Lenval Callendar


William Robinson Clarke

‘Soho nightclub boss who defied the Krays’

1919 - 2006

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One of the most colourful characters on board the Empire Windrush must have been Lenval Callendar, a wealthy West End night club owner who rubbed shoulders with royalty and rogues alike. Born in Jamaica on March 15, 1919, and raised by his maternal aunt, Lenval’s start in life was unpromising. His education was cut short when he ran away from school after a fight with his headteacher and as an adult, he could barely write.

Lenval went to sea and ended up in Shanghai where he witnessed great poverty. He had a lot of sympathy for those involved but didn’t carry this through to his personal life which was focused on making as much money as possible and hanging on to it. He first came to England just before the start of the Second World War. He was a friend of the Bermudian actor Earl Cameron and they shared the same accommodation.

While in London, Lenval met Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Ricklovitch, the daughter of Polish-Russian refugees. They married in 1946 after having two sons, Len and Bryan, born in 1941 and 1942 respectively. It was a tumultuous relationship and the couple eventually split up. Gertie moved to Spain where she died in 1991.

Lenval had his fingers in many pies but his primary business was owning nightclubs, one of which was the Colonnade Club in Meard Street, Soho. He was said to have had an arrangement with West End Central police whereby he paid them to ignore certain misdemeanors and to make sure no famous names appeared in the press.

His eldest son, Len, recalled film stars like Ava Gardner and Dirk Bogarde in the club. Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend were also frequent visitors. It was an often violent environment with gangs like the Krays operating protection rackets. Lenval more than held his own. Another of his clubs was the Glass Bucket Club in Brixton.

Having had little formal education, he was determined his sons should not suffer the same fate. After passing their 11-plus examinations, he sent them to school in Sussex where they boarded with a local family. Life was tough for the young boys. They were the only non-white children at the school and often had to fight off bullies. Teachers knew of their father’s reputation and would openly drop comments about him after reading what he got up to in the press.

Lenval was very wealthy. He had a personal tailor and wore hand-made shoes. He was stylish and fastidious, even washing his shoelaces. After his divorce from Gertie, Lenval got married again in 1969 and the couple had a daughter. Bryan became a lawyer but changed his surname as the notoriety surrounding his father could have held him back in the legal profession. He was living in Belarus with his third wife when he died in 2007. Len became a successful academic and obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Lenval lived to the ripe old age of 87, dying in Ealing, west London, on October 23, 2006.

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