TagThe Dome

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!


The Dome – truly a New Years Eve to Remember

New Year`s Eve at The Dome  Birmingham was always a memorable occasion.

It was made even more special towards the end of the 1980s by the skill and showmanship of resident disc jockey Franklin Hughes.

Franklin was one of the great names from Radio Trent, and unlike many radio DJs at that time, could produce a brilliant club show.

There was also something special about the actual Dome itself. Even without customers, lighting or music, it had an amazing atmosphere all of its own.

Add this to Franklin`s talent, throw in the excitement of New Year`s Eve, then stand back to be absolutely amazed.

And this particular night truly was amazing – in more ways than the huge audience anticipated.

Franklin could really sing.

So he stopped playing music after the countdown to midnight – and he sang.

And the whole room joined in with him – and continued to do so for almost half an hour.

Now that really was a New Year`s Eve to remember.

Bon Viveur

I was at university at Wolverhampton from 1985 to 1988. I was president of the law society. We started running a bus over to the Dome on Thursday nights. It ended up with us taking 11 buses – 300 plus people.

I was called into the student union and asked to stop as the bar takings were so down. It was a moment in time and simply special.

Happy days.

The Best laid plans – or how not to be a Dome cracker!

In one of my stints at The Dome Birmingham, yet another robbery attempt took place that just highlights the need for meticulous planning. Having been labelled a jinx by John Bunce,due to the attempts to rob The Dome whilst I worked there. This was attempt 2 of 3 in my residencies.

On this particular occasion we arrived to a scene from the Texas chainsaw fire door massacre. The robbers had used a cutting disc to gain entry by cutting a flap in the fire door, then through the cash office and into the inner cash office, which held 2 safes.The safe to the left had a right angled piece cut into it and levered back like a sardine can and with marks into the four inches of concrete – but no success in opening the safe.

It transpired that when the would be robbers entered the outer cash office, they triggered a recording system. Their voices were recorded in a conversation something along these lines

Robber 1 to safecracker “this is the safe we want opening man”

Safecracker to robber 1 “I don’t do this type of safe, I do domestics… I’m off”

Robber 1 to Robber 2 ” Use the cutter on that safe(the one on the left)”

About 5 minutes of grinding noises now follow and then Robber 2 to robber 1 “Never gonna get in here man… Let’s get out of here..” They now leave.

Planning is everything – Had our hapless pair done their homework they would have realised that the best safe would have been the one on the right. The one on the left, had they managed to get through the 1 inch of metal and four inches of concrete, would have revealed a tin with 67p and a load of receipts or the Petty Cash Box.

The one on the right was Saturday nights takings and probably in excess of £40,000.

Oh the youth of today!

The pulling power of The Dome

You can force a nightclub onto a city, and force a city onto a nightclub – but every once in a while a nightclub and a city join together as though by divine intervention.

And so it was that The Dome and the City of Birmingham united to create one of the must “visit venues” in one of the “must visit cities” of the late 1980s.

If you then add the management style of D, you have an interesting recipe for success – although as Regional Manager you are never quite certain what is going to happen next – so it was quite normal to find the cast from a touring musical on stage performing numbers from Grease or Rocky Horror. Even the gents turned theatrical when Segue Segue Sputnik lined up at the urinals in full stage gear.

On one particular night he had a full show running in the club, Kim Wild in the pre-club lounge, and Nicky Campbell interviewing someone as part of a live television show. UB40 were regulars in the French restaurant, as well as the footballers from Aston Villa, West Brom and Birmingham City, and the cast of Crossroads.

D was a natural at organising and socialising in the restaurant, so it was no surprise to go into the club one Saturday evening to find two rows of tables, each set out for twenty two people.

Another of D`s qualities was that he wore his heart on his sleeve. So when I asked him who the tables were for, he immediately replied, “these are for xxxxxx`s son`s twenty first birthday party”, as he pointed to the row on the left. “And the ones on the right are for twenty two available ladies, all paid for by xxxxxx`s father – I have three grand cash to cover the costs”.

Sometimes words don`t come too easily, but before I could speak D added that the father had also paid for a whole floor of the Holiday Inn for them, but there were conditions. The girls were to act as a hen party, and the guys were not to be told the real story – so it was up to them to “pull”, all of which created an amazing “must watch” event.

At this point I ought to clarify any mental images you may have created. Firstly the guys were all from wealthy families, and extremely well dressed; secondly you must dispel any images of French tarts and girls in tiny mini-skirts and low tops. These girls were gorgeous and expensively dressed, so the scene was set for a very interesting night.

Clearly the guys were over-awed by the girls, and the girls played very hard to get, then slowly they began to interact, but of course the shier guys needed extra coaxing from the “spare” girls. All of which seemed to be orchestrated by D, with an enormous grin on his face.

Did they all pair off?

I think they did.

Did they all go back to the Holiday Inn?

Sorry – can`t say –  that would be  just too much information.




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