August 10, 2012

PLAYBOY BUNNY DEANA & SWINGING LONDON

Our guest today is Bunny Deana, who worked at the London Playboy Club from 1969 to 1972. Soon after donning her cotton tail, Deana was crowned Bunny of the Year by James Bond actor, George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service). In her three and a half years with Playboy, she worked as a Cocktail Bunny, a Croupier Bunny, represented the London club internationally, and was photographed for Playboy- experiences which are the subject of her fun and informative Photo Album website [see images below], where visitors can see cool artifacts and read about her Playboy days. Welcome Bunny Deana and thank you for chatting with us about Bunny-business, the Playboy image, and Swinging London!


Before you became a Bunny, what did you envision the Playboy lifestyle to be?

I thought at the time that it would be so much more interesting than office work and typing! (I was working for a publisher of scientific books in Central London at the time.) Frankly, I have to admit the money on offer was a big part of the original appeal. As I recall, the salary was about four times the equivalent of a regular office job. Also, the Playboy Club's address was an interesting element, being in very swanky Park Lane and so close to iconic London locations like Hyde Park and Marble Arch. In 1969, when I first considered working at Playboy, the London club had only been open for 3 years, and I had never been there, so I guess in the beginning I was inquisitive and wanted to know more about it.

How did you find out about the job and what was the application process like?

I was living in a small town about 20 miles from London and commuting daily to my job there. Strange as it may now seem, I simply saw a job ad in the London Evening Standard newspaper, with wording something like “Have you got what it takes to be a Playboy Bunny?” I’m pretty sure it was only necessary to call a telephone number to make the initial contact. I was a bit nervous about applying on my own, so I persuaded two of my then colleagues to apply as well so we could all go together and give each other courage. We were asked to bring a swimsuit to change into, so it was obviously not going to be your normal type of interview! The interview really took very little time, I remember. I think it was mainly concerned with how you looked in a swimsuit, plus did you have the ability to absorb the training and the stamina to work reliably within a 24-hour shift routine. I was the only one of the three of us to be offered a job and I accepted immediately. The reasons my two friends were given for not getting in were that one was too short and the other needed her front teeth fixing. You can imagine how they felt, but luckily we remained friends!


There were a number of specific guidelines for you in terms of how to serve food and drinks. How was your “Bunny Dip”? Was it hard work physically? [Bunny Dip image above from British Pathe]

The Bunny Training was actually fantastic because it was so totally different than anything I had ever done before. It was very intensive as there was so much to learn, and it lasted about 3 – 4 weeks. Learning food and drink service for a regular bar or restaurant, while still challenging, would not come close to matching the extremely specific and rigidly applied routines and procedures that characterized the Playboy philosophy. The Playboy Bunny Training Manual (I still have my own very precious copy) runs to 52 pages. I’m looking through it right now, and you know what, I’m pretty amazed that I actually managed to learn and remember everything! I talk about the Bunny Training Program in more detail in my website. [Chicago Playboy Club image below from Life Magazine]


The Training Bunny, Dawn, was very likeable and funny and she patiently (well, maybe not always that patiently!) took us through the instruction and coaching day after day until it all became thoroughly and completely ingrained in us.  This was absolutely crucial because no new Bunny recruit would ever be allowed to go “on the floor” for her first real shift unless she was capable of producing a pretty-much faultless performance. For example, a Bunny was instructed never to lean forward across the table in front of the guests. This was considered to be unflattering and the potential cause of inappropriate comments or behaviour. This was the reason for the famous Bunny Dip. It was a side-on, slightly backward-leaning stance which enabled the Bunny to present food and drinks to the table in a cute, eye-catching yet polished and professional manner. I found it quite easy to master and it quickly became, like so many other Bunny procedures, entirely routine and second-nature. Another little detail was that a full ashtray (remember the days when you could smoke in public places?!) had to be covered with a fresh one, both lifted together on to your tray, so that ash didn't fall on to the table, and then the clean one returned to the table. Simple, efficient, yet something I had never had to consider before. Now I was doing it 8-hours a day, round the clock, and smiling sweetly the whole time – a model professional!


Did you have to make conversation and entertain guests? Hostesses in Japan, for example, often have to sit with guests, pour drinks, and spend time chatting with them.

I personally was always chatting with my customers. I was, and still am, a naturally friendly person and there’s nothing I like better than talking with people, especially those I have never met before. I believe you learn so much, about people and the world, by doing this. As Bunnies we were allocated our own station, which means we were in charge of a number of tables. I would have been totally responsible for the smooth running of my station, and with the help of the Bus Boys, we kept it very clean and tidy. There were explicit rules in the London Club that you should not become overly familiar with your guests. But as we may all know, this was not necessarily what always would have happened. I have recollections here about colleagues that may have to wait for another occasion…

We were not allowed to sit with guests or pour drinks for them, and most definitely not accept drinks from them. On my website you will see a number of photographs of me sitting with guests. However, these were always taken by our official Photographer Bunny, (a really beautiful girl named Rema) whose job it was to encourage guests to pay for a souvenir Polaroid. I’m so pleased that many of the guests handed me the photographs to keep. They are a unique and irreplaceable record of a little piece of history. Actually, some of the photos have names and phone numbers written on the back, but remember the rule about over-familiarity!


I see great photos of you in different styles of Bunny dress (red and black satin, floral/paisley, etc). Were there themes at the club that required different versions of dress? Was there freedom to wear different variations of the basic swimsuit design?

We were encouraged to exercise our own personal choices and tastes for our Bunny Costumes. There was quite a wide range of patterns and colours of material available. When we saw something we particularly liked the look of we would ask Gwen, our wonderfully talented seamstress, if she would run a costume up in that material for us. All the Cocktail Bunny costumes were the same basic design, while the Bunnies who worked in the VIP Room had blue velvet with silver edging. The only variation was the costume for the Casino Floor, which was a very short micro-dress with a filled in bib-type front to protect your modesty when leaning forward over the gaming tables. I believe this may well have been a requirement of the British Gaming Board.


Soon after joining Playboy in 1969, you were crowned Bunny of the Year by George Lazenby (James Bond/On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). He has said in interviews that this was quite a swinging era for him. Did you get to hang out with George at all?

I had no idea who the judges were going to be and I was amazed when I won the competition. You see, I was working my regular shift, and Jeanette, the Bunny Mother, casually came up to me asked me to go up in the lift to where the competition was being held and "make up the numbers". I am sure there were several others who were also very surprised at the outcome, as I had only been there for barely six months. There were other girls who were much better known than me in the club, and I know for certain that there were one or two who confidently expected to be the winner.

I have to admit that I didn’t really know who George Lazenby was just then. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we in Britain had already seen lots of George, flexing his muscles in TV commercials for a chocolate bar! But for me at that moment, James Bond was Sean Connery, and I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had only just been released and I hadn’t had time to see it. The photographs of me with George were taken in a private room soon after the final judging. I was still in an absolute daze at what had just happened, and it’s only now, when I think back, that I recall George looking immaculate and behaving in a beautifully professional and gentlemanly manner. I shared a glass of champagne with George, but then I seem to remember “his people” whisking him away soon afterwards.


Did you fly on the Big Bunny to the international Bunny of the Year Pageant in the States? Those Jet Bunny outfits were so cool. Did the plane really have sections for games and recreation? [Deana above at far right]

The Big Bunny Jet came to London with Hugh Heffner and his then girlfriend Barbie Benton, amidst great excitement at the club and a few Bunnies, including me, were taken to the airport for a photo shoot. We went inside the jet and there was a large, very prominent round bed taking up almost all of the interior space. Unfortunately we didn't get to fly in Big Bunny. For my flight to America to compete in the first International Bunny of The Year competition, I flew first class with PanAm in a superbly impressive 707 Jumbo Jet. Just imagine that, my first-ever flight and it was 5000 miles trans-Atlantic, sitting up front with free champagne and gourmet meals: what an amazing, dream-like experience for a young girl of just 21!   


How was it being with all of the other international bunnies at the Chicago Playboy Mansion with Hef? Was it a non-stop party? [Deana above at Hef's left]

It was tremendously exciting and we were together as a group for almost 2 weeks. Perhaps surprisingly there was no actual party at the Playboy Mansion with Hef. He was not really very visible for most of the time we were there. I would say that he was very discreet, but always looking for suitable material for his magazine. What we did have, of course, were the obligatory photo shoots, and a couple of days relaxing and opportunities to explore the fabulous city of Chicago. We were all staying at the Ambassador West Hotel, though we did enjoy drinks in the bar at the mansion. My abiding memory here is of the enormous wall of glass, which gave underwater views of the swimming pool. I just could not imagine how many more incredible experiences I was going to have. And no, I didn’t jump in the pool, but I wish I had! Soon, though, it was all change again and on to the Playboy Resort at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the venue for the International Bunny Pageant.

What did you have to do to compete in the pageant? Were there different categories?

We spent about 10 days preparing for the pageant. Some of it was spent rehearsing a brilliant musical number that would open the show. It was a specially adapted version of the song “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from the hit show, Sweet Charity. We sang "If you could see me now here at the Playboy Club". During free time, me being a country girl at heart, I spent many happy hours going horse riding, walking in the glorious lakeside surroundings, and marvelling at a snow-making machine! I had never seen such a thing before.

On the night of the actual show, we sang our song, and then we did the standard beauty pageant things of parading up and down on the stage, and being individually interviewed. The judges included Bill Cosby and the English international model Jean Shrimpton. We had a wonderful gala dinner just before the pageant, and I sat next to Jean. Eventually came the final judging and I was placed Third Runner-Up. Out of a total of 18 contestants, I was pretty pleased with that! The well-deserved winner was Gina Byrams, an absolutely stunning girl who truly epitomized the maxim of the era, “Black is Beautiful”.

Hef is famous for being a great film fan. Did he treat you all to a screening at the mansion while you were there?

My major impression of Hef was that he had his own close-knit circle of friends and associates whom he could trust, and he appeared to keep himself very much to himself. If he did have any film screening at the mansion, I didn't know about it. The girls in the competition mostly stuck together in a group and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in each other’s company. I think we all probably realized this was something very special that was unlikely ever to be repeated.


Swinging London conjures up images of The Beatles, Tom Jones, Michael Caine, David Hemmings, and others. Who were the kinds of people that frequented the London Playboy Club? Tell us about your Swinging London.

I was originally from Nottingham (the home of Robin Hood!) about 125 miles north of London. In 1969 I had left home and was living in a small town about 20 miles out of London, commuting into the city every day for my job in the publisher’s office. When I secured my place on the Bunny Training Program at the Playboy club, I immediately moved to a small but very comfortable studio apartment in Knightsbridge, close to the world-famous department store Harrods, and just down the road from the club in Park Lane.

It was something very special to be there in the sixties. London felt thrilling and exciting, yet safe and secure at the same time. I mean, my little flat was only about a 20-minute walk from the club, and quite often, even at night, I would have no worries about walking through the streets on my own. I was earning maybe four times what I had been previously, so renting a flat in super-cool Knightsbridge was no problem. It's funny, but in the same street where I lived then, flats today cost a minimum of around $1.5 million and up. I rented my flat in 1969 for the equivalent of about $20 a week. Oh happy days!

There were many celebrities who frequented the club, including those you mentioned. In addition, I specially remember movie star Raquel Welch, who specifically insisted that she would not be photographed next to any Bunnies as they would be taller than her! Perhaps I can claim the excuse of being young and na├»ve, but I recall speaking to Michael Caine and telling him that I hadn’t really enjoyed his film, Alfie. [contact sheet of Caine by David Bailey below from Christie's]. Then there was the time I told John Cleese that I didn’t really find Monty Python’s Flying Circus very funny. How embarrassing I must have been then! 


During that era, did you get to see some of the great bands play in London? And was there ever live music at the club? 

The biggest and best occasion I can recall of watching great bands play in London is the one where upwards of a quarter of a million others also watched: the legendary free concert in Hyde Park, just a short walk across Park Lane from the club, on July 5, 1969. The Rolling Stones headlined, of course, but there were many other incredible bands and artists that day. [The Rolling Stones concert followed the passing of Brian Jones. King Crimson was also on the bill]. Certainly an event never to be forgotten, and I'm glad I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. There was indeed live music at the club, in the Cabaret Room, but unfortunately I never worked in there so I didn't get to see any of the artists who appeared. I do know, though, that the entertainment was generally of the typical "cabaret crooner" type that was popular in late-night venues of the 60s era. Sammy Davis Jr was a visitor to the club on a few occasions, and I do recall gossip that claimed he had entertained the crowd to an impromptu performance when he was there in the audience, just enjoying a drink. Sammy being the enthusiastic entertainer he was, it would be very easy to imagine that being true.


Am I right in thinking that it was a rule that Bunnies weren’t allowed to date guests at the club? I imagine that you were asked out every day by admirers. How was it balancing the excitement and youthful energy of Swinging London with the rules of the club?

Yes, Bunnies weren't allowed to date guests, nor even fellow employees. In fact, Rule 12 of the official Employee Rules & Standard of Conduct guide – I have it open on my desk right now – states clearly that ‘Undue familiarity of any sort’ and ‘Dating and social activity is not permitted’. But some Bunnies did date the guests and work-colleagues, and some even got married. I myself was already married, from the year just before I became a Bunny, and as we were not allowed to wear any jewellery whilst working (except for the Bunny Service Award Necklace and Bunny Head Pendants, 1-year and 3-years which I had) I had to leave my engagement and wedding rings in my locker. I found it easy just to refuse politely any offers. There were a number of other girls who I knew were also either engaged or married, and you could enjoy the youthful energy of London at the time as couples, together with the wonderful benefit of living in a great city and exploring many new places.


What did your husband think about your work as a Bunny? Did it make him jealous to see you working in costume around strange men each day?


The best way to answer this question is to ask my husband right now, as we are still happily together after 44 years! He confirms what I already knew: he says he was, and still is, incredibly proud of being married to a real-life Playboy Bunny. He came to the club a few times while I was on duty, sometimes with work colleagues, and his work mates were jealous of him, being married to a Bunny! Strong relationships are built on mutual trust, and that is why we are both able today to look back together at those times with fondness and pride. 

I’m curious, how did a Playboy Bunny spend her time off in London?

For me it was all about exploring and enjoying the almost limitless opportunities offered by the wonderful city of London. Remember, I had been here for only a few months, so everything was just so exciting, so new, and so very different. In addition to the countless historic sights, like Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Hyde Park, supreme West End theatres, world-famous museums, galleries and so on, evenings off also presented endless possibilities. One of the many benefits of being a Playboy Bunny was the unofficial “mutual network” that enabled friends and associates, who worked in similar London clubs, nightspots and venues, to facilitate entry to places that would normally be inaccessible or members-only. Put simply, we all helped each other to get the most out being part of the Swinging London scene. 

It will come as no surprise to hear that shopping was a major pastime of mine then. Carnaby Street, in the heart of Soho, was wall-to-wall with clothes shops, all full to bursting with – in the popular slang of the era – “clobber”. To get some idea of what clothes looked like then, study the album sleeves of British pop bands of the period. The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and many more all helped to create that quintessential 60s look. Ex-military coats and jackets, garish matching paisley shirts and ties, crushed velvet flared pants in lime green or bright orange (for guys just as much as for girls) and a special favourite outfit of mine – tiny yellow suede hotpants with a matching waistcoat, worn with white “wet-look” patent leather knee-high boots (the style was widely known then as ‘Kinky Boots’ and often featured in The Avengers on TV) -- nothing was considered too ‘way-out’. The street markets in places like Notting Hill and Petticoat Lane were amazing spots to seek out bargains, meet friends, swap gossip and just hang out. It was so wonderful; I get very nostalgic just thinking about it.

People often think of the Sixties as a time of change and liberation. Looking back, did you ever feel empowered or exploited working as a Playboy Bunny? 

I never felt exploited but definitely empowered. Through earning a good living there were many more choices I could make than ever before. As I mentioned above about the “London Network” that we built up, I felt I was a privileged member of an exclusive society that really could have it all. Playboy helped to make this possible, so it was absolutely a time of special freedoms and opportunities.

Did you find the excitement you were looking for when you first joined?

You know what, when I made the application to be a Playboy Bunny, I really didn’t know what I was looking for or what to expect. As I said earlier, the prospect of a significant boost in earning power was definitely a factor, but I can’t really say I was solely looking for excitement. (However, the likely difference from working in a scientific books publisher’s office would have been fairly obvious to me even before my Playboy interview!). So much happened for me, so soon after becoming a Playboy Bunny, that I don’t think I had time to stop and look and take it all in. For example, very soon after I started I was asked to announce to the whole Club, via the PA system, that Apollo 11 had landed on the Moon, July 20, 1969. I never thought, “Why me, the new girl?” I just did it. Then my picture was used as the illustration on the front cover of the Playboy Bunny Training Manual. Again, I just took it in my stride. Perhaps it was the innocence of youth that let me just take everything that was happening at face value, and not stop to analyze events. Looking back now I can say “Wow, that was really cool!” but at the time it was simply my new job- and yes, I was loving it. Did I find excitement, whether or not I was actually looking for it? You bet I did, and I would not have missed a single moment of it!    

How did people treat you as a Bunny outside the club environment?

In London it was absolutely fine, because most people I mixed with were Bunnies, or worked in other sophisticated environments like the super-smooth Valbonne night club, or Trader Vic’s at The Park Lane Hilton, almost next door to Playboy, or in advertising or the media. Back in my hometown where my family lived, 125 miles (and several decades!) from the Swinging 60s, it could be a different story. Family and friends were curious about my new life, of course, but perhaps they were a little bemused by it all. If you had never been to the Playboy Club you probably wouldn't ‘get it’, and seeing as very many people in provincial England then hadn't even been to London, maybe it's not so surprising they didn't really know how to deal with it.



Why did you leave Playboy? What did you do after Bunnydom?

I had been a Playboy Bunny for three and a half years, I had been a Cocktail Bunny, I had been a Croupier Bunny, I had been Bunny of The Year, I had represented the London Club in the first-ever International Bunny Pageant in the United States, I had been in newspapers, Playboy Magazine [above], on cinema and TV newsreels…and my 25th birthday was fast approaching. Everything came together and I simply felt there was nothing else I really wanted to do as a Playboy Bunny. Add into the mix the facts that I had been married for over 4 years, and I was hoping to start a family: the decision to leave was pretty easy to make. The strange thing was that I was really looking forward to going backward: to returning to a “normal” job, working “normal” hours and having a “normal life”. I had been offered the opportunity to join a recruitment agency in London and that was it…I was an ex-Bunny.

Did you get to keep any of your cool Bunny outfits or accessories? 

On the day I left the Playboy Club for the last time, I must admit I did consider stuffing a costume into my bag. Regrettably I resisted the urge. So, no costumes but I did already have a lovely collection of mementoes, including some uniform accessories. They are proudly displayed on my website.

What does your family now think about your time as a Playboy Bunny? 

The great thing is that the young members of my extended family, many of whom were not even born when I was Bunny Deana, think the whole narrative is really exciting. They love hearing my stories and tales of my experiences, listening with wide eyes and big smiles. It makes me very proud to be thought of as such a “cool aunt”! 

One last question: As Bunny of the Year, you really represented the Playboy Image in 1969. How do you think that image has changed over the years since then? (London Playboy Club image below from British Pathe)

I believe the Playboy Bunny image during my time was tantalizing and teasing, of course, but always tasteful, elegant and refined. These days, it has to be said, much of the world, not necessarily just the Playboy image, is rather more coarse, smutty and tasteless. I wish it wasn’t the case, but there you are, things “move on”, whatever you take that to mean. For me, I remain immensely proud to have been Bunny Deana during what I consider to have been the “prime time”, and I am terrifically pleased that I collected (and kept safe!) so many unique reminders and souvenirs that help me to keep the memory alive. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to tell you something about my life as Bunny Deana. It’s been great fun.



Thank You for spending time with us on Spy Vibe! Spy Vibers can find out more about life at the London Playboy Club, including links to British Pathe newsreels,  at Bunny Deana's website. See also Spy Vibe's Behind Playboy Bunnies. Further Bunny-info can be found on the ex-Playboy Bunny website. For more illustrated research, check out the book, 50 Years of the Playboy Bunny and the Playboy website. You can find the excellent book, Mr. Playboy, and documentary films about Hugh Hefner in Spy Vibe's secure Amazon store. No text or images from Spy Vibe may be copied or used without written agreement in advance. Photo album images are the property of Bunny Deana.

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