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When Stringy's spies worked undiecover; His secret lap dance war with rival Spearmint Rhino.


Even Peter Stringfellow himself had to admit it was more like a Carry On film than Cold War espionage.

His club empire had been brought to its knees by a rival strip joint, which poached more than half his topless dancers, then paid them to strip fully naked to ensure his punters followed.

Suddenly Stringfellow found himself sitting on his golden throne in an empty club, his girls in G-strings standing around sipping drinks because there were no businessmen to titillate.

Meanwhile, not far away, eager crowds queued along London's Tottenham Court Road outside the new Spearmint Rhino lap dancing club to see everything the girls had to offer.

Desperate to avoid bankruptcy for the second time in a decade, Stringfellow convened his "war council" and they settled on an eye-popping plan.

They chose one of their longestserving dancers as an undercover - and completely uncovered - spy, who would pose as a stripper at Spearmint Rhino's lap dancing club in Camden, North-West London.

Her mission was to find out why girls at the new strip joint were earning so much and feed that information back to her bosses. The plan was bold, it was brilliant and it failed miserably.

Stringfellow's right-hand man and artistic director Mark Young recalled: "We waved her off one night and we waited for her to come back and report.

"She never came back. The money was that good up there."

By the time Stringfellow found himself embroiled in a turf war with US giant Spearmint Rhino in 2000, he had already clawed his way back from financial ruin.

His attempts to crack the US - opening clubs in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles - ended in disaster.

The nightclub in New York was attacked by the mafia after Stringfellow refused to pay a dry cleaning bill at a firm they owned.

His publicist Matt Glass said: "It was classic Peter. He got his suit back and he said, 'I'm not paying for that, there's a stain on it. I'm not using them again, cancel them'.

He woke up next morning and there were bullet holes across the front of his club. Apparently they're still in the wall today." Meanwhile the Los Angeles club had closed within a year.

It turned out that stars such as Charlie Sheen, known for ordering expensive bottles of wine in London or New York, stayed sober when out in Hollywood.

"They'd occasionally go mad and get an orange juice," Stringfellow moaned.

Saddled with huge debts, he was declared bankrupt in 1992. But before coming home, he visited a strip club in Miami - inspiring him to introduce topless table dancing at his club in Covent Garden.

He quickly cornered the market in erotic entertainment. And there was plenty of money to be had as well.

One US punter tipped a dancer PS23,000, also leaving PS2,000 for the waitress.

But Stringfellow's monopoly ended when Rhino boss John Gray decided it was time to conquer Britain, bragging he would launch 100 strip clubs and float them on the stock exchange.

Unlike Stringfellow's, these clubs would offer full nudity. But first, Gray needed to topple the King of Clubs.

He started the spy war by sending two girls to work for Stringfellow and report back with inside info on prices.

At first, Stringfellow laughed it off, announcing he would have happily told his rival his prices if he had called.

But Gray's next move wiped the smile off his face. Offering Stringfellows' "Angels" massive pay rises to strip completely, he had poached more than half his rival's dancers by the time his first club opened.

Within two years Gray claimed he was making PS300,000 a week. His top dancers took home PS200,000 a year.

Stringfellow, known for his love of leopard print and tiny thongs, admitted: "We were shell shocked. We'd had it all our own way for years."

After his attempt to infiltrate Spearmint Rhino failed, Stringfellow and his cronies hit on another plan. They hired private detectives Sid Creasey and George Rickman to dig up dirt on the mysterious Gray.

Dirt was not hard to find. In 1995 he was given six months in jail for writing bad cheques for work done at a Spearmint Rhino club. And he had earlier ended up behind bars after making a false statement to win US Navy contracts.

UK authorities had no idea of Gray's past, but he smiled away the scandal.

Rhino emerged unscathed, helped by nowdisgraced PR Max Clifford.

Stringfellow at ill-Desperate for ideas, the private detectives scoured licensing rules. They found that while naked girls were allowed, punters could only look, not touch.

On stage everything was by the book, but it seemed in the private booths neither dancers nor customers played by the rules.

The detectives took an infra-red camera to capture evidence. They were nearly exposed when a dancer saw the red light, but escaped by insis mo insisting it was a mobile phone.

The pair returned with video said to show dancers pressing their breasts into men's faces, rubbing against them, and even performing a sex act on a fake Nigerian prince.

An investigation by the Met's vice unit concluded that Gray's club was one of "the biggest brothels in London" - and there were even reports of orgies in the private booths.

Two undercover officers told magistrates they were offered sex in a private room at PS500 for 30 minutes.

Spearmint Rhino denied the claims, sacking two dancers who suggested they would have sex for money. But this time Gray found it more difficult to shrug off the dirt. There were protests outside his clubs nationwide.

Camden council revoked the strip joint's entertainment I have licence, but it was overturned on appeal. Once again, Stringfellow's attempts to outfox his rival had failed. Worse, he had actually given his rival priceless publicity.

I don't to clubs With lad culture at its peak, the allegations sent more men flocking to Spearmint Rhino clubs across the country.

Gray has since bought two private planes, mansions in both the US and the UK, and a 55ft yacht with the profits of his empire. He also dated X Factor reject Chloe Mafia after meeting her at the Playboy Mansion in 2015. But the scandal did buy Stringfellow time, allowing him to convince Westminster city council to hand him a licence for naked tableside dancing at his West End clubs.

Stringfellow could finally compete on an equal footing. He told documentary Lap Dance War: "Spearmint Rhino was very lucky to keep their licence.

"I've met John Gray since. He seems a nice enough guy to me. We were at war once, but I have no animosity.

"I don't want to destroy anybody, or to close anybody's clubs down. But don't destroy my business."

Not even Stringfellow's death last week at the age of 77, after a secret battle with cancer, could do that.

I have no animosity. I don't want to close anybody's clubs down PETER STRINGFELLOW ON FEELINGS FOR RIVAL We waved her off one night and waited for her to report. She never came back MARK YOUNG STRINGFELLOW AIDE RECALLS FIRST SPYING ATTEMPTS


Stringfellow at ill-fated New York club MOB TARGET

Stringfellow's throne was boost to glamour image KING OF CLUBS

Covent Garden venue was cornerstone CLUB EMPIRE

Spearmint Rhino boss John Gray, above, raked in cash with clubs offering nudity ROLLING IN IT

Stringfellow& his girls in 1994 WILD DAYS
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 11, 2018
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