From a racy policewoman to a topless shop worker, these vintage sketches reveal the risque costumes worn by hostesses at London’s most exclusive cabaret club.
Murray’s Cabaret Club, in Soho, was a venue where senior Establishment figures like Sir Winston Churchill sipped Champagne with Hollywood actors and the infamous Kray twins, while scantily-clad showgirls entertained them from the floor.
Among the club’s most famous performers was teenage dancer Christine Keeler, who was thrust into the spotlight following her infamous affair with then Secretary of State for War John Profumo in 1961.
Indeed it was at Murray’s that she met Dr Stephen Ward, a high-flying London osteopath and fixer who ‘procured women’ for leading members of the Establishment and later introduced Christine, then 19, to Profumo at a party.
The costume sketches, which will go on public display for the first time next month, help conjure an image of what took place inside the members-only establishment during its heyday in the Fifties and Sixties.
Double trouble: The artist imagines two showgirls in stockings, black silk – and very little else
Exotic entertainment: This carnival-inspired creation includes the note ‘South American’
Favourite number: This showgirl would only have a miniature violin to cover her modesty
The majority of the illustrations are by costume designer Ronald Cobb who worked for the club’s owners, the Murray family, for 15 years immediately following the Second World War.
Vintage poster dealer Charlie Jeffreys, 58, of south London, purchased the entire collection of over 300 costume drawings five years ago from the family of the late Elsie Birchmore, who was the head seamstress at Murray’s.
They offer a unique insight into what it was like inside the club.
Mr Jeffreys said: ‘In the 50s [Murray’s Club] was where you went whether you were a bishop, a judge, an aristocrat or a gangster – everyone rubbed shoulders.
Star of the show: Christine Keeler, pictured in costume in 1962, was among the showgirls at Murray’s. At the club she met the man who introduced her to War Minister John Profumo
Infamous: Keeler, then 19, had an affair with Secretary of State for War John Profumo, who was 27 years her senior, in 1961. Pictured, Profumo with wife Valerie Hobson in 1959
Sumptuous: The costume notes detail a brocade-effect for the fabric of this regal costume
Blooming beautiful! These old-fashioned get-ups were created by a performer named ‘Virginia’
Quick spritz? A perfume shop girl is given a very racy makeover with this green bow look
‘The girls who worked there like Christine Keeler were very young and often came down from the Midlands or Manchester.
‘Many of them went on to dance with the Royal Ballet after their time at the club and some married the well to do men who frequented the establishment. Theses costumes injected a rare sparkle into a West End blighted by austerity in the 50s.’
Among the most eye-catching costumes is a topless creation that shows a woman clad in fishnet tights and an elaborate flower headdress.
Another shows a woman wearing a feathered turban and carefully-placed pasties.
Kiss me! Suggestive red lips adorn the performer in this costume sketch, titled ‘Pandora’s Box’
Baring all: Two ideas for costumes include a string of pearls, left, and a pair of fishnet tights
Sheer magic: This entirely sheer brassiere and skirt leaves little to the imagination
Murray’s was originally opened as a jazz and cabaret club in Beak Street, Soho, in 1913 by American entrepreneur Jack Mays and his English business partner Ernest Cordell.
In its 1950s and 1960s heyday, the club had a well-heeled membership of thousands who sipped vintage champagne and enjoyed burlesque performances.
Keeler began working at Murray’s Cabaret Club in 1958 where she was spotted by osteopath Stephen Ward, becoming one of ‘Ward’s girls’.
She was introduced by Ward to Profumo and they embarked on a brief affair in 1961.
When the affair was first revealed two years later, public interest was heightened by reports she may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet spy, creating a security risk.
Profumo initally denied the affair but admitted it weeks later and resigned from his position.
The scandal contributed to the Conservatives’ defeat by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.
Who was Christine Keeler and what was the Profumo affair?
Born in Middlesex, Christine Keeler moved to London as a teenager and began working at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho.
It was there she met Dr Stephen Ward, a high-flying London osteopath and fixer who ‘procured women’ for leading members of the Establishment, who introduced her to Conservative Minister John Profumo while at a party thrown by Lord and Lady Astor in 1961.
The pair hit the headlines after seven shots were fired at Ward’s house in a quiet Marylebone mews by a jilted boyfriend of Keeler a year later in December 1962.
Ms Keeler’s other lovers have included A-Team actor George Peppard, legendary womaniser Warren Beatty and Prisoner of Zenda star Douglas Fairbanks Jr
Ms Keeler, pictured, met Conservative minister Profumo – 27 years her senior – after leaving her home in Middlesex and working at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho
Ms Keeler, pictured right, in a vehicle with her friend Mandy Rice-Davies, who was also implicated in the scandal surrounding the affair
It emerged the then 19-year-old Keeler had been sleeping with former Secretary of State for War John Profumo, then 48, and at the same time a handsome Russian spy Evgeny Ivanov.
But when the news broke, Profumo lied to the House of Commons about his affair. He was soon found out and Keeler sold her story to the News of The World for £23,000.
In June 1963, he quit in disgrace, amid allegations Keeler had been asked by Ivanov to discover from the War Minister when the West Germans might receive U.S. nuclear missiles to be stationed on their soil.
Profumo had been a rising star of the Tory Party, close to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, a favoured visitor at Buckingham Palace, a war hero and the dashing husband of actress Valerie Hobson, one of the great beauties of her day.
Ms Keeler, whose other lovers have included A-Team actor George Peppard, legendary womaniser Warren Beatty and Prisoner of Zenda star Douglas Fairbanks Jr, said in an interview years later that the Establishment was far more interested in painting it as a sex scandal and chose to ignore whispered claims of a widespread spying network.
Christine died aged 75 in December 2017.