Industry legend and ever charming Peter Dorelli, shares with us how he first came to know Soho.
My Introduction to Soho
by Peter Dorelli
‘How long have you got?’
There were three reasons as to why I emmigrated to the UK. First of all, I came from a family of bankers. My uncle was the treasurer at the bank of Rome and my father was the treasurer at Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. My father had three sons and it was his hope that one would pursue the same path as him.
My older brother also lives in London, he is a yoga master and my younger brother is an artist, he was born with a paintbrush in his mouth, at age 2 he was painting already – it was like he was from another planet. Today, he is based in Rome and he is a commercial artist and graphic designer. I was the one who was at home so they chose me. I did not want to work for a bank. I had to escape.
The second reason was the army. It was compulsory for one child to do 18 months military service in Italy. This was not something I was interested in - I said no way!
The third reason was girls (boys are to be boys after all!). In the 50s, it was incredibly difficult to even kiss a girl. I remember, the mother of my first girlfriend used to follow us to make sure that we behaved ourselves - I was walking cross-legged.
As I said boys are to be boys, I was always in trouble. I had to do something about this.
My Uncle was in London at the time, so I reached out to him. ‘Uncle get me out of here, I am drowning!’, and God bless him, he helped me. He organised an awful working permit for me. I say awful because in those days it was a completely different world. The European Union was non-existent, this meant the only way to be able to come to England was once you had attained a working permit. It wasn’t excited at the prospect but it did get me out of Rome, the army and having to do any legal work. My problem with the girls was also fixed.
My first job was in Cornwall, just outside of Truro and I met many farmers daughters and they all knew about the birds and the bees. So I was there, ‘I’m an Italian, a Roman, if you have a bit of curiosity – I am available’ and they all dived to it. I said ‘Well there you are, here is what you asked for’. It was fun.
When I left Italy, I came with literally nothing, just a little suitcase and an overall coat. I had to travel 2 days and 1 night because in those days it took that long by train. When I arrived at Victoria, I had another 5 and half hours to wait for my train to Truro so my Uncle picked me up and he bought me here, to Soho. We went to one of the coffee bars.
Whilst we were catching up over our coffee, two beautiful blondes entered the café. Without even thinking, ‘Wow!’ escaped from my mouth. I turned to my Uncle and said ‘Uncle, Uncle – Look!’
‘Are there many like that?’
I was amazed as there were very few blonde women in Italy. From that moment on, it was blonde for me! The two women then approached the bar and waited to order their coffee. All of a sudden I hear the most baratone voices say, ‘I’ll have a coffee’ and ‘Cappuccino’
My uncle looked at me and said ‘Yup’
I said ‘Oh really.’
I was disappointed to say the least.
In the 50s, all the strip joints were mostly filled with men working as women and they were beautiful – unbelievable beauty. In those days a lot of women were forbidden to work in strip clubs.
The strippers would wear tassles in those days, they would never be fully naked, this meant it was easy enough to hide certain things. They were fantastic
They really were beautiful, you would think to yourself ‘How can this be?’ ‘Damn!’.
That day at the coffee bar, that was my first introduction to Soho.