IT says something when your Edinburgh address is more famous than that of Bute House in Charlotte Square, official residence of the First Minister, and there would be more than a few folk who would argue that 17 Danube Street in its time did more for the happiness of the nation than anywhere else in the capital or the rest of Scotland.

It is no longer a place to which many people beat a retreat, and that no doubt pleases the residents, but at one time 17 Danube Street was the home of the woman whose name became synonymous with “a good time”, if you consider visiting a brothel to be anything good.

Dora Noyce was the madam of the establishment, and if anyone ever personified the duality of character that is such a part of Scottish cultural history, then it was she.

Think of Burns’s Holy Willie, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and, in our own day, James Robertson’s brilliant Testament of Gideon Mack and you encounter personalities who, on the outside, are respectable members of society but who are quite the opposite in reality.

Dora Noyce lived that life to the max, being as prim, proper and well-spoken as any Morningside matron but simultaneously running a house of ill repute where she had 15 “girls” on call to attend to the needs of her clients, and reportedly a further 25 she could summon at the busiest times of the year – famously, she said these were the Edinburgh Festival and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

If demand was incredibly high, Dora would simply telephone a contact in Glasgow and taxis full of “girls” would arrive to help out.

Even though she died in 1977 and 17 Danube Street is now as respectable an address as any in that quasi-Bohemian area of Edinburgh called Stockbridge, there are taxi drivers who will tell you that they still get asked to drive their passengers to Dora’s old place since they have been told – no doubt by a mischievous older generation – that it’s the best brothel in town.

For more than 30 years, that is exactly what Dora Noyce ran. It was a discreet and clean emporium of delights, and she insisted that her girls take regularly health checks, in keeping with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1949 which prescribed regular checks on “habitual prostitutes” for sexually transmitted diseases.

She really did offer her clients wine or tea and biscuits while they perused Dora’s girls – they were always her “girls” to Dora, despite many of them being of somewhat more vintage in years than they would admit.

The names of the girls and their price lists were scribbled on a wall, so that a client would know precisely who and what he was paying for, as Dora always had a businesslike mind. She would invariably greet her clients cheerily and invite them in – whenever police officers called, and that was frequently, she would ask them “business or pleasure”?

It was never a brothel to Dora – she called it “a house of leisure and pleasure” – and once said it was “like the YMCA with one small difference…”

No less a personage than David McCrone, emeritus professor of sociology at Edinburgh University, once interviewed Dora along with a colleague as part of a social work research project into landlords.

His experience, recalled as part of his retirement reception, involved him visiting Dora’s house along with a colleague, Brian Elliott.

The professor said: “We interviewed one of our landlords, Dora Noyce, in a brothel in Danube Street. Dora, who was a kirk-going Tory, did the interview in her bed surrounded by her cats; Brian and I sat warily at the end clutching our clipboards (as you do in the clipjoint, of course). You don’t get that kind of experience doing social theory (or do you?).”

Funnily enough, not too many people have gone public about their experiences at 17 Danube Street while Dora was in charge – she seems to have encouraged discretion on the part of her clients as well as her girls.

The absurdity of her running a brothel in a plush part of town certainly annoyed some residents, but we know that she was a kindly person and quite well-liked in Stockbridge. After a busy weekend, local kids would be given the empty fizzy drink bottles which, back in the day, were a form of currency as shopkeepers would trade the deposit on the bottles for sweets.

Dora was often to be seen walking around Stockbridge’s various shops, one of which was a second-hand goods store that belonged to a Madame Doubtfire – the name above the shop window inspired Anne Fine to write the novel of that name which in turn became a huge hit movie for the late Robin Williams.

Madame Doubtfire and Madam Dora were firm friends, perhaps because the latter was able to give her items that hurried clients might have left behind - she always used to say that she believed in supporting local businesses.

In her uniform of twinset and pearls, plus fur coat when required, Dora quite happily walked the city’s streets knowing full well her reputation and caring not a jot. Once upon a time, however, she had been a streetwalker of a different kind.

For Dora’s introduction to the business of prostitution began on the shop floor, so to speak. Born Georgie Hunter Rae in Rose Street in 1900, she was the youngest of five children of Alexander and Mary Rae. Her father was a cutler by trade and it was not a well-paid job, so in order to escape her poverty, young Georgie took to prostitution and adopted the name Dora.

In 1923, she gave birth to a daughter, Violet, and took the name of the girl’s father Ernest Noyce – a handyman, as stated on the birth certificate. Dora seems to have been very good at her job, earning well and always appearing to have a long-term plan in mind, one that she put into place after the second world war. By that time, Dora had already acquired a number of convictions for prostitution, usually under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1902 which created the offence of “being a common prostitute or streetwalker”. To have been convicted she must have been subject to police surveillance and must also have ignored police cautions.

It was as early as 1934 that she received her first conviction for living off the immoral earnings of others – pimping or brothel-keeping by another name.

At the end of the war came Dora’s transformation. She bought 17 Danube Street and re-invented herself as a high-class madam, though she would go on to be charged with brothel-keeping and similar offences on 26 occasions in total, amassing 47 criminal convictions in all.

A senior Edinburgh policeman who had many dealings with Dora said that whenever she was charged, she would only admit to “doing what comes naturally”.

He added: “Whenever she was brought in to be charged, she would simply accept it as part of the job. She would pay the fine, keep a low profile for a day or two and then go back to running 17 Danube Street as if nothing had happened.”

At 17 Danube Street, Dora owned two floors – she had other properties in Edinburgh and Blackpool, but none run as brothels as far as is known - and she kept a room for herself and sublet the rest of the space, divided into cubicles, to her girls.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the renown of 17 Danube Street grew and grew, much to the shame of the local Conservatives at election time. A staunch member of the party, Dora would always display their blue posters in her windows, and made it a point to turn up at local fundraising events such as garden fetes.

All the time she was living a double life, and the senior policeman confirmed that she and they came to an arrangement whereby she would be “raided” every six months or so in return for handing over information about the criminal element of Edinburgh – especially the handling of stolen goods at which some of her girls were experts.

As society’s views on prostitution liberalised, Dora’s brothel became internationally famous. On one occasion in the early 1970s, the giant aircraft carrier the USS John F Kennedy anchored off Leith and the queues of American sailors went right round the block at Danube Street, so much so that the captain had to declare Dora’s premises off-limits, but only after she had banked £4,000.

Everyone knew what happened at Dora’s and where it was, not least because she had good relations with the press, often holding court in Deacon Brodie’s pub and telling them after she was convicted: “In my profession there is no such thing as bad publicity, so do make sure you print the correct address in your newspaper.”

Though she did spend some brief days in prison on account of accumulating so many convictions, Dora was 72 when she received her longest sentence, two terms of three months each that were served consecutively.

It happened on 31 May, 1972, when she pleaded guilty to charges that she kept, managed, acted or helped in the management of a brothel at 17 and 17a Danube Street. Sheriff Victor Skae sent her down, presumably unaware of the senior persons in the justice system who frequented her house.

Her comment when she was released after four months was: “It was very stupid of the court. I was just a burden on the ratepayers and goodness knows they have enough to put up with already.”

It is a sad fact that after Dora died and 17 Danube Street closed as a brothel, crime linked to the sex trade in Edinburgh, and especially Leith, became a very serious problem for Lothian and Borders Police, at least until the then district council started to licence “saunas” where a genuine massage was the cheapest thing on offer.

Police Scotland have cracked down on those saunas, and once again Edinburgh has real problems with crime attached to prostitution.

It would not have happened at 17 Danube Street when Dora Noyce was around. She was far too much of a madam to have permitted any such goings-on.