Could film at last bring fame to 80s hellraiser Robert Pereno?

Robert Pereno reflects on his childhood in The Promoter

Robert Pereno reflects on his childhood in The Promoter - Credit: Archant

You won’t have heard of Robert Pereno. So extensive is his network, you’ll almost certainly have mutual friends, but his name will probably mean nothing to you. For, despite obsessively pursuing every artistic endeavour under the sun, he has consistently fallen short of becoming a household name.

So why would anyone make a documentary about him?

“It’s a classic story,” says Sam Edwards, producer of The Promoter, a new independent film that follows Pereno’s life for a year.

“Get someone up a tree, throw stones at him, get him down again and see how he reacts.”

Pereno himself chips in. “We’re all defined more by our failures than our successes. If it was a film about my achievements, it would be quite boring.”

Over the course of 76 minutes, The Promoter makes clear that boring is perhaps the one thing this 56-year-old is not. Documenting his past infamy as a nightclub promoter who could have shocked Iggy Pop into sobriety, director Ed Edwards also captures the modern-day Pereno at a creative peak, before disaster inevitably strikes.

“I sacrificed my marriage to make this movie,” Pereno cries, semi-jokingly, as he and Sam Edwards converse over cappuccinos in Hampstead’s Coffee Cup.

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“You know how television channels only seem to give you bad news? I reckon it’s to ground you, ground you for real life.”

On the surface, it is hard to understand someone said to have bedded around a thousand women trying to play the victim. Pereno is undoubtedly a multifaceted enigma, though, one moment seeming a Bill Nighy-esque caricature, the next a grizzled professor blaring John Clare from memory. All corners of his persona are so extreme that some even assume he is a fictitious Edwards creation.

Pereno’s most notorious turn came in the 1980s when, between stints as an actor and glam musician in shock troupe Pleasure and the Beast, he became the husband of 15-year-old wild child Emma Ridley.

“We lived on Fitzjohn’s Avenue you know – Emma’s always been a real north London girl. She had a boyfriend when I met her so she told him I was gay. She also told me she was 17.”

After being photographed dancing drunkenly over nightclub tables, Ridley became the tabloid poster girl for 1980s excess. So, deciding that it was either “Vegas or Pakistan”, Pereno did the honourable thing and married Ridley in the States as her mother watched on from the aisle.

The marriage, (there have been several since), lasted just two years, but the two remain good friends. Their time together nonetheless sent Pereno into a flurry of depression and debauchery, much of which he puts down to the times.

‘Ryan Gosling sensitivity’

“Your generation is more in tune with Ryan Gosling sensitivity,” he says to me. “I feel it’s easier now to be a young girl than a young guy. If you don’t pay the bill, you’re a cheap git, if you do, then you’re sexist. It’s hard to know what to do, but I’ve always just believed in manners above anything else.”

“That was the problem,” laughs Edwards. “If someone wanted to sleep with you, you thought it was bad manners if you didn’t agree.”

Pereno and Edwards have been friends for 30 years and that connection shines through in The Promoter, where she and her husband prompt Pereno into intelligent and honest admissions about a life that reads like a gossip page written by Rimbaud.

It is not the debut feature of Ragged Crow, the Edwards’ Hampstead-based production company. Last year, they released Stealing Elvis – a coming-of-age thriller nominated for Best Film at the London United Film Festival last year. When Ed revealed he wanted to direct a feature documentary, though, Sam knew just the man.

“We happened to be filming Robert’s birthday,” says Edwards. “And when we looked back, the footage of him acting and holding the room was amazing. I just said to Ed, there’s your documentary.”

Edwards’ hunch proved correct, with the film selling out and being nominated for Best Documentary at the London Independent Film Festival last month, as well as the London United Film Festival, which takes place later this month. Why do Pereno and Edwards think it has been so successful?

“Everyone has a story, not just me,” the former says of the film that features contributions from people such as actress Eve Ferret, DJ Gaz Mayall and, amusingly, Adam Ant. “And what’s more, they’re really well known in their particular circles.

“There are degrees of fame. Not everyone’s heard of Tarantino, but everyone’s heard of Beckham. So maybe no one’s really famous unless they’re David Beckham.”

His promotion of others in this respect is disarming, considering how easy it might be to label Pereno as a lovable but narcissistic former rock’n’ roller.

To confound things further, he reaches into his bag, pulls out one of his favourite books – JM Coetzee’s Disgrace – and writes a note inside saying “To Alex, from The Promoter.” It is the first of countless pieces of literature, including a collection of poetry by the modest Sam Edwards, he insists I have.

“I’ve always indentified with tragicomic figures, the scarecrow or the fool in King Lear. They always actually come out with the most honest, profound lines and, of course, the real fool in King Lear is the king himself.”

He may at times play the fool, but The Promoter could well have the last laugh.

The Promoter (Dir: Ed Edwards, Prod: Sam Edwards) screens at the London United Film Festival on Sunday, May 26. For more information, visit