Peter Rachman


Peter Rachman

Peter Rachman (1919– 29 November 1962) was a London landlord in the mid-20th century, active in the Notting Hill area in the 1950s and 1960s. He became so notorious for his exploitation of tenants that the word " [http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/rachmanism Rachmanism] " entered the OED as a synonym for any greedy, unscrupulous landlord.

Career

Rachman was born Perec Rachman in Lvov, Poland in 1919, the son of a Jewish dentist. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 7] After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Rachman may have joined the Polish resistance. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 9] He was first interned by the Germans and, after escaping across the Russian border, was interned in a Soviet labour camp in Siberia where he was very cruelly treated. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 10-12] After the Germans declared war on Russia in 1941, Rachman and other Polish prisoners joined the 2nd Polish Corps and fought on behalf of the Allies in the Middle East and Italy. After the war he remained with his unit, which remained as an occupying force in Italy until 1946 when they transferred to England. Rachman was eventually demobilised in 1948 and became a British resident. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 12-19]

In England Rachman built up a property empire in north London consisting of more than one hundred mansion blocks and several nightclubs. He operated from an office at 91-93 Westbourne Grove, in Bayswater, and the first house he purchased and used for multi-occupation was nearby in now-fashionable St. Stephen's Gardens, London W2. Adjacent areas in Notting Hill (W11), including Powis Square, Powis Gardens, Powis terrace, Colville Road and Colville Terrace were also early areas where he subdivided and let rooms, initially often for prostitution. Much of this area south of Westbourne Park Road, having become derelict, was compulsorily purchased by Westminster City council in the late 1960s and demolished in 1973-4 to make way for the "Wessex Gardens" estate [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22665&strquery=westbourne "British History Online - Paddington & Westbourne Green"] ] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanbarker/sets/72157603775401736/ "Flickr" photo-set illustrating aftermath of Rachmanism in Westbourne Park area of London] ] .

In order to maximise his rental from his properties, he is said to have driven out the, mostly white, sitting tenants of the properties he owned in Notting Hill, who had statutory protection against high rent increases, and then to have packed the properties with recent immigrants from the West Indies. New tenants did not have the same protection under the law as the sitting tenants had possessed, and so could be charged any amount Rachman wished. Most of the new tenants were Afro-Caribbean immigrants who had no choice but to accept the high rents, as it was difficult for them to obtain housing in London at the time due to the colour bar. Indeed, Rachman's reputation, which he even promoted in the media, was initially as someone who could help to find and provide accommodation for immigrants who otherwise would find it difficult.

According to his biographer, Shirley Green, certain elements of the traditional story about Rachman, such as the use of violence to drive away the sitting tenants, may be mythical, and more devious methods were used, such as relocating the protected tenants in a smaller concentration of properties or buying them out, in order to minimise the number of tenancies with statutory rent controls. Also, houses were subdivided into a number of flats in order to increase the number of tenancies without rent controls. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 56-69]

Rachman did not achieve general notoriety until after his death, when the Profumo affair of 1963 hit the headlines and it emerged that both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies had been his mistresses, and that he had owned the infamous mews house in Marylebone where Rice-Davies and Keeler had plied their trade. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 146-233] He had actually largely moved out of slum-landlording into property development after 1958, but his former henchmen, including the equally-notorious Michael de Freitas (AKA Michael X/Abdul Malik), who still managed to build an almost separate life and reputation as a black-power leader and event promoter of jazz and blues, helped to keep him in the limelight [http://www.historytalk.org/Tom%20Vague%20Pop%20History/Chp%201.pdf "Getting it Straight in Notting Hill Gate", Tom Vague, 2007] ] [http://www.historytalk.org/Notting%20Hill%20History%20Timeline/timelinechap6.pdf "Notting Hill History Timeline,6": in the Ghetto, early 1950s] ] .

As full details of his activities were revealed, there was a call for new legislation to prevent such practices, led by Ben Parkin, MP for North Paddington, who coined the phrase "Rachmanism". The subsequent 1965 Rent Act added to the security of tenants, but had the unintended consequence that private rented housing became scarce.

Personal life

According to his biographer, rather than being the vicious ogre of popular myth, Rachman was an intelligent man with a genial personality. Though not blessed with conventional good looks, being short, balding and dumpy, he had the power to charm women and mixed with all classes of society from prostitutes to the aristocracy. He was flamboyant about the way he displayed his wealth: driving a Rolls Royce, chewing on a Winston Churchill type cigar and sporting dark sunglasses. Though generally a happy individual he was somewhat conflicted between his Jewish and Polish heritage, due to traditional Polish anti-Semitism. Confusion of identity was made worse by the fact that his home town of Lvov was transferred from Poland to the Soviet Union after World War Two, and being denied British citizenship, he was technically stateless. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph]

He got married to long-standing girlfriend Audrey O'Donnell in 1960, but remained a compulsive womaniser, maintaining Mandy-Rice Davies as his mistress at 1 Bryanston Mews West W1, where he had previously installed Christine Keeler. After suffering two heart attacks, Peter Rachman died in Edgware General Hospital on 29 November 1962. He was forty-two years old. He is buried in Jewish Cemetery at Bushey, Hertfordshire. [Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph: 232-33] In the 1989 film about the Profumo affair, Scandal, he is portrayed by actor Johnny Shannon.

Bibliography

*Shirley Green (1979) "Rachman". London, Michael Joseph.
*John L. Williams (2008) "Michael X: A Life in Black and White". London, Century.

References


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