Tara Browne is often quoted as being one of the directors of Sibylla’s nightclub - alongside Kevin MacDonald, Terry Howard, Bruce Higham, Sir William Piggot-Brown, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman and, of course, Beatle George Harrison - however, the evidence for this is scant.
Certainly it is true that he, and his wife Nicky, headed the guest list of celebs and VIPs that attended the clubs glittering launch on 22nd June 66, ahead even of the Beatles themselves and the Rolling Stones, but the main source for rumours of his involvement seems to come from Nicky’s obituary in the Telegraph.
However, perhaps Tara’s involvement, or not, is the least interesting aspect in the short life of this West End hotspot. Once we dig a bit deeper we will find some very strange individuals with some very strange ties.
The first mystery seems to concern the name; I cannot vouch for the spelling, however, I have decided to opt for the variant as used by the woman after whom the club was named; Sibylla Edmonstone.
Club director Terry Howard titled the club after Sibylla who was a beautiful, wealthy young aristo whose grandfather was the American shop-keeper Marshall Field.
Alternately, the publishers of the ‘Look of London’ magazine – a short-lived venture that sort to rival established tomes such as Queens – went for the Sybilla’s variant. Now, given that one of the backers of ‘Look of London’ was the aforementioned Sir William Piggot-Brown then you would assume he ought to know!
Sibylla, however, appears not to have been present at the opening of the club that bore her name but, worry not, the cream of the inbred British aristocracy, as well as the high flyers of swinging London, were all crammed inside; as a brief look at the guest list at the end of this piece will testify.
|Opening night - is that Paul and Jane?|
Laurie O’Leary, in his book ‘Ronnie Kray: A Man Among Men’, describes the location of the club thusly…“Sibylla’s was a small restaurant discotheque situated in Mayfair’s Vine Street, a narrow, winding cobbled road suitable only for the width of one vehicle….”
For reference, Vine Street is a small road just off Swallow Street, itself just off Regents Street, not far from Masons Yard the home of the Indica Art Gallery and Bookstore. Back to Laurie again.
“Entering from Regent Street, Vine Street already had three established night clubs. Al Burnet’s Stork Rooms was the most famous. Directly next door was the less famous but well-run Hirondelle. Both were used by the Twins. At the same time, a few doors along, was Bill Bentley’s Oyster Bar, which was frequented by many a celebrity….
On the other side from Bentley’s was a rather infamous clip joint called Pipistrello’s…”
Hirondelle was actually L’hirondelle, a cabaret club, whilst the Stork Rooms is still a nightclub now renamed The Cuckoo Club. Bentley’s oyster bar is still trading whilst I can find little about The Pipistrello other than it was a restaurant. I am inclined, though, to take Mr O’Leary’s word for the gangster involvement in the vicinity.
For the uninitiated the Wikipedia definition of ‘clip-joint’ is… A clip joint or fleshpot is an establishment, usually a strip club or night club (often claiming to offer adult entertainment and/or bottle service) in which customers are tricked into paying excessive amounts of money, for surprisingly low-grade goods or services—or sometimes, nothing—in return. Typically, clip joints suggest the possibility of sex, charge inflated prices for watered-down alcoholic drinks, and then throw out customers when they become unwilling or unable to spend more money. The products/services offered may be illegal, allowing the establishment to maintain such activities with little fear of punishment from law enforcement, since its victims/customers cannot report their abuse without also admitting that they broke the law as well.
A strange location then, one might think, to site a club dedicated to satisfying the whims and needs of the rich, aristocratic and chinless. Unless, of course, we consider what kinds of ‘needs’ a young, publically educated, upper-class hooray, might seek having just left behind the familiar domain of the all-male, boarding school environment to which he is so used?
In the book ‘Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd’ by Mark Blake a story is told of Dave Gilmour’s pre-Floyd days in London trying to cadge a record deal with his then band, Jokers Wild...“The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein hadn’t offered the band a deal, but future DJ and musician Jonathan King, then a student at Cambridge University saw them and invited Gilmour to London….’Jonathan King noticed Dave at this club,’ recalls Rick Wills now. ‘He hung out where there were good-looking boys, but he was also on the lookout for musical talent. I went to Jonathan’s flat in London with Dave. He was on the phone talking to someone about getting a song on Radio Caroline, and it happened right while we were there. We were like, wow! We knew someone in the music business who had real power.’”
Through this contact with King the band hooked up with a guy called Jean-Paul Salvatori…”Nevertheless, under Salvatori’s guidance, the band where whisked down the King’s Road, kitted out in bell-bottomed, sailor’s trousers and blue Shetland jumpers, and put on stage at Sybillas nightclub in Swallow Street, where they immediately attracted attention. ‘We were tasty young boys in tight trousers, so we were prime fodder,’ says Rick. ‘The chef took a particular shine to me, chasing us round the kitchen with a meat cleaver.’”
Whilst it is dangerous to draw too many conclusions, this passage certainly implies that Sibyllas had a large gay clientele, if not being an outright gay club. Certainly, any reference to the convicted paedophile Jonathan King should start alarm bells ringing.
More extremely useful background information about Sibylla’s can be gleaned from the book ‘Once More With Feeling: A Story of Music, Love and Adoption’ by Gerry Morris who played with the sixties band The Cymbaline.
“On a quiet Monday afternoon in London’s West End, Laurie O’ Leary, the club manager, welcomed the Cymbaline to Sybillas in Swallow Street in Piccadilly. He was an extremely friendly character with a smile that only just made it. His lips seemed so sensitive to stretching that it made the act of laughing quite painful. During conversation, he would fiddle with a silk handkerchief carefully placed in the top pocket of his jacket. Even at that time of day he would be dressed in a smart expensive tailored suit in readiness for any surprise visitors or guests. We had learned that Sybillas was THE most exclusive club in the capital and was part-owned by George Harrison of the Beatles.
We turned into the narrow street and Del carefully parked the group van as near to the front door as possible. We proceeded to unload the drums, guitars, microphones and amplifiers we would need. This was going to be a big day for us – an audition to work at London’s most exclusive and fashionable intimate nightclub. Down the staircase and into the main area there was a very small dance floor surrounded by tables and alcoves. The tiny small stage was positioned centrally with a glass partition at either side and at the rear. There wasn’t nearly enough room for five musicians, let alone our equipment and sound system, so we made do with the least kit possible. Even so, it was a very tight squeeze.
Seated in one of the alcoves were four men who were about to listen to our music. I recognised one as Alan Freeman, the famous BBC broadcaster and DJ. We set up our equipment and went to a tiny dressing room area tucked behind the kitchen. The chef introduced himself as Klaus, apparently a very close friend of Mr Freeman. He smiled strangely at all of us and continued preparing some of the food ready for the evening. We changed into our new uniform that included a motif on our jackets denoting “The sign of the Cymbaline”. This was a black and white circle surrounding a reversed black and white horizontal rectangle.”
We can jump forward slightly here; suffice it to say the band passed its audition.
“Laurie was really pleased for us and he literally cracked a smile as we left to drive back to Redbridge. He gave us an official contract from the organisation he represented – The Charles Kray Entertainment Agency. (Charlie was the older brother of East London’s infamous Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie.) We couldn’t wait to perform at Sybillas.”
This is interesting because it confirms the involvement of the Krays in Sibylla’s. O’Leary formed the agency in partnership with Charlie Kray, presumably because of the cachet that the Kray name would give the organisation. One can assume that if the club was being run by a Kray employee and the talent was being signed up to Charlie Kray’s agency then the club security would have been supplied by the twins themselves. If not the twins would have wanted, and would have taken, a large cut of the proceeds anyway, so, maybe this suggests a reason for the location and, the very dodgy, business partners?
Generally, the scenario at that time was this: Club opens, makes money; local villains become aware; local villains put the squeeze on the club owners; club owners agree a percentage with local villains in return for ‘protection’. Perhaps, in a spirit of enterprise, the Sibylla’s board thought they would cut out the wait for the middle man and invite the local villains to be part of the venture from the outset?
Perhaps we should examine some of the Sibyalla ‘directors’ in more detail?
I find this following passage from Morris’ book telling.
“One evening there seemed to be a fairly low celebrity count but according to Laurie we were honoured by the presence of princes and princesses from the Arab States and Morocco. This club was a goldmine. It amazed me that nobody used cash. Nobody asked how much the steak sandwiches or drinks cost. It seemed the talk of money was obscene and strictly taboo – except for us – we were always broke.”
This aspect is further compounded when a letter, from Sibyllas’ director Terry Howard to George Harrison was auctioned at Christie’s in 2007, is considered. The letter requesting settlement of an outstanding drinks bill from Sibylla's from 13th September, 1966, - the night before Harrison departed for India – includes a hand written note from George saying “....Sorry I didn't see you lately - hope you and your ego are both well - and I just can't get myself to pay for the Drinks at Syb's, so could you just put it down on the publicity expenditure list, thanks, love George,”. It seems odd that a club director, a Beatle director at that, would be asked to pay for his own drinks.
Which leads us to question the extent of Harrison’s involvement? He is usually described as an investor, but then, I doubt very much that George actually put any money in to this venture. I don’t know, and certainly cannot prove, but I imagine that George was on-board purely to bring a touch of the old Beatle glamour to the project, to get the investors to the table and, to get the cats through the door. And, who better to make this connection with pop royalty then Kevin MacDonald’s old mucker, the Right Honourable Tara Browne?
Possible? It certainly is, however, due to my ever so appealing, devil may care, attitude I shall offer the following contradictory piece of evidence from the Shawn Levy book ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ for your delectation.
“nothing … quite seemed so symptomatic of how self-reflective the London scene had become as Sybilla’s, which opened in June, 1966, just east of Piccadilly Circus … The premier of the club was preceded by months of publicity, rumour and … hype. Part of this was on account, undoubtedly, of George Harrison’s small percentage of the business: a Beatle owned discotheque! And part was due to a list of members and potential members so filled with great and trendy names that the club owners were offered £1000 just for a copy of it … But part was too due to the ripeness of the moment – the swingingness of the scene, its self-celebration, its self-awareness. Sybilla’s was planned, built and launched as … ‘the first Classic London discotheque.’ And the high-water mark of the whole shebang might’ve been the night the joint opened its doors.”
But anyway, back to the directors; let us begin with Kevin MacDonald. Don’t be put off by the rather common, almost working-class, moniker; MacDonald was the nephew, some say cousin, of Viscount Rothermere (Harold Harmsworth) who, with his brother, founded and owned the awful right-wing British rag the Daily Mail. Harmsworth, who counted Mussolini and Hitler amongst his friends, would use this pedestal to write, and publish, articles promoting Oswald Mosley and his vile group of British fascists.
Rothermere’s wife, Lady Ann Rothermere, would later leave him to marry 007 author, and MI5 operative, Ian Fleming.
Tara Browne’s mother was Oonagh Guinness who was related to Bryan Guinness who, in 1929, married Diana Mitford. Mitford would later leave Guinness for the aforementioned Sir Oswald Mosley, and their son Max would later race motor cars for Len Street Engineering, for whom Tara Browne worked and from where he purchased the Lotus in which he would die.
From Wikipedia; "Diana, Lady Mosley (née Freeman-Mitford; 17 June 1910 – 11 August 2003) was one of Britain's noted Mitford sisters and hailed as one of the great beauties of her generation. She married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists in 1936, at the home of Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour. Subsequently her involvement with right-wing political causes resulted in three years' internment during the Second World War. Her obituary in The Daily Telegraph referred to her as an "unrepentant Nazi and effortlessly charming.""
So, whilst I may have digressed a little, you can see that MacDonald came from fairly odious stock. Reportedly a photographer, some say advertising executive, by trade, MacDonald would not live to see much success from the club as, on October 15, 1966, he would fall to his death from the roof of a Chelsea building in, extremely, suspicious circumstances.
Incidentally, another Tara Browne relative, Henrietta Guinness, who had her 21st birthday bash at Sibyllas, would also kill herself by falling off a roof, only this one in Italy.
|Brian Jones exits Sibylla's|
The following extract comes from a book called ‘Primrose Hill revisited’ by Chuck Anderson. It is a fiction but uses the real life background, and characters, of swinging London to set the scene.
“But is it a triumph of the working class, or merely the upper classes going slumming again? The Stones and Beatles hobnob with upper class figures like the Old Etonian art dealer Robert Fraser, Old Etonian antique dealer Christopher Gibbs and Tara Browne, the Guinness heiress. The Beatles wouldn’t have known these people existed, so guess whose private secretary picked up the phone first? And as they got accustomed to the territory, Jagger and McCartney abandoned working class values (if they ever had them anyway — Jagger’s background was privileged enough to gain him entrance to LSE and Paul was a lower middle-class kid, who rubbed up against working class roughnecks like Lennon). They’ve adopted the attitudes of the upper classes. Every last one of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones has bought an elegant London residence or a sprawling country house. Bill Wyman is officially Lord of the Manor of Gedding and Thormwood, a title that came along when he bought Gedding Hall in Suffolk, built in the 15th century. It’s just another wave of parvenues mimicking the manners of their betters, like the upstart factory-owners of the industrial revolution.
The perfect metaphor of the new society was Sybilla’s. London’s most fashionable state-of-the-art discotheque. All mirrors and shifting lights, with an Australian arriviste, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, as the DJ. A media concoction for the new high society. The swinging young admen who dreamt it up said it was supposed to be the stamping ground of ‘the new boy network’ of brash, talented young people from every background, people who qualified because they were good at what they did rather than who sired them — artists, photographers, pop musicians, film-makers, models, journalists and media personalities — and pointedly including the ‘hairy brigade’ of working class invaders from the East End. Sybilla’s credentials were impeccably downmarket chic. It was run by a twenty-four-year-old ex-bookmaker’s clerk from Bethnal Green who went to primary school with Ronnie and Reggie Kray and worked for them in the meat market at Spitalfields. According to Stephen, as a kind of dark background to enhance the display of glittering names on the membership list, there also appeared the anonymous pseudonyms of most of London’s top gangsters.
Stephen had taken her to the opening. Mary Quant and Alexander Plunkett Greene were there, as well as all four Beatles and most of the Stones with their new wives or crumpet, David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Celia Hammond, Michael Caine, and — Claudia gasped like a schoolgirl when Stephen introduced her — a shimmering Julie Christie.
Apart from Stephen, and, very possibly, ‘Fluff’ Freeman, Claudia was the oldest person in the room. And she was impressed. Those young stars had hauled themselves into the limelight by their own bootstraps. They were the new aristocracy. Yet, most of the couples prancing in their tiny white boots and black elastic-sided boots and puffing on Gauloises or something more exotic were the same old Chelsea Chicks and Hooray Henrys with the double-barrelled names, the scions of the old aristocracy. To complete the metaphor of social evolution, one of the swinging young admen who started Sybilla’s jumped off a building in Chelsea soon afterwards without ever explaining why, the glitterati moved on and of course it’s closed now.”
Moving on, the chief partner, reputedly putting up half the $120,000 start up cash, was Sir William Piggot-Brown, a millionaire baronet, who, at age 19 was a champion amateur jockey, and by 1966, at 25, had moved on from the sport of kings and taken his hugely deserved knighthood into the equally glamorous world of high-class discothèques.
Also along for the ride was the 26-year old photographer, Terry Howard, who apparently accompanied George Harrison and Patti on their Barbados honeymoon – gooseberry anyone? – and 24-year old property man, Bruce Higham.
Last, but certainly not least on this list, was the Australian DJ, and rumoured paedophile, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. Freeman, being about 90 even then, was, I assume, there to turn the wheels of steel as well as grease the wheels of influence.
Bisexual Freeman, was a well-known radio DJ and host of the TV show Top of the Pops, and was friends with Jimmy Savile. A Daily Mail article here; Kevin MacDonald’s family rag, details some of their mutual depravity and, so, spares me having to do it.
If you are beginning to get the sense of a theme here, then, you are not wrong.
According to numerous websites Freeman would hold depraved parties at his East London flat to which to many London care home boys would be delivered, courtesy, it is claimed, of everyone’s favourite villains, the Krays.
Present at these soirees would be the aforementioned Jimmy Savile, Lord Boothby (Boothby – along with the MP Tom Driberg – crops up regularly in tales about the Krays. Boothby, incidentally, had a flat in Eaton Square whilst Tara Browne lived in Eaton Row, just off the Square, in Belgravia.), Joe Meek and, so it is rumoured, Brian Epstein. It is not my intention to make accusations concerning dead men who cannot defend themselves; however, Savile’s perverted lifestyle seems to have been proven beyond doubt now and one does wonder about guilt by association?
Savile, incidentally, gave an interview to those guardians of traditional values, in the sex issue, to the Process Church of the Final Judgement. Highlights from this illuminating 1969 interview include: -
Q. Are you moral?
A. I would say that I am moral during the day, and even higherly moral during the evening but of course we won't say anything about the night time, because that is when all real wolves like myself rise from the darkness and leap about causing chaos left and right.
Q. What do you feel most strongly about?
A. Girls. I feel that they don't realise that I am here and available. When I see lovely young ladies walking about that don't take advantage of me, I think they are missing a great thing in their lives. This is why I keep getting my face slapped. Other than that I feel most strongly about getting back to nature, and I'm all for getting back to nature and my case comes up next Thursday.
|'How's about then?' Savile's Process Interview|
Record producer Joe Meek was a similarly troubled individual. Like Brian Epstein he was gay, had been arrested for ‘cottaging’ and took prodigious amounts of speed. They also both enjoyed the company of handsome young pop stars.
Meek’s life would tragically come crashing around his ears on February 3, 1967 when, having first shot dead his landlady, he would end his life by blowing his brains out.
I will use the following extract from the book ‘The Krays: A Violent Business: ..’ by Colin Fry to set the scene.
“Shortly before his death, on October 1, 2000, Reg Kray was the subject of a TV documentary in which he confessed to a previously unknown murder. Pete Gillett, a prison 'friend', of Reg's claimed that Reg had confessed to the murder whilst they were in prison. Gillett refused to reveal the identity of the victim and told the television programme: 'Sixteen years ago Reg burdened me with the secret of this murder he did. It was not a villain, not a policeman, but a young boy, a young gay boy...he was disgusted with himself for realising that he enjoyed that sort of thing, knowing he was gay or bisexual, and he shot the kid.'
In February 1967, the record producer Joe Meek shot and killed his landlady then himself. Meek was, at the time, involved in a battle with the Krays, who wanted to take over the management of one of his groups, The Tornadoes. Ron Kray had told Dave Watts of the band that he would 'take care' of Joe Meek.
But this was not Joe Meek's only worry.
Earlier that year, a farm worker discovered two suitcases on a farm track next to a lay-by in the Suffolk village of Tattingstone. Inside were the dismembered remains of a young man who was later identified as 17-year old Bernard Oliver. He had been homosexually assaulted, strangled and then cut into eight pieces.
Oliver was a rent boy from Highgate in North London who was well known on the London gay scene that was frequented by both Joe Meek and the Krays. Meek knew Oliver and was terrified that he was about to be questioned by the police about the killing. It is highly unlikely that Meek was directly responsible for the murder, but he may well have known more about it then he let on.
According to reports at the time, Oliver had been abducted from London and taken to Suffolk where he was held for up to a week in a cottage that, it was rumoured, hosted all-male orgies....
Whether Bernard Oliver was Reg's unnamed victim will never be known, but there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that he should be considered seriously. Oliver certainly matches Pete Gillett's description, and the Krays were known to host homosexual orgies in the area where his body was found, knew the area well and drove cars similar to that which may have been used to dispose of his body.”
One aspect that particularly caught my attention was the line… “Meek was, at the time, involved in a battle with the Krays, who wanted to take over the management of one of his groups, The Tornadoes. Ron Kray had told Dave Watts of the band that he would 'take care' of Joe Meek.”
This immediately took me back to a previous blog post of mine in which the Glasgow crime lord Arthur Thompson claimed that the Krays had been interested in taking over the Beatles from Brian Epstein in a very similar fashion. They, of course, took care of Brian by blackmailing him about his gay affair with Dizz Gillespie and the gambling debts Brian had run up at their, and others, casinos.
Now, it emerges, Arthur Thompson used to have in his employ one Ian Brady, the convicted child killer. The Moors murderer claims in this article that he was a former gangland ‘enforcer’ and also talks of how at one point he was imprisoned with the Krays.
Now, it is fair to say that Brady is not in the best mental health and, therefore, this may be just idle bragging on his part, however, I did come across a very interesting, albeit, anonymous internet comment pertaining to Brady…” Ian Brady while in the army was given "special training".
This was mental conditioning by Winston Churchill's doctor Lord Moran and his appointee, William Sargent at Porton Down.
Brady was one of many trained killers who went "wrong".”
Now Sargant, a contemporary of Jane’s father Dr Richard Asher, has come onto my radar before and he is well known for his work on “deep sleep” methods of brain washing and has prominent Tavistock, MI5, CIA, and MKULTRA connections.
Equally, our friends the Krays spent time in the armed services, courtesy of National Service, where they would spend most of their time locked up for absconding. Could they have also been guinea pigs for the Sargant?
So, we have established the Krays involvement in Sibylla’s and we have ascertained that they have been accused in the past of running a paedophile ring. I wonder just how central the nightclub was to this conspiracy?
GUEST LIST FOR THE FIRST NIGHT PARTY AT SIBYLLA’S
Tara Browne and Nicky
Gerard Campbell and Theadora
Frank Phillips and Partner
Roger Shine and Partner
Martin Myers Ingrid Hepner
George Harrison and Patti (sic)
John Lennon and Cyn
Ringo and Maureen
Mick Jagger and Chrissie
Brian Jones and Anita
Keith Richard and Partner
Eric Swayne and Partner
Terry Donovan and Valerie
Jonathan Abbott and Maggi
Chester Jones and Sandy
Johnny Gaydon and Clare Bewicke
Rudi Russell and Partner
Perigrine Eliot and Jacqueta
Michael Rainey and Jane Ormsby-Gore
Julian Ormsby-Gore and Victoria O-G
Don Bessant and Julie Christie
Ian Ross and Bunty Lampson
Trevor Dawson and Partner
Nick Head and Sue Locke
David Enthoven and Partner
David Olivestone and Ingrid Boulting
Vic Singh (Filmed Day in the Life video) and Jane Lumb
Johnny Gilbert and Partner
Alexander Plunkett-Green and Mary Quant
David Mlinaric and Elizabeth Hayes
Alan Lorenz and Partner
Bobby Lorenz and Partner
Bon Freeman and Partner
David Anthony and Celia Hammond
Mark Palmer and Lucy Hill
David Heimann and Wife
William Pigott-Brown and Partner - owner
Terry Howard and Partner - owner
Kevin McDonald and Partner - owner
Roland Wells and Partner – business partner of Terry Howard
Nigel Dempster and Partner – Gossip columnist
Derriot Butler and Partner
Chris Long and Partner
Jean-Claude and Belinda Volpeliere
Bruce Higham and Kitty Gordon Hercy
David Tree and Annegret
John Green and Partner
John Fenton and Partner
Charles Cyzer and Partner
Jacki Bissett and Partner
Lord Ednam and Partner
Bluey Mavroleon and Partner
Lord Shelbourne and Partner
Lance Percival and Partner
Mary Bee and Partner
Robert Wace and Partner
Mike Margous and Anita Harris
Brendon Phillips and Partner
Gordon Waller and Partner
Jessica Kitson and Partner
Rory Davis and Partner
Jackie Bissett* (*also listed above)
Digby Bridges and Partner
Clive Atkins and Partner
John Simeone and Partner
Michael Caine (through Johnny Gilbert)
Michael D’Abo and Maggie London
John Barry and Wife* (*aka Jane Birkin)
Tony Harris and Penel