Reunited last night after 30 years: the reclusive founder of the Blitz wine bar, Mike Brown, and the cabaret singer Eve Ferret who first tasted stardom there. (Photograph © by Shapersofthe80s)
❚ BIGGEST SURPRISE AT LAST NIGHT’S Return to The Blitz party, thrown by Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and Rose Turner, was the arrival from Spain of the brains behind the original bar that became the crucible for New Romantic nightlife back in 1979. International man of mystery Mike Brown has always been described by those who worked for him in the late 70s as very private, and indeed he must be the only person among us to generate nil Google results. Nobody was more thrilled to see him for the first time in 30 years than actress and singer Eve Ferret, who made good in cabaret at the Blitz. It was almost a This Is Your Life moment as the pair lingered fondly in each other’s arms.
One-man cabaret: Biddie on-table at the Blitz wine bar in 1977
It was Brown who had the shrewd idea of buying the four-storey Victorian house at No 4 Great Queen Street in 1976 and opening a wine bar there. “I felt like a change from the recruitment business which I was running,” he said last night. “And I’d been watching a World War Two movie about Churchill which gave me the idea for a Blitz theme.
“I remember it was black and white and showed Londoners down in the Underground shelters whilst the bombs were dropping. More than the actual horror of the damage that was being inflicted, it was the way Londoners banded together that lingers. I remember thinking that I lived on the fourth floor of an old building divided into six flats yet I didn’t know any of the occupants.”
Mike ran his main business in nearby Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and his soft spot for nostalgia was well known to the Blitz staff — barmaid Sally Marks says she imagined he would have been a fighter pilot in another life. Hence the Blitz’s utilitarian wartime decor: bare floorboards, green and cream paintwork, red-gingham tablecloths, hanging enamel lampshades, which were never dusted. Famously the walls were lined with portraits of Churchill and WW2 posters in the declamatory graphics of the period: “Careless talk costs lives” and so on.
Dressing up for the Blitz wine bar’s Come as your Wildest Dream party, 1977: Mick Hurd, Richard Jones as Thunderbirds heroes, with Eve Ferret… and, right, manager Brendan Connolly with barmaid Sally Marks. (Polaroids © by Mick Hurd)
Mike said: “I am a great lover of traditional pie-and-mash and decided that the food theme would be along the lines of bangers-and-mash. The menus looked like old wartime ration books and we had our own wine labels made up.”
Despite having the Irish charmer Brendan Connolly as manager, and the dashing Peruvian Mario Testino behind the bar (as well as Sally, Ian Harington, Mike Roskams, Mick Hurd, Roy Brentnall, Paul Frecker and many, many others), the Blitz with its gorblimey menu wasn’t frankly much of a success. As the oil crisis squeezed western economies in the austere 70s, so London nightspots started resorting to cabaret to attract custom. Coinciding with a menu upgrade, the first performers to make their name at the Blitz were the song-and-dance duo Biddie & Eve.
Slim, camp and Bowie-esque James “Biddie” Biddlecombe started at the Blitz singing solo, accompanied by pianist Richard Jones (later an opera director). Along came buxom redheaded Eve Ferret whose laughter could shake a cocktail. Their riotous partnership was inevitable. Biddie recalls: “Initially we would perform in the middle of the floor three nights a week. By 1978 we’d grown so busy they decided to build us a stage.” Sally says that one night when Island Records boss Chris Blackwell turned up with Bob Marley, the godfather of reggae was persuaded to get up and do a number.
The 1978 relaunch, now with a stage: flyer for Biddie & Eve’s regular thrice-weekly cabaret
With Brendan’s encouragement, Biddie-life-and-soul helped establish a reputation for themed costume events with titles such as Come as Your Wildest Dream, or Stars of Film and TV, so the Blitz rapidly attracted, in the language of the time, an “up for it” party crowd, which included the likes of Tim Rice and Janet Street-Porter from the swank media haunt Zanzibar along the street. Then in February 1979, in walked Steve Strange and his competitive brand of teen cabaret on Tuesdays and the rest is New Romantic history.
The Blitz bar closed when Mike sold the building in 1981 “because after five years I’d had enough”, by which time Strange & Egan had upscaled their ambitions to Club For Heroes over on Baker Street. And Mike went back to recruitment. He said: “It is very humbling to know that there is still such interest in the Blitz Kids. They were a great bunch and it was a very exciting time.”
Spandau delegation at Return to the Blitz 2011: John Keeble, Martin Kemp and Shirlie Holliman catch up with Eve Ferret, second right. (Photograph © by Shapersofthe80s)
➢ Rusty Egan’s set list for Return To The Blitz
reunion party, 15 Jan 2011