Brian Waldman Impresario and entrepreneur
Born: 21 May, 1938, in London.
Died: 15 March, 2005, in Exeter, aged 66.
THE term "entrepreneur" could have been invented for Brian Waldman. His wheeler-dealer skills saw him become an influential name in Edinburgh for close on 30 years, predominantly on the club and restaurant scene.
He was a trailblazer with a gift for innovation that had a major impact in the capital. He had imitators but nobody could match his flair and panache. Waldman was essentially an ideas man and when he first set foot in the city in the late 1950s he saw a rather sleepy old town ripe for his own brand of opportunism.
Waldman was one of three brothers, and while two of them were relatively academic, he was to claim later that he had been well educated "in the school of life". Initially he worked for his father in the timber business and left London, with his brother Paul, for Edinburgh in 1958 with timber in mind. But their father’s business held little interest for them and within months they had created Bungy’s, a coffee bar/restaurant in Old Fishmarket Close in the heart of the Old Town.
The venture proved instantly popular. It was a magnet for teenagers across Lothians, who would hang out to talk and listen to music. Waldman needed no further encouragement. While Paul took a back seat, his brother introduced a casino on one floor of the premises and a disco featuring a shapely girl in a cage on another.
Edinburgh had seen nothing like it. Here was a newcomer fired by what was going on in swinging London. Waldman quickly moved to consolidate his position on Edinburgh’s burgeoning social scene, opening The Place, a jazz/rock club in Victoria Street featuring local bands, and a disco, the Casablanca, in Rose Street Lane North.
In the early 1960s, he branched out into management, inspiring and promoting a local middle-of-the-road band that became one of the city’s hottest attractions, the Boston Dexters, attired in gangster-style suits. One of their key members, Tam White, is still active in music and acting today.
Waldman turned from one venture to the next, devoting his restless energies and, often, considerable amounts of money to each. In the late 1960s he explored another avenue, opening the Kontiki, a sophisticated nightclub above a car showroom in Lothian Road, and switching from there to Queen Street with a hamburger joint named Buck Rogers.
Moving into Leith, he opened Bonkers, a pub with live entertainment where patrons were invited to sing, play instruments or do comedy routines on the bar.
Giving himself, and Edinburgh, breathing space, he moved south to Merseyside for a while, opening a restaurant atop Liverpool Tower. It didn’t take off, and he soon returned to Edinburgh, inevitably with a fresh idea. He created Chaps (Council House Advisory Purchase Service), a mortgage broking business.
Edinburgh’s movers and shakers were kept wondering what "Waldy" would tackle next. They didn’t have long to wait. He returned to bustling Lothian Road where, in partnership, he converted an established spacious night spot, the Berkeley, into a restaurant, Harveys, which he then re-invented as Pipers, a platform for Scottish-style dinner\cabaret.
In the 1970s he returned to London, hiring a theatre in the West End to mount a theatrical production. It flopped and all but wiped him out financially.
Typically, he bounced off the ropes and marked his return to Edinburgh with The Housebuyers’ Guide, widely acknowledged as progenitor of the property centre run by Edinburgh solicitors in George Street.
Among his many projects were a hotel in Glasgow city centre, and a collaboration with an Iraqi doctor who was convinced he had a cure for cancer. Tens of thousands of pounds later, the venture folded.
Waldman’s brother Paul, today based in Dunkeld and involved in property, said: "We parted company amicably in the late 1970s. I simply couldn’t keep up with his fund of brainwaves. Brian was a great concept man. He seemed to have a concept for everything and anything. Alas, his follow-through on most of them wasn’t too good. He had too many ideas, and consolidation could never have been his middle name.
"He was a popular guy. He had charisma and presence and it was said that he could sell snow to the Eskimos. He wasn’t driven by money; he was driven by ideas - right to the end. Even in failing health he was talking to architects about a new-style restaurant in Devon."
Waldman was a man of his time, a larger than life character who lived for each day and helped drag Edinburgh into the swinging Sixties.
He was twice married, and twice divorced and each marriage produced four children.