Soho memories part 3
In part one of this blog, I described how my mates and I had originally arrived in Soho, in 1957 and had found ourselves in an amusement arcade in Wardour Street.
The arcade was to become our starting point whenever we visited Soho. However, after one visit in the summer 1960 we ended up in this particular arcade as usual, tied and skint, or to be more precise, enough dough to have a couple of goes on one of the fruit machines, and also a bit more wiser!
Just next door was a drinking den called the Log Cabin. The Cabin faced the Swiss Tavern, on the corner of Leicester Sq.
We later found out it was a well known hangout for Soho villains, or the (Faces) or the (Chaps), names they liked to call themselves, It was just down the road from Great Windmill St and a snooker club, which had been managed by Tommy scar face Smithson at no 41-44. It was also a boxing gym owned by promoter Jack Solomon, and jazz club rehearsal space.
|Great Windmill St|
Tommy was finally gunned down by a Maltese villain in 1956 ( the word gangster is a fairly recent invention used to describe British villains and is an Americanism). According to news reports, Tommy, had been taking money from prostitutes in the Brewer St, and Berwick St area, who were being looked after by other gangs, of whom some, had moved into Soho, from the Brick Lane area, in the East End of London. Being born in Brick Lane, I new the Lane area very well.
It had a seedy reputation in the 1950s, and earlier, with lots of brothels and Spielers, like Soho had, and were being controlled, by local villains and, also the Maltese, who by then had started to make their homes in the area. They were either, referred to as Malts, or Maltesers, as a term of affection by local cockney and Jewish villains who were their main rivals.
Me and me mates, stood there striking up a pose, like something out of a Bogart film, but in reality look more like a bunch of marshmallows straight out of a sweet factory!
After eye-balling the joint, and making himself heard above the general din. Dick (I'II call him Dick for now) sidled up to me and my two mates, "Like a fag boys"? (a cigarette ). As we had none, we eagerly accepted his offer.
However, it now started to look a bit strange, (never take sweets from a stranger, mum always said, mums always right! aint she?) But we were dying for a woodbine (cigarette brand) these had come from a full pack of twenty, so he had plenty to spare. We weren't that naive, but street wise, and soon, started to wonder what the bottom line was going to be?
I only found out when I meet him in Soho in 1980 in Berwick St. He'd just been to Oxford St buying clothes.
He claimed, he was on his way to visit a regular client who lived in Paris, someone he first meet, in Piccadilly Circus in 1969. I think it even had a reputation during times of Oscar Wilde.
At school, he was good at art like myself, and we got on very well. I was saddened to see him in such a precarious predicament, as he told me he was being beaten, and humiliated by his client. He said jokingly ( I think he meant it) "why don't you try it, you can earn lots of money", I said, "LEAVE IT OUT! YOU MUST BE JOKING!", maybe my sympathy towards him was misplaced?
After accepting, Dicks offer of a cigarettes, (could we end up in Morocco as white slaves?) I think Dick was about 24yrs old, he then asked, how old we were, and would we like to play for free, on any of the pinball machines including the jukebox in the arcade, which was opposite the Swiss Tavern. It was in the Tavern where, some of the performers at the 2 I's coffee bar would have a drink, in-between performing. "Okay" we said, as by now we had no dough left, just our fare back home.
He then started to wink at this goon who was wearing a white laboratory coat, like what a chemist wears. He appeared to be running the joint, dishing out change from a kiosk by the door to the punters playing on the machines. He then came over with a big bunch of keys, and proceeded to unlock the various machines, we were playing on, and by doing so he was able to give us as many free goes as we wanted.
He said "where do you boys live", I replied "East London" , "That's where we're going, will give you a lift". "Hold on a second, I'II tells my mates" Its arrived PAY BACK TIME! What he'd just given us was a bung, for services to be redeemed later on.
Now, my bottle went, I was smelling raticus crapitus big time, which reminds me to wear plus fours next time I'm up west, or a good pair, of bike clips!! After alerting my two mates, we proceeded to creep out of the side door, (and not dance the CREEP that had recently been a dance craze a couple years earlier) and creeping was something we were good at. Squeezing between the punters playing on the machines.
We legged it towards the neon lights of Leicester Sq, passing Dick, who was standing next to a hot dog stall, on the corner of Wardour St, stuffing his face with a hot dog. Spotting us, he shouted out "Where the fuck do you think your going" I was that close, I could even smell the fried onions on his breath.
Being out of breath, and laughing to ourselves, which was brought on by nervous tension, we speculated how we might have ended up in the north Africa, being traded in the casbar as white slaves. Indeed, reports in the press confirmed this kind of activity was taking place, but mainly with unsuspecting, young women and girls.
We found out later on, from people in the arcade, that Dick was part of a firm from east London, that had been in there that night when we were there, and warned us to be on our guard in future.
Much later we started to hear stories, about who they really were, but they were only stories. One way or the other our experience proved to us, Soho, could indeed be a dangerous place, if you weren't street wise as we were.
Naive kids, still runaway to Soho, looking for thrills and excitement, but soon become easy prey and are easily exploited, and fall straight into the honey trap. Our experience on the streets of the east end, came in very handy, being street wise, and knowing how to duck and dive, and spot bother, before it has a chance of getting out of hand!
PART 4 Coming soon...