Nightclub owner

born October 17 1840

died June 7 2018

Peter Stringfellow, who died yesterday aged 77, was Britain’s best-known nightclub owner, whose club in London’s Covent Garden attracted celebrities and who himself provided regular fodder for the tabloid newspapers.

Boastful, shameless and possessed of a preposterous dyed blond mullet hairstyle, Stringfellow was frequently photographed surrounded by international showbusiness figures, politically incorrect comedians and what the red-tops usually described as “leggy lovelies”. But though he was in large part responsible for making strip clubs a mainstream feature of city centre nightlife, he had not – unlike, say, Paul Raymond – moved from pornography into entertainment, licensed premises and property.

Stringfellow was an old-fashioned club owner who had begun by running dancehalls and booking bands in Sheffield in the early 1960s, and then large discotheques in Leeds in the 1970s. After moving to London in the early 1980s, the high profile of his Covent Garden club led to the acquisition of the Hippodrome at Leicester Square and then to venues in New York, Paris, Miami and Los Angeles.

The last two were catastrophic failures, but Stringfellow himself maintained that he was not much of an entrepreneur, attributing the success of his other clubs to his abilities as a host and his gifts for networking and publicity. “I’m not a businessman, just a bloody good club owner,” he said.

Peter James Stringfelllow was born on October 17 1940 in Sheffield, the eldest of four brothers. His father was a steelworker but during Peter’s early childhood served with the Royal Scots Greys during the war. Stringfellow grew up largely in the company of women, and attributed his outgoing personality to the influwnce of his mother, whom he described as feisty and entrepreneurial. After failing his 11-plus, he attended Burngreave Secondary and then Sheffield Central Technical College, which he left aged 15 with a fourth-grade diploma. As a teenager, he worked at a cinema and then as a tie salesman with Austin Reed, before serving two years with the Merchant Navy.

On his return to Sheffield, he worked at a furnishing company, from which he was sacked after selling stolen carpets. He served a brief prison term, the judge having described him as “flash” and “in need of a sharp lesson”. Stringfellow learnt the lesson and claimed that as a result, he had always been scrupulously law-abiding and diligent with his accounts and taxes.

His conviction also restricted his employment opportunities, so he went into business running clubs. One of his first great successes was booking the Beatles in the Azena Ballroom in April 1963, just as they were becoming popular. At the Blue Moon, which operated from St John’s Church Hall in Sheffield, he hosted acts such as the Kinks, Rod Stewart and Wayne Fontana, and branched out into concert promotion, with Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones.

By the late 1960s he had several clubs and in 1970 opened a huge disco called Cinderella’s in Leeds, adding a cabaret venue, Rockafella’s, next door to it two years later. He combined the venues and sold them in 1976, moving to Manchester, where he ran the Millionaire’s Club and then, in 1980, to London, where he opened his eponymous Covent Garden nightclub.

Its success led to his rapid expansion, with the Hippodrome and Hippodrome Records and his American ventures in the mid-1980s. His New York club opened his eyes to the possibilities of topless “gentlemen’s clubs”, though the recession of the late 1980s brought him huge financial problems.

He retrenched his businesses in London, and in 1996 added Angels, a table dancing club, to his portfolio. A decade later, he added a second branch in Soho, the first fully-nude license granted by Westminster Council.

Stringfellow promoted himself incessantly on television and in the newspapers, appearing on shows such as Top Gear and Come Dine With Me, often clad in preposterous leopard-skin jackets. He was for many years a Conservative Party donor, and also supported UKIP candidates, though he opposed Brexit and eventually cut off his donations as a result. He divided his time between his homes in Gerrard’s Cross, north-west London, and Marbella.

He was married three times; first to Norma Williams in 1960, with whom he had a daughter, and from 1967 until 1984 to Coral Wright, with whom he had a son. He both encouraged and dodged speculation that he had slept with two or three thousand women until, at 68, he married Bella Wright, a 27-year-old ballet dancer, and declared himself a reformed character. They had two children, Rosabella in 2013 and Angelo in 2015. He had had lung cancer for some years, though he decided not to make his illness public. He is survived by his wife and his four children.

By Andrew McKie