Last year saw Kumail Nanjiani step into the role of Somen 'Steve' Banerjee for Disney Plus's true crime drama Welcome to Chippendales – an eight-parter that brought the strip club founder's rise and eventual fall to the screen. Now, the BBC is touching on the subject with its latest documentary.


Secrets of the Chippendales Murders, which airs on BBC Two tonight (Monday 3rd April) and is already available to stream in full on BBC iPlayer, takes viewers "behind the bright lights of the '80s strip sensation" where "a dark world of betrayal, corruption and violence" lurked.

Telling the story of how Steve Banerjee teamed up with choreographer Nick De Noia to build Chippendales into a strip club sensation, the four-part docuseries looks at how that success soon turned into a battle over the empire, ultimately involving drugs and De Noia's death.

With speaking to the cast of Welcome to Chippendales on what it was like playing these real figures last year, here's everything you need to know about the true story behind the Chippendales murders before the BBC documentary airs.

What is the true story behind the Chippendales murders?

Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales
Kumail Nanjiani as Sorem Banerjee in Welcome to Chippendales. Hulu

As it turns out, the true story behind Welcome to Chippendales and BBC Two's Secrets of the Chippendales Murders is just as incredible, scandalous and tragic as what is dramatised on screen.

More like this

In real life, Somen 'Steve' Banerjee was an Indian immigrant who moved to America in the 1960s, working at a petrol station until he decided to buy a nightclub in LA in 1975. He called the club Destiny II, but it failed to pick up much in the way of business.

On the advice of club promoter and pimp Paul Snider (played in the series by Dan Stevens), Banerjee turned Destiny II into a club where women would watch men strip, and renamed it Chippendales after furniture they used in the club.

Snider went on to become the club's emcee in 1979, while Snider's wife, Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, reportedly suggested the now iconic 'cuffs and collars' look for the dancers - inspired by the Playboy bunnies. Snider was later fired from his role, and went on to kill both Stratten and himself in 1980 after they had separated.

Unlike in the series, it's reported that it was as early as 1979 that Banerjee committed his first crime, allegedly hiring someone to burn down a rival club.

In 1981, Banerjee hired choreographer Nick De Noia to create dance routines for the show, but the pair had a combative relationship. De Noia moved to New York in 1984 to set up a new Chippendales show which, just like in the series, featured a Frankenstein-inspired routine called The Perfect Man.

Steve (Kumail Nanjiani) and Nick (Murray Bartlett) in Welcome to Chippendales.
Somen (Kumail Nanjiani) and Nick (Murray Bartlett) in Welcome to Chippendales. Erin Simkin/Hulu

De Noia next set up a touring show of the Chippendales under a new company, arranged with Banerjee via a contract written on a napkin, which saw him pay royalties to Banerjee for use of the name and the pair splitting the profits 50/50.

Banerjee allegedly believed that De Noia was stealing from him, so hired a former police officer and club performer named Ray Colon to kill De Noia. De Noia was shot dead, not by Colon but instead a hitman Colon had hired, in 1987 in New York. It would be six years before Banerjee was charged with hiring Colon to commit the murder, during which time the crime went unsolved.

Throughout these years, Banerjee brought back the rights for the Chippendales tour and went on to put out a hit on three more individuals and ex-Chippendales dancers who he saw as rivals - one named Michael Fullington, and two who had gone on to create a rival troupe called Adonis: Men of Hollywood.

He once again called on Colon to complete the job - but Colon didn't go through with it, and instead became an informant for the FBI, which spent the subsequent years trying to build a case against Banerjee, using Colon after he had confessed his involvement to them.

Banerjee pleaded guilty to murder for hire, attempted arson and racketeering in 1993. He took his own life hours before he was due to be sentenced in 1994.

Colon also pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the murder-to-hire plot, testifying against Banerjee for a reduced sentence. He served two years in prison and on house arrest, and was released in 1996.

Banerjee’s ex-wife Irene inherited Chippendales after his death, and while the company is no longer owned by anyone in the family, it has gone on to have continued global success.

What have the cast of Welcome to Chippendales said about dramatising the true story?

Irene (Annaleigh Ashford) in Welcome to Chippendales.
Annaleigh Ashford as Irene in Welcome to Chippendales. Erin Simkin/Hulu

Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett and Annaleigh Ashford all spoke exclusively with about their roles in the series, and their initial relationship with the shocking true story.

While Nanjiani and Bartlett admitted they were completely unaware of the history surrounding the early years of Chippendales and Somen himself, Ashford, who plays Irene in the series, knew the story before the project came to her.

She said: "My mom is a true crime aficionado so I did happen to know about the show. She told me about it years ago and I remember thinking, 'How bizarre, what a wild backstory and how do we not know about that?' It's so crazy that if you wrote it from your brain, nobody would buy it because they'd say, 'This is too crazy, that would never happen in real life'.

When it came to playing these real life figures, Nanjiani said that he spent "a few months" working out how to play Somen.

He said: "It took me a few months of thinking and talking to my acting teacher and talking to Emily, my wife, and long walks, to sort of figure out who this guy was, what was inside of him. We were thinking about people we knew, types of people we knew, and using my own experiences, I gave him some of my experiences, some of my insecurities.

"But I ultimately came up with eight different categories to try and figure out who this guy is. What's his relationship to other people? What's his relationship to men, to women, to himself, to his own body? What's his intellect? What's his education level? Is he an introvert, is he an extrovert? Is he funny? What's his morality? That was a really important way in.

"And then ultimately the idea of an immigrant coming to America, trying to make it in an industry that's not built for immigrant success was something I personally related with."

Nick (Murray Bartlett) in Welcome to Chippendales.
Murray Bartlett as Nick in Welcome to Chippendales. Erin Simkin/Hulu

Meanwhile, Bartlett, who plays Nick, spoke about his own understanding of the real-life figure and what he related to when playing him.

He said: "I first sort of digested him as this man who was a container of this vast creative vision that he just couldn't keep inside of him, and just didn't get the kinds of opportunities that he felt were a match to his grand creative vision.

"There's something so dynamic about that, and I relate to that as an actor, of feeling like, ‘I feel like I've got this stuff inside of me and I'm just not getting the opportunities to show it.' And I love that about him.

"I also think he was incredibly talented. He made an amazing show called Unicorn Tales - available on YouTube. It's funny because it's a children's show so I think he felt some embarrassment about it, probably because it's a kid show, but he won two Emmys for it, and it's incredible. It was sort of like a predecessor to Sesame Street; it was diverse and incredibly grand."

Bartlett continued: "So I felt really inspired by a creative mind like that, and also excited to have the chance to play some of the darker sides of him, this kind of insatiable ambition which eventually is tangled up with his downfall, I think, because it's never able to be satiated.

"That's something that I don't have. I am ambitious but I think it's a fascinating thing to explore and a fascinating thing to play in a character, and kind of a cautionary tale for all of us."

Secrets of the Chippendales Murders is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Welcome to Chippendales is available now on Disney Plus. Sign up to Disney Plus now for £79.90 for a year or £7.99 a month.

Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


Try Radio Times magazine today and get 12 issues for only £1 with delivery to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.