72 Worrall Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8. Circa 1970 – October 1976.
Known as the ‘Moulie’, the Moulin Rouge occupied a former swimming pool off Whiteladies Road. The swimming pool was boarded over to form a huge dance floor making it one of the largest gay clubs in Britain. Its complex history has been researched mainly through the files of the Worrall Road Area Residents’ Association at Bristol Record Office.
The site had a long history as a sports and then a bingo club since 1934, and since 1962 as a dance club. By 1966 it was a striptease club called Lesters; in September 1966 the owners opened a second club, the Moulin Rouge, at the rear as a discotheque but it was not gay. The Kray twins were reported to be regular visitors during the late 1960s. In February 1969 Terence O’Brien, a Knowle scrap dealer, took over the lease. Within a few months drag acts were showing and a fancy dress ball was held (probably meaning a drag ball). There were frequent problems with the licence and in April 1970 it became the Drum club, “with an African flavour”. Noise nuisance was a problem; by October 1970 the Drum moved into the city centre and the Moulin Rouge reopened.
This is probably when it became ” a club now run exclusively for the use of Homosexuals” (Worrall Road Residents Association letter, March 1971). By Spring 1971 Reg Valentine was manager and the club had 1400 members, regularly attracting 500 people on Saturday nights for an entrance fee of 50p. Later it was managed by Dave Alexander and Mark Wainwright. Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars, worked as a bouncer at the Moulin Rouge in its early days.
One man remembers his first visit in the early 1970s; he was refused entry because he didn’t look gay and couldn’t name any other gay venues. If you made it past the door staff, there was the salad to negotiate. Under the terms of the licence drink could only be served with food. Customers were issued a plate of wilted salad, strictly not to be eaten; you kept it in front of you for a while then returned it to be served up to the next customer! The club had its matron, Miriam O’Brien, wife of the owner, who lived in Wells Road, Knowle where she ran a sort of boarding house for displaced young gay men.
Custom dipped in the mid-1970s as new venues opened in the city centre. In April 1976 the body of Christine Druce was found drowned in the city docks; she was last seen alive in March leaving the Moulie. There were other violent incidents at the club too, and in October 1976 the Moulin Rouge lost its licence after concerted opposition by the police and the Residents’ Association. It stayed open for a few more months despite the lack of a licence. There were several attempts to reopen it in 1977: the first was withdrawn because of Dave Alexander’s death, and the second after plain-clothed policeman were allowed entry without membership and served alcohol after hours. Lester’s Strip Club continued for some time, but the site was finally cleared for housing in 1986.
A drag queen remembers her first visit to the Moulin Rouge:
I remember skiving off school and getting the train to Bristol from Swindon (much as Diana Dors would have done 20 years before me). I was only 15 and had this huge story made up of how I was 21 (age of consent back then) and had been in an “affair” with some guy who had died, and how we never went out on the scene, haha. […] Every Saturday I managed to miss the last train home to Swindon and instead party the night away at The Moulin Rouge up in Worrall Road. What a club that was, the biggest in UK at that time. It was HUGE.
I remember arriving at the Moulin Rouge one foggy Wednesday night in January 1971/2 at 7pm , not knowing what a gay club was, dressed up in evening suit complete with bow tie and cummerbund aged all of only just 15. I was greeted by Dave Alexander who told me it was members only and a committee night to elect a new committee and to come back on Friday or Saturday night, which I managed to do. Having bust my flies getting off the train at Temple Meads (days of puppy fat and a hairless face) on this occasion Dave Alexander’s partner Mark Wainwright was on the door with his bleached blonde long hair and sunglasses, I asked him if he had a safety pin, explaining my predicament. “Don’t worry love, it pays to advertise” he retorted, and took me through into the bowels of the club where he introduced me to some Queen who explained that she was having this fabulous costume flown in from Hong Kong for the Valentines drag ball and she was going to be a human taper… and thus began my journey into GAY subculture and CLUBLAND. Glam Rock was reigning supreme at this time, and Ms Bowie was number one Queen.
Pearl, drag queen
Malcolm Jemison remembers:
Every Sunday a group of us would go to the Radnor or the Ship for a few drinks, then end up at David Alexander’s house on Claremont Street in St Paul’s for a home cooked Sunday lunch while watching the weepy romantic Sunday afternoon movie on the BBC.
Page lasted updated: 1/10/2013