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Meet the strip club boss and fiercely proud Hackney girl fighting to keep her show on the road

PUBLISHED: 10:15 14 April 2011

Denise Chandler. OLIVIA HARRIS

Denise Chandler. OLIVIA HARRIS

OLIVIA HARRIS

"Brown's is part of Shoreditch and I want it to stay that way"

Men in suits stand smoking outside on a sunny spring afternoon. A ‘specials’ blackboard on the pavement says ‘New girls’.

This is what many people in Hackney see of the strip clubs at the centre of a political row in recent months.

Some will have ventured inside. But few will have met Denise Chandler, a rags-to-riches businesswoman and fiercely proud Hackney girl who has run Brown’s in Hackney Road for more than 30 years.

This “real East Ender” – so much so her friends call her ‘Babs’ – has battled against the council’s new ‘nil’ policy on sex entertainment venues in the borough. And although the town hall went ahead anyway, she says she’s here to stay.

Denise was born in 1952 in two rooms over a rag shop in East Road, Hoxton, and moved to a council flat in Royal Oak Court, Pitfield Street, at the age of six.

Her cab driver father decided to set up his own business in 1980 and bought The Horns, a notorious Shoreditch pub.

Denise was 26 when her family moved in, redecorated and reopened the venue as Browns.

“It was a different world because I had gone from working in a solicitor’s office to watching girls take their clothes off,” said Denise, a former pupil of Randal Cramer Primary School and Shoreditch School, now Hackney Community College.

From her office overlooking St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch High Street, Denise has seen a lot of changes – inside the club and out.

“There wasn’t so much competition back then that’s for sure,” she said. “Now there are more girls and more venues open. It’s a complete profession.”

And businesses hours have changed, with punters coming mainly in the early evenings and late at night.

New customers have come her way, however.

“Women have table dances here now. That has changed - it’s not a taboo any more. Some women do not like it and I respect that. But there are lots of women that will come in with their boyfriends. You have to have that freedom of choice.”

Denise has since moved to East Barnet – “to escape the smog and smoke” – but is determined to keep Browns traditional despite the developments around her.

“It is an old-fashioned style venue and I don’t want to change that. I do not want it to become a lap dancing venue. Brown’s is part of Shoreditch and I want it to stay that way and leave a legacy for my child.”

She hopes her 19-year-old daughter will take over the family business in the future. But how would Denise feel if she wanted to join the strippers on stage instead?

“I don’t know what I would’ve said but I don’t think it would have ever entered her head,” she said. “She’s a bit of a tomboy and well educated.”

Since last summer, Denise has campaigned alongside dancers, bouncers and DJs against town hall plans that threatened her club with permanent closure.

Cllr Chris Kennedy, chairman of Hackney Council licensing committee, said: “Sex establishments do not fit with the character of our town centres and neighbourhoods.”

And human rights group OBJECT backed the council’s proposals for a ban, saying they promoted sexual exploitation, normalised harassment, and created no-go areas for women and children.

Denise has a very different view.

“I do not exploit women in fact we are in control here. We run this place and we decide what goes on - the men just do what they are told.”

She also denied that her club was a cause of crime and anti-social behaviour.

“The main thing that upset me about the ‘nil’ policy was the objectors who said our premises were linked to prostitution. My godmother was at that hearing and she was horrified. That really hurt me.”

In a twist, Browns - along with Shoreditch’s other three longstanding strip clubs - could be fully exempt from the new restrictions if town hall chiefs vote through an amendment to the ‘nil’ licensing policy.

“What these people don’t remember is that as long as it is legislated and controlled there’s nothing that’s harmful,” said Denise.

“I think they should come and see what my girls do. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

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