The opening of Playboy’s London club in July 1966, the same month that England won the World Cup, was one of Hugh Hefner’s “favourite times”.
The Park Lane venue – Playboy’s first overseas club – was to become the making of the company’s international empire.
The magazine was shifting millions of copies worldwide and it was six years since the original club in Chicago had introduced Playboy bunny waitresses.
But in setting up the London club, Playboy executive Victor Lownes spotted a way of trumping its US counterparts – gambling.
He decided to take advantage of the UK’s relaxed gaming laws to make the Playboy club a casino.
And so Playboy, with its potent mix of girls and gambling, swung open its doors to a London in the midst of the 1960s sexual revolution.
Hefner later told GQ Magazine: “I came back from that opening convinced I was looking at the future.
“The miniskirt had just arrived, gambling was prevalent, sexual attitudes had changed dramatically.
“I’d been making this case for the sexual revolution and it was there [in London].”
In its heyday in the 60s and 70s Hefner’s club was visited by some of the biggest names in showbusiness including Sean Connery, Joan Collins, Roger Moore, footballer Bobby Moore and his wife Tina, and the influential critic and writer Kenneth Tynan.
“When we opened the [London] club in 1966,” Hefner recalled, “there were three or four major Hollywood films being made in London.
“So James Garner was there. Ursula Andress was there with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peter Sellers came; Woody Allen got up and performed”.
They were all served by the distinctive bunny girls with their rabbit ears, collars, cuffs and skimpy corsets.
English girls were flown to the US to train as Playboy bunny waitresses and croupiers.
A select few were invited to do magazine shoots and to stay at the infamous Playboy mansion in Los Angeles.
Carol Needham, 57, from Surrey, was one of them.
“I lived there for about four months because they were waiting to shoot my centrefold,” she told the BBC.
“Looking back it was quite an amazing thing to have happened, I think only a few from England have been a centrefold.”
Ms Needham said Hefner was “a very clever man” to publish such a controversial magazine at that time.
She added: “Actually believe it or not he was quite a shy man – he was quiet.
“They [people] probably think he was quite flamboyant because of the image, the parties. But he was actually a gentleman, he was kind, and he was a nice man.
Hefner went on to open three casinos in the UK, raking in bumper profits for the parent company.
But in 1981, the British authorities shut down the UK casinos following a series of irregularities, slashing Playboy’s income and contributing to a major decline in Hefner’s fortunes.
For 30 years the Playboy clubs were considered part of the UK’s social history. The flagship Park Lane club has long-since been replaced by a hotel.
But in 2011, the bunnies were back.
Hefner opened a new Playboy club in London’s Mayfair, recruiting 80 bunnies and signing up about 850 new members, including 350 women and stars including Elton John’s partner David Furnish and the model Yasmin Le Bon.
Not all were so welcoming. Angry protestors gathered outside arguing that bunnies championed the use of women as sex objects.
Feminist writer Laurie Penny criticised the reopening, calling Playboy “wilting, impotent and dated”.
At the time, Hefner told the BBC: “Well for some people’s tastes, freedom has its downsides”.
But he argued: “Far more damage is done by the repression of sexuality, historically, than the liberation”.