‘We had fantastic times at Jo’s...’

Joanna's doormen Chris Wilson (left) and Ray Harwood
Joanna's doormen Chris Wilson (left) and Ray Harwood
Picture: Shutterstock

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Ray Harwood recalls life on the door of one of Portsmouth’s top discos and the night he barred the way to one of Britain’s most famous faces

The blond, long-haired man pulled up in a flash car, climbed out and made his way to the door.

Ray Harwood recognised him instantly, but as the man approached he knew there was going to be a problem.

‘I was very friendly, just like I was with all the customers. Just because he’d got out of an Aston Martin didn’t make any difference,’ he recalls.

‘But he was wearing jeans and that was a big problem. We had a house rule – no jeans. So I said: ‘Sorry mate, you can’t come in because of what you’re wearing’.

‘We had a bit of banter, very friendly. The manager was called, saw who it was and let him in.

‘These were the days when a pair of jeans cost more than a pair of ordinary trousers so it made sense, but I’ll never forget that day back in the 70s when I stopped Richard Branson from going into Joanna’s.’

Ray, 69, was a doorman at the much-lamented Southsea disco, which burned down last month, for 16 years from 1970 until 1986.

Today, as he stands by the rubble of all that remains of the historic building opposite South Parade Pier, all he can hear are the ghostly sounds of the thousands of people who poured into the night spot in its heyday.

He says: ‘They were fantastic times and if I had my time all over again I’d do exactly the same.

‘There are still hundreds of people in this city who remember me and the rest of the staff and I remember them.’

Ray, of London Road, Cowplain, was part of the furniture at Jo’s, as everybody called it.

In his checked jacket he and a colleague manned the entrance six nights a week.

‘We had two doors, an outer and an inner. We only ever opened one so you could control who came in.

‘A few people we turned away got stroppy so we had a ‘bulletproof’ front put on so once they were outside they could do what they liked without damaging the building.

‘But the vast majority of people were brilliant – just out to have a great time.

‘For some, especially a lot of the girls, it was like a second home. They seemed to be there virtually every night of the week.

‘You saw them come as single girls and then watch as they found a bloke, built a relationship and finally got married.

‘There must be many couples all around the country who got together in Jo’s.’

The reason it became so renowned nationwide was because Joanna’s was the favourite haunt of sailors – so much so that its nickname became the Royal Navy School of Dancing.

Ray adds that his most useful piece of equipment for work was the pen inside that checked jacket.

‘There were countless times when a girl would come up to me and say ‘‘Ray, can I borrow your pen please?’’. I told them they’d be better off having cards made.’

The pen was needed so they could scrawl their phone number on a scrap of paper.

Ray never uses the word bouncer.

‘We were employed as stewards. The term bouncer gives out all the wrong messages. If you’re called a bouncer it sounds as though you’re looking for confrontation from the start.

‘I had to give evidence in a court case once and the defendant’s barrister kept referring to me as a bouncer. I kept telling him I was a door steward.

‘In the end I’d had enough and called him the clerk. He got angry and told me he wasn’t a clerk and I said: ‘And, I’m not a bouncer.

‘The judge intervened and told him not to use the word bouncer.’

‘In the 16 years I worked there, there really wasn’t much trouble. It’s all down to how you treat people. Be firm and treat them with respect and everybody can have a great night.

He continues: ‘Of course, there were incidents. I remember one night when a bloke had had too much to drink. He pulled a knife on me and said he’d stab me. I put him outside and that was the end of it.

‘The next day I bumped into him in Commercial Road and he apologised and thanked me for throwing him out before things got too far.’

When Ray started working there the venue was still known as the Crystal Suite.

‘Three years later, in 1973, it became Joanna’s when it was taken over by Pleasurama. That’s when it really took off.

‘They had great DJs who played fantastic music and people would queue round the block to get in.’