Old Skool Croydon ravers… this one’s for you. Prepare yourselves for some serious nostalgia.
We recently came across footage shot in a time when Croydon nightlife was at the top of its game….a time when Smirnoff Ice was the drink of choice, when boob tubes and YSL shirts were wardrobe staples and when “’avin it large” was the requisite response to “what are you doing this weekend?”
‘Uncovered’ was a 90’s tv documentary series that was broadcast on Sky One. Whilst the ‘Ibiza Uncovered’ episodes was an immediate hit, we’re not sure exactly what happened with the version shot in Croydon? What we do know is that on You Tube, there are nine short videos entitled ‘Blue Orchid Uncovered’ which were filmed in one of the Borough’s best-known nightclubs…yep, you guessed it – the Blue Orchid.
As this article from My London recalls “Whether you loved it or loathed it, everyone knew about the Blue Orchid – even if they didn’t live in Croydon. The two-discotheque club, in Park Lane, was the hottest place to go to for young revellers wanting to hear the latest tracks and meet with mates, without breaking the bank on a night out in London”.
Having originally opened at the end of the 1960s as The Greyhound (a live music venue that welcomed bands such as Status Quo, Thin Lizzy and The Ramones), it closed for a re-fit in 1985 and then re-opened in 1986 with a nightclub concept that attracted “revellers from south London, Surrey and beyond”. Despite nearly two decades of queues around the block; these revellers eventually grew up, times moved on and the Blue Orchid closed its doors for the last time in December 2004.
The ‘Blue Orchid Uncovered’ footage feels both comfortingly familiar and terrifyingly old fashioned. Whilst we’re thankful we’ve (largely) moved on from the misogynistic “banter” and manhandling that was standard behaviour on nights out – there’s something refreshingly authentic about the footage that captured those experimental years of youth.
‘Blue Orchid Uncovered’ was shot pre-smart phone – a time when embarrassing antics from the night before generally remained in the same place you left your dignity. Vague memories of falling over in the street, snogging on the dancefloor and vomiting in public toilets were based on the hazy recollections of friends opposed to incriminating photographic evidence shared on social media feeds. Which meant that (for better or worse) people were a lot less poised and guarded back in the day.
It was also shot in a time before hair straighteners, male grooming and Influencer make-up tutorials. Which meant people looked far more…well, “natural” probably isn’t the right word (for women wearing heavy lipliner and men drowning in hair gel) but certainly “real”!
Episode one sets the pre-club scene. It’s shot in Yates (“a bit of a trendy place”), the The Old Brief (that got people “ready to go into the Blue Orchid”) and Heroes (a “nice laugh” and “cheap drinks”) before the closing shots scan the building queue outside the Blue Orchid.
Episode two takes us inside the club. After a quick pan across the dancefloor, the roving reporter gets a feel for the crowd by asking insightful questions such as “where are you from?” and “what brought you here tonight?”. His investigative work reveals the girls are largely there for “men, men, men”, “a laugh” and “alcohol”. Short on any deeper revelations from the crowd, the reporter is happy to turn the camera on himself to inform us of the Croydon location he lost his virginity and a time when Croydon Council kicked him out of a venue for exposing himself. Louis Theroux would be proud.
Episode three and people are starting to look a bit tipsy…a group of older guys are probed about their ages (Blue Orchid earned the nick name Blue Skool Kid on account of it’s lax ID policy) while a Hen do party showcase their novelty willy straws (at a time when they probably were a genuine novelty).
By Episode 4, there’s no time for in-depth chat – its straight to the dancefloor and podiums (via some close-up shots of belly button and tongue piercings).
In Episode 5, we’ve moved to a new female presenter and pay-day night. After quizzing a few people as to their warm-up bar of choice, she’s soon back in The Old Brief. She has a quick chat with the DJ who explains how he plays the “non-commercial” music that people are “hearing on Kiss or Pirate radio station” before revealing (in a somewhat prophetic way) that the worst track he’s ever been asked to play is a Rolf Harris number.
Episode 6 and it’s another new night – this one starts in Heroes. The focus on interviews is very much on relationship status and seemingly regardless of that, who is “on the pull”. Heading into the club and there’s a questionable competition taking place in which participants can win a (5.5%) bottle of “champagne” in exchange for flashing their breasts to the DJ. In a nod to “women’s lib, girls power and all that” – the girl who simply flirted with the DJ instead of the required flashing, earns some extra praise from the reporter.
Episode 7 and over the backing track of “who let the dogs out”, we’re back on the club floor with more crucial questions whilst dance off footage is teased out.
Episode 8 and the presenters demeanour suggests we’re a little later into the evening than on previous episodes. Maintaining any kind of professional distance is totally out the window with hugs, snogs and nipple tweaking distributed to interviewees with liberal abandon. The precise time of the evening is soon confirmed, with a somewhat abrupt (but fitting) end to the series – a discussion about the home time kebab.
“Blue Orchid uncovered” perfectly summarises the key aims of the 90s and early 00s clubbing generation – to “get smashed”, “have a laugh”, and “pull”.
Whilst we can’t turn back time or recreate the full Blue Orchid experience, for those looking for a trip down memory lane, here are a few suggestions to help recall memories of the golden years:
- Buy a Blue Orchid candle – if your nightlife now revolves more around evenings in and self-care, an ‘Orchidée Bleue’ candle from our Eau de Croydon candle range is for you. With fragrant notes of wild orchid, it might not be a direct translation of the smells that hit you on entry to the club but it does provide a subtle nod to the wild nights out there. Candles are £15 and can be bought from the Cronx Boutique pop up shop.
- Visit MYPT – did you know part of the building that used to house Blue Orchid is now a gym?! Offering fitness classes, personal training and boot camps, the second branch of MYPT (the original is still on St Georges Walk) offers a state of the art training environment in which members can train and transform themselves.
- Listen to soundtrack – in homage to the Croydon institution that was Blue Orchid, DJ and Producer Jay Darkside put together a mix of 58 classic tracks played during the peak mid 90’s years. Have a listen here.
- Share your photos! As another odd year comes to an end, what better time to dig out the old albums (and those packets of printed photos that you awaited with baited breath after you put them in for the 7 day service at Boots). Share them on Insta using #BlueOrchidUncovered and tag in your friends.
- Comment on our Insta post – tell us your favourite memories from the Croydon night club era! What was your typical bar crawl route? Who were you ‘aving it large with? Do you recognise anyone in the Uncovered series?