New light has been cast on the deadliest fire in London since World War Two, and one of the worst mass killings in British history. In the early hours of August 16, 1980, fire ripped through two illegal clubs in Denmark Street - ‘Tin Pan Alley’ – just off Charing Cross Road.
The second floor housed a gambling den, while the first floor was a club where salsa music – virtually unknown in London in those days – attracted lots of South American expatriates. A disgruntled customer who had been refused admission, poured petrol into the building and set fire to it. The disc jockey was one of those killed, as he tried to save his record collection.
There were no proper fire escapes, and with much of the building made of wood, it went up in no time. A total of 37 people were killed, and in May 1981, a 42 year old man was gaoled for life for causing the fire.
Matt Rendell has come up with some fascinating new details about the disaster in his new history of salsa in Britain. For the full story, see Salsa for People Who Probably Shouldn’t just published by Mainstream.