Nestled in the centre of picturesque Kitzbühel , deep in the Tyrolean state of Austria, the Londoner has been a huge favorite of our winter and summer tourists and the local party animals for over 25 years. Started in 1976 by Rik Gunnell.
Lack of suitable watering holes prompted Rik to open the Londoner, Great English Pub, in december 1976. Since then, the Londoner has gone from strength to strength. It is legend to many famous drinkers, the winners and the losers of the ski and the tennis circuit rendez-vous here to serve (its amazing how many sport stars are wannabe barmen) and to be served vast quantaties of the delicious golden liquid, we call beer.
As the cliche goes, behind every strong man stands a stronger woman, the backbone of the Londoner - Edith. This fair Kitzbühlian maiden was swept of her feet by this strong minded englishman and moved to Marbella/Spain where within three years the two were married and baby Nina was born. Almost four years after that Nina was joined with a little sister Romy.
Rik Gunnell, who has died aged 75, was an entrepreneur and music promoter, never happier than when selling his wares. Even in 1966, when Georgie Fame, his artist, was topping the charts for the second time, Gunnell could still be found outside the Flamingo, in London's Wardour Street, playing the tout, with a treble whisky-and-coke in his hand. In the club's basement, black and white people mingled to an extent unknown elsewhere in London in the 1960s. Judy Garland dropped in to the club's AllNighter, and Christine Keeler played off her lovers there.
A who's who of British rock and R&B appeared at the Flamingo under his aegis and a breathtaking roll call of Americans, including Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Patti LaBelle, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Lee Lewis. The original showman, Gunnell conducted business in a rough-and-ready manner. Generous and foolhardy, he lost a chance to manage the Rolling Stones, turned his back on the Kinks - and oversaw one of the most vital periods in London's musical and social history. He was born in Hausbruch, Germany, where Harry, his English father, worked for a shipping company. His mother, Elle, was German, and although not Jewish, by 1937 Harry anticipated the possibility of internment as a foreigner and brought his family to London. At 15, Rik took up boxing (his father wrote for British Boxing News), and fought as an amateur, winning 15 out of 20 fights. He liked to claim that Max Schmeling was his godfather. During national service, in the Royal Army Pay Corps at Devizes, he became a drill instructor, but discipline was an alien concept and an excessive night's drinking ended his boxing career. In civvy street he worked as a book-keeper at Smithfield market, spending his nights as a bouncer at Studio 51, a jazz club where the new bebop was played. This led, in 1952, to his first operation, the 2-Way Jazz Club, where, in a period when the two jazz factions were opposed, he revealed his lifelong optimism by presenting modernist Johnny Dankworth's Seven opposite traditionalists Mick Mulligan and George Melly.
Advertisement Later that year, he opened the Blue Room, featuring modernists such as the newly arrived Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott. But Gunnell soon ran out of money and vanished. On re-emerging, he announced that he had been in Paris where he had taken fights in order to eat. Such behaviour set the pattern for a life on the edge in which good music, good times and booze coexisted with fantasy and lost opportunities. It was when he met Tony Harris, manager at Leicester Square's Mapleton hotel, that Gunnell successfully harnessed the potential audience for jazz. In 1955, with American fashion and style all the rage, the venue became an all-nighter called Club Americana. Ten shillings admittance bought jazz and a three-course meal - tomato soup, chicken'n'chips and ice cream - and Gunnell introduced his younger brother Johnny as disc jockey and MC. They were not the premises' only music promoters; Sam Kruger and his son Jeff had started the Flamingo there, but Gunnell pushed them out to open extra nights as Club M. With African-American servicemen based then in Britain - and limited social outlets available to them - the Mapleton became their weekend port-of-call. Caribbean and African settlers of the Windrush generation frequented the club, too, as did villains, attracting adverse attention from a prurient press. Certain newspapers were obsessed then with linking black men to drugs and prostitution, and this led to coverage of a kind the club did not need. Such problems aside, Gunnell had become a serial entrepreneur. His other ventures included the Star in Wardour Street and Club Basic in Charing Cross Road, where, amazingly, veteran Dixieland trumpeter Nat Gonella shared the bill with Ronnie Scott
In 1958, adverse publicity forced Harris and Gunnell from the Mapleton. The Krugers had moved their Jazz at the Flamingo to Wardour Street and the partners headed there, despite their past history. They made peace with the Krugers and launched the Friday and Saturday AllNighter, with Johnny Gunnell booking the bands. The music was a mixture, but while musicians such as Brian Auger, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played modern jazz, by the end of 1961 the twist was in vogue. In 1962, the Gunnells auditioned the young Fame, and the rest is history. Fame's Blue Flames became the Flamingo's most popular draw. Advertisement Meanwhile, the Gunnell brothers formed a management and booking agency in Gerrard Street in partnership with Fame's saxophonist, Mick Eve. There they handled Chris Farlowe, John Mayall, Geno Washington, Zoot Money, PJ Proby and others. When the Flamingo closed in 1967, Rik took over the Bag O'Nails in Kingly Street. In 1968 the brothers joined agent Robert Stigwood, and Rik moved to New York to open Stigwood's office there, then on to Los Angeles. But the US was not England and he sometimes felt uncomfortable in a country so racially polarised. In 1972 things fell apart, and after periods in Vietnam and Australia he eventually carved out a new life in the Austrian Tyrol, opening a small bar in Kitzbühel. He expanded to larger premises which, as the Londoner, became a trendy apres-ski venue. He is survived by his third wife, Edith, their daughters Nina and Romy, and his brother John. · Richard Carl Percival "Rik" Gunnell, music business entrepreneur, born July 23 1931; died June 3 2007