Tony Spragg as General Manager. Romeo and Juliet`s, and  then Steptoes followed, under the management of Peter Clements.

Then along came Pagoda Park.

The name clearly gives the theme away and it was manager Mike Hilkene who powered the club into the higher echelons of UK clubbing, where the legend still lingers.

Set on two levels, the DJ worked on what may have been the first moving consul, as he entertained customers on two floors. Andy Foster was resident here for quite some time, but the involvement of DJ extraordinaire Chris Sharples – pictured below is an huge asset to any business.

Chris is seen here working on the Pagoda Park moving DJ consul, at a time when DJs didn`t  travel light. Note the telephone handset for cueing and mixing!


There are many more tales to tell about Pagoda Park, and certainly many more from Chris about the Birmingham club world . One of the most entertaining night club raconteurs you will every meet.

One minute you are up – the next you are down. Riding the DJ lift at Pagoda Park – home of great entertainers.

Note – Barry Smith copied the Pagoda Park club at Japanese Whispers in Barnsley.


Image from localdatasearch.com 


I had the pleasure of working with Jacqui when her name was Jackie

“I had the pleasure of working with Jacqui when her name was Jackie lol.

We worked together at The New Pagoda Park in Birmingham, and was Jacqui’s first G.M. job with First Leisure. All eyes were upon her in more ways than one!!

The venue was ran very successfully by Mike Hilkene, after Mike had left the venue trade started to drop off and the prior 2-3 years trade was very poor. I found Jacqui to be hard working, tough and always looking for a business opportunity, all those qualities ensured the venue was soon running successfully along side budget and life had been restorted to the venue. Then the company decided to increase prices across the board and the fight was on again.

Lovely, lovely person and enjoyed working along side Jacqui.”

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