Clubs Galore! The Sinful Soho Nightlife Of 1958

The exotic world of the late-night drinking den and non-stop exotic cabaret is explored in this classic Pathé News short.

It’s 1958 and despite the best efforts of the British government to maintain wartime austerity and miserablism for as long as possible, a few cunning devils in sinful Soho have taken advantage of what we would now call a loophole in the law – a club was not restricted to the same onerous licensing laws as the pub, meaning that they could – you might want to sit down for this – open in the afternoon and stay open past 11pm. Extraordinary.

In this Pathé News report, we’re taken on a breathless and excitable tour of Soho’s nightlife, awash with bookshops selling ‘pornography’ (this is 1958 so that probably means topless pin-ups at best), clubs offering ‘continental’ entertainment (or striptease to you and me) and furtive cats. Paul Raymond, sporting quite the haircut, pops up for a curiously aggressive interview in which, in the classic British tradition, he demands regulation for everyone else – the grotty backroom clubs and drinking dens that were presumably tempting some of his patrons away. And, having wallowed in salacious suggestion and footage of strippers doing their thing, the newsreel ends with a demand that ‘something must be done’ about dodgy venues popping up across the country.

Little changes – we still have documentaries about the sex industry that want to take a tutting, moralising attitude even as they wallow in gratuitous nudity and ratings-grabbing sensationalism and as the establishment of ‘sex establishment’ licensing several years ago and the hand-wringing over the relaxation of pub licensing laws both show, local authorities and pearl-clutchers still fret over the idea of uncontrolled pleasures, especially if they are enjoyed by the lower orders.

Faux moralising aside, this is an amusing artefact from times gone by. If only modern-day Soho was this enticing…

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