For the British Bunnies who survived into the 1970s, there was the consolation
of the decade's immensely generous, oil-rich Arabs. But things weren't what
they had been - more and more of the Bunnies were disobeying the rules and going
out with guests, trysts often arranged (for substantial sums) by the club doormen.
It couldn't last and it didn't. The Playboy life claimed its casualties in London
- at least one suicide and one still unsolved murder - but the most damaging
calamity to hit the now-ailing Hefner empire occurred in the United States.
In 1980, Dorothy Stratten - the first Playmate tipped for Hollywood stardom
- was murdered by her rejected husband in the most brutal and squalid of circumstances.
Simultaneously the Playboy Club in London was assailed by rumours of financial
misconduct, and the British Gaming Board moved in to investigate. Lownes became
a sacrificial victim, fired by his old friend Hugh Hefner who then refused to
answer Victor's telephone calls. Hefner had his reasons, albeit cynical ones.
Almost all of the profits of the Playboy empire came from Britain. If Hefner
lost these, Playboy would collapse. But in 1981 Playboy's gaming licence was
revoked, and the club was closed down. Hefner's empire did survive, but by branching
out into book publishing and, in the 1990s, into cable and satellite television.
The clubs were dead.
It was the end of an era. And it was ten years before Hefner and Lownes spoke
to each other again.
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The gaming licence
was revoked and
the Playboy Club