The late Peter Evans was one of the Shakers and Movers of the Sixties.
Leaving school before the war, he was thrust into the family entrepreneurial businesses, from engineering to catering, as they strove to make a killing.
Tribute to the man is that a night club, in Chelsea, London, in the 1960s, frequented by the Royals, is still running!
Alas, Peter passed away recently after a long illness that confined him to his bed, where, incidentally, he put his insomnia cure to good use!
Peter Lionel Evans, restaurateur, publisher and writer, died on 19th July, 2014, aged 87, at home in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.
Selfie Obit 30.4.1991
As with many creative individuals, Peter Evans trod various paths before finding the one that led him to starting, in the late 1950s, first the Angus Steak House chain of restaurants, and then in the early 1960s, the successful string of Peter Evans Eating Houses. He also founded Raffles nightclub in Chelsea.
Generally considered to be a somewhat egocentric avarice, Evans nevertheless perceived that post-war expectations were not being met but a catering industry that was still largely content to dole out over-priced but moderate food in dull surroundings.
Evans’ early life was, he said, “character-forming”; his father, Lionel Oliver was an eccentric, making his living as a property developer but being in reality more interested in inventions. Evans senior was not a lucky man; a rare talent for rugby football brought a trial to play for his native Wales but a broken collar bone put paid to his chances. Similarly, in the midst of some heavily-borrowed London residential developments, the start of the 1939-45 war plunged him into severe financial difficulties, as London emptied.
The family shortage of money left its mark on Peter Evans and after the war he began a restless search for some profitable means of expression. Periods spent in engineering, paint manufacture, the building trade and even selling insurance in Africa evidently convinced him that his fortunes did not lay in those areas. However, it was directly due to his being fired from the insurance job that led to his first venture into catering. Over a consolatory drink, his solicitor suggested that he meet another client who wanted to go into catering.
The two men met and decided to open a coffee bar, a peculiarly English adaptation of the Italian cappuccino bar which was just becoming popular in the early 1950s.
This venture, known as The Cat’s Whisker, did not get off to a promising start; the partners were under-capitalised and the Soho back street location did not generate sufficient trade. Whilst , later, Evans was to display a talent for business, had little time for relationships; the partnership soon broke up, with Evans buying out his partner. The business continued to struggle until an associate suggested that the bar’s disused basement would make an ideal venue for rock and roll concerts. Within weeks of this innovation the bar was packed with youngsters enjoying and ‘hand-jiving’ to future stars such as Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan.
The Cat’s Whisker prospered but unfortunately in his enthusiasm to get the venture started Evans had overlooked the important matter of fire regulations; exasperated by Evans’s endless delaying tactics, the police eventually closed down the premises. However, almost immediately, another door opened, with Evans’ introduction to a butcher and an accountant who too were interested in getting into the restaurant business. Within a few months the coffee bar was gone, to be replaced in 1957 by the first of the Angus Steak Houses.
Based upon very high quality food at affordable prices, the business was successful, but Evans’ business flair was more than equalled by his talent for falling out with partners; within a year or so the business was split and Evans took some of the restaurants to commence trading as Peter Evans’ Eating Houses. His major innovation was to bring in the, as yet, little-known interior designer, David Hicks. The result was a number of stylish restaurants that quickly became popular. Probably Hicks’ best work for Evans was to be seen in the up-market nightclub, Raffles, that together they created in the mid-Sixties.
To obtain finance for expansion Evans sold some of his shares to the merchant bank, Kleinwort Benson. The bank appointed an ex-prime minister’s son, the Hon Luke Asquith, to represent them on Evans’ board. It was not long before Evans fired him for some misdemeanour, imagined or real.
With this relationship fractured, in 1969 Evans finally sold his share to the bank and went to Australia where he wrote for Fairfax and Murdoch publications and did some TV scriptwriting and then radio broadcasting for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Evans’ first marriage in 1958 to Yolanda Brown ended in divorcee in the early 60s and the only child of that marriage tragically died of a drug overdose in 1986.
However, with his marriage to an Australian girl, Gail Wintour, in 1971, Evans found for the first time a lasting and loving relationship; and in rural Wales the couple set up Saturday Richmond Publishers and specialised in non-fiction publications. One of his most notable successes was to write about his own revolutionary cure for insomnia, in ‘Sleeplessness Cured, The Drug-Free Way”, published in 1991. Evans also wrote a cookbook and a novel ‘Megadeath’ that colourfully envisaged the future of a world food shortage.
Evans' restaurant flair found its best expression in the restless and innovative 1950’s and 1960’s, one million diners per year. Other and later catering ventures both in Australia and here did not meet with the same earlier success. His interest in the catering industry waned as he believed he saw it returning to the sameness that he’d earlier done so much to change.
Some of his 60’s friends and contemporaries [David Frost, Geoffrey Maitland Smith, chairman of Sears, for example] have continued to flourish but they had steadfastness of purpose and staying power, whereas perhaps Evans could be too easily disillusioned and then seek other fields to conquer.
A younger brother, John David, is a successful entrepreneur.
Evans was a keen athlete and, although probably a better lawn tennis player than cricketer, was a member of the MCC.
He is survived by his second wife Gail and the son, Peter Jonathan, of his relationship with Barbara Leigh-Evans, the singer.