9: Le Duce

By the 1960s Queer bars started to appear in Soho and the most significant was Le Duce.

Opened in 1964, Le Duce was a basement bar where Queer mods, dressed in Carnaby Street finery, danced to Motown and Bluebeat.

A Motown classic, Jimmy Ruffin's 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?' was a Le Duce favourite. The song reached no. 8 in the UK's chart.

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Manager Peter Burton remembered the heavy use of purple hearts and black bombers (ie. everyone was off their heads on speed) and a transvestite called Samantha who was a regular and got high from sniffing her wig-cleaning fluid. There was no DJ, just a jukebox and a seating area screened off by a massive fish tank. Police raids were frequent and whenever they arrived clubbers chucked their pills into the tank and kept killing off the fish.

For four years it was the trendiest place in London, and where all the dancers would go after filming ITV’s Ready Steady Go. Film director Derek Jarman remembered the club staying open later than its rivals:

It was where the hip hung out and bright trousers and shirts swept away a grey past. Even Levis jeans were new – all those lads sitting in tepid baths to shrinkwrap their arses and a little sandpaper around the crotch to show off a packet; they shouldn’t be too tight, or your partner couldn’t get his hand down the back and dance with his fingers stroking your arse when no-one was looking.

The club had a tough door policy but couldn’t keep out the police. They rarely made arrests but homosexual acts were still illegal and police intimidated clubbers by taking down their names and addresses.

In 1967 the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts as long as they were in private, and between two men (no more than two) who were both 21 or older. This act did little to end police persecution as homosexuality was now only tolerated in private, never ever in public.

Next stop: Club Louise