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Heaven and Hell Coffee Lounge in Soho, W.I.

Ray Jackson and I opened Heaven and Hell in late 1955. I had the idea from when I had been working in Paris, where there was a type of cheap cabaret called “Heaven and Hell” in Pigalle. The name and the place intrigued me, so later when I was in Paris again with Ray, I took him along to see the place and he also thought it was great.

The name stayed in my memory for a later date.

We had already sold the Regency Coffee Bar in East Sheen, which we opened with £200, £100 each, sometime in 1953. The Regency look was in, so we bought chairs from an antique shop in Putney for 5/- each and the owner of the shop taught me how to give them the antique look. We bought cheap floor covering, Ray’s uncle hung the wallpaper and my mother made the tablecloths and curtains. I used the same red Regency striped material to upholster the chairs, it was all a bit make do and mend, but the final result looked great. The major expense was the Gaggia Coffee Machine, which we paid off for. So espresso coffee came to East Sheen!

We thought we would do business, well forget it! I thought we would be stuck there for the rest of our lives. East Sheen was half way on the bus route between Hammersmith and Richmond, and really one should never get off the bus. I was convinced it was a place that people just stopped off to die. There was literally no business. Although everybody who lived there had the airs and graces of society toffs, they had no cash flow to buy a cup of coffee. In fact they hadn’t got a pot to piss in!

Fortunately both Ray and I continued working in theatre and TV, and Ray in films because we needed something extra to survive.

We were ‘so busy’ at the Regency that one person could run the whole place – serve coffee, do the cooking, the lot. So Ray and I worked alternate days. When I was on duty I would take an order and call out to the kitchen and then rush round talking to myself (the invisible chef). At least it was a good way to pass the time and it gave the customers the idea that we had staff.  I thought I was going to be stuck there forever.  We earned £10 a week each. My bus fares cost me £5, so you can see I was really in pocket! Finally we managed to sell the place to a guy who had retired from Claridges Hotel with a pension who wanted something easy to do in his retirement years. Well I could have told him that he wouldn’t be rushed off his feet here, but I didn’t and we sold the Regency for the princely sum of £1000, which was a profit, and we both breathed a sigh of relief!

ERIC AND RAYS HEAVEN AND HELL 2. WRITE-UP

We then started searching around for empty premises in Soho because I certainly wasn’t going out of town again. It had to be a shop and basement so that Heaven could be on the ground floor and Hell downstairs. We finally came across a little shop with a basement at 57 Old Compton Street. The ground floor had a small jewelry shop sharing the premises called of all things “Going Gay”.  Do you think it was an omen? The gentleman who owned the freehold was called Harry Shanson, and he owned all the freeholds of 55, 57 and 59 Old Compton Street W.1.

Shaws the estate agents who were handling  the property arranged for Ray and myself to see Mr. Shanson in his office in the City. Well, somehow it must have been our lucky day, because we talked to him and told him we were actors and what we wanted to do with the premises and the name we were going to call the coffee bar and the whole theme. He was interested in everything we had to say. Finally the question of rent came up and Ray and I nearly fell of the chairs when he told us what he wanted. It was far too much for us to afford. We got up to leave and explained that we just couldn’t afford to pay that sort of rent. He asked us how much we could afford. I told him half of what he was asking, to which he replied, “O.K.” With that, we both nearly passed out. Ray and I left his office floating on air.

We started work at 57 Old Compton Street. From the St. Martins School of Art we found a designer to make the plaster casts for the lights in Heaven and also Hell. Beforehand, Ray and I decided that Heaven should have an ethereal theme with sun flowers for lights with cherub faces. The staircase leading to Hell was a giant Devil’s mouth, which you walked down into. Hell was totally black with red flames climbing up the walls.

Out of the walls for lights we had these arms holding lighted Devil masks. The emergency exit, which we had to have, was a ladder in the middle of the room closed on 3 sides with a red curtain on which was a full length painting of the Devil with horns, tail and pitch fork. It was all very atmospheric and the customers adored it. On the street wall we had a light box with a colour transparency of Heaven and below it Hell. From the moment we opened, the place was full, at lunchtimes and evenings. I used to have to stand on the door letting customers in as a seat became vacant whilst they were queuing out in the street. Not many people wanted to stay in Heaven, they all wanted to go to Hell. No pun intended. As you may gather, business was fabulous, especially when the Soho Fair was on.

Over the years Harry Shanson and his wife became firm friends. He was one of the kindest people in the world. One day when we had been running quite a few years, Harry’s son, who was a bit of a monster when he was young, came in and said to me, “My daddy owns this place! It’s ours.” So I politely said to him “Fuck off!”

There was never a dull moment in Old Compton Street. The 2 I’s was next door. The customers would go from coffee bar to coffee bar. The 2 I’s used to have their windows smashed in regularly. We fortunately were left alone. Everyone seemed to making money and at 9 pence a coffee it was some hard going.

                                   Two prostitutes in 1950s Soho

Prostitutes were on every street corner. The flat above Heaven and Hell was occupied by Suzy, an elegant French lady of the night who really would have been more at home in Mayfair, but I suppose she wanted a quick turn over! She wore the stair carpet out all the time. Next door at No. 57, Jackie, another French beauty, much younger than Suzy, could turn 100 customers a day. My mother, who used to come up to town regularly, used to sit in the window in Heaven and keep score. She was so intrigued by it all.

Well, the time came when Ray and I decided that we would like to get a flat together, so I spoke to Harry Shanson. The lovely  Suzy got her marching orders and Ray and I moved into Flat 1, 57 Old Compton Street at a rent that he asked us what we would like to pay, so that also was very reasonable. It was a known fact that he could always get at least double from the tarts. I did think she might send the ‘heavies’ in after being thrown out and when she found out that we had taken the flat, but no, she was always pleased to see me and talk when I saw her on her new beat at the corner of Greek St. and Old Compton St. Working ‘flats’ were not that difficult for the ‘girls’ to come by.

Suzy had kept the place spotless, after all she had he own French maid who was on duty full time during the working hours. The bedroom looked as though it had seen plenty of action. But after we had redecorated the whole place even Suzy wouldn’t have recognized it as her own little bordello.

We never had live music in Heaven and Hell, just two jukeboxes one in Heaven and one in Hell, with the same records in each. It was easier than all the hassle with live music because the customers never left. With us, they stayed about an hour and left, rather than sitting there all night. Also it was much more profitable as we would get loads of double plays from the 2 machines.

So the money rolled in and we were ready to roll out onto our next venture which was:

“THE CASINO de PARIS STRIPTEASE THEATRE CLUB”

P.S. If any of you ‘older readers’  happen to come across a picture of yourselves taken inside “Heaven and Hell,” I would be very happy to include it into my blog.

 

22 responses to “Heaven and Hell Coffee Lounge in Soho, W.I.

  1. james gardiner

    September 30, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I just bought a postcard of ‘Heaven and Hell’ in a fleamarket , and i am very happy to have all this background. Did H&H have a gay clientele?

     
    • scorpio13th

      September 30, 2012 at 9:25 am

      No not reallly James, of course they all loved Hell! But then who wouldn’t!
      All in all we had a very mixed clientele.
      If you have time one day, I would appreciate it greatly if you could send me a copy of the postcard, so that I can include it here in my Blog. Eric

       
  2. rastreadores bbom

    May 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    congratulations my friend, your website is awesome, i really appreciate coming here to see what you have.

     
  3. Peter Wicks

    September 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Even if you were skint you could find fun and enjoyment in Soho, funny old world, I was born just around the corner from Soho at 119 Princess Street, Hanover Square in 1937 but back then this country was still in the grip of the Great Depression and rooms and flats were dirt cheap..even in Mayfair as its now called

     
  4. Eileen Blacklock

    September 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Just seen a programme on TV that mentioned the 2 i’s coffee bar in Soho and remembered that my favourite in the 60s was Heaven and Hell where I was a regular visitor. Delighted to see it all again on here. Needless to say my favourite bar was downstairs!

     
  5. Bhupinder paul

    October 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I used to work here in the ‘1950’s’ and I had the pleasure of meeting varies customers. I would like to know if Heaven and Hell still exists and if it does who are the owners and if it does exist I would like to visit it in my next visit to london

     
  6. Judith Sutcliffe Hunt

    February 19, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Was in H & H a lot during 59 and 60…spent money on espresso and ogled the waiters..attending London University at the time…loved Soho,,,Gato Negro etc. God really takes care of drunks and innocents…..walked through all kinds of wildness with nary a clue. London in the 60’s and me in my 20’s(barely) WONDERFUL

     
  7. Izzy Deem

    April 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Grandma (Queenie Crow) took me and I must have met you I certainly met Ray, I was very young, about 11 or 12 and thought I was very grown up. my dad died 2 years ago, he was Queenies son xxx

     
  8. coffee bar cowboy

    August 30, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Worked like a charm on girls “up from the country”

     
  9. Dean

    December 22, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Eric, you made Harry’s grandsons laugh so much we shot coffee out of our noses. It’s great to read such good memories of him. He passed nearly 40 years ago but Lily will be 102 in April – and the ‘monster’ is nearly 70!

     
  10. Linda Steliou

    January 19, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    You and our Daughter, Lydia, have really “made my day”! She lives in Seattle and has just forwarded me your “blog” on “Heaven and Hell”! I was so thrilled to re-live my very special memory of there, along with the lovely comments made by other “old” Customers, and thought you, and they, might like to know that it was in your “Hell” that I first clapped eyes on my Husband, Stephen. That was on 27th December, 1960, when he was 18 and I was “the tender age” of 15. We began, as was politely said in those days, “courting”, and, this year, will be celebrating our 49th Wedding Anniversary. Many people have said how lucky we are that we have such a close relationship after so many years, as it is, certainly, a rarity for a Couple who met so young to stay true to one another for a lifetime. I have often said, “We may have met in ‘Hell’, but have been in ‘Heaven’ ever since”! “Ain’t love grand!”.

     
    • scorpio13th

      January 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Hi Linda, When I started my blog and wrote about “Heaven and Hell” it never dawned on me that it had meant so much to so many people, after all it was just a Coffee Bar of that era, and I was just amusing myself writing a blog. I have been so surprised by the great comments that have been sent all about “Heaven and Hell”. But your truly wonderful email is the “Icing on the Cake”. On your 49th Wedding Anniversary have a little toast to “Heaven and Hell” and Ray and Eric. God Bless you both. You have really “Made My Day” today. Eric

       
  11. Frances Pearce

    January 19, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I used to go to Heaven and Hell in early 60’s when I was 15. Everyone now and again the police used to come in looking for runaway kids (I wasn’t one of them) although my dad went mad when he found out where I was. Never had any trouble, just sat drinking coffee and chatting with our mates. Happy memories

     
  12. David Slinger

    January 28, 2015 at 9:41 am

    I cant believe that your establishment is still there after all these years. I used to be one of your regulars in the 50`s when I was on leave with the RAF.I moved to the U.S. in the 60`s and have just returned to the U.K. for health reasons. Now, at the age of 84 I live in Worcestershire. Dont be suprised if you see a stooped old man visit you in the next two weeks, I just have to see HEAVEN & HELL one more time.
    David Slinger

     
    • scorpio13th

      January 28, 2015 at 10:03 am

      Hi David, I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but “Heaven and Hell” closed in the mid 70s.
      You may be 84, but you’re as ‘young as you feel’ and anyway you’ve still got a bloody good memory!
      Thanks for the comment. Eric

       
  13. Paul

    February 2, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Eric,
    I enjoyed reading all about Heaven and Hell and sadly I was too young to of visited.
    Can I ask if I am right in thinking that Ray’s mum lived on Old Compton Street as was known as Queenie? I used to be a handyman around Soho/Covent Garden in the 80’s and was often popping in to fix something or other for her and she often spoke about her son.

    All the best
    Paul

     
    • scorpio13th

      February 3, 2015 at 7:30 am

      Hi Paul,
      You are perfectly right, Rays mother was called Queenie, and she lived at 57 Old Compton Street.
      When she ran the Bar at the Casino de Paris she liked to be known as Jackie, she felt it was more modern. Thank you for remembering her.
      Eric

       
      • Paul

        February 6, 2015 at 7:06 am

        My pleasure Eric,
        She loved being called The Queen of Old Compton Street so she told me.
        A great character and I redecorated her bedroom for her in very bright fuscia pink! Walls doors and I think the ceiling as well!
        She had lots of photos of Ray on the walls and I believe you both lived in Mijas as there were also photos taken there.

        Thank you for such an enjoyable site.
        Paul

         
  14. Linda Steliou

    February 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Dear Eric,

    Please forgive me for the delay in responding to your lovely reply to my note to you of 19th January, 2015. Our lovely Daughter, Klerry, who lives in London, has just told me of it, and I thank you so much. We shall definitely raise a glass to you on our 49th Wedding Anniversary!

    I thought you might just like to know that, having entered a true-life story competition between “Take a Break” magazine and “Penguin Books”, which, to my amazement, I won, I was contacted by the Publisher of “Penguin Books” and urged to write a book! In a nutshell, I have written my very first book, entitled “The Lost Christmas Puppy” which, hopefully, will be in the Shops in time for this coming Christmas. But, what I thought you would be interested to know is that, within it, I have incorporated my meeting with my dearest Stephen in “Heaven and Hell”!

    Wish me luck!

    All good wishes and “thanks for the memory”,
    Linda Steliou (Mrs.)

     
  15. scorpio13th

    February 18, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Dear Linda,
    How brilliant ! Of course you won, after all you deserve it ! You write so eloquently.
    From your first book, “The Lost Christmas Puppy” I’m sure there will be many, many more.
    There will be no looking back for you.You will just go from strength to strength.
    Good luck, and have a wonderful 49th. Wedding Anniversary.
    Thanks again for your truly amazing story about “Heaven and Hell”
    Eric

     
  16. Sheila

    March 13, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    My fellow students and I spent many happy evenings in ‘Hell’ in the fifties, we all lived in Helen Graham House in Great Russell Street so it was an easy walk to Hell. It amazes me now to remember walking through Soho at night and never feeling anything but totally safe. Don’t think I would do it now.
    We met so many interesting people from all parts of the world there who became friends, it was a wonderful place, just ‘right’ for the times.
    I once took my Mum to ‘Heaven’ but didn’t tell her there was ‘hell’ downstairs, that would have been too much for her!!!

     
  17. Col Whittaker

    May 22, 2015 at 5:39 am

    A distant memory, but I recall playing tea chest bass in a skiffle group in the early sixties, whilst I was in the RAF. We played downstairs (it might have been next door at the 2i’s) a few times, followed by Tommy Steel and Lonnie Donegan. Also good times listening to Ken Colyer’s jazz band, Chris Barber on the trombone, and Lonnie on the banjo.

     

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