A fitting memorial at last for the Denmark Place fire | Letter

Iain Cameron Williams remembers the fire in Soho, London, that killed 37 people in 1980

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
Bristol

Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication.

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Waterloo station is a fitting location for Windrush memorial | Letter
Letter: Floella Benjamin, chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, on why the site was chosen

Letters

03, Jul, 2019 @10:39 AM

Article image
Windrush memorial belongs in Brixton, not Waterloo
Letters: Arthur Torrington rejects the assertion that the central London train station is an appropriate site, saying Brixton is where the immigrants set up home

Letters

05, Jul, 2019 @4:13 PM

Article image
A more fitting memorial to the Holocaust | Letter
Letter: Historian and Holocaust educator Trudy Gold says a more radical solution that the proposed memorial in Westminster is needed to tackle the scourge of antisemitism

Letters

20, Feb, 2020 @6:34 PM

Article image
Facing up to the challenge of violence and gangs | Letters
Letters: Readers discuss tackling knife crime in the face of cuts to police and youth services

Letters

17, Mar, 2019 @7:03 PM

Article image
Knife crime epidemic should surprise no one | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to articles covering the rise in knife crime that’s claiming the lives of more and more young men and boys

Letters

07, Nov, 2018 @6:24 PM

Article image
A decade after the riots, so little has been learned
Letters: Keith Flett on enduring anger at a system that delivers for the few, Prof Joe Sim on punitive retribution, and Andy Stelman on lessons unlearned

Letters

03, Aug, 2021 @4:38 PM

Article image
Holocaust memorial should go elsewhere in London | Letters
Letters: The proposed site outside parliament should remain a green space, writes William Weston

Letters

08, May, 2019 @4:41 PM

Article image
A passport fitting for a magical kingdom | Brief letters
Brief letters: Sheikh Mohammed | Customs checks | Passports | Misheard hymns

Letters

06, Mar, 2020 @4:30 PM

Article image
Far-right propaganda and the Finsbury Park attack
Letters: Could it be that for Darren Osborne this was simply the convenient vehicle, or excuse, for an urge towards violence, asks Deborah Henderson

Letters

08, Feb, 2018 @5:52 PM

Article image
Why London’s not such a capital place to live | Letter
Letter: Figures that appear to show Londoners are significantly better off than people in other parts of Britain don’t tell the whole story, says Maggie Kemmner

Letters

26, May, 2019 @4:42 PM