Pete and Dud, Liz and Richard: secrets of Chez Victor's guest book revealed

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The Independent Online

From Richard Burton to Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier to Peter Cook, the diners at Victor Gilbert's celebrated French restaurant in Soho were a roll-call of the artists, writers and performers who evoked the glamour of the Sixties.

From Richard Burton to Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier to Peter Cook, the diners at Victor Gilbert's celebrated French restaurant in Soho were a roll-call of the artists, writers and performers who evoked the glamour of the Sixties.

Some left Chez Victor with hazy recollections of their meals on the premises, judging by the splashes of wine and scrawls captured in the guest book Mr Gilbert asked them to sign.

That guest book, which will be one of the highlights of the Antiquarian Book Fair in London this week, records them all from the 1960s through to 1987, about the time the restaurant was sold to new owners. David Hockney drew the plate, the coffee cup and glass at his dinner table while another artist, Felix Topolski, a Polish émigré and friend of George Bernard Shaw, did a charcoal sketch of a wine bottle.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore indulged in banter across the pages. "Whose that bloke on the other page? I can't read his signature - Dudley Moore" prompted the scrawled reply on the facing page: "I'm not famous enough - Peter Cook. And anyway no one can read my signature."

Diana Rigg added her own small contribution: "Hey, I've always wanted to be Mrs Dudley Moore!! Thank you Victor."

Two working-class lads made good expressed their gratitude in French, although as most entries are undated it is difficult to gauge whether this is showing off in the glow of their new-found fame or a sign of their worldly savoir-faire.

Michael Caine wrote: "Every Saturday we will be back, and any available day! Thank you." Another page in French records: "For food, for drink, for ambience, marvellous. Richard Burton (and Liz)."

There were contributions from writers including E M Forster, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender and Keith Waterhouse. The photographer David Bailey appears with the model Jean Shrimpton and the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

British actors such as Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, Trevor Howard, Rex Harrison, Sean Connery and John Gielgud nestle amid foreign names, including Robert Redford and Yul Brynner. The Beatle Ringo Starr is on the same page as the group's manager Brian Epstein while Bill Wyman and Marianne Faithful are also on the list. In all, there are more than 300 signatures.

Adrian Harrington acquired the 120-page guest book from a fellow dealer earlier this year and is selling it for £3,750, including a few soiled pages and food spots. "It has resonance for me because it's the period I grew up in. It's a real Who's Who of Sixties and early Seventies celebs," he said.

"Chez Victor was about the only French restaurant in London at the time and it was the place they tended to gather. During the period of our guest book, the premises were owned by Victor Gilbert whose family sold it in the late 1980s. Victor was a genial host and served a glittering clientele."

The mirror-walled restaurant originally opened in Wardour Street in 1901 and before the Second World War, singers such as Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson, would serenade diners with Cole Porter numbers.

After the war, a portrait of General de Gaulle and Free French souvenirs became part of the decor and by the Sixties it was at the heart of a network of trendy haunts including the legendary Marquee Club and Ronnie Scott's jazz club.

Now under the name Biagio Chez Victor, it is still patronised by the after-theatre crowd.

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