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Review: King of Clubs (Radio 2)

A documentary recalls Tramp’s glory years.


A sweet documentary (24 and 25 April, 10pm) about 43 years of the nightclub Tramp took us back to the good times in 1972, when the three-day week forced the proprietor, Johnny Gold, to use candles, so nobody knew quite who they were dancing with. On the small basement dance floor in Jermyn Street, “Joan Collins boogied to Donna Summer” and “the Bee Gees dressed up for Prince Andrew”. Which called to mind a place full of debs smelling genteelly of 4711 and reminiscing about the French mistress’s beard.

I emailed a friend who used to go there in the 1980s. “It was fun enough,” she wrote back. “Rich men sucking on cigars and eating plates of sandwiches.” Most of the programme was just Gold taking listeners on a tour. Tramp, he said, was the first members’ club with no dress code and is still going strong. “Keith Moon trashed the place once,” he sighed. “And porn stars used to come up to this office and make calls and get dressed.” You felt searching questions could have been asked at this point, but the presenter, Paul Sexton, was happy to let him rattle on and other guests to name-drop without shame.

Jackie Collins won the award for best start to a shaggy dog story with the following: “We had a friend – who shall remain nameless – who was married to this extremely rich Arab and she was basically a nymphomaniac socialite who would send servants round to men’s houses with jewelled weapons as gifts and . . .” The story didn’t end anywhere near as well as it began, but was worth hearing for Collins’s voice, which modulated in tone from as innocent as twin beds with matching candlewick spreads to something wildly fruity, implying she was recalling as she spoke a time when she held court, with astonishing and wicked accuracy.

The whole programme felt like this: old stories told with more juice than skill. Michael Caine, once a regular, came out the best. “What’s the name of that comedian?” Johnny asked him, clearly round a table with a few drinks. “You know, Freddie Something. Came down and chucked that sack on the table. What’s his name? Blond. The sack was full of potatoes. Freddie who?”

“Starr,” offered Caine, tenderly.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The Science Issue