As I previously noted in part one of this article, Paddington has been a hotbed of London vice for decades, but in the 1970s it also became the backdrop to several pornographic films. As well as the hardcore hi-jinks of Arabian Knights and Tit Friction, Paddington also played host to more softcore fare like Pete Walker’s Cool it Carol! (1970) and Stanley Long’s Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1975). However, it was as a location for David Sullivan’s movies where it most came to prominence.
Situated at 29-31 Craven Road, right in the heart of Paddington, once sat one of the most famous family-run restaurants in London. The Concordia was established in 1970, owned by three Sicilian-born brothers, Lillo, Salvatore and Giovanni Militello. Set over two floors – street-level and basement – the Concordia (meaning “feast of harmony & peace”) brought a much needed injection of Mediterranean charm to the air pollution, litter and traffic congestion of W2. The trio of brothers worked exceptionally hard to establish their restaurant as the only ‘authentic’ Italian eaterie in London, and within a few years its reputation had begun to stretch far beyond the capital. During its lifetime, the venue played host to visiting royalty, movie stars, ambassadors, politicians, escort girls and porn stars. The man partly-responsible for raising the profile of the restaurant was John M East (1932-2003), a publicist, broadcaster, part-time actor and – regrettably, for a while – Mary’s ‘trusted’ confidante and acting coach.
I got to know East pretty well in the late-1990s, and I considered him to be a thoroughly charmless individual. The incredibly seedy character he plays in Emmanuelle in Soho actually wasn’t that different from his real-life persona. East was certainly one of the most unabashed people I’ve ever met, and he boasted to me on numerous occasions that he could “make or break a celebrity”. His indiscreet showbiz anecdotes were never less than astonishing. If only 10% of the tales he told me were true, then Operation Yewtree would be kept busy for the next two decades. Yet for all his unadulterated tastelessness, some people trusted him implicitly. East was like the Max Clifford of the 1970s; a celebrity spin doctor par excellence. Even in his twilight years East still had an office in BBC Broadcasting House, where he spliced-together tapes for overseas radio broadcast (which I could never quite fathom) and he would regularly ring me, usually at 6am in the morning, to regale me with racist and anti-Semitic jokes. Next to sexual tittle-tattle, and his ‘adopted father’ Max Miller, the other real obsession of East’s life was immigrants. Plenty of people detested East, of course. Director George Harrison Marks told me he thought East was a “really nasty cunt”.
Anyway, I digress… for many decades East was the Concordia’s chief PR man. Whenever there was a party, a wedding function, a seminar, a record or movie launch, or even a high-class prostitute meeting with a wealthy client (East was an unashamed pimp too), the Concordia was top of East’s love-list. You can’t blame the Militello brothers for utilising East’s incredible skills at getting column inches; he certainly helped put the Concordia on the media map. East met David Sullivan in 1977, and sadly took Mary under his wing. Within months he had nabbed himself a part in Sullivan’s next movie The Playbirds, as slavering press reporter, grilling Mary’s character in a restaurant. Unsurprisingly, the sequence was shot outside, and inside, the Concordia. The uncredited actor who plays the waiter serving food to their table is actually Giovanni Militello.
The Concordia enjoyed a bigger role in Mary’s next film, Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair, in which it becomes the night-time haunt of Alan Lake’s titular medallion man. For the film, comedian Kenny Lynch played the professional cocktail shaker, with Tony Booth installed as the lecherous bar owner. Lynch, Booth and their popsies proceed to listen-in on Lake’s seduction of Mary’s character and place bets on whether he can make her orgasm. All these scenes were shot in the basement of the premises in the so-called ‘Concordia Notte’, a more intimate late-night venue with white vaulted ceilings, elegantly carved furniture, low lighting and live music.
In 1980 the Concordia made yet another cameo appearance for David Sullivan, this time as a backdrop for John M East’s interview in Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions and then again, in 1981, as an exterior location for Emmanuelle in Soho. The latter record-breaking movie – which starred half-Chinese model Julie Lee (in a role originally earmarked for Mary) – was shot entirely on location in Soho (around Rupert Street, Brewer Street and the rear of the Astral cinema in Tisbury Court) and on the streets of Paddington. In the W2 location Ms Lee can be seen driving her Mercedes down Praed Street, Craven Road and Norfolk Place. Lee’s luxury home in the movie is actually a quaint mews house located at 17 Brook Mews North, a tiny road, which runs directly down the right-hand side of the Concordia (although the interiors were actually shot in a flat in Green Street, Mayfair). The entrance to the Mews is just opposite a blue plaque (erected in 1980) commemorating the London address of comedian Tommy Handley. Unsurprisingly, properties at Brook Mews North currently sell in the region of £1.5 million.
For Emmanuelle in Soho, the Concordia was again only filmed at night. John East’s unscrupulous character is seen taking his naive secretary out for an intimate Italian dinner, before nipping over the road for a quick shag at the down-at-heel Dorian Hotel at 79-81 Gloucester Terrace (now called the Brunel Hotel).
After David Sullivan retired from the film industry, the Concordia didn’t make any further appearances in ‘X’-rated fare, although its association with John M East did not die. In 1982 East commandeered the Concordia for a publicity stunt whereby Julie Lee agreed to marry a wealthy Arab for £1million, and some months later the restaurant entertained the press when American mud wrestler Queen Kong ate raw meat in the venue. For the Concordia’s 20th anniversary, in 1990, the Militellos got their business into the Guinness Book of Records when kitchen staff produced the world’s longest piece of spaghetti – all 220 metres of it.
The Concordia remained in Paddington for nearly 40 years. Lillo Militello told me that the restaurant was haunted by Mary, although it was just another silly PR stunt dreamt up by East. Sadly, the Concordia’s distinctive tiled frontage and plush interior decor has now gone – replaced in 2010 with a more rustic look by the building’s new inhabitants, a Lebanese restaurant named Assaha. The old ‘Little Italy’ flavour of the basement has been swept aside in favour of stone-clad walls, coloured lanterns and the bright drapes of a Far Eastern souk. The venue is unquestionably beautiful inside, but it’s now utterly unrecognisable as its previous incarnation. Sadly, Lillo died of lung cancer in November 2013, but I will always remember his kindness, generosity and incredible warmth when I first met him in 1997.
The Concordia really was an integral part of Paddington’s landscape for decades and it was also Mary’s favourite place to dine – she had a particular red velvet seat in the basement, where she always sat. The Concordia may now be gone, but for connoisseurs of home-grown exploitation cinema, 29-31 Craven Road W2 will always play an important role in the wonderfully colourful history of British sex films.
All words and original photographs strictly © Simon Sheridan 2014-2015