Archive for the ‘Piccadilly’ Category

Mayfair and the fall of the hippy squat at 144 Piccadilly

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Drug taking, couples making love while others look on, a heavy mob armed with iron bars, filth and stench, foul language, that is the scene inside the hippies’ fortress in London’s Piccadilly. The People

Three rather unscary Hells Angels guarding 144 Piccadilly September 1969

Three rather wimpy 'Hells Angels' guarding 144 Piccadilly September 1969

At around 11.30am on Sunday 21st September 1969, a slightly-built Chief Inspector convinced the hippies inside the squat at 144 Piccadilly to lower an improvised wooden drawbridge so the police could help a seriously ill person inside.

The drawbridge came down and Chief Inspector Michael Rowling flung himself bravely across the barricaded opening to establish a bridgehead. It was an old trick, no doubt played out a thousand times back in the (medieval) day, and sure enough a police-whistle shrilled and seemingly from everywhere a hundred policemen charged over the drawbridge, drawing their truncheons as they got in through the door. Unfortunately they trampled all over the Chief Inspector in the process.

The raiding policemen had to brave slates, water filled bowls, bricks and one petrol bomb raining down upon them but it was only four minutes after the police charged in, a policeman was seen at the top of the mansion raising his truncheon in triumph. Not long after and to cheers for the thousands of onlookers on the street below, the Hells Angel’s flag was lowered from the flagpole.

As he was being led outside by the police, Dr John, the ‘so called’ leader of the squatters, screamed at the press and the crowds in the street;

“They conned us! They tricked us!”

The nice round number of exactly one hundred people were taken to custody with twenty-seven adults and three juveniles arrested for offences ranging from assault to drug possession. There were no bad casualties although many of the occupants complained of being beaten by the Police (no video phones or palm-corders in those days). The occupation of Hippydilly was over, just three weeks after it had begun.

Policeman negotiating with the squatters

"We don't want to split the scene, man."

All homeless welcome

The party at Hippydilly.


Two hippies admiring the view

This is far out, man. Do you think I can fly dude.

September 1969 was the height of the anti-hippy scare-mongering from the British press and they fell upon the siege at 144 Piccadilly with glee. The Daily Telegraph noted that on the eviction of the squat a hospital governor had vomited, a police-woman became ill, and a policeman refused to allow his dog into the squat, all ‘because of the filth’. Most of the tabloids had sent in undercover reporters into number 144 and the News of the World described the squat as:

‘Lit only by the dim light of their drugged cigarettes’.

While the People had declared under the headline – HIPPIES – DRUGS – THE SORDID TRUTH!

Drug taking, couples making love while others look on, a heavy mob armed with iron bars, filth and stench, foul language, that is the scene inside the hippies’ fortress in London’s Piccadilly. These are not rumours but facts, sordid facts which will shock ordinary decent living people. Drug taking and squalor, sex – and they’ll get no state aid…

The squatters at 144 were originally organised by a group of young people who called themselves The London Street Commune and led by the almost mythical Dr John (he may have been Phil Cohen who was part of the anarchist group King Mob). The organisation had been created to help find somewhere for hundreds of hippies that were sleeping rough in London’s parks to stay overnight.

144 Piccadilly, an empty five-storey disused mansion at Hyde Park corner seemed an ideal place to set up a communal squat.

A bored hippy bemoaning the lack of facilities and furniture: "I think I'll crash on the floor, man."

Hippies carefully guarding their squat

"I think I'm gonna blow this place, man. I've lost my shoes."

At one point during the siege some media-incited skinheads (then as now the tabloids were skilful at contriving stories) turned up in the night to shoot air-guns at the squatters. They must have been so shocked and surprised when suddenly hundreds of incongruous water-filled carpet boules, thousands of which had been stored in the empty building prior to the take-over, started raining down upon their shaven heads.

Skinheads had started to become more and more popular as a sort of tough working class alternative to to the ‘love and peace, man’ image of the middle-class hippies. The heavy carpet boules thrown by the hippies from several storeys high (while underneath a graffitied sign saying ‘We Love Peace’) easily defeated the skinheads and their air-guns. The skinheads attempt to invade the squat was quickly over.

We Love Peace, unless skinheads are involved.

We Love Peace, man, unless skinheads are involved.

Skinheads off to get their airguns for some hippy hunting

Skinheads off to get their airguns for some hippy hunting

Water-filled carpet boules

Water-filled carpet boules. Deadly weapons.

On the 20th September (the day before the police raid on the squad) there was a free festival at Hyde Park. It was the third of free festivals in the park that summer and admittedly the one that has been forgotten (the first featured the super group Blind Faith and the second was the famous Stones performance after the death of Brian Jones). The third festival featured Soft Machine, the Deviants, Quintessence, Al Stewart and the Edgar Broughton Band who as usual finished with their fans favourite ‘Out Demons Out’.

Many of the visitors to the Hyde Park concert would have come from out of town and many of them went to visit 144 Piccadilly which had been extensively in the news by that time. Many of them must have tried to stay the night there, not having anywhere else to stay, and must have unfortunately been caught up in the raid the next day.

Hyde Park audience 20th September 1969

Hyde Park audience 20th September 1969

Hyde Park, man.

Hyde Park, man.

When the police raided the squat, after a high court order to leave had been ignored, most of the onlookers, many of whom had been there overnight, cheered. The developer Ronnie Lyons (infamous for inventing the industrial estate) was seen going into West End Central Police Station and donating £1000 to police charities in appreciation of a good job done in getting rid of the hippies from 144 Piccadilly.

144 Piccadilly stayed empty for three more years until it was knocked down, despite being listed, in favour of a huge modern luxury hotel called Hotel Intercontinental Park Lane which still, unfortunately, stands on the corner of Park Lane and Piccadilly today. If you feel like staying there it did have a 63 million pound refit only three years ago. I’m sure its very good value at £329 for their cheapest room.

A hippy being escorted from the premises.

We are the writing on your wall

We are the writing on your wall

Edgar Broughton Band – Out Demons Out

Fairport Convention – Genesis Hall


The Murder of Ali Fahmy At The Savoy Hotel

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

“What have I done, my dear! What have I done!”


Marguerite Fahmy

The two court cases were over seventy years apart and the LA suburb of Brentwood is a long way from the relative sophistication of London’s Savoy Hotel in the 1920s but when OJ Simpson was infamously acquitted in 1995, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the shocked reaction around the world would not have been dissimilar to when Marguerite Fahmy was sensationally found ‘not guilty’ of the internationally reported murder of her Egyptian playboy husband at the hotel in 1923.

The Savoy Hotel in 1923

The Savoy Hotel had opened in 1889, and had been no stranger to scandal – it was at Oscar Wilde’s infamous trial where it came to light that he had entertained a succession of rent-boys at the hotel’s room 361. After Wilde had been arrested for gross indecency the presiding magistrate said “I know nothing about the Savoy, but I must say that in my view chicken and salad for two at sixteen shillings is very high. I am afraid I shall never supper there myself.”

However it was still the place to stay for celebrities and royalty visiting London. In 1923 the hotel was still seen as one of the finest in the world and in that year, amongst others, Walter Hagen, Fred and Adele Astaire and the opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (as in chicken) had all stayed there.

Walter Hagen on the roof of the Savoy

Fred and Adele Astaire

A typical dismal drizzly April in London that year had only been brightened by the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to the Duke of York, Prince Albert – known as ‘Bertie’ to his family and close friends. The house band at the Savoy Hotel – The Savoy Havana Band – made its debut on the BBC on 13th April 1923, not least because the BBC at the time was next door and shared its generator with the hotel.

A few weeks later on the morning of Sunday 1 July 1923 a limousine drove into Savoy Court and the Hotel doorman helped out a couple who were known to the hotel as the Prince and Princess Fahmy. They were accompanied by the Prince’s private secretary, Mr Said Enani. Accurately Prince Fahmy wasn’t really a prince but he did little to discourage the use of the title when away from Egypt.

Savoy Court – the only road in Britain where drivers are required to drive on the right.

The 22 year Egyptian had met his bride to be, a woman ten years his senior, in Paris the year before -incidentally the year that Egypt was granted independence, if not overall control, by the British Government. To many people Marguerite was seen, at best, as a flirtatious gold-digger and more in love with his not inconsiderable fortune than the man himself. They had married in Egypt, first by a civil ceremony on 26th December and then followed by a Muslim wedding in January 1923 where Madame Fahmy, modestly veiled, proclaimed in Arabic ‘There is one God and Mohammed is His Prophet’.


Mr and Mrs Fahmy in Egypt

After a few days in London, which was experiencing a heatwave, Marguerite Fahmy summoned the Savoy’s doctor – she was suffering badly from external haemorrhoids. She alleged to Dr Gordon, while he was treating her, that her husband had ‘torn her by unnatural intercourse’ and was ‘always pestering her’ for this kind of sex. Already thinking about possible future divorce proceedings she repeatedly asked the doctor for ‘a certificate as to her physical condition to negative the suggestion of her husband that she had made up a story’. The doctor, although respectful, ignored her request.

On the 9th July the couple went to Daly’s Theatre on Cranbourne Street off Leicester Square (where the Vue West End cinema now stands) to see, with hindsight the darkly ironic ‘The Merry Widow’. It had been an incredibly hot day and you can only imagine how uncomfortably warm the theatre must have been in those pre-air-conditioned days (although as far as a lot of the West End is concerned we’re still in those days). Not the ideal conditions for someone suffering from piles I would imagine. The main performers in Lehar’s popular operetta were the 22 year old Evelyn Laye and the Danish matinee idol Carl Brisson.


Carl Brisson


The beautiful Evelyn Laye

Daly's Theatre

The couple returned to the Savoy after the theatre for a late supper, however the meal was disrupted by a huge argument which had recently become almost a daily occurrence. Ali had even appeared in public with scratches on his face and Marguerite had been seen with dark bruises on her face ill-disguised with powder and makeup. The row this time degenerated to such an extent that Marguerite picked up a wine bottle and shouted in French ‘You shut up or I’ll smash this over your head.’ Ali replied ‘If you do, I’ll do the same to you.’ They eventually calmed down, not without the help of the head-waiter, and went to the ballroom to listen to the Savoy Havana Band. The house band no doubt would have been playing at one point Yes, We Have No Bananas or perhaps Ain’t We Got Fun both big hits that year. It wasn’t long before Marguerite, after refusing the offer of a dance with her husband, retired to her room.

Mr Said Enani, as a witness in court a few weeks later, said that Mr Fahmy, in full evening dress, had decided to take a cab in the direction of Piccadilly even though the hot balmy weather had now turned into one of the worse thunderstorms in living memory. When asked the reason why he went, he said he did not know. Although we can perhaps presume that Ali was either visiting an unlicensed nightclub or on the search for either a male or female prostitute both of which frequented the area in high numbers around that part of the West End.

At around 2.00am the hotel’s night porter passed the door to the Fahmy’s suite but heard a low whistle and looking back saw Ali Fahmy bending down apparently whistling for Marguerite’s little dog that had been following the night porter down the corridor. After continuing on his way for just three yards he suddenly heard three shots fired in quick succession.

He ran back and saw Marguerite throw down a black handgun and also saw Ali slumped against the wall bleeding profusely from a wound on his temple from which splinger of bone and brain tissue protruded. ‘Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait, mon cher?’ (what have I done, my dear?’) Marguerite kept saying over and over again.


Sir Edward Marshall Hall - The Great Defender

Marshall Hall was almost 65 at the time of Marguerite’s trial and was a household name. He was six feet three, handsome for his age, and a commanding presence in the courtroom. He was commonly known, after being responsible for several famous acquittals, as ‘The Great Defender’. Marshall Hall’s final speech to the jury in defence of Marguerite, or Madame Fahmy as the press were now calling her, slowly became a character assassination of her dead husband. he portrayed him as a monster of Eastern amoral bisexual depravity. (Not too) subtly Hall accused both Prince Fahmy and his private secretary of being homosexuals.

Ali Fahmy

The public gallery consisted of many young women some of whom were noted to be barely eighteen. Marshall Hall looked up to the gallery saying ‘if women choose to come here to hear this case, they must take the consequences’. None of them left. Meanwhile he turned the attack on Ali to sodomy. Fahmy, said Hall, ‘developed abnormal tendencies and he never treated Madame normally’ Asking them to disregard the fact that the victim was younger than his wife. ‘Yes, he was only 23 years old,’ he told them. ‘But he was given to a life of debauchery and was obsessed with his sexual prowess.’ He went on to remind them that, as an Oriental man, his wife to him was no more than a belonging and that however much he may have acquired the outward signs of urbanity and sophistication, he was forever an Oriental under the skin.

When Marguerite took the stand, she was encouraged by the Great Defender to describe her life as a Muslim bride and to a lot of observers this was when the case turned her way. She testified at one point how she had been sitting ‘in a state of undress in which her modesty would have forbidden her facing even her maid’, she had noticed a strange noise and she pulled aside the hangings that screened an alcove and ‘saw crouching there, where he could see every move she made, one of her husband’s numerous ugly, black, half-civilized manservants, who obeyed like slaves his every word’. She screamed for help, but when her husband, appeared from an adjoining room he only, laughed, saying that “He is nobody. He does not count. But he has the right to come here or anywhere you may go and tell me what you are doing.”

It was like a scene from Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik, the extraordinarily popular film released the year before, and the women in the gallery were treating it as such.

Before he summed up, the judge, referring to the public gallery said, ‘These things are horrible; they are disgusting. How anyone could listen to these things who is not bound to listen to them passes comprehension.’ However he had been swayed by Marshall Hall’s defence, that pandered to the prejudices of the tie, and during the summing up endorsed Marshall Hall by saying ‘We in this country put our women on a pedestal: in Egypt they have not the same views…’

The jury, after less than an hour’s consideration, announced ‘not guilty’ to both the charges of murder and of manslaughter, and Madame Fahmy was discharged and was now a free woman.

The prosecution was refused by the judge, seemingly in awe as much as anyone else to the Great Defender, to cross-examine Marguerite ‘as to whether or not she had lived an immoral life’, to show that she was ‘a woman of the world, well able to look after herself’.

If she had been cross-examined properly the jury would have found out that not only had Marguerite been a teenage common prostitute in Bordeaux and in Paris and had an illegitimate daughter when she was just fifteen, but she had also become a trained high-class courtesan (it was said that she always spoke in a rather stilted French because of elocution lessons). Not only that but Marguerite’s husband was not alone in having inclinations towards the same sex: it was found out by a private detective hired by the prosecution that it was well known in Paris that Madame Fahmy “is addicted, or was addicted, to committing certain offences with other women and it would seem that there is nothing that goes on in such surroundings as she has been moving in Paris that she would not be quite well acquainted with…”

The world’s press reported the case with undisguised glee, mostly portraying Mardame Fahmy as less than innocent in more ways than one. The French newspapers concentrated on the fact that the jury considered the case as if a crime passionnel defence was allowed in English law.

Marguerite Fahmy after the trial

Marguerite Fahmy after the trial

After the verdict Marguerite soon left for Paris where she found out that she had no claim to her late husband’s fortune as he had left no will. After a failed, and slightly ludicrous plot where she pretended that she had been pregnant and subsequently borne a son (who would have been entitled to his father’s fortune). She was now almost a laughing stock in Parisian society and became relatively a recluse. She died on 2 January 1971 in Paris. She never remarried.

A big debt to this post is Andrew Rose’s excellent book about the notorious murder entitled Scandal at the Savoy originally published in 1991. The author has copies still available and can be contacted at

Billy Jones – Yes, We Have No Bananas!

The Savoy Havana Band – I’m Gonna Bring My Girl a Watermelon Tonight

Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Bessie Smith – Sugarfoot Stomp (Dippermouth Blues)

Jeanette MacDonald – Merry Widow Waltz

Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra – Happy Feet

Erik Satie – Gnossiennes No. 1

Benson Orchestra of Chicago – Ain’t We Got Fun