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Soho’s Windmill Theatre loses operating licence

The Windmill Theatre in Soho, London The Windmill Theatre in Soho, London
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The Windmill Theatre, where comics such as Bruce Forsyth and Tommy Cooper made names for themselves, has lost its licence to operate.

Westminster City Council has stripped the lap-dancing venue of its licence following an investigation, initiated by a women’s rights group, that found “no touching” rules were being flouted.

In a statement, council leader Nickie Aiken said there was a “thin line between seedy and bohemian” and added that what was happening at the club was “crossing that line”.

“After careful review of the evidence provided for and against the renewal of this sexual entertainment licence, we decided not to renew the venue’s licence. Serious breaches of licence conditions will not be tolerated in Westminster’s licensed venues,” Aiken said.

She added: “We expect any business operating under a licence within our city to do so in a safe and responsible way, ensuring protection of all those who come into contact with this form of entertainment.”

The venue was founded by Laura Henderson as a playhouse in 1931, opening with a play by Michael Barringer, called Inquest. It soon became a home for variety acts, under the banner Revudeville, and went on to become famous for its nude tableaux. This, and Henderson, were the subject of the film and musical Mrs Henderson Presents.

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The venue famously never closed during the Blitz.

After Henderson died in 1944, the Windmill continued to be operated by manager Vivian Van Damm and was home to comedians including Tony Hancock, Forsyth and Cooper.

Forsyth, who died last year, made his first appearance at the Windmill Theatre in 1941, where he met and later formed a double act with the dancer Penny Calvert, who became his first wife in 1953.

The Windmill has 21 days to appeal the council’s decision.