An impresario and porn baron for more than 50 years, Paul Raymond brought pornography out of the back streets and into the mainstream of British life.
Dubbed the King of Tease, his publishing empire produced a vast range of magazines which sold in their thousands, whilst his nude stage shows such as Pyjama Tops and Let’s Get Laid enjoyed record breaking runs in London’s West End.
His nightclub, Raymond’s Revue Bar, the self-styled World Centre of Erotic Entertainment in Soho, was a landmark of London nightlife and was promoted as the symbol of his success.
Although his business made him a multi-million pound property tycoon and his name appeared annually in the Sunday Times Rich List, Raymond never gained the social acceptance he craved.
Ruthless in both his private and public life, his empire was worth over £600 million, yet he had few friends and much of his life was dogged by tragedy.
Paul Raymond was born Geoffrey Anthony Quinn in 1925, the son of a Liverpool haulage contractor. He left school at 15 and worked as an office boy for a Manchester ship canal company.
In an attempt to avoid military service, he feigned a heart condition but was passed A1 fit and served two years in the RAF as a bandsman. As a sideline, he went into the black market selling nylons and petrol coupons.
Determined to get into showbusiness, he bought a mind-reading act from the clown Ravel for £25 and got his first break appearing in a variety show on Clacton Pier in 1947. His partner was Gaye Dawn and the pair were billed as Mr and Mrs Tree – pronounced mystery. He split with Dawn when she became pregnant and although he supported his son Derry, it was years before he actually met him.
He went on to become a producer of nude, low-budget variety revues touring the country. A ruling by the Lord Chamberlain, then the supreme licensing authority, prohibited any movement of nudes on the stage, so the shows featured a tableaux in which the girls posed naked to the waist often against tatty scenery.
Although the shows were to prove the death knell of family variety, they were popular with post-war male audiences and made Raymond a small fortune. With the profits he opened the Raymond Revue Bar in Soho in 1958 as a private members’ club and presented lavish, colourful stage shows that included both male and female nudity – a type of entertainment then unknown in Britain.
In 1961 a judge labelled the club “filthy, disgusting and beastly” and fined Raymond £5,000 for keeping a disorderly house. But the venue was hugely successful and Raymond grew rich on membership fees. Often photographed wearing trendy long hair and expensive fur coats, he had made half a million pounds by 1965. As he wryly commented: “There will always be sex – always, always, always”.
Raymond married Jean Bradley, a dancer, in 1951 and had two children by her, Debbie and Howard. Although they were together for 23 years, the marriage was a stormy one and family life came second to Raymond.
After a long-term relationship with the porn actress Fiona Richmond, Jean sued him for divorce in 1974. It was rumoured that she received the highest settlement in legal history for the time.
With the profits from the Revue Bar, Raymond began publishing soft porn magazines and in 1969 he bought the Whitehall Theatre in London where he staged the sex comedy Pyjama Tops, starring Fiona Richmond and comedian Chubby Oates. The play ran for five and a half years and prompted a string of sequels, such as What, No Pyjamas? and Come Into My Bed.
Raymond also produced shows at the Windmill and Royalty Theatres and ironically was responsible for discovering the gay comedian Larry Grayson who compered the all-male revue Birds of a Feather (1968).
More surprising was his ownership of the Boulevard Theatre, the fringe venue which hosted the Comedy Strip in the heydays of the alternative comedy revolution. Over the years the site played host to the likes of Eddie Izzard, Jerry Sadowitz and Danny La Rue.
In the early seventies, Raymond launched Men Onlyand Club International, two up-market porn magazines with a quota of factual and lifestyle articles. Although spurned by the main distributors, their glossy appearance enabled him to sell them through small, local newsagents. The top shelf magazine was born.
In 1977, Soho was the target of a crackdown on corruption by the Obscene Publications Squad. Several members of the “Dirty Squad” were convicted of receiving bribes from Soho strip club owners and 500 policemen subsequently resigned. Following the crackdown, many of Soho’s semi-legal enterprises scaled down their activities or left altogether.
Raymond, however, remained and took full advantage of falling property prices, buying up Soho street by street. Come 1980, he owned 60 of its 87 acres. Later, his property folio extended to Hampstead, Kensington and Notting Hill.
In 1996 he sold the Revue Bar to his long-term business associate Gerard Simi. He continued to own the freehold, however, and in 2004, saw its potential as prime real estate and raised the annual rent from £150,000 to £275,000. When Simi was unable to pay, the bailiffs moved in.
After her divorce, Jean Raymond ended up living in a two bedroom flat in Nottinghamshire on a £40 a week state pension. When she died of cancer in 2002 Raymond did not attend her funeral. His first son Derry was brought up on £1 a week maintenance his father provided, later raised to £1.50.
Raymond’s affair with Fiona Richmond ended and, estranged from his second son Howard, his only close relationship had been with his daughter Debbie who was his business associate and heir apparent. She died of an accidental dug overdose in 1992, leaving two daughters, Fawn and India Rose.
Already withdrawing from public attention and suffering from ill health, Raymond spent his final years as a recluse, rarely venturing outside his penthouse flat behind the Ritz Hotel in London. Shortly before she died, his wife Jean said: “Paul’s fortune hasn’t brought him any happiness. In his last call he said he wanted to become a recluse because people liked him only because of his money. He sounded so sad and lonely”.
Raymond died on March 2, 2008, aged 82 and is survived by his two sons and two granddaughters.