TagThe Empire

Eddie the Eagle flies in Leicester Square – and the day Locarno Boy fell for a beautiful stranger

Many of us will remember the Winter Olympics of 1988. The year the nation met Eddie the Eagle, and the instigation for the story of – Eddie the Eagle flies in Leicester Square – and the day Locarno Boy fell for a beautiful stranger.

First Leisure had decided to revamp The Empire Leicester Square – partly because it was needed, and partly because those noisy neighbors at the Hippodrome were scrapping it out with them for the extra West End business.

This was how Eddie the Eagle came into the plot. A large ski ramp was built in Leicester Square – albeit largely for the benefit of the press and publicity purposes, and the Dave Dee Agency was contracted to send along a number of celebrities for a set fee. Eddie was to simulate a spectacular ski jump. And everything went well.

Just to keep us all up to speed with Dave Dee; he was part of the 1960s group Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky Mick and Tich group, who`s hits included “The Legend of Xanadu”, “Bend It”, “Hold Tight” and “Save Me” –

By the 1980s they had other interests – and Dave Dee was running the agency.

The weather was great for “the jump”, crowds swarmed around seeking out celebrity autographs from the VIP area. Dave Dee smiled and chatted with everyone, amid hundreds of handshakes. Joan Collins one time lover Bungalow Bill Wiggins charmed everyone, and came over as a great guy. But the one that charmed Locarno Boy the most was a gorgeous dark haired girl who smiled continually, and genuinely enjoyed meeting the public. She was not too tall, expensively dressed, and had amazing eye contact. WOW.

Inside the Empire Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith sat at one of the balcony tables overlooking the dance floor –

Later in the evening Locarno Boy was approached by a fellow manager who announced “you were doing alright this afternoon”.


“Don`t you know who you were getting along with?”

“No. But she was lovely.”

“That was Page 3 model Maria Whittaker – and you let her get away,” he laughed.







The man who said “I dont believe it!” – long before Victor Meldrew

Execute involvement reached fever pitch during the live televised final of the World Disco Dancing Championship, as was  highlighted in a comment to a previous post by Tony White.

And so unfolds a similar story, this time about the man who said “I don`t believe it!” – long before Victor Meldrew.

Clearly there is no better way to show authority and leadership, than to immediately spot a problem and find a quick way to resolve it.

Prior to live televised World Disco Dancing Championship we  were all briefed by the floor manager as to our duties. One of which was to ensure that no one leaned onto the waist high illuminated dance floor that had been build for the occasion. This briefing was not only to television and EMI employees, but also to the specially invited – and enthusiastic – audience.

And the show began. Cameras “rolled” – Peter Gordino announced – excitement abounded – then a very loud stage whisper exclaimed – “I don`t believe it!”.

Our over-motivated executive had looked at one of the many television monitors around the room and had found people leaning over the raised dancefloor talking.

“Move them off now”, came the instruction, but when we got there the stage was clear.

We returned to find our executive colleague almost apoplectic. “They are still there,” he gasped. “Get them off NOW. Oh I don`t believe this!”.

Once more we went to the stage but could not find anything wrong. When we returned our man was speechless, so he bounded over to the stage himself, where he stood looking bemused, then sheepish.

What he had not realised was that part of the show was live, but other parts were prerecorded, so the images on the monitors were from earlier in the day –

And it had suddenly dawned on him.

He never mentioned his revelation to us, but his face was a picture when an internationally famous singer had a wardrobe malfunction and flashed her boobs right in front of him. He opened his mouth but no words came out.

“I don`t believe it,” exclaimed a cheeky marketing manager.

But he couldn`t reply.

He was in shock.


EMI Leisure – The Empire Leicester Square – World Disco Dancing Championship and Ray McVay

Locarno Boy has been loaned a copy of the EMI News from November/December 1978 – and the Ray McVay image is from diversionprojects.org

Due to the huge interest in the story of Julie Brown winning the World Disco Dancing Championship, we have added a thank you letter from EMI to one of the team – alongside further information on the formation of EMI Dancing, and their London flagship venue The Empire.

The picture below shows the Tottenham Court Road team, with Richard Flateau looking in from the right. Richard is mentioned in Tony White`s comment to the Downtown Julie Brown Post. He was great guy to work with, and is fondly remembered as having the most amazing “hush puppy” eyes when even slightly tipsy.

Chris Tucker was one of the stalwarts of the company, and remained so for many years. His assistant was Manna Ponderelli, and together ran the marketing department at EMI Leisure, Trust House Forte Leisure and First Leisure -and they were given the most awful run-around by the operators – Sorry folks!

Interesting to see Chris`s title of Exploitation Manager – that must have come from the school of “shin it up the flagpole and see who salutes it” thinking.

Gary Hammond was also responsible for the overall control of The Empire, where dress restrictions were more flexible due to the number of tourists attending. If we remember correctly we had “Welcome” written in more than 25 languages above the steps leading to the dance floor.

Gary is quoted in the newspaper as saying – “There used to be two fights regularly every Friday night before EMI took over 18 months ago. We stopped it very simply by not having bouncers. If you employ heavies they are only happy if there is a bit of agro. I have six supervisors at The Empire – and no muscle. Some of them look like bank clerks – one did work in a bank – and their instruction is – if there is trouble talk your way out of it. Or recognise who the trouble makers are and stop them getting in. We don`t say “we`ll throw you out”, but rather “we`ll stop you getting in”.”

All of which is very well if you speak more than 25 languages and have good contacts in Soho!

Ray McVay the now world famous band leader was resident at The Empire, and regarded as one of its greatest assets. Gary had also observed in his interview that – “At The Empire on on any one evening, two thirds of the customers will be watching, not dancing”. So it was up to Ray to present the show, the lynch pin of which was extrovert trombone player Archie McVay – a true musician and great character to work with.

The band also had the advantage of being able to recruit “deps” (stand in musicians) from the recording studios arouind – resulting in world class artists appearing at The Empire on a regular basis. Rays band played 20 different numbers per hour, without repetition and he explained – “The music trend throughout the country is basically the same”.

The Empire is well described by Gary – who said – “We get people up to 35 to 40 years of age and they are all comfortable with one another. At The Empire we offer an informal fun venue – a multi-racial youth club, as someone once said.

The letter below was sent to one of the girls who helped with the World Disco Dancing Championsip at The Empire – signed off by Richard and Gary



Downtown Julie Brown – World Disco Dancing Champion – Plus the Celebrity Flashing Diva and a huge cardboard box

It was while working with Dave Brindle at The Empire Leicester that we first encountered Downtown Julie Brown – World Disco Dancing Champion – plus the celebrity flashing diva and a huge cardboard box.

We first met her as a  contestant in the UK heat of the EMI World Disco Dancing Championship 1979. A bubbly hopeful from Bridgend, with a huge smile, infectious laugh and a talent that powered her through to the world final. The media took to her instantly; the public became hooked, and the nationally transmitted final became “much watch” television. Peter Gordino presented the show, and a not to be named diva was booked to entertain during the show.

The truth is, we all gotten fed up with the not to be named diva long before the show began. Contractors had to be commissioned to create a seeming brand new antique dressing room for her, with some staff remarking that the fairly frequent visits to The Empire by royalty caused less fuss.

Each of us had our specific duties throughout the live broadcast, and Carol Overton, Tony White, Margaret Ealey, Bob Upsall, Steve Minchin, the staff and the whole of the television audience were united in their support for Julie.

Then it was her turn to dance “Julie Brown from Bridgend representing the United Kingdom”. I don`t think anyone took a breath from the moment she entered the dancefloor with her dazzling gold costume and multicolour beaded hair. Suddenly, as she shimmered and spun, the beads cascaded over the dance-floor and into the audience.

A disaster. Clearly it was all over!

When each of the contestants had danced it was time for the diva, who had proved throughout the day that she was far too important to speak to the likes of us. However she did her number, smiled for the cameras and ran back to her dressing room. Unfortunately she was not dressed for such momentum, which caused her bosoms to jump over the top of her dress as though in a bid for freedom, creating a spectacular flash to a large section of the invited audience. “Serves her right,” muttered a male onlooker. “Talk about believing your own press.”

The Empire went crazy when the judges announced that Julie Brown was the winner of the EMI World Disco Dancing Championship. Not only had the judges selected who they thought was the best dancer. They had also chosen one of the most humble and appreciative people you could wish to meet.

I don`t think anyone noticed our flashing diva leaving the building, but the cardboard boxes from some of her brand new antique furniture created havoc when left out for collection in Soho. Some were large enough for two people to sleep in!

Of course that was the beginning of the Downtown Julie Brown story. She went on to become a dancer on Top of the Pops in the troup “Zoo”, a presenter on Children`s television, including “Crackerjack”. Then one of the key presenters on MTV – hosting “Club MTV”. After she left MTV she went to ESPN, interviewing stars of football, then to LA to host the “E Entertainments” gossip show.

She has appeared nude in Playboy and appeared in numerous films and television productions.

Not bad for a humble and appreciative girl from Bridgend – who showered beads all over The Empire audience on national television!


Image from allmusic.com

Additional information from wikipedia



Lionel Bart – Identical Topless Girls – and the Homeless Sleepers

Whilst working with Dave Brindle at the Empire Leicester Square we held the after party for premier of “The Alternative Miss World”, which was to begin at 2.30am, after our other customers had left.

Earlier in the night we had seen the most spectacular procession moving from the direction of Coventry Street and past the front of the Empire. This was led by a man in a black Fedora and black cape, who we believed to be Lionel Bart of Oliver fame, followed by two identical topless girls  covered in a thin black sparkly material, and wearing large illuminated silver head dresses. The remaining entourage was equally spectacular, and we looked forward to welcoming them later.

Everything went well up to 2am. Our customers left, cleaning duties were carried out, and by 20 past we stood at the entrance waiting to greet our amazing guests.

What we were not prepared for was the arrival of a scruffy  group of men carrying carrier bags and large pieces of cardboard, who, despite our request to do otherwise, bedded down for the night in the doorway.

I explained that they could not stay there, but their streetwise resolve was unyielding. “Bugger off,” I was told. “We`ve slept here for 15 years.”

There was no doubt about it. I needed help.

Luckily Dave was better skilled at dealing with such situations, and a compromise was reached. “The Alternative Miss World” after -party went well, but one thing was for certain –

I had much more to learn about living and working in the West End night clubs.


Image from encounters-festival. org.uk

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