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Soho porn king with Antrim roots: Paul Raymond's son recalls naked dancers, pet cheetah and Hollywood A-listers

By Jonny Bell

Published 23/09/2016

Howard Raymond, son of the King of Soho Paul Raymond.
Howard Raymond, son of the King of Soho Paul Raymond.
21st July 1967: Club owner Paul Raymond and four of his revue dancers, who are on their way to Aden to entertain the troops. The dancers are Carole Ryva, Jean Crabtree, Lady Flan and Sandra Bunting. (Photo by C. Maher/Express/Getty Images)
18/02/1988 Paul Raymond
18/02/1988 Paul Raymond
Paul Raymond seen with Fiona Richmond in London after an edition of his 'Men Only' magazine was read by a High Court jury to decide whether or not it was indecent or obscene.

The self-styled King of Soho - Paul Raymond - was one of the most colourful characters in recent British history opening the first hugely successful strip club in London and going on to become one of the country's richest men. On his first visit to Northern Ireland, son Howard talks about life in his father's kingdom.

Howard Raymond takes a seat in Belfast's Merchant Hotel, takes a look around the surroundings of its Great Room and deems it "eclectic".

"Eclectic yes, quite opulent, I do like it," says the  56-year-old businessman.

This coming from a man whose father was once dubbed the British Hugh Hefner, a trend-setter in London's West End for strip clubs, gay bars, a pornographer, among the wealthiest men in the country and the self-styled King of Soho.

Surely life growing up in his household was bound to be a little eclectic, I ask.

"Oh yes, when you look back on it now probably, but for me it was a normal life," he smiles.

Hailing from Antrim, the Quinns left Ireland for Liverpool just before the dawn of the 1920s and in 1925 along came Geoffrey Anthony Quinn - Howard's father.

He and his two brothers became successful each in their own right. One a pilot the other a doctor and Anthony - or Paul Raymond as he became - saw his name in lights in London.

"But he was always the black sheep of the family," Howard continued.

"My grandmother was a devout Catholic, I never saw her in anything other than black, they never wanted anything other than my father to be a bank clerk."

Paul Raymond with Fiona Richmond in London after an edition of his 'Men Only' magazine was read by a High Court jury to decide whether or not it was indecent or obscene. Pic: PA Wire
Paul Raymond with Fiona Richmond in London after an edition of his 'Men Only' magazine was read by a High Court jury to decide whether or not it was indecent or obscene. Pic: PA Wire
Steve Coogan as Paul Raymond and Tamsin Egerton as Fiona Richmond in the film The Look of Love based on Paul Raymond's life.
21st July 1967: Club owner Paul Raymond and four of his revue dancers, who are on their way to Aden to entertain the troops. The dancers are Carole Ryva, Jean Crabtree, Lady Flan and Sandra Bunting. (Photo by C. Maher/Express/Getty Images)
18/02/1988 Paul Raymond
18/02/1988 Paul Raymond
Paul Raymond seen with Fiona Richmond in London after an edition of his 'Men Only' magazine was read by a High Court jury to decide whether or not it was indecent or obscene.

Anthony - given the Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn and the fashion for French-sounding names at the time changed to Paul Raymond - first dipped his toe into the show business world as a mind reader.

He then toured a show of nudes. To get around the laws at the time about what could be on stage the women did not move, but instead were paraded around on podiums.

Soon the the lure of London proved irresistible.

In 1958 to circumvent laws prohibiting striptease, he opened the private club, the Raymond Revuebar - which members could sign up to on the the door.

It became a sensation boasting of 45,000 members and was the place to be for all the stars of the day.

Actor John Mills, comedian Peter Sellers, the boxer Cassius Clay would have all paid a visit.

A young Howard Raymond.
A young Howard Raymond.

Unique in its time - it had a casino, restaurant and theatre all under one roof - the club became a Soho landmark, only closing its doors in 2004.

Later came Madam JoJo's, the first gay bar in London.

Raymond used the profits to enter the world of adult publishing with hugely popular titles including Razzle, Men's World and Mayfair. He also bought up large chunks of Soho. Today large swathes of the district remain under his family's ownership.

"It was a great upbringing," continues Howard.

"There was never a time I thought it was rubbish. But looking back on it there were odd times. We had the big house, the staff and I would go to my father's office and the girls would be rehearsing during the day and just walking about naked. It was par for the course.

"I remember the first night at boarding school we were all asking about our pets and what their names were and I asked what the boys called their cheetah.

"We had a cheetah. It had a cushion in the living room and when someone called it would be the first to greet them. For me that was normal and I thought everyone had one as a pet."

"My mother once went ballistic because my father brought home the Kray brothers and the Richardsons one night. They were sworn enemies, the two biggest gangs in London who had been killing each other and here they were partying with my father in our living room one night in some kind of ceasefire.

"They probably went off and shot each other the day after.

Howard with his father, mother and sister Debbie.
Howard with his father, mother and sister Debbie.
Howard with his father, mother and sister Debbie.

"But that was closer to the end of my parents' relationship when work and family life became blurred for my father. My mother wouldn't have it."

Raymond and his wife Jean Bradley split up and over his affair with the soft porn actress Fiona Richmond.

Regarded by many as charming, generous and a serial womaniser, when asked about his father, Howard is quick to respond, "shy," he says.

"And a devout catholic.

"It was a real struggle for him. There were times he would go quiet and just take himself off. It was very contradictory.

"One of the magazines ran a four or six-page spread on one girl and as part of the set she was wearing a cross and my father hated it.

"So he ordered the pages to all be ripped out of the magazine before they got to the shop. They all had to be taken out by hand - can you imagine? He was that furious."

Howard says that such was the notoriety of his father that when he joined a Christian Brothers school he was soon sent packing as, in his words, "they didn't want his type" associated with the school.

And when it came to his sister Debbie's burial after her death in "suspicious circumstances", the church refused at first. Clergy did raise the problem the church had with the roof, but a somewhat smaller donation helped the provide for a short funeral.

He was also targeted by two decorators who posed as members of the IRA in a bid to extort money.

"But it was all picture postcard stuff looking back," continues Howard.

"Yes there was outrage and plenty of it at the time. The police visited the club that many times, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission - really - examined one of our take-overs of a magazine. It was ground-breaking stuff at the time but it was all tame.

"It was as I said Victoria picture postcard stuff, you would put it on the coffee table now, no question.

"But I had a great life and wouldn't change a thing."

Paul Raymond passed away of respiratory failure in 2008.

"And despite 45 years of being told to make sure he got the last rites, I nearly forgot," says Howard.

In tribute to his late father Howard has crafted his own gin, The King of Soho. 

"When my father arrived in London it was either pale ale or gin. And he drank the ale first and when he became more sophisticated he turned to the gin.

"We put a lot of time and effort into it and I am so pleased with the results, the bottle, the brand, but most of all it's a dam fine gin.

"I wanted to get the spirit of Soho in the brand. Everyone knows about Soho so we had to think. It's a hunting ground, so we have the fox, the peacock's feather in his hat because people would watch you walk down the street, the velvet suit for the hedonism and of course he is a creature of the night.

"And it works, people have got it.

"There are those that remember my dad then there are those who want to know the story behind it and it is bringing it all back. It is a proper tribute to my father."

A film about his father was made starring Steve Coogan, but Howard has never watched it, nor intends to, as "it was nothing more than a fiction piece". And another - titled The King of Soho - is in the pipeline which Howard is backing.

Despite the family ties to Co Antrim Howard's visit to Belfast is his first. Struck by the prettiness of the city - and its free-flowing traffic - he intends to return to properly trace his roots. Knowing little of his roots only that the family grave is somewhere next to a pub.

"It would have to be," Howard jokes.

The King of Soho gin is stocked in The Vineyard, Belfast Ormeau Road and at Lavery's.

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