The Rainbow Room, Big Biba.

I have been searching for old photos of the Derry and Toms Rainbow Room from before the 1970’s and I cannot find anything.  I was expecting to turn up a few from the 30’s or 40’s but no luck.  It seems to have been in action for various banquets and occasions but there are no photos until the iconic Big Biba ones of the 70’s.  I mentioned before that we did not take any photos or even have cameras  around , everything had to be a big secret before the opening day. The work on the Rainbow room was well underway when we arrived at the roof garden, restoring the restaurant  was to be the most costly project of the whole store.  Modern kitchens and facilities had to be installed and the whole floor brought back to it’s 1930’s Art Deco splendour.
I remember we went down to have a look after the pink marble floor had been laid and the neon lighting in the ceiling was assembled. The furniture was not in yet and there was still a lot of cleaning to do but it was so beautiful, it looked like a ballroom on a liner ship. This made up for all the workers who used to come up from the restaurant and set up workshops hammering and sawing right next to me when we were working on the roof garden.

The Derry and Toms department store was designed and built by Barker’s in house architect Bernard George in 1932.  I found this charming illustration of the ground floor.


The ground floor at Derry and Toms, artist unknown

The Rainbow Room was designed by French architect Marcel Hennequet who had designed Art Deco buildings in Paris. He designed twin buildings on Boulevard Periere And Rue Sheffer in Paris which have distinctive undulating and curving Art Deco windows. On one of the buildings is a typical Art Deco window grill with the buildings construction date above it.


building on Boulevard Perierre


Palacio de la Madeline, Marcel Hennequet


Art Deco window grill and consruction date

Marcel Hennequet’s Rainbow room restaurant was opened in 1933 and acclaimed as an Art Deco classic.  Steve Thomas and Tim Whitmore’s restoration in the 70’s  was perfect. The sweeping elliptical ceiling was fitted with concealed rainbow coloured neon lighting, the colour schemes were pinks, peaches and beiges, and there were peach coloured mirrors everywhere. These colours echoed through the furniture enhanced with black details, in the restaurant the tablecloths were peach and the china  wear was black. There is a photo of Twiggy in the Rainbow Room for Vogue  magazine I believe, she is wearing a black sequin long evening dress which I remember well, I think it was a stretchy pull on dress maybe the first ever tube dress.


Twiggy in the Rainbow Room


Restaurant Biba Rainbow Room


We had a free dinner at the restaurant just after it opened but before the New York Doll’s gig.  I ordered ‘crudite’  for starters not knowing what it was and received a huge plate of veggies including a whole cauliflower.  Food took on a whole new look on black plates and I remember thinking of all the white chips and cracks that would inevitably appear. The gold logo looked lovely though and the food was good, washed down with a lot of Biba house wine of course.

Scan 2

Rainbow Room logo on wine bottle

The Rainbow Room quickly became a popular venue for bands. Kilburn and the Highroads were becoming big in these pre punk days. Bill Halley was there, and The Ronettes. I missed out on Cockney Rebel which was a shame. There were lots of private parties too and a big Marilyn Monroe retrospective. There are some glimpses of the Rainbow Room on video and film I have gathered here, most are well known .

I had forgotten about Terry Gilliam’s film ‘Brazil’ from 1985. The trailer shows a very short scene in the Rainbow Room starting at about 2 mins 16 seconds. the Rainbow Room is transformed into ‘ The chapel of our lady of the checkout counter ‘. The ceiling , with white neon lighting is seen in all its glory for a few seconds.

David Bowie’s ‘ Blue Jean’  video was filmed by Julian Temple in the Rainbow Room in 1984.

Roxy Music’s ‘ Lets stick together ‘ was filmed there in 1976. They were very much the soundtrack to Biba.

finally an odd one , Suzi Quatro’s ‘Devil Gate Drive’ from 1974 featuring the Rainbow Room logo and some  Biba mannequin heads.

In 2005 the Rainbow Room, empty at the time became vulnerable because the roof of Derry and Toms had begun to fail after eighty years. Water was leaking profusely from the roof garden and threatening to destroy the Rainbow Room on the floor below.  The waterproof layer underneath the roof garden was disintegrating and had to be replaced. The whole garden including the trees had to be pulled up and the top of the building resurfaced. Then a new waterproof skin was laid and the garden successfully restored with the more invasive trees  and plants taken out and replaced , the  Rainbow Room was saved from a watery grave.  The Roof Garden is up for sale again apparently, if you have 200 million pounds to spare. If I bought it I would kick everyone off there and use the restaurant as a home and lock all the doors!


The Roof Garden today

I had mixed feelings when I saw the Rainbow Room converted into an Equinox mega gym in 2012.  When I saw the slogan ‘It’s not fitness, it’s life’ I had a funny fleeting vision of a Biba girl rolling her eyes, stubbing out a ciggie and downing a glass of wine.  Now the Rainbow room is all whitewashed and looks like an Art Deco spaceship, but I must admit it looks o.k. it could have been a lot worse. Gyms are always big white boxes I use one myself,  not like this one though. It would have been awful if the Rainbow room details had been boxed in or worse so I think a good  job has been done keeping its integrity. It looks as if its waiting for its next transformation if that ever happens again. Here are a few photos of The Rainbow Room in its present form as the Equinox gym, I found a photo of the yoga room with the lovely Walter Gilbert Art Deco ironwork grills visible in the windows.  I wish I could look out on that in my gym.


peach mirrors and Art Deco details Equinox mega gym


Walter Gilbert’s exterior Art Deco grill designs, yoga room Equinox mega gym

proj_2962_2 london5 Equinox 16_gym

Elsewhere all the fragmented peach coloured mirrors and lovely swirling walls  and pillars are intact too. Those ladies will have to do a lot of running and spinning to be as thin as the Biba girls were.


my logo with kids, derived from original Rainbow Room logo.


  1. wasn’t it stunning.

  2. Afternoon teas were also served in the Rainbow Room, tiny sandwiches and huge cream cakes. If we timed our breaks right we could gorge ourselves on the left over cakes after they’d finished serving.

  3. Lucky you Rubyfoot. Did anybody take any private photos? There must be some.

  4. I have a couple of old menus from the Biba time which I framed at the time.

    1. Hang on to them.

  5. Stumbled upon your blog earlier today. I’m loving it!

    My interest is more to do with the roof gardens than Biba itself. But, having read your amazing memories of that incredible period, I’m becoming hooked!

    I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with Barbara at the 30th Birthday party of Virgins ownership of the roof gardens. Which was hosted by Sir Richard Branson.

    Barbara was incredibly gracious in chatting with me for nearly 30 minutes. Sadly, I do not believe that many of the other “younger” guests knew who she was?

    She even found time to chat to my sister in law, Belinda, about the peacock feathers, which, as a 17 year old, she purchased from Big Biba.

    This brings me to my interest. Belinda is the granddaughter of Ralph Hancock. The landscape architect who designed and built the gardens between 1936-38.

    I, with my brother, manage a website dedicated to Ralph’s work. I wonder whether I could use a few of the images from your site. With appropriate acknowledgement as well as a weblink?

    Maybe you could let me know?

    Robin Hull

  6. M J Stevenson · · Reply

    Looking through some famliy history research has prompted me to look for information about the Rainbow Room because my great uncle, Ernest Pernet, was the neon lighting engineer who actually designed the lighting. He did other important neon illuminations in London as well eg in Piccadilly circus – but these are long gone.

    1. Thank you for your information about your great uncle. The lighting design was so beautiful and much more subtle than photos show. I have doubts that anything like that will be seen again.

  7. Adam Keppel · · Reply

    sadly im to young to have ever gone to Biba 😦 but i collect it none the less as its beautiful and there is nothing like it in the world. I remember last year the rainbow room floor was up for grabs to rent and i had a mad idea of turning it back into the rainbow room but didn’t have enough money to even start it up ( seeing as the rent is like £150,000 a year! ) shame thought, would have been nice to have a little Biba back 🙂 xXx

  8. pete bradbury · · Reply

    I have a Rainbow Room Menu – If I can get it scanned – I’ll send you an image, also a carrier bag – The things one hangs onto 🙂

    1. That would be nice, thank you. By the way hang on to them, I am sure they will be worth something .
      I regret not hanging on to more.

  9. Paul Brewster · · Reply

    Hi, Just found you via Pininterest ! Went to big Biba a week before the New York Dolls Appeared.
    I was 18 and that day in Biba has stayed with me for 40 years. A wonderful experience never to me forgotten, and damn I wish i’d bought all those posters and put back again cos I didn’t have enough money!!

  10. Paul Brewster · · Reply

    I just remembered that Manhattan Transfer were going to play in the Rainbow Room the week I went. I have a bottle of Lemon Aftershave which, although the contents are gone, the inside still smells exactly like it did the day I bought it !!!

  11. I remember seeing the Stylistics when I was taken to the Rainbow restaurant by my then boyfriend in the early 70’s? It was such a special and wonderful experience, what a beautiful place, I have never forgotten it although it was so long ago. Sadly I cannot remember the date. I wonder if anyone reading this who remembers the date could mention it here.

  12. Shirley Slimane · · Reply

    Among my memories of the beautiful Rainbow Room are the night the New York Dolls played there they were able to rip off many of the clothes throughout the store – made easy by the Fire Regs which ruled that all staircases and outer doors which went up from the Ground Floor and ended in the Rainbow Room had to be left open while the Restaurant was in operation at night! Don’t know where the security men were! Also, the restaurant service on the opening night was so dire (people waiting for an hour or two for their food) that Fitz called Eleanor and I to his office the next morning and said we had done so well in getting the store up and running with well-trained staff and fully stocked with merchandise that he wanted us to take over the running of the restaurant to get it up and running properly – Eleanor to ensure the smooth running of the front of house, who promptly installed the lovely Joyce as receptionist, and myself to run the kitchens for the next two weeks! Eleanor recruited some of Barbara’s researchers to man the Kid’s Bar (the occasional child might have been a little merry at first until the staff managed to locate the non-alcoholic mixes for the ‘cocktails’!). Controlling the kitchens to try to get them to run smoothly was not easy but I was ably assisted by my team of merchandise controllers and stockroom keepers to act as kitchen porters and even Steve and Tim came in for the Dinner service to make up all the individual crudités baskets! I think we all put the ‘professionals’ to shame. The language in the kitchen got a bit hot at times especially when dealing with the team of waiters from Grovenor House who the Restaurant ‘Manager’ (? Ha!) had brought in before opening to augment the Biba waiting staff – they were not used to a bit of discipline!!
    Just discovered your website Kasia – always a big fan of your work.

  13. Wow! I was looking for some images of the 1970s interior to Regines discotheque on the roof as I took over as resident DJ when Virgin bought the club in the early 80s. I remember the Rainbow Room from then, it was seldom used & we used to sneak down the fire stairs from the roof & wander around the empty, dark ballroom in wonder! Both the night club & the Rainbow Room had stunning interiors, virgin refitted the club in the early 90s and added the upper floor restaurant Babylon, to where the offices used to be. I was amazed this was allowed TBH, but I guess it was part of the garden revamp & repair? Shame as they lost so much of the 1930s magic.

  14. When Biba closed down in the mid ‘70s I bought a large heart shaped, painted wooden poster advertising a concert by the Californian band Love? I struggled home with it on the tube but it was worth the effort as it still hangs in my home to this day. The tickets for the 28th May concert in The Rainbow Restaurant were £3.50 including dinner!

  15. What a brilliant blog Kasia. Thank you for reviving memories of Biba and High Street Kensington from the 1970s

    1. thank you Angie.

  16. Harvey Walker · · Reply

    On 28th of May 1974 I was roadie for Arthur Lee and Love supported by Casablanca when they played the Rainbow Room as part of their tour of the UK. Arthur did not like the venue or the audience and only played half his set so Casablanca had to go back on but I managed to persuade him to go back on…. reluctantly. The lighting system was making the P.A. hum which could have upset him. Casablanca played the Rainbow Room a few times and had their publicity photographs taken in the store. Wonderful venue, Great memories.
    Harvey the Roadie

  17. Fascinating to see this beautiful ballroom again. I worked on a restoration project around 1980 as an electrician and it was a building of beauty. I seem to remember the lighting installation was dimmable and it probably cost a fortune in those days. We also worked on Regines (I think it was called) on the rooftop of the building and marvelled at the craftsmanship of electrical installation. Amazing place.

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