Debauched Stories From Behind The Doors Of The Colony Room

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 23 months ago

Last Updated 03 August 2022

Debauched Stories From Behind The Doors Of The Colony Room
Peter O'Toole serves himself a drink behind the bar of the Colony Club

The Colony Room is the stuff of Soho legend — as steeped in lewd and lascivious stories, as its clientele were steeped in liquor.

Frequented by the boozy bohemian set of its day — this dingily-lit retreat was where the great, and the greatly-pissed, came to be welcomed in by notorious proprietor Muriel Belcher with the immortal words: "Hello Cunty." Jeffrey Bernard, Francis Bacon and Twiggy all drank here regularly — followed by the likes of Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Will Self.

It was a place where you could meet Doctor Who, be served a drink by James Bond or try to buy an original Francis Bacon sketch from the artist himself.

The Cupid-flanked sign which greeted members

Over a decade after its closure, artist and 20-year-long-regular Darren Coffield, spills the beans on some of these stories, in his book Tales from the Colony Room: Soho's Lost Bohemia — using interviews from those who drank at the club. Below, we've selected a few of these anecdotes. Be warned: it doesn't exactly make for puritanical reading:

The Colony Room was, for me at the time, a wonderful discovery. It provided an atmosphere of delectable depravity for the select company of alcoholics and would-be artists who managed to win the reluctant approval of Muriel Belcher, the gorgon-like proprietrix. A long flight of stairs led to this louche establishment and Muriel sat at the entrance, perched on a stool, resembling nothing so much as a Nazi anti-Semitic caricature. Her barman and sidekick was Ian ‘Bawd’, an evil looking catamite with a name as Dickensian and descriptive as Muriel's. They were a double act, and only a very select few of London's upper class riff raff earned their approval.

- Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage

A cartoon of the club by regular Michael Heath © Michael Heath

Francis Bacon loved his clothes. One afternoon Francis walked in the cub , annoyed and pulling his collar. – “What’s wrong Francis?” – “Fucking Harrods, I’m never going back there again.” He’d attended a special night for select clients and bought a lot of clothes, but when he got home he’d decided he didn’t like any of them: “I bought so many suits and shirts and threw the fucking lot in the dustbin.” You’d never seen the club empty so quickly. The next day everyone was up the club parading around in their new suits and shirts from Francis’ dustbin.

- David Edwards

A man came barging in the door one day, shouting, ‘Hands up I’ve got a gun!’ Someone called the police while I kept him talking. Within five minutes the whole of Dean Street was blocked off. But when they searched the man, the only offensive weapon they could find on him was a pencil. I didn’t press charges and later that night he came back and asked me if I would give him a job playing the piano for a pound a week.

- Muriel Belcher

Muriel Belcher, in blonde wig, Ronnie Kray, Joan Littlewood and actor James Booth. © David Marrion

There were random occasions when you'd encounter someone in the club who was legendarily famous, which could prove disappointing. I remember being pulled onto the lap of a very drunk older man who began to fondle my breasts. It was Trevor Howard. I’ve never been able to enjoy the film Brief Encounter in the same way since.

- Miss Whiplash

Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst.

The Colony Room 'Lost Property' repository was a green cupboard at the far end of the fireplace... It was where what was left that could not be drunk, smoked or spent, would reside — books, tapes, manuscripts, photographs, etc. Follow-up phone calls would be made, endeavouring to reunite property with the owners. Vacuuming the carpet one afternoon, a front tooth was found; it had been knocked out of a member's mouth the night before. It was returned later that afternoon. One, stashed behind the piano, a large Harrods bag was found. The contents were revealed — surgical gloves, clamps, an assorted range of sex toys, a shoulder-length brunette nylon wig, nurse's armband, riding crop, large tube of K-Y Jelly... it was never claimed.

- Michael Clark

Frank, the barman, and Francis Bacon, c.1952.

When my kids came up to the club, they were shaking with nervous excitement seeing Tom Baker at the bar wearing his long Doctor Who scarf and hat. He bellowed, ‘Hello Ben! What would you like to drink?’ Poor Ben nearly wet himself.

- Pam Hardyment

Jeff Bernard often sailed close to the wind, once telling a chap at the Colony bar to stop being 'such a fucking bore.' He was shocked to discover that he had in fact insulted Ronnie Kray. Jeff said, 'It's a wonder he didn't blow my brains out.'

- Tom Deas

Intrigued? Tales from the Colony Room: Soho's Lost Bohemia by Darren Coffield has hundreds more anecdotes like this, and is available to buy now.