Great days at the Playboy

Eddie took one last  photograph of one of the nightclubs at Kimbells when it was no more than a wreck.
Eddie took one last photograph of one of the nightclubs at Kimbells when it was no more than a wreck.
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How many of you attended the Playboy Club in Osborne Road, Southsea?

After closure in the 1980s it reverted to its original name of Kimbells, then became Soames Sporting Club and then simply Soames. Later on again it became the Grosvenor casino.

A group menu from the Playroom restaurant at the Playboy Club.

A group menu from the Playroom restaurant at the Playboy Club.

One man who remembers it all is Eddie Willis, of Queen Street, Portsea.

In 1968 he started work at the Playboy Club. It was posh but perhaps not up to the Park Lane establishment in London.

Eddie reminds me there was a strict dress code. Every man had to wear a tie.

He says: ‘The girls behind the reception desk had a box of ties which punters had to choose from and wear while in the establishment.’

Eddie Willis.

Eddie Willis.

He told me it was a marvellous place to work, adding: ‘I was a Mr Do-It-All. I did everything from cleaning to changing the roulette tablecloths.’

After the Playboy closed Eddie says it became Soames Sporting Club, but there was more to the building than that.

Upstairs where Kimbells was there were other nightclubs such as the Blue Lagoon, Shakes and Merlins.

‘Johnny Miller was the leading entertainment businessman in the city at that time.’

In 1993 Eddie was given the keys to the door and became the security supervisor. He opened up at 7am to let the cleaners in and locked up again at night. He was on call at all hours.

He adds: ‘I enjoyed the job at Christmas as we closed early and the staff had a party with free food and bar.’

I asked him if he met any high-rollers at the gaming tables. ‘One I do remember was Kerry Packer the Australian multi-millionaire. Others who turned up from time to time were Harry Redknapp and many Pompey footballers.’

Club Tiberius was another casino Eddie used to look after.

‘Cherry Norris, a former bunny girl, became the manager of that casino,’ he says. The restaurants appear to have done well and were quite inexpensive considering the surroundings.

‘There was the Playroom restaurant which was always busy. We had four top chefs working in the kitchens.’

Like all good things, it came to an end and in 2015 the Grosvenor closed in Osborne Road for the last time.

As there was no room for Eddie at the other Grosvenor at Gunwharf Quays, he was made redundant.

‘We had a flood in the cellar and when the false walls were removed they found there was asbestos everywhere so I suspect that might have had a lot to do with the closure,’ Eddie says.

One local celebrity Eddie did get to know well was cabaret singer Miss Jo Baker.

He recalls: ‘She used to jokingly call me her minder.’