Despite the sorrow we all feel at the death of the Groucho Club’s gatekeeper Bernie Katz, there has been a re-discovery and a flurry of sales for the book he wrote in 2008 about the lust, envy, pride and perversion of Soho’s party animals in his book Soho Society.
It’s not just that it has been mentioned in the avalanche of tweets and social media attention that erupted when the Groucho first tweeted the sad news. The world it describes and the vigour of its writing is as relevant today as when it was born nearly ten years ago. The same might be said of another Quartet celebration of the zeitgeist which I noticed can still be bought from Richard Young’s shop just off Kensington High Street.
November 1981 saw our publication of By Invitation Only, a softcover book in which Richard Young’s lens and Christopher Wilson’s pen recorded the famous, the glamorous, the ambitious, the tasteless and the shallow as they socially revered, engineered and mountaineered their way amid the party set of the day. In its pages could be found the chic and cheerful of café society hard at their occupation. The tools of their trade were a champagne glass and a black bow tie; their place of work could be anywhere within the gilded environs of Mayfair. Their only task was to have fun; their only ambition was to come by as many different pasteboard passports to pleasure as possible – each one engraved ‘By invitation only’. Peter Langan, the infamous owner of Langan’s Restaurant in Stratton Street, wrote in his foreword to the book, which he had scribbled on the back of David Hockney’s menu:
God alone knows why I should introduce you to this book. The people in it veer between the awesome and the awful. Wilson and Young who wrote it and took the pictures are the only two people who can grease their way through a door without opening it. Café society will suffer as a result of its publication. They’ll all buy it, and they’ll all condemn it. They’ll also want to take a quick peek at the index to see whether they’re in it. I don’t want discarded copies cluttering up my restaurant after they’ve finished reading it for the 297th time, so I beg you to take it home with you, put it out on your coffee table, and remind yourselves not to be so silly as to want to take part in the high life. They’re a lovely lot but sometimes they give you the skids, you know.
The cover of the book featured a dazed looking Lord Montagu clutching a glass with both hands and a cigar between his fingers. The inside cover flap stated that:
such is the paradox of café society that many of its components who appear in these pages would, on the whole, prefer to be absent. Many others who have been excluded would prefer to be included in. It must be made clear that some of the more arcane practices described herein apply to the latter grouping and not the former.
The illustration on the back cover showed Peter Langan in a total state of inebriation face down on the floor of his own restaurant. Appropriately enough it was at the restaurant that the book launch was held. On the night, a party for two hundred and fifty people turned into a bash for five hundred of ‘London’s most diligent freeloaders,’ or so reported the Daily Mail.
London’s freeloaders and its most upright citizens all must mourn the passing of characters like Peter Langan and Bernie Katz. I’m just proud to have published books by and about them.