I read with interest your report (22 November) on the unveiling of a plaque in remembrance of the 37 people who died in the fire at 18 Denmark Place, London, which housed two unlicensed bars, the Spanish Rooms and El Dandy.
I remember hearing news of the fire on the radio on 16 August 1980, while breakfasting. My flatmate, the well-known London DJ Tallulah, would on rare occasions pop into the Spanish Rooms for a quick drink before returning home if he’d been DJing at a nearby club. I say “pop in” – in truth, it was quite a procedure to enter the premises. You’d ring a doorbell, an upper-floor window would slide open, a head would poke out to see who rang the bell, and if you passed their scrutiny, they’d toss a key down attached to a block of wood to unlock the front door.
Tallulah, aka Martyn Allam, had recently returned to the UK after living in New York, where he worked at the Studio 54 nightclub. As soon as I heard the news of the fire, I knocked on his bedroom door to wake him up. There was no reply. I discovered that he had not returned home and immediately rang friends to ask if anyone had spoken to him. No, came back the reply. I instinctively knew something was wrong.
It wasn’t until lunchtime that Tallulah finally returned home. He was tired and could barely speak. He told me he’d arrived at Denmark Place after the fire brigade arrived. He was so traumatised by what he saw and heard he could barely talk, and went to his room to sleep. Tallulah never spoke about that night again; he found the memories too distressing to relay.
Thankfully, with the unveiling of the remembrance plaque, those who perished in the arson attack will no longer be a footnote in history.
Iain Cameron Williams