the Eve Club, which for more than three decades created a stylish combination of sexual and political intrigue that today's nightclubs can only dream about. This is a place where Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn came to relax when in town, where a rising young Conservative MP called John Profumo held his stag night and where the then Bishop of Southwell courted, and later married, one of its hostesses. A judge once described it as "a sub-division of the Foreign Office".
And presiding over this heady mix, sitting at Table One, as it was known, there would be the eagle-eyed, blonde-haired, diminutive figure of Helen O'Brien, a black, gold-tipped Balkan Sobranie often in her hand. O'Brien owned the Eve Club with her husband, Jimmy. Their reign ran from its grand opening in 1953 to its eventual closure in 1992, by which time it had become an almost forgotten anachronism.
Helen O'Brien's real name was Elena Constaninescu and she was born in 1925 to a well-off family of Romanian landowners. In 1947, as the Communists tightened their grip on post-war eastern Europe, she fled to London, where she eventually found work as a dancer and cigarette girl at a cabaret club, Murray's, in Beak Street. Its general manager was Jimmy O'Brien; they began a relationship and married in 1955.
By this time, they were already a professional partnership. Mr O'Brien had been keen for some time to open his own club, catering for a London which had now finally begun to recover from the doldrums of the postwar years. The couple found premises in Regent Street and opened on Valentine's Night in 1953; the illuminated floor was the first of its kind. The club would offer fine dining in the European tradition and, more importantly, sex and glamour.
Helen O'Brien recruited what were reputed to be the most beautiful showgirls in London to work in routines modelled on those of the Folies Bergère and the clubs of Pigalle in Paris. Under the strict rules of the day, full nudity was not allowed and movement on stage, at least in the early days, was severely restricted. Additionally, there were equally attractive "hostesses" employed to keep the lonely businessmen, diplomats and MPs company, while encouraging them to spend freely at the bar.
The convention was that men would buy drinks for the girls and perhaps offer a tip - £5 or £10 - tucked discreetly into a handbag or packet of cigarettes. But unlike some similar premises, there was no ban on the girls mingling with the customers afterwards. Mrs O'Brien told an interviewer last year: "Of course there was sex, but not on the premises. We were not a whorehouse. If a girl and a client wanted to begin a relationship beyond the club, we knew nothing about it." A 1962 brochure, describing one of the club's star performers, said: "Her attractions are stunning, her talent is extraordinary and her telephone number, sir, is none of your business."
Many of the girls, it was said, made "good" marriages to men they met in the club. And Mrs O'Brien could certainly spot the dangerous ones. Christine Keeler, whose relationship with John Profumo ended his career as War Minister and became one of the defining scandals of the Sixties, was rejected. "She wasn't suitable. I felt she was an easily led girl," recalled Mrs O'Brien.
Ditto Norma Levy, the call girl whose relationship with Lord Lambton, then RAF Minister, led to his resignation in 1973 and whose tenure at the club lasted only a couple of days. "Hard and mercenary," recorded Mrs O'Brien at the time.
she had been working for both the Security Service and MI6 for many years. The approach had come from MI5 towards the end of the 1950s after it became apparent that the Eve Club had become a haunt not only for British politicians and civil servants but also for an increasing number of diplomats from Communist countries, who found London's nightlife simply too hard to resist.
Mrs O'Brien, whose exile from her home country had made her a fervent anti-Communist, was anxious to help and in the intoxicating atmosphere of the Eve Club, the Eastern Bloc diplomats found themselves passing over more than just fivers to the hostesses, closely observed by MI5 agents and, it was rumoured, those of the KGB as well
But it was not all spies, sleaze and intrigue. The Eve Club was a venue for the glamorous celebrities of the day, who were confident that journalists and photographers would not be admitted and that there would be no paparazzi waiting for them outside. Shirley Bassey performed there and Errol Flynn took his 12-year-old son Sean to see the dancing girls. Judy Garland, Barbara Cartland and the King of Nepal were all members.