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At the Bunny Girls’ Reunion

September 15, 2010
by the gentle author

On Sunday night, I attended the most glamorous party of my life. It was a Bunny Girls & Playboy Models’ reunion hosted by ex-Bunny Barbara Haigh, esteemed landlady of The Grapes in Limehouse. Never have I encountered more voluptuous charismatic ladies per square metre than were crammed joyfully together in the tiny bar-rooms of this historic riverside pub that night. With Sarah Ainslie, Spitalfields Life contributing photographer, as my chaperone, I was thrilled to join this exuberant sisterhood of more than a hundred garrulous alpha females for a knees-up. Squeezing my way through the curvy bodies – fine specimens of their sex who have all got what it takes to succeed in life – I arrived on the river frontage where waves were crashing theatrically over the verandah as if, in reenactment of Botticelli’s Venus, each of these goddesses had just emerged triumphant from the Thames’ spray to delight the souls of mere mortals like myself.

The first Aphrodite to catch my eye was cheeky Bunny Sandie (pictured above), the seventh Bunny to join the newly opened Playboy Club in Park Lane in 1966, who is more formally known these days as Lady Sandra Bates. Within seconds of our introduction, Sandie gleefully revealed she had bedded Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra, Warren Beatty and Telly Savalas, emphasising that her most important conquest was Sir Charles Clore, owner of Selfridges and Mappin & Webb. “I was living in a house in Mayfair at the time, but the owner put it up for sale and wanted to throw me out, so I told Charles and he bought it for me!” she declared with a glittering smile, rolling her chestnut eyes, batting her eyelashes and clutching her hands in girlish pleasure. “You should see my art collection!” she proposed recklessly now that her husband Sir Charles is no more, as we shared a glass of wine on the verandah and the setting sun lit up the clouds, turning the river livid pink.

It was a remarkable overture to an unforgettable evening, because these girls all know how to party. Bunnies had flown in from all over the world, Tasmania, Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Egypt and as far away as Australia to celebrate the glory days of the British Playboy Club that ran from 1966 until 1980. As Marilyn Cole (the first full frontal nude in the history of Playboy in 1972) put it so elegantly in her speech of welcome, “When people ask ‘Where did you go to school?’ I say, ‘Fuck that, I went to the University of Playboy! You learn much more about life.’” An astute comment that drew roars of approval from the assembled Bunnies.

Marilyn, resplendent in a quilted leather miniskirt and thigh length high-heeled boots, ushered me over to meet her famously reclusive husband Victor Lownes, who opened the London Playboy Club. Formerly in charge of all Playboy’s gaming operations, Victor Lownes is a bon-viveur who was once Britain’s highest paid executive, counted Francis Bacon and Roman Polanski as friends and reputedly had five girls a day, sometimes two at once. He looked at me benignly from under a mop of white hair across the chasm of our different experiences of life. “Do you miss it?” I enquired tentatively, and Victor rolled his twinkly eyes in good-humoured irony. “What do you think? I am eighty-two years old!” he replied with dignified restraint.

There was a giddy atmosphere in the Grapes that night and so I chose to embrace the spirit of the occasion and mingle with as many Bunnies as possible. “I was a young girl from a very religious strict background in Birmingham who ran away from home.”admitted Bobbie, one of first black Bunnies, who worked at the Playboy Club from 1975-80, “I was shopping one day and I went along to ‘a cattle drive’ and out of fifty girls was one of a handful accepted to be a Bunny. I had four wonderful years that totally changed my life. It was a terrific experience. I have run my own business for the past twenty years and the things I learnt at Playboy set me on the road to be able to do that.”

“There was only one rule,’Don’t touch the Bunnies!’”explained Bunny Erica, raising a finger of authority,“Membership of the Playboy Club came with a key, which members handed in when they arrived and collected when they left. If somebody went too far the management took away their key. So the men always behaved respectfully. You were never forced to do anything. It’s made to seem cheap now – but we wore two pair of tights, our costumes were fitted and stiffened with whalebone, we even put toilet rolls down the front as padding – it was an illusion. We were supposed to share tips, but I put mine down my costume and when I took it off all the banknotes would fall out. The money was fabulous. Playboy gave us the most amazing part of our lives. It gave us freedom. It gave us a love of humanity. It enlightened us.”

“I was the very first UK Bunny to be hired in 1966,” declared Bunny Alexis, still glowing with pride over forty years later, “I was a dancer at the Talk of the Town in Leicester Sq on £12 a week, but at Playboy I earned £200. I was already married with a child and on the strength of my two years as a Bunny I was able to buy our first house in Wood Green. It was the hardest work, eight hours a day on five-inch heels with just one half hour break. But it was good fun and we met all the most amazing people. 1966 was a very good year!”

People often ask what happened to the nineteen sixties, yet here the evidence was all around me. It was a buzz to be in a room full of such self-confident women who knew who they were and were supremely comfortable with it too, women with their wits about them, who counted brains amongst other natural assets when it came to interactions with the opposite sex. Women who knew how to make the best of the situation they found themselves in at the Playboy Club –  unashamedly constructed as an arena of male fantasy yet, paradoxically, as all these women testify thirty years on, provided opportunities for them to take control of their lives.

Undoubtably there were those that, as Bunny Serena put it succinctly, “screwed their way to the top,” but equally there were many who, as Bunny Lara confirmed, found it, “An empowering experience. They sent us on management training courses, and I learnt how to handle people and manage staff. All of which has come in useful ever since in everything I have done.” She now runs a young offenders’ programme, training staff in conflict management. Many women I spoke with occupy senior management roles in the gaming and entertainment industry today – including one who manages a chain of casinos – in jobs that would have been closed to them previously.

Above all, these were women who were full of life, they had seen so much life and had so many stories to tell, that it was wonderful simply to be amongst them, confirming Bunny Lara’s fond verdict on her experience working at the Playboy Club, “The camaraderie was phenomenal.”

Bunny Cleo, with evidence of her encounter with Sid James at The Playboy Club.

Marilyn Cole, “Whatever else happens in life, good, bad or indifferent, we can always say we had this!”

Bunny Maretta & Bunny friend

Bunny Marisa is now an artist painting in oils.

Bunny Dilys & Bunny friend.

Bunny Alexis, ex-Windmill Girl was the very first UK Bunny to be recruited in 1966.

Bunny Serena & Bunny Jane.

Bunny Bobbie

Bunny Brenda, Bunny Nancy & Bunny Marion

Victor Lownes, “What is a playboy? It is someone who is getting more sex than you are.”

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

46 Responses leave one →
  1. Lady Sandra Bates permalink
    September 18, 2010

    We had a wonderful time at the Bunny Reunion. You photos are marvellous. Please can you contact me about buying some copies. I am Lady Sandra Bates, the lady in the photo sitting on the steps outside.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon as I am arranging some art exhibitions in Mayfair and would like to discuss with you about covering those events and my birthday party in Mayfair on 1st December.

    Warmest regards,

    Lady Sandra Bates

  2. Kathryn Leigh Scott permalink
    September 18, 2010

    I wish I’d been there! What a marvelous story . . . and I adore Victor and Marilyn. I was a Bunny in the New York Club in the sixties, and we have our big reunions, too. When my book, The Bunny Years, was published, nearly 300 of us gathered to celebrate. The Bunnies I met when I was 19 are still some of my closest friends today.
    Kathryn

  3. Stargaize permalink*
    September 18, 2010

    Isn’t it an amazing testament to the Bunny Club that after all these years they still get together and have an incredible time.
    Well done Mr Lownes for instilling such a great ethos and giving those young girls so much confidence to forge their own way in life.
    What a shame the same can’t be said for today’s equivalent…?

  4. Theodora permalink*
    September 18, 2010

    A great story, full of affection, and a lot of fun by the sound of it. The portraits by Sarah Ainslie are beautiful, as indeed are all the ladies, who look amazing and certainly not old enough to have been bunnies thirty or forty years ago!

  5. jeannette permalink*
    September 18, 2010

    Oh!

  6. Marilyn Cole permalink*
    September 18, 2010

    The BEST reunion ever!!
    This writer really caught our spirit.
    Please say that Victor sent it to Hefner and he loved it!!
    See you soon,
    Luv,
    M.
    xxx

  7. Elayne Newton permalink
    September 23, 2010

    I was so sad to miss the re-union this year! I was away on holiday but have not missed a re-union for some years. It looks like it was a good one! Great photos of such familiar friends and ex-bunnies and co-workers. You all look good girls! And Victor you look fabulous! Hope to catch you next year in 2011!

  8. Frances Mais permalink
    October 1, 2010

    Hey, sounds like you all had a lot of fun! Barbara put me on your list for next time as I think everyone still thinks I’m in Spain and didn’t let me know that there was going to be a reunion this year. Victor you’re looking very pukka! xxx

  9. October 20, 2010

    Ladies, what a lovely article and may I saw…fabulous photos too.
    I met with Barbara a few weeks ago to discuss the new Playboy Club London opening mid next year in Mayfair.
    I am PR Manager for LCI the company in partnership with playboy and I am sure you will have seen the announcement that went to press officially yesterday.
    It would be wonderful if any former London Bunnies could drop me an email, because I would love to have access to you lovely ladies as we move forward with the new club. Your thoughts will be invaluable.
    My email address is lsharp@london-clubs.co.uk and it would be great to hear from you.
    Is there an official ex bunnies website for the original London Bunnies that you could direct me to if I need to post any news that might be of interest?
    All the best,
    Lucy

  10. Lady sandra bates permalink
    October 29, 2010

    Sandra would love to keep abreast with all that is going on, as she refuses to use the computer, I deal with everything for her – mamny thanks – we are all very excited about a new Playboy Opening Sandra was Bunny Sandie No.7.

    I am her cousin and do her PR

    Lesley Southgate -

  11. Margo Glee permalink
    November 23, 2010

    I was very pleased to see the nice compliments paid by the some of the old gang.

    I haven’t been in contact with any of the girl’s for years, i too was one of the first bunny girls at the London Playboy Club, i was just surfing the net, and decided to find some information about the Playboy etc.

    I enjoyed looking at the lovely photos, and i do remember Alexis, i think she was from Liverpool.

    I hope maybe that i can come to the next reunion, even though i am living in Spain.

  12. December 16, 2010

    The old man Victor Lownes is a low life shmack and a rat bag .

  13. Sylvi (Bunny Britt) London 1970 -1972 permalink
    January 13, 2011

    Hi Barbara
    Sorry I was not at the reunion as I have returned to my homeland in Norway. I would have loved to have been there. The last one one I came to was in Stocks in the Kings Road Chelsea in the 1980s with Marilyn Cole! You may recall I was the first Scandinavian Bunny at the London Playboy Club in 1970. I have such wonderful memories that my boss Victor Lowndes was too generous to all of us ( remember that!) I always wish Marilyn and Victor a super life together. They were both fantastic people!! I am 62 now and still skiing and skating with my grandchildren here in Norway. I will tell my grandchildren about my (dark secrets) – big smile!

    Love to all my bunny friends and Victor and Marilyn

    Bunny BRITT xx

  14. Kathy Hoffelner permalink
    February 16, 2011

    Loved the photos. Looks like a lot of fun had by all.
    Would love to know when the next reunion will be held.

    Bunny Dominique xx

  15. Hannah Bigland permalink
    February 21, 2011

    Hi there,

    Wondering if anyone could help me. My Mum was a bunny in the London club in 1975-1976 her bunny mother was Erin she worked with Ava, Pauline and Bobbie. Her bunny name was Ella real name Shani O’brien. She has lost all of her photos of her bunny days and my sisters and I are dying to see some pics of her in those glamourous days. Would really appreciate if anyone could help or point me in the right direction.

    Kindest regards

    Hannah

  16. brian selmes permalink
    April 27, 2011

    returning to england last year after 21 years in australia, l was told that one of my old girlfriends was a bunny girl(in the late 70s?) in london her name was lorraine marsden, does anyone have any info on lorraine?

  17. Juan Carlos permalink
    May 15, 2011

    Thank for the photos and the information . I am a Playboy collector from more than 42 years and I visit the Playboy Club in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles in 1981 and Playboy Club Las Vegas in 2010. I hope to visit the new London Playboy Club the next year. Regards

  18. Deborah Norris/nee Fuller permalink
    June 19, 2011

    Sorry could’nt make it. Hi to all cocktail bunnies 1979-1982! Great times and wonderful memories!

    Love Bunny Laura xxx

  19. Becky and Sarah permalink
    July 12, 2011

    Hello I hope one of you lovely ladies can help us!! we have an interview this Thursday 14th July 2011 to hopefully become a Bunny at the Playboy Club Mayfair London.
    We were wondering if you could offer us some advise on what to wear to go to the interview?
    Also did you have to get involved in games etc so they see the real you? do you have to do a maths test?
    Any help and advise would be great

    Thank you so much

    Becky and Sarah (twins)

  20. Deborah Norris - Bunny Laura permalink
    July 18, 2011

    Hi Becky and Sarah, didn’t see your message until 16th. How did the interview go? I remember mine which i had alone rather than in group and yes had maths test even though i was a cocktail bunny. Which did you interview for? I still remember my ‘call-in-order’ for the drinks/cocktails – its engraved in my mind but maybe they don’t use that now. How many girls were interviewed and when is start date?

    Love Bunny Laura

  21. chris permalink
    August 3, 2011

    i went out with bunny Bunty in the 70s .i was a singer in a band called The Randy Band.
    what became of Bunty. Chris

  22. maurice permalink
    October 9, 2011

    hi i’am maurice, and i’am trying to find out what happend to bunny girl ashley

  23. Sandie Reese permalink
    March 16, 2012

    My mother was a Bunny Girl at the London Club in the 60′s. She passed away when i was young and I have been trying for years to find someone who knew her back then. I would love to hear any stories or see any pictures of her that might be hidden away in someone’s album.
    Her name was Valerie Lilian Hellier.
    I know that she was in a horrible car accident while employed there and because of her injuries she was let go and given a severance package.. Does anyone know her? Can you help me track down past bunnies? PLEASE!

  24. Terence Pepper permalink
    May 28, 2012

    Great to hear about all the surviving originals from the London Playboy Club in 1966.
    We have a newlty acquired photograph by Jurgen Schadeburgh that appearson the cover of his book Great Britain 1964-1984 and we would love to know if we can names to the 7 Bunnies
    who appear with VictorLownes (Lowndes)
    Thanks
    Terence

  25. Tony permalink
    June 30, 2012

    I had a girlfriend called carol hoy from Harlow in the early 70′s who apparently became a bunny girl in that decade. I always wondered if she did become a bunny girl and where she is now

  26. John Lee permalink
    February 2, 2013

    Having found this website I was curious after seeing the reunion photos if anyone knows the whereabouts of Jackie Winter?
    She moved to Los Angeles in the 70′s and became a photographer.
    I would love to get in touch with her.

  27. Lora bencheikh permalink
    February 11, 2013

    My uncle tony arancio used to work at the club in the 70s – does anyone remember him?
    we are having a surprise party for his 70th birthday this month.

    He also used to work at Talk of the Town in Leicester Square.
    He was a very loud flamboyant Italian Man with a black toupe.

  28. Bunny Shaz. permalink
    April 18, 2013

    I was a bunny in the late 70s I was talking with a friend about my time at the club. I was talking about my Friend Bunny Joan. Does any one have any idea where she is.

  29. Geller permalink
    August 5, 2013

    Hi any one know about bunny Shelly? Worked the hunt room 1975 -1979

  30. Thomas permalink
    March 18, 2014

    Hi,

    Does anyone remember “Bunny Kirsty” ? Her real name is Christine Bone, she was a croupier/dealer in the V.I.P. Level in the London Playboy Club Casino in the late 1970′s. She went on to become a much sought after photographic model.

    Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

  31. susie permalink
    April 16, 2014

    Great memories Does anyone PLEASE remember “Crissy Plevin?” BunnyGirl at the Playboy Club in late 1970s We shared a house in NottingHillGate and I went to a few of the parties at Stocks in Hertfordshire – anyone knowing Chrissy please get in touch? Amillion thnaks Susiexx

  32. June 27, 2014

    Any body out there know where I can Find Sharon Bysouth, Erin Stratton Serena Williams and
    any body else involved with the club since June 2nd 66
    John Jones
    Lobby Director June 66 to March 67′

  33. Yvonne wuamett permalink
    October 26, 2014

    I was Bunny Eve, I live in Seattle now.
    What happened to Suzanne?
    Eve

  34. Diana Airey permalink
    October 31, 2014

    I was Bunny Dusty (there was another Diana) from 66 to 68 & then went to the Penthouse. I dealt American Roulette & my Bunny Mother was Jeanette & Molly Mouse made the costumes.The Gaming manager was Mike Barratt. My maiden name was Saville…..does anyone else remember?…….would love to hear & why aren’t the croupiers involved in the reunions?

  35. Bunny EVE permalink
    January 3, 2015

    Bunny Eve… 65-67, now living in Seattle and writing Memoirs Of A Naughty English Gardener

  36. Collette permalink
    February 7, 2015

    I am Rebecca Welnitz’s BunnyBrat xxx She died 1998…. Otherwise I know she’d've loved to be there… If VL would’ve allowed it… Jolana is still alive…. (late 60′s early 70′s – Park Lane) I remember you Maralin…. Bishops Rd – Fulham xxxxx Penny Gone… Tomie?? and her Twin ????? What a great set of Aunties I had……

  37. Bunny Lara (1967 - 1972) permalink
    March 10, 2015

    What a fabulous day! I absolutely adore seeing my old work chums every year – we had amazing camaraderie in those days, something I have never had since. Living in Cornwall now I look forward all the news and my thanks to Barbara for all her devoted time she gives to “Playboy”.

    Love to you all
    Lara

  38. Marc Okraszewski permalink
    June 16, 2015

    Hi
    i am looking for a bunny named Kate Tallon…i think she was a bunny in the 70 ies….maybe she was some kind of a manager

    hope someone can help…i am simply looking for some information ,how long she was there, i think she worked in London, and maybe somebody knows what she is doing now

    All the best

    Marc

  39. Captain Jack Esq. permalink
    June 27, 2015

    Does anyone remember Jodi ( Bunny Waitress ) 1978/79

  40. Bunny serena permalink
    August 6, 2015

    I don’t know how some girls can claim they were the first or 7th bunny to be hired. I was in the first batch of opening Bunnies – 100 of us were hired after interviews at the Hilton over many weeks. John Dante and Keith Hefner trained us. We opened the club on June 6th 1966. So there is no such thing as a first or any other number girl hired! Bunny Serena

  41. Nik Forster permalink
    October 20, 2015

    I was a croupier at the playboy club in the late seventies and remember gazing through the thick haze of second hand tobacco smoke on C level at four O clock in the morning. Ah those were the days. Then worked on D level day shift which was indeed an experience placing the dolly on a pile of chips that obscured the Inspector perched on a stool, No calculators in those days just pure bluff. Then the cabaret night. I still sift through ageing copies of “Playtime” from time to time and come to the conclusion that as Carly Simon sang, piped through the sound system,
    Those were indeed” the good old days”.

  42. Melanie Hall-Green permalink
    November 1, 2015

    Hi.. I was a croupier from 1978/1981 My bunny name was Blondie. I would love to hear from anyone that remembers me!

  43. Izzy Wildheart permalink
    April 17, 2016

    Hi I was Bunny Bella in London early 70′s.
    I wondered if anyone knows where Bunny Ginger is?
    I remember Eve well. Erin was my bunny mother, is she still about?
    So glad I found this site!
    Hope you’re all well, happy and healthy!
    X

  44. Izzy Wildheart permalink
    April 17, 2016

    Hi I was Bunny Bella in London early 70′s.
    I wondered if anyone knows where Bunny Ginger is and Bunny Fleur?
    I remember Eve well. Erin was my bunny mother, is she still about?
    So glad I found this site!
    Hope you’re all well, happy and healthy!
    Xy

  45. May 27, 2016

    I was bunny Tina around the mid 70th. I remember B.Bobby , and the B.mother Margaret, but I’d really like to find B.Bambe aka Brenda, there’s so many. there Lucy,Julie,Winky, Suzanne,Wendy, anyway I can’t remember most of there names now . It would be lovely to here from any of them . Sending lots of love to you all xxxx . This was the Playboy Club in Manchester.

  46. Melanie Hall-Green permalink
    November 25, 2016

    Hi . I was a croupier at London playboy from 1978 to 1981..would love to hear from anyone who remembers me..Erin was my bunny mother and have great memories .I would love to have a reunion of bunnies to remember and share our experiences with. My bunny name was ‘ Blondie’ .

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