My friend Bruce Copp, who has died aged 100, was a war hero who became a restaurateur in the theatre industry and for a time ran the legendary Establishment club in 1960s Soho, where he became friends with many celebrities.
Born in Penarth in Glamorgan, Bruce was raised in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset by his hotelier father, Thomas, and theatre-loving mother, Florence (nee Holbrook). After leaving St Johns school in Weston-super-Mare he moved to London to work for a firm of drapers as a sales assistant.
When the second world war broke out Bruce became a commando and took part in Operation Torch, an amphibious landing in north Africa, as well as the invasion of Sicily, twice being mentioned in dispatches. Whenever his bravery was mentioned his response would be typically disarming. “I had seen so many friends die, and was actually trying to commit suicide,” he would say. “They just wouldn’t believe that was why I walked into the gunfire.”
After demob in 1946 Bruce became a lodger in the house of the actor Hattie Jacques in west London. They became friends and Hattie found him a job at the old Players’ theatre in Covent Garden, running its restaurant.
He then fulfilled a similar role as general manager at the Mermaid theatre in London until 1961, when he was asked by the satirist Peter Cook to run the Establishment club, which played host to comedians and jazz. There he hung out with characters such as Lenny Bruce and Frankie Howerd, danced with Christine Keeler, reminisced with Charlie Chaplin, dined with James Baldwin, had a run-in with Rudolf Nureyev and once spent the night with Marlene Dietrich (a platonic arrangement, as Bruce knew from the age of seven that he was gay).
When the Establishment shut down in 1964 he went to chef in, and run, various restaurants in London, including at the WIPS club in Leicester Square, the Hungry Horse in Chelsea, and Crispins in Kennington. Eventually he took up work as a manager of residential homes in Battersea and Wimbledon before moving to Spain, where he ran a guest house in Sitges with Joan Le Mesurier, widow of the actor John Le Mesurier. In Spain he met Daniele, a young Italian male model, who died from Aids a few years after they had started living together.
Once the guest house in Sitges closed in 1984, Bruce enjoyed his retirement in Spain, dining with friends, attending opera, swimming, and sampling the “odd glass of wine”. A waspish wit belied his warmth and kindness, and his generous nature led him into impecuniousness at times, resulting in him being supported by a loyal coterie of extended family and chums. For some years in later life he was cared for by his friend Danny Roosens.