He proved that, should we have been in any doubt at all, the wages of sin are frankly astronomical. View all 3 comments.
Apr 17, F. The reason I read this book is that recently I saw the movie with Steve Coogan, where he was just a bit too Alan Partridge to really convince as the man who truly brought sex to Soho, as a porn king, as a hugely wealthy property tycoon. The film itself was entertaining in a forgettable way, but it lacked a certain depth, so I was hoping the book would rectify that. Friends and family queue up to attest that for all his bonhomie, for all the time they spent with him, Raymond was a deeply reticent and enigmatic individual.
He never seems to have truly opened the door to anyone, even to the point that he was married to his wife for years before she realised that he had an illegitimate son he was paying maintenance to. This evasiveness means that Paul Raymond is a tricky subject for the reader to peruse, but I imagine it was even trickier for his biographer.
Paul Raymond, spiv turned end of the pier performer turned strip club owner turned sex baron turned property tycoon turned billionaire. To fill in the gaps Willetts gives us the world around Raymond, with picturesque interludes from the musky and dark streets of Soho at night. So we have spivs, dodgy geezers, bent coppers and outright villains. There are a few flourishes where he clearly aims to be a poet of the sex shops and seedy side streets, but for the most part the book is plodding and pedestrian. Yet we do have a big and yet very human story here.
A driven and successful man who thought he had it all and then ran face first into tragedy. His beloved club went to the wall and the internet put paid to his publishing empire, Of course the money remains, but over time and generations that too will fritter way.
All that will be left is the name and a few memories. So for all his prominence in life, future generations will doubtless ask: who was Paul Raymond and why on Earth does he matter? Dec 03, Tim Pendry rated it really liked it Shelves: crime , london-guides , biography , british , sexuality-erotica , business , cultural-studies , history , popular-culture , public-policy. First a disclaimer.
LONDON’S REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT: THE KING OF SOHO
I know Paul Willetts and I like him. He is a natural gentleman and so I have marked him down one star so as not to show favoritism. This is a well written biography of a limited man but a fascinating subject - Paul Raymond and the creation of the British adult entertainment sector between the repressed s and the libertarian s. But the book is not really about sex so much as it is about business and society. Considering Willetts comes from a literary background, he has First a disclaimer. Considering Willetts comes from a literary background, he has made a very good fist of telling the story of a late twentieth century entrepreneur whose lack of self awareness and drive for wealth made him simultaneously a sincere Roman Catholic and the founder of an adult entertainment empire, albeit one that was merely the cash flow means to the end of becoming a property magnate.
In this respect, the book should be sitting on the business and cultural studies as well as biography shelves. Raymond enjoyed the sensual life of a louche playboy until age and the death of his daughter from a drugs overdose plunged him into reclusive misery but his motive was never sensual pleasure. He put in long hours to build real wealth - not wealth as high-minded people would understand it, solid manufacturing say, but wealth as the free market would understand it, cash in bank and freeholds.
By the time of his death he was a billionaire. But there are not a few billionaires in the world today. Many of them are as dull as dish water just as, all things considered, was Mr. So why invest time and for the publisher money in a biography that is clearly not an official account nor a vanity product?
The answer lies in his milieu. Willetts, whose prose style is crystal clear and easy to read without being at all over-simplified, knows Soho intimately even if he does not know the sex industry well and he is well aware of the depth of social change that took place between the time Raymond was little more than a spiv and his death as lord of all he surveyed.
The King of Soho is a new gin made in honor of Paul Raymond
Willetts is not imaginative in one respect. He cannot get out of his educated class in his attitude to sexuality. He still persists in seeing the adult entertainment industry through somewhat prissy eyes on occasion - with the odd crack at 'sleaze' like a latterday tabloid moralist.
He perhaps does not quite get capitalism or the possibility that Raymond was providing opportunities that did not exist for men and women who wanted them so that he was admittedly unintendedly a force for good. Capitalism is about meeting desires.
Two sets of desires, male lust and female independence, came together in the flow of businesses that Raymond built up and then ruthlessly jettisoned when they had served his purpose - nudie revues and stripping, night clubs, nude theatre, pornographic films and porn magazines that moved from coy airbrushing to no holds-barred readers' wives over thirty years. There are some excellent pictures in the book, although the coyness of author and publisher fails to show us the later material from Club International, Escort and Razzle.
The fear of sexuality that lurks in the English middle class, especially when it is selling its wares on the basis of sexual interest, is, frankly, comical but that is the culture we have been granted and so we must, regrettably, live within it. Raymond fought off moralists like Longford and Whitehouse much as Russ Meyer was doing in the US, as we have already reviewed elsewhere , out-manouevred often in a very gutsy way corrupt coppers, politicians and very vague laws and treated feminists with perhaps the disdain they deserved. On the other hand, he was in it for the money and was as exploitative as any other capitalist might be though clearly a better employer on the evidence than most in his industry and many outside it.
There is certainly no evidence that properly run capitalist adult entertainment is or was more exploitative than the average under late capitalism and certainly Raymond's was less exploitative than the smaller-scale quasi-criminal underworld sex industry. To be fair to him, he started as a hoofer of sorts in the last days of a degenerate music hall and he seems to have retained his respect for the little man on the way up.
Similarly, he seems to have been respectful of the women who worked for him and there is little evidence of the casting couch - on the contrary, the girlfriends seemed to be having a crack at him to get a part. The first set of desires that made this man wealthy were simply sexual pleasures - taken at a distance - not bonking but just the pleasure a man gets from observing naked women. It is just a fact. Feminists might witter on about 'objectification' but this is absurd ideological theory. The point is simple - in the objective conditions of the time are there women who freely choose and perhaps enjoy presenting themselves to the male gaze and by what right does any churchman or matriarch or Frankfurt School ideologue tell two willing parties to the exchange that they are doing wrong?
Anyone who knows women knows that women like to be observed and the Revue Bar represented merely a matter of degree in turning a profit out of the arbitrage between watching and being watched.
Unless you have some standard that relies on God or natural law which is hard to hold in a post-existentialist world , then the ideology dictating laws against free choice looks oppressive - indeed, downright'liberal fascist' in that Swedish or American middle class progressive way that tries to bring down a libertarian hero on a split condom as we write.
The point is that sex be about free exchange and, until feminists sort out the bigger problem of the working of the free market for both men and women since the desire to observe and to preen will always be with us , what Raymond offered was, for many women, liberation from families and small communities.
These women wanted, more than anything, to live in London, earn their own way in life, to have 'fun' and cash, not to be trapped into a provincial marriage or a dull office or retail job. Their primary asset was their beauty - much as a footballer's primary asset is his strength and skill - and only a prissy grammar school girl, resentful of 'looks', would want to deny them their short place in the sun.
LONDON’S REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT: THE KING OF SOHO
All that Raymond did was to bring these two sets of desire together to the great benefit economically of himself, to the lesser and sometimes questionable but generally sound benefit of the girls and to the emotional though not financial benefit of the men. In short, distaste for what he was doing is merely aesthetic or neurotic.
Raymond's aesthetics were certainly grim Willetts account of his taste in furnishings would have many a fashionista reaching for their bren gun but poor taste is not, despite the influence of Oscar Wilde, a capital crime. He was also at the heart of a number of other minor cultural revolutions - he played a role in the cultural liberation of the homosexual community and, perhaps, wider acceptance of transvestism, he played an ambiguous role in preserving Soho from the sort of large-scale brutalist development of the s, he helped open up the theatre to free bodily expression and he was in at the start of the stand-up comedy phenomenon that is now mainstream.
Compare the situation of the provincial but not very educated young beauty, the gay or the transgender person, the centre of London, the English theatre and alternative comedy in the s pace Peter Cook with the situation thirty years later and, in each, Raymond played his philistine and unwitting but positive role.
This is why the book is almost required reading for anyone interested in how England became the free-wheeling sexual culture that it is today - albeit a half-baked one where observation is preferred to participation, where the gaze is preferred to the act. It is all about the market, stupid, and it was a market, in his case, built out of the spivvery of a disrupted post-war London.
The establishment could never forgive him for presenting disruptive normal desires to them, pointing out that their restraint was, well, not really necessary and then winning acceptance for things and ideas that ruined their cosy bourgeois idyll. Yes, Willetts occasionally struggles with a man whose private life descends by the s into something only comparable with soap operas like 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty'. Gaps have to be filled with anecdote yet he has done a spectacular job in terms of research and interviews so that we get one of the best pictures I have ever seen of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.
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If these people had not been satellites around a remarkable business genius, they would be just another of England's council estate familes This book is highly recommended and the lack of that final star is nothing to do with the author. The problem is just that Raymond rather than his times does struggle to be interesting in himself. I hope his publishers now commission Willetts to look at a similar type of figure but one with more, shall we say, oomph to him as a personality. But Willetts makes up for all this by telling a clear story of a place Soho , its characters and its development.
If you love London, you will love this book. Aug 07, Andy Walker added it. Willetts is universally recognised as the pre-eminent expert on the history of London's Soho district, an enclave of vice, creativity and bohemian excess tucked neatly into the city's West End.
This biography of Paul Raymond, another denizen of that wickedest of all square miles and once reckoned to be the UK's richest man, is a balanced, fair Willetts is universally recognised as the pre-eminent expert on the history of London's Soho district, an enclave of vice, creativity and bohemian excess tucked neatly into the city's West End.
This biography of Paul Raymond, another denizen of that wickedest of all square miles and once reckoned to be the UK's richest man, is a balanced, fair and tremendously well-researched effort. Raymond - spiv, pornographer, strip-club pioneer and, above all, masterful accumulator of property - is portrayed as charming, friendless and calculating: a sequestered and unhappy, if hugely successful, product of his own strict religious upbringing in a broken home. Willetts writes with great brio, exhibiting effortless mastery of both his subject and the milieu of sexual permissiveness which he did so much to shape.
Buy, read and learn. Jan 10, Mark Farley rated it liked it. Great biography of a very unique character, who epitomised a very unique area of a very unique city.
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