London-West End

Festival Hall-Festival Club.


After our thoroughly enjoyable little stay at Lyons Corner House, we had a tendancy to wander up towards the Coliseum Theatre, and dive down a little alley called (I think) Bridges Alley, or Bridgers Alley. This led nowhere in particular, like a lot of most interesting alleys and small, narrow, ways in London, if not to pass directly in front of the stage entrance of the theatre. Just after, in fact almost opposite, the stage entrance, was a little door (one would have said a back door to a shop or something like that) with a small, very conservative plaque "Festival Club", and a simple form of communicating system:- " ring - reply- enter" (if they knew you!) "ring - reply - byebye" (if they didn't). This was the entrance to one of the thousands of "clubs" in the Capital of the epoch, which called themselves variably "Gentlemans club" or "Supper Club" and had absolutely nothing at all to do with the famed "Gentlemen's Clubs" well known for the blackballing systems! These clubs were much more modest affairs, and basically boiled down to the premises which were described in one of the morals of the times: "Blessed are the rich - who can afford the clubs, where they can go on drinking, when the poor have left the pubs".
As a "supper club" licensed club member, one had to:
a) be a member at a very modest annual fee,
b)accept that almost everytime you were in the place after 11pm the police metropolitan would raid it,
c) be prepared (after 22.30hrs) to purchase a "snack" or "supper" with every drink. (Of course it always finally worked out that you bought 1 x "supper" and as many drinkies as you wanted! Just never have an empty plate - always leave a little bit of the omelette/baked potatoe etc on the plate.
A burger was sufficient, taking care to leave the salad items on the plate, ready for the Police raid - it was proof, and you could be so occupied eating your salad that not even a British Copper would dream of asking you for proof that you had eaten.
Mainly omelettes were ordered - they were edible even when cold...and passed better tgo gin & tonics, although a glass of wine could be taken - keep your options and your eyes open!
This, together with your receipt for same, were the proof required by the efficient Metropolitan Police that you were "on the level". Of course, they only came after 23hrs because their own canteen/bar had closed, not having the advantages of a "Supper Club Licence" and the local pubs had got wise to the ways of the police force. Don't forget - these were the days of the Kray twins and brothers, and it was murmured (behind a sheltering hand) that the Met. was playing second fiddle to these gentlemen from East London! Not that all this really bothered or even interested us. Here one met the most diversified clientele.Apart from the men from the Met., one was constantly amazed by apparitions, demanding a gin and tonic, or a whisky, very quickly. Particularly around the Christmas and New Year period when "panto" was on stage. It was perfectly normal to encounter the 3 ugly sisters, or Tinkerbelle herself, possibly a Peter Pan or two, and I can assure you, these creatures (up close) are no beautiful sight to behold, full of make-up and cream, mixed with sweat and maybe even tears! Beautiful - no, but mesmerising, and generally so hysterically screaming as to be almost untrue. It was in this bar/supper club, that I had the honour to meet many actors who were already household names, or were to become so in the near future. Not all of them, by a long chalk, were actually that in real life which they stood for on the TV/Radion or the stage. More unamusing people than stage/TV comics in real life are difficult to find. Maybe because they are obliged to laugh all the time in professional life, but in private life, they have mainly scowls on their faces. Occasionally they make take a liking to you, and then you will get a beam or a smile, together with a half-way polite conversation - but don't talk stage!! The nearness of the stage door provoked all sorts of apparitions, and provoked all sorts of squabbles, but it also brought national and international stars into the supper club, if only for a few moments. To be sitting at the bar and hear a vaguely familiar voice in the ear asking "escoose me plis", is quite charming, and particularly so when one turns to find a Marlene Dietrich at one's elbow!!

 Frankly, one is too overwhelmed to make any profitable attempts at anything!
One tries NOT to look too flabbergasted and stupid, and one tries to re-close the wide opened mouth, as though it is a daily occurence, but generally it is too late!
Actual theatre visitors/lovers we were not, I think I can count on one hand the occasions I have been to a theatre, but concerts and opera rather more, so musicians,singers, etc were more recognizable for us.
I confess that it is rather disconcerting to see and talk to someone who is vaguely familiar, but who you simply can't place, only to be told afterwards that this was the "so and so" who had played the role of "such and such" in Cleopatra, or The King and I, or the film version of "Pygmalion" ( forget the name).
These were certainly different things from Clapham South or Tooting Bec or Paisley, or Bolton! Then again, these famous people had never had the care and attention of George and his brother - or had they?
Anyway, in the manner of good things, time flew, and regularly the last Underground had gone without us, and we were obliged to wait (normally for hours) for a night service bus which went somewhere close to Wandsworth/Clapham etc, thus enabling us to find our way home. Now and then I simply stayed in the area (it wasn't like it is now - dangerous and full of nuts) and partook of the "eternal" (it filled itself up if you wanted it to -all for the same price) cup of coffee in the despised "Wimpy Bar" which did stay open all night, and then take off for either the first Underground, or simply to the place of work (if working on holidays etc). In this way, I spent some considerable time in walking between Strand/Trafalgar Square down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey (generally arriving way ahead of time for work, and having to spend time in the "cloisters" of the Abbey - where there were benches, and it was quiet enough to catch a nap) sometimes even to Victoria Station . It was all possible at the time - wars there were, but terrorists (even the IRA were reasonable at the time) murderers most foul, agressors were few and far between, and life could be lived. Nowadays, I doubt if I would have the right to ten minutes in the area, without being controlled and/or moved on - or murdered!
Such is progress - and anyway, I wouldn't want to be there anymore. I can imagine that the Festival Supper Club has been closed a long time ago, the Theatre is in full demise, the 24hr Post Office probably doesn't open anymore, Lyon's Corner House (and the wimpy bar) together with the Brasserie, George's brother, the Kummels which were always coming, are all things of the past, to be wondered over, as tradition demands.