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Jayson Mansaray on Soho's Iconic Status in Counter Culture

Jayson Mansaray is a presenter, reporter and cultural commentator. He has appeared on London Live, BBC London 94.9, BBC World Service and Reuters, covering topics from racism in Moscow to major arts and entertainment events globally (including MTV EMAs, The Oscars and Cannes Film Festival). He writes for Run Riot on Soho Radio and his relationship with Soho as a centre of debauchery and culture.

It’s nice when your personal projects get recognised and someone says “hey, we love what you are doing and we’d like to give you a platform." This is what happened for me in September 2017. Soho Radio had heard about by my underground arts event ‘A Clodhopper’ and asked if it could be adapted for a radio show - naturally the answer was YES! This is because from its beginnings in 2014 Soho Radio has become a hotbed and the go-to place for established and emerging acts. Broadcasting from a studio on Great Windmill Street their schedule has included the likes of Norman Jay OBE, Rob Da Bank and Goldirocks to name just a few.

Soho Radio was a fitting place for A Clodhopper to have its first broadcast and I would say overall it was a storming success and go even further to say we reflected the heady mix of art, sexuality, drugs and culture that is Soho itself. Editor-in-Chief at gay magazines Attitude and Winq and Former Culture Editor at Channel 4 News Matt Caine came on to talk about #AttitudeHeroes, a new podcast he hosts featuring LGBTQ+ legends like Stephen K Amos, Marc Almond and Paul O’Grady. We did a phone interview with Norman Ohler (from Mexico), about his book Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Drag persona The Virgin Xtravaganzah graced us with her holy presence for a reinterpretation of 'Zebra Katz - Ima Read (ft. Njena Reddd Foxxx)’, in this version the iconic repeated refrain “Imma Read” was adapted to “Imma Cleanse” and “sanctify” as might befit the persona based on the Virgin Mary. Sadie Sinner explained the need for a place like The Cocoa Butter Club - a London Showcase for cabaret performers of colour. Barbican curator Eleanor Nairne came in to talk about the still to be opened (at the time), ‘Basquiat: Boom For Real’ exhibition and we were able to showcase A Clodhopper collaborators and favourites Bordergrime (aka Nineteen Ninety), Loraine James, Boruch (Joe Brooks) and Segundo (Filipe Sousaham).

Before Soho Radio though I had already been featuring subjects directly linked with Soho’s past - mainly its risque side of nudes and sex which arguably made it what it is today. For our second ‘Salon’ we featured the archive of pinup and naturist legend Pamela Green. When Green was still a student at St Martin’s School of Art (Central St Martins) she went to Studio One Hundred on Soho’s Greek Street, banged on the door and got work as a nude model, she was seventeen and her parents had to sign a release. She funded her artist training working as a nude model which inadvertently lead to her becoming one of the most famous pinups in Britain. In 1953 Pamela met George Harrison Marks, her future partner, together they worked selling sets of postcards featuring nudes and semi-nudes to bookshops in Soho which eventually gave them enough funding to start their now famous monthly publication Kamera in 1957. Their studio was at 4 Gerrard Street which is now the heart of Chinatown. 

In an online journal Pamela notes: “Apart from posing myself, I trained models to work for our studio: we produced four monthly magazines for which I was responsible. We also branched out with 8mm Glamour films”. Pictures of Pamela in Kamera magazine attracted the attention of legendary director Michael Powell who cast her in horror thriller ‘Peeping Tom’ (1960), a film that was critically mauled but has since garnered cult and classic status. Not long after this, with Harrison Marks directing and producing, Pamela would star in one of Britain’s first ever naturist movies ‘Naked as Nature Intended’ (1961). The film’s concept was born out of trying to avoid the censors, the only way you could get nudity on film was to make a pseudo-documentary about naturism.

Pamela’s foray and eventual domination of this scene is timed with the UK's first strip club - Raymond Revuebar which opened in Soho in 1958. Paul Raymond was the man behind it, he would eventually diversify into porn magazines like Razzle, Men Only and Mayfair and in the 1970’s capitalise on a slump in the property prices by buying up a lot of soho real estate. Raymond’s daughter Debbie was the intended heir and was presumed to have been trained up to takeover the empire but in 1992 she died from a suspected accidental heroin overdose. Also at around this time ‘rich lists’ estimated Raymond to be one of the wealthiest men in Britain thanks to his property holdings. But he died in 2008 leaving 80% of his estate (estimated £329 million at the time) to his granddaugthers India Rose James and her half-sister Fawn. Today their company ‘Soho Estates’ and Westminster council are on a course to regenerate the area and casualties have been mounting. For exanple Madame Jojo’s was closed in 2014 for a breach of its license but many have noted the closure was predated by plans submitted for the site to be redeveloped, as is the case for much of Old Compton Street, Berwick Street, Dean Street, Beak Street and Lexington Street.

In my experiences I’ve noted small changes like a little BYO Italian restaurant whose only staff were the husband and wife who ran it, a cheap meal at Stock Pot on Old Compton Street, illegal and secret bars below offices and residential buildings, all of which have gone, been forcibly closed or replaced with a fancy eatery or bar that no doubt has the financial backing of a Group who can afford the massive rents. But a group called Save Soho, co-fronted by Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch among a litany of famous faces is campaigning against the dilution of Soho’s essence and I find there are still some semblances of my old haunts: The Phoenix Artist Club, Cafe Boheme for it’s 50% off deals on Sundays and Mondays (reopening soon I’m told) and The Yard. And it seems with a little co-sponsorship from Jagermeister something like Soho Radio's able to thrive in the area. But the signs seem to say Soho’s future may not be quite as vibrant as the one that Pamela Green, Paul Raymond or more recently myself have come to love and appreciate - the times are changing and naturally the counter culture seems to be paying the price first in Central London.

Twitter: @A_Clodhopper

Instagram: @Mr_Mansaray