Meanwhile I was exploring other areas of London. Soho attracted my attention. ‘Soho today’ I wrote, ‘is intricate. It’s the little rooms, squashed attics, vaults, and bedrooms and storerooms containing night-clubs containing bars containing restaurants containing strip-clubs containing kinky bra and button manufacturers, containing blue cinemas, sex boutiques, restaurants, shake-houses.
Soho today is that sad place that the bureaucrat sees one day when he looks past the Telly and his wife.
Now in the streets of modern Soho sex is replaced by substitute sex, the treat by the teaze, the honest whore by the parking meter, the clip-joint hostess in her spiritual falsies, the strip-girl with her little bag containing her outfit under her arm, her tottering little strides, her blue shrewd eyes.
In any age Soho has offered the British the reverse image of themselves. All that their dreams could create and their laws forbid.
The dreams today are wet dreams.
In the velvet dusk they push through the streets, the yobs from the suburbs and the blokes up from the provinces, the frayed night-loving crowds, in their smart ephemeral suitings, waiting, watching, pushing past along the pavement by the Whisky-a-Gogo, The Discotheque, The Kaleidoscope, The Scene, The Flamingo, The Ready Steady Go, crowding silently against the walls, into the cafs and the strip-clubs, standing for hours watching sleazy upstairs windows, waiting their turn.
A 35-year-old man is belting a woman around the face, spattering her with glassfuls of coke. She wanted to finish the game in which his stakes are lofty.
Two whores, slim, legs apart as whores’ legs must be in their tight skirts, hair piled up so that they look like worried cockatoos, hobble off without note into the darkness, slow droll birds.
Groups of mods on their scooters sail in like fleets, their antler-like proliferation of chromium headlamps glimmering.
And everywhere, on every pavement, people waiting. Waiting. What for?
The Strip Club is down a narrow courtyard. Pay your ten bob and you’re ushered into a small auditorium, heavy with smoke, stuffed with men, the centre supported by a large pillar. Men, as well as on chairs, are clustered along the wall. The grey line of their faces. A roomful of flesh. The curtains of the stage are all they should be – ruby in colour, in texture velvet. They draw back to show that the front of the stage has been barred. An exotic girl, poor thing, has been trapped behind it, tied by her leopard-skin bra to the bars. An amplified voice says, ‘A fair young Jewish maiden. Victim of the cruel lusts of the Gestapo.’
Music strikes up, music yearning and passionate in tempo. Then, suddenly, as if out of the blue, the crack of a whip. The girl winces. She slightly dislodges her bra. More lashes follow. Their virulence increases. With each lash she displays more of her snowy bosom. Now a new element: shouting. What can it be? Oh, yes, it is the Gestapo yelling as they inflict their punishment.
The music takes on a new tone, romantic, yearning. There is scarcely any break now between the lashes of the Gestapo. Other voices join in, possibly those of the management. Finally, a savage lunge, and the girl is free from the bars to which she is bound. The lustful shouting of the Gestapo becomes more bitter. A final cut, more cruel than all the rest, that sends her sprawling, prostrate. And now that both her bra and panties are drawn off her the poor girl lies naked on the floor. The curtains close. Some Enchanted Evening strikes up on the loudspeaker system. A few men get up to leave and others rush in to take their places. A voice says, ‘Miss Lola Citrona. To see her anew is to see her as if for the first time.’ The curtains part once more. A new girl comes onto the stage ...
We push our way back through the packed aisles, out through the foyer and into the London dusk. There is a queue outside now in the drab sodden evening, stretching away down the lines of star-spangled photographs of the lovelies inside. Then, as we stand there a moment, a tall girl with huge sprouting eyelashes confronts us. ‘Hullo. You don’t remember me.’ She is really exotic. A vast mass of tawny hair cascades from a high bun down over her ears and forehead. Underneath she wears a huge flared thick orange skirt, and a bright red blouse. Her eyelashes are caked with black. So it is, of course, it is Joyce. Once when I went down to hear the pounding organ music of some pub in the East End, there again she had suddenly stood before me as I was talking to Gipsy Jim, the tall blond compère. She was different in some ways. Then her hair was deepest black, whereas now it’s tawny. She says, ‘Did you see the show? I don’t only do strip here, I sing too in the nude, sometimes. Did you see me? I did that number half Alma Cogan, half Helen Shapiro, know the one I mean?’ Her hair has one huge square of white in its otherwise tawny surface. ‘That’s the bottle style, it’s like the highlight on a bottle. Know anyone what’s got a lion by the way? I want a lion. That’s what I’m looking for at the moment. Lions attract me. That’s my ambition for the moment. Would be great in my act. I dream about them. Always dreaming about lions and snakes. Did you see my other spot in the show? I was the highwayman. You know, I hold up the pistol and then I say, “Stand and Deliver”.’
‘Joyce, are you still living with Gipsy Jim?’
‘Oh no, I’ve left him. I did stay with him for some while, three years in all, actually. But now I’m on me own. I do still dream about Jim, actually. I’m still in a way involved with him. But I had to leave him. I got so restless.’
‘Why did you feel restless?’
‘I don’t know. Sometimes I got to think myself that the answer would be children. But I can’t have children. There’s a certain disability in my family, my father and my sister are missing two toes on their right feet. And Jim had this wooden leg, like you see in the papers, it we’d had kids, they might have had wooden legs too. There’s another thing. I wouldn’t like to have children unless they’re going to be rich. Money is important. People send chocolates sometimes to us girls, up to the green-room. Well, we’re fairly contemptuous, Susie for instance, she says, “What, does he think he can have me for a bar of chocolate? That all he reckons I’m worth? If that’s how he feels he’d better go and have a good work-out at the front of the show.” Well, you see what I mean, I feel the same about children.’
NOTICE OUTSIDE, across the alley from the coffee bar: ‘Now that it’s June our girls are bustin’ out all over.’
‘Why did you look down when I looked at you then? You know, I think I have hypnotic eyes, because when I look at people they can’t take their eyes from mine, but when I look down then they’re all right. You’re like that, I’ve noticed. He was good to me, Jim was. He was good to me, did all the washing up, all the cleaning. I didn’t have any worries. But it’s always the same with living with someone. Love doesn’t exist. It’s in the mind. He was a good spender. But, when all’s said, I’d rather be a man’s mistress than his wife.’
She sits, her long tortuous tawny hair clustered round her lovely oval face, her voluptuous lips slightly parted, their pink colouring approximating roughly to their swelling contours.
‘Only thing I don’t like about this life is, well, sometimes you fall off the stage. Yes, the stage is too small, especially if you’re doing a new number, it’s easy to fall off. Then they’ve got yer. Grab yer ankle.’
Upstairs in the green-room the other girls lounge around, a lush sight, lovely girls in their drag, as they wait for their turn, the girl that plays the prisoner, the girl that plays the highwayman, the private secretary, the girl that plays the harmonium, the debutante, and the girl that plays with the statue of Napoleon. Their long lashes brush the air like antennae above their dark doe eyes.
‘I was doing mirror before I went on holiday. But then when I came back I went on Napoleon.’
The intercom says, ‘A shadowy figure ... at dead of night ... on the waterfront ...’
Mary Queen of Scots: ‘It’s Harold that puts the tapes together, he’s responsible for those exotic sound tracks. He joins up pop numbers with other effects that he gets from all over the place. Sometimes we have to restrain him a little, there’s one point in the present show where he has all the fellas sitting in darkness for about two minutes while there’s the sound of baths running out, it’s meant to be seaside breakers.’
‘What’s the hardest thing about stripping?’
‘The hardest thing is the G-string.’
‘I think the hardest thing is, if you can’t see the men. If there’s too much smoke in the place, there’s a haze, they’re smoking too much. The reason being you got to look in their eyes. Otherwise you can’t do it. You can’t project.’
The voice over the intercom says, ‘Miss Lola Citrona. To see her anew is to see her as if for the first time ...’
‘Once I was in the number called Highwayman, and they had a peculiar thing in the wings that you have to heat up, it makes smoke, for the shooting. So once I’d just got down to nude and got out the pistol. I pressed the trigger, they went to fire off the thing, but it wasn’t hot enough, instead of smoke it came out warm oil, went all over me! The fellas went wild!’
The voice on the intercom says, ‘A slave girl for Saudi-Arabia ... Food for the mysterious lusts from the wanton East ...’
‘He means East End,’ says Mary Queen of Scots, her voice an exotic mixture of Italian and cockney, youthful black hair falling round her face in fabulous cascades.
‘The hardest thing is the Saturday evenings. And the Welsh are the worst. Frustrated on them mountains. That’s the time you get them throwing things. And the souvenir hunters. As you take off your G-string they all make a grab for em. Throw them behind or they’ll be in their pocket. And you got to keep away or they’ll grab yer.’
‘Yeah, that’s the time sometimes you get depressed. That’s when you get to hate it all, you go down the street, and all the day the market’s there, and it’s full of people, all gay, and then they begin to pack up, and that’s when you begin to get that rotten atmosphere. The town begins to fill up with that frightening crowd. And you get to feel that maybe all the men in Britain are like that, all of them furtive and mean and impotent.’
The girl that plays the prisoner leaves the green-room, goes down the stairs, climbs on the stage of the strip-club. The stage manager is there to tie her by her bra to the bars. The cries of the Gestapo are warming up already. From the green-room we can hear the first lashes fall. ‘Yes, that’s the worst time of all. It can get you down then. You’re on six times a day, ten minutes every two hours, it cuts into your life. Some girls get to feel degraded. It gets worse every time you go on. Then the audience gets to feel it too. And that’s the end for you. That’s when you get that you can’t project any more, you can’t control them. And then they have no pity for you. The fellas show no compassion. That’s when you take to the pills. And that’s the time, you feel uninhibited then, you want to hug people, you want contact, above all you’re happy.’
Notice, pinned to the door-jamb: Glamorous Young Spanish Artist’s Model. Outside, the furtive men waiting on the pavement, cigarette ends glowing, waiting, waiting ... I slouch up a decrepit creaking panelled staircase, paint peeling off it, past a sagging door saying ‘Aphrodite Club’.
At the top of the staircase the door is opened by a girl in maid’s uniform. Through it, vistas of an apartment got up like a dream set. At one end a huge bed with fleecy lacy coverings over it. The windows only allowing through a dim gentle light and in the centre, in a fleecy gown that half hides and half reveals, caught beneath her breasts to show their falling jut, an elderly lady. The negligee goes up to her neck to disguise where it has fallen into cavities and wrinkles.
Sound of soft Muzak piped in from somewhere.
The whore says, ‘What did you want dear?’
‘I wanted to draw the Spanish model.’
She puts her two hands behind her rump. ‘That’s me dear. That’s not really what you wanted is it dear? For fifteen quid my dear you may do with me what you will.’
Says the maid aside, ‘The blind one was here again.’
The blind man: ‘I loved her. Then, when she went on the Game, I left her. Thought maybe she’d never loved me. Went off on me own, and, what was worse for me, I left me little boy with her, that’s my Philip. So I lived all right without the two of them, and she took up with this fella, Dirty Jim. But he went off to nick for poncing, and one night I met her on the street what used to be her beat before the Act, and she told me little Philip was getting neglected because there was no one to look after him in the time she was working. So I took to going to her place during holiday time, when Philip was back from school, so as to keep an eye on me lad. And I got close to him now, my boy, now he could speak, I got to love him. However the law got to hear about this, and one afternoon they came round and said if I persisted in going to the house where my son was, they’d have me for poncing. So then I stopped seeing my boy.’
‘Step inside, gentlemen, the girls are completely naked on the stage, there’s no hostesses to bother you and no drinks charge, these are genuine strip-teaze artists doing genuine continental strip-teaze, they are completely naked, I must emphasise this, no G-string worn in this establishment.’
Her voice has a metallic ring and it drones on interminably.
‘Yes, they take off everything in front of your eyes, these eight lovely girls and they take off all their clothes – G-strings – nipple caps – the lot. These girls show you the lot. They stand before you naked. Nothing is hidden. The eight lovely girls hide nothing. We got girls here all varieties. White girls. Black girls. Continentals, all shapes and sizes and varieties ... The reason being, variety is the spice of life. Ten bob. Thank you, sir ...’
Her face is grey beneath the illuminated archway, its wrinkles lit by bright bulbs winking like traffic lights. Over her head a notice: ‘8 Artists Models 8’. She speaks in a monotone, grey, repetitive, unending. We pay our ten bob and step through the door beside her into darkness. Bricklined alley, open to the sky, daubed with scrawled graffiti. The raucous sounds of the street are faint behind us. We step on, avoiding a pair of dustbins. Continue up a creaking staircase. Through a door, into a close fetid room, and then, ahead, like navigation lights emerging from the darkness, a grey line of men’s faces. We step down towards the faces, settling ourselves on a couple of creaking chairs. A curtain jerks back, and we see what we’ve paid out ten bob to have the privilege of gazing at – a mal-nourished young female in her birthday suit, one foot on a stool, her fleshy arse on a kitchen chair, a black wall daubed with white hand-palms behind, her palms on her waist slightly tautening her flat hanging breasts. Naked except for her tall black fur-topped crumpled PVC bootees. The men in the audience are pallid, detached, like medical students at an operation. Coyly she holds a hand over the junction of her legs, raising a finger every now and again, smiling with half her face. She coughs. She raises one arm, looks at her watch, flicks it back again. She clears her throat. A voice behind the curtain says: ‘Got a nasty cough.’ She snickers. Another voice chips in: ‘Went down the slashhouse without her clothes.’
‘We’ll gather lilacs’ emits from a loudspeaker on the wall. A buzzer sounds and the curtain slides back across. The men continue to gaze at the curtain, in silence. One reads the Evening Standard. A woman at the back standing behind the seats, a washed-out blonde in a yellow cardigan, comes round asking clients in turn to get up: ‘Only, I just got a lovely dirty book just now, was going to have a lovely read, paid seven bob. Just let me see if you’re sitting on it. Otherwise, someone must of nicked it.’
From behind the stage, a sizzling sound.
The curtain slides back again.
Same girl, new posture.
Just behind us are three oil salesmen, joking bravely among themselves: ‘What lovely music, isn’t it?’ ‘Ought we to put in a sales report on this?’ ‘Do you come here often?’
A man with a haunted Frankenstein-like schoolmaster face enters.
Three Chinese enter.
A self-possessed Negro enters: ‘Oh, look what we have on the stage. Nice girls here. She from Notting Hill, ent she? That’s why they have riots at Notting Hill in those days when she left? Nice flesh, I’ll say. And how!’ He waggles his finger at her: ‘Well, hello fuzzy!’
The man with bald pate and schoolmaster’s face stumps out. The sizzling behind the stage finishes.
Women, inspiration of poets, artists, generals, philosophers, woman, flesh and sinew, ice-white displayed on the stage akimbo.
A voice behind the stage says, ‘Yer egg’s done.’
The posing girl says, ‘Coming.’
The buzzer sounds, the curtain closes.
As we leave, the tout is still standing outside the door, enunciating in her lengthy grey voice: ‘Now come along sirs, there are eight lovely girls here, they stand before you naked ...’
She continues till her voice is drowned in the clamour of traffic. ‘They stand before you naked. These girls hide nothing ...’
We resolve not to be caught like this a second time, and we aren’t. We’re caught rather worse.
This time it is a young girl who stands ingratiatingly before us.
‘Hullo,’ she says, pertly, putting her hands behind her back and undulating with her stomach.
We stop and look her up and down. She wears rather dirty black tights and a frilly blouse, and her big eyes are caked with mascara.
‘Were you by any chance looking for a nice time with two naughty girls?’
‘What sort of a nice time?’
‘Well, my dear, I don’t mean picking daisies.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Come in and see ...’
Lisette says, ‘Well, they have touts scattered all around London, some in Soho, some in Kensington, some down in the docks, everywhere. Their job is to rope in the clients, they promise anything to get you there, band, floorshow, the lot. So then they bring the mug up the stairs, and, we’ve got it all worked out, soon as he comes in you grab him, lead him to a seat round the wall. You say, “What’s your name? Don’t be scared!” Then, when he’s told you, you tell him yours. I mean, not your real one. Then, quick as a flash the next girl comes up, “Would you care to buy the young lady a drink? Drinks is shandy for the men at 2s 6d, and 17s 6d apple juice for the young lady.” And you’ve got to drink it up as fast as you can, collect the sticks, and you get paid at the end. And you promise to sleep with him, promise him anything, provided you keep him drinking, that’s what you’re paid for, to keep him drinking. When you start you have feelings, you think, “It’s a bit low to do that to a fella.” But you soon realise, if you have any feelings, you won’t get anywhere in this game. Anyway, some of the hostesses is girls with little kiddies they have to look after back home, so they deserve to have the money. As well as getting you drinks, is these novelties and toys, fluffy poodles, plastic babies, potties. You have to say, “Oo, how lovely, can I have one of those exquisite creatures?” So then they buy one, and that’s another five guineas. And after the evening’s over you hand them back to the management and they put them back behind the drinks counter. And at the end of the night, for you that’s another ten bob. You make arrangements to meet outside later around the corner. But you don’t go, usually. Only sometimes some of the fellas they come back, beat you up.
‘That’s why some hostesses get such diabolic faces.’
Maureen says, ‘There was a sort of wicker gate in the doorway and we had to stand behind this when trade was slack, to get the fellas to come in. As they used to go by, we used to have to gaze in their eyes and say out, “Hullo”, in that provocative manner, got up like art students we was. And as we was standing, you know, all sexy got up like students, as I say, artistic, “Care for some fun?” So he stops, asks, “What?” So we has to say, “Do you by any chance want a girl?” and he’d reply that he did and we’d tell him the price was £2 for half an hour or £3 for an hour, and this would usually get them, so next thing he was probably following me into the club, this was a little cellar room lit all pink and purples, with tables and chairs. Anyone that knew London would have recognised it at once, but the people who use these places are mainly provincials or foreigners and they don’t know what London’s like, they think that London’s like other places abroad where for the same price you can have a girl. So I told him my place was just round the corner and he gave Sandra two pounds for a couple of drinks, and I suppose he thought as soon as we’d finished the drinks, we’d be going up to my flat, and of course he was wrong. As soon as he’d finished his orange juice Sandra comes marching in with some more. She’s a fairly formidable girl, has hair piled up over the top of her head, so she looks tall, a bit like a monster, and very hypnotic eyes. And as she brings the second lot of drinks, she asks him for a further two pounds. So the fella explains that this was not what had been running through his mind, and that he considered it was time he and me went round the corner to my flat. So he got up and was trying to pull me out and I said “not bloody likely”, and he tried to pull me out and then when he couldn’t he smartly got up and did what most men don’t – he went to the police.’
Oh the haze of the purple lights in her hair, her long antennae lashes, the sweet jut of her breasts, her sweet undulating voice: ‘So then they got us into court. And the prosecutor there, he was a right lad, he really went for me, I don’t understand it on my life, to this day, “would I agree that my job was to get men to go to the room with me and buy expensive orange juice?” was the way he put it, “didn’t I try to get them to think that they were going to get sexual intercourse?” So I says, “no, I don’t.” So he says, “It started by you asking if he wanted a girl. How was he going to get a girl?” I explained, “Well, he wanted my company.” He says, “OK, fair enough, but when a man picks up a girl and the conversation goes ‘Do you want a girl?’ and ‘How much?’ it must mean intercourse, don’t it?” He says, “I suppose men will go on being fools until this sort of thing is shown up. It’s the foolish who suffer,” he said. Well, what you think I got then? Three months.’
Janice says, ‘So then I went for a job in this restaurant and they told me, they said, the waitresses here get no pay. Neither do they get any commission on the food and drink that the customers buy, like you do in many places. The point for you of being a waitress here is solely and purely to meet the client and thus have a chance of getting to know him and when he’s got to like and trust you, you tell him how much you expect him to pay you in tips. Just for waiting on the fellas here, they said, is about a fiver, and for going with them after the show is about another fifteen. Some girls are greedy and try to put the price to £20 after 3 a.m. says the curious fellow that is interviewing us, but I think this is too much, so he said. Customers here are mainly middle-class fellas. They’re ready to spend fifty pounds for a good evening out, but that fifty must include everything. Including sex.
‘I tried a while on that lark. We used to take them the nosh, all just on the point, you know, sexy, then afterwards Mr Zaparella, he was the manager (I don’t think that was his real name, it was more a pseudonym), used to go up to them and ask them, had they had a good meal. And they’d say, yes. And he’d say, what they needed to make it a perfect end to the evening was some nice girls. Who are they? Well, they’re the kind you will like. You will really like them. Love them. The kind you will like. They will be yours for the night. You can take them home, these dollies, and you can cuddle them, play about with them, have a game, and they won’t squeak. So then they’d pay their bill. At that place for twenty or thirty you could just about buy a plate of sandwiches, and a few bottles of champagne that the girls drank mainly because, although we didn’t get paid on it, we only kept the job if we got the customers to drink. That price also included the so-called hostesses fee, although it didn’t go to the hostess. Then we’d take ‘em to the hotel that was nearby, and book a couple of double rooms and then we’d all get into one room, in case there was any funny business, and there’d be the cry of Let’s be naughty and we’d throw off our clothes.’
The Dancing Girl’s Story:
She is beautiful – wears a black fur coat, her face is very white and she has huge dark eyes in it. Her voice is refined, but with a touch of mid-Atlantic in it. It is a melodious voice, low and beautiful: ‘My father used to torture my mother, I mean mentally. When I was seven, one day she slit his throat. She had to go to court and they knew it wasn’t her fault, she was driven to it. After that, Mum and I were more happy. By the time I was sixteen we’d got to be pretty poor, and Mum saw an ad in the local papers saying there were girls wanted to audition to dance in a West End nightclub. She said, “Go along, love. This might be the answer.” The audition was in a very big dark old theatre. There were hundreds of girls there, girls of every sort, from the posh suburbs to the genuine mill girls. You can imagine the excitement. Everyone longing to be chosen. I thought to myself, “I hope I’ll make it.” The choreographer showed us the steps she wanted us to do, and each of us had to get up in turn. The audition went on all that day. They selected a hundred, then fifty, then ten, finally the six of us they wanted, and I was still among them. They brought us down to London, first class, and for the first few days we did nothing, just lounged about, in bubble baths, making idiotic phone messages to all and sundry because we didn’t know anyone. It was like a dream really. And we didn’t know anything. We didn’t even know we were in the West End of London. And in those days we used to long to go to one place and one place only – Humphrey Lyttleton’s Jazz Club at 100 Oxford Street. But we never were allowed to. Always, as soon as rehearsals were over, the closed car back home. After about six weeks I did my first show, and then I began to feel an old hand. Sometimes there’d be a conjurer there, and he’d be complaining about the size of his dressing-room like as not (as the dressing-rooms there were very small) and then sometimes the wallabies would escape, once they went tearing off across the stage and among the clients. We were really only like schoolgirls there. We didn’t know what it was all about, sometimes someone would send back a drink or flowers or chocolate back to one of us, and then we’d all share it. We called it out finishing school, we didn’t really know anyone or anything, we were unsophisticated. To give you an example, three of the girls that came down with me, for instance, were going out at that time with three Chinese boys in sports cars. We thought them the last word in chic. The green-room at the club was really green, but not velvet like it should be. Only poor man’s green, or poor girl’s green, imitation velvet. If we were in for the last show a moment after midnight we got fined. The phone rings and it’s the boss: “Right, who’s there?” So always, around midnight, there’s a terrific rush of girls up to sign the book ... There was one very stupid girl, her name was Jock, and she was the only one in those days who showed her breasts, she had a beautiful figure like a Cranach, with very small breasts, but very white and pretty. And there was a law, in those days, that nudes couldn’t move, to they had her sitting on a silver paper and plywood moon and she used to sit at the back of one of our dancing numbers representing Venus. She always arrived late, she was one of the hostesses really, not one of the dancing girls, always resented having to leave the customers where she was earning good money, throwing off her evening dress and snapping the G-string between her legs, and she did really look lovely but when she opened her mouth you’d think you were in the Gorbals, she had a Jock voice you could cut with a hatchet. And she never liked the dancers, the hostesses never liked the dancers, they thought we didn’t know the world, they never did like the dancing girls, they called us the Kensington Virgins. When she’d got settled on her moon, just before the curtain went up, one of the dancing girls used to call in a loud whisper, “Hey, Jock! You’ve forgotten your bra!” And she’d shout, “Help! Hey! Jeez!” covering her breasts with her hands, jumping up. Then she’d realise, and through the rest of the show she’d be cursing as she sat down on her moon muttering under her breath, as we went prancing by, “Get away from me, get away, you scruffy little crowd of Kensington prancing virrrrgins!”
‘We were, I don’t really know how to put it, innocent. Once I was talking about this to a man and he said: That’s nonsense. He said: This idea of Roedean girls doing P.T. and the happy parents applauding as though it was speech day, it’s not accurate. The reality is different, he said. If a man is attracted by a girl doing P.T. on the stage then that means that he’d like to sleep with her. These girls may not know it, but what they’re doing is, teazing the clients. He said: these drinks that you so gaily shared, what they really meant was that the men who sent them would like to meet the girl in question with a view to sleeping with her. Your friends, you were just teazing him. What do you think? I never knew what to think. But my view is, the men like it because there was no chance of it going further.
‘When I first got the job I had two goals and two goals only, one was to improve myself and the other was making things better for Mum. I sent my first pay packet to her. With my second I bought a set of encyclopedias, and I was always reading them, in those days, picking up the education I’d missed. We got twenty a week to start with. Later it rose to thirty and forty. I had a chance to marry into the aristocracy later, but I didn’t go through with it. I took up modelling. I was one of the most sought after of all Britain’s models. Then I went into the madhouse.’
The place where she works is of greater opulence than the establishments that we’ve so far been frequenting. To the inducement of bared female flesh is added, we learn, that of the dance, coupled with food and wine. In a pinnacled building we call on the Proprietor of one such place, Mr Jonas, approaching him now up marble staircases and by means of antique lifts. A uniformed doorman in the vestibule. Bellpushes that glimmer golden. The door of the flat is opened by a spruce young girl, who nods curtly. She leads us forward through a fab apartment along passages whose walls, clothed in brown-sugar marble, are moulded into niches and archways. At one point a small coloured fountain splashes into a marble bowl. Marble then gives way to a sort of grotto-like proliferation of dark rounded pebbles and more fountains.
Then, lounged back on a white leather sofa by a window overlooking trees we are confronted by an expansive toad-like personage, richly decorated with chains, signet rings and watches, expensively dressed in cavalry twill coat and trousers.
Rising expansively to greet us he nods us to a seat on more white leather facing him. The room is filled with the heavy odour of orchids. Above him stretches the intricate detail of a post-Odeon Egyptian revival pediment and triglyph, executed once more in barley-sugar-coloured marble.
Handing us short cheroots from an amber box, Jonas introduced us to the little girl: ‘This is Tara, an Eskimo girl who has become my adopted daughter. Unfortunately she can’t bid you welcome because she is dumb and also understands no English. Now I gather that you would like to learn more about the Club. The most important thing of the lot about is it, I think, the atmosphere, this sort of atmosphere, I could refer to it as the merging of the traditional values of British-country-house architecture (the sort of thing our clients are used to) with the virtues and charm of British girlhood, young flower-like girls. This brings relief, consolation. The people who come here are those who are seeking consolation; the major whose daughter just got herself pregnant; the city businessman who’d just discovered that his son has blown the safe and pawned the family silver; the country squire whose wife just caught him in bed with the housekeeper; the entrepreneur that’s just lost a fortune; in other words, it aims to assuage the costly but lavish sorrows of the rich.
‘We have two sittings. At the first sitting there are always quite a few husbands and wives, husbands who’ve brought their wives along to show them it’s all right. About midnight they move on and that’s when the real night-club clientele begin to arrive, the chaps who’ve been to regimental dinners, the visiting firemen, etc., the fellows up from the hick towns come to set the place on fire. For many years now we’ve run the same advertisement, of course, bare-breasted girl shins up a Grecian column towards the sky. Clients just wouldn’t like to see the thing altered. The décor too has seen little alteration; oak panelling, low lights, purple velvet drapes, the occasional chandelier. The reason is, again, that the type of client we get here, our clients seem to like it like that. The fact is, we cater for a certain class of clientele in this sort of joint, and they are the sort who will feel at home in this sort of ambience. Also, these drapes and chands recall old times. To my honest belief, they were happier times.
‘We choose the girls at auditions, bring them down here, wash them and polish them, teach them to walk and behave, rehearse them, then slowly we introduce them into the show. And, there’s no denying it, it is exciting for them, exciting to sit out with the gents in robes, peers of the realm, kings, rajahs, and the ones in white hats. They take a bit of managing, mind you, and this, after a lifetime at it, I’ve managed to get quite good at. I think I may say that I understand them. I’ve been dealing with young ladies all my life and I can see their mind ticking. I can see their ideas being born before they have them even. Sometimes they come to me for advice. They say: So and so has asked me to pop into bed with him. I say something like, Darling, don’t let that worry you! Just you pootle along, darling, do what you want. Whatever you do, darling, I’ll be right behind you! There are, of course, others who require rather the reverse. I have to give them a bit of a dressing down. I say, “Now that you’re earning £30 or £40 a week you’re getting ideas above your station. You’re getting swollen-headed. You think that it’s entirely due to you. But you’re wrong. It’s nothing to do with you. When I first brought you here you were just a mill girl. Remember? Well, stop the prima donna technique and remember the time when you went barefooted, not bare-breasted.” My job is not an exacting job but it is tiring. It’s tiring because, although they’re lovely looking, our girls are often stupid. However much one may enjoy the beauty of a naked woman, and I enjoy it a lot, to train that beauty, make it do things, can be tiring. You may notice that I love beautiful things. This apartment, you may notice, is filled with flowers, beautiful things too. Beautiful in their way as young ladies. And flowers can’t bite. A few of our girls may be said in a sense, unfortunately, to have fallen. In the case of most of our girls, however, they go upwards not downwards. We watch to see that they do. If you take an innocent girl and let her loose in London, she’s in danger of falling. You’ve got to watch over her for quite a time, till she’s ready to stand on her own feet. Once she’s settled down she won’t want to go to the wild joints of the potheads.
‘One rather new aspect of the situation is the proliferation of third-class, tatty, or as I call them titty, joints. Yes, in these shows standards can get pretty low. I am at the present moment liaising with the assistant fire inspector to see whether we can’t find some way of closing them down. Because, with our show, it is not pornographic. There are sixty young ladies, this is a high-class show, sixty young ladies that are so delightful that it hardly could be called pornographic. Of course they do show their breasts, but you see, it’s all so young, so fresh, so flower-like, all fresh and gay and flower-like, all troubles forgotten, that, to my mind, the effect is more like a spring morning.’
‘Not five minutes later and the brute had dragged poor Hildegarde into the typists pool on the 127th floor. She clutched at a box containing typewriter ribbons and these wound round the pretty little German girl’s bottom, as, snarling savegely, the Swede began to tear off her clothes. She picked up a typewriter to hurl at him, but the machine was too heavy for her Pretty Little Arms, forcing her beneath its weight to the floor. Seeing this, the brute snorted in jubilation. She fought gamely, but Schnidkte, who had been a peasant in Saxony, was an ox and soon he was loving the little German girl ...
‘”... You’re very cute. You make a girl feel kind of all bubbly.” Her little tongue played around the inside of her lips. She thrust her hips forward and rolled them slightly. Sweat broke out once more on the Brute’s face as he studied the rise and fall of her straining breasts ...
‘”... Grind me and groove me,” she cried. The welt bit scars into her straining thighs. The rain fell hard now. Yeah, she had more curves than the New York State Highway that dame, the Brute reflected. And how. “Grind me and groove me,” she repeated. By now the dame was moaning and turbulent with passion. She gasped: “You make me feel all bubbly!” Her little tongue played round the inside of her lips ...’
Tempted by what we read in the hanging rack of the sex boutique, we approach it more closely – rub holes with our sleeves in the misty glass to see what lies inside, make peep-ways into the misty glass, revealing the faintly sodden goods between floppy covers, in cellophane packs, in tubes and boxes, the things to make us better ... Harmid, the Great Restorer; Troglids, the waist and ankle reducer; Formula X, the sexational bust developer; Stout washable durable preventives (The Poor Man’s Friend); and a device for adding inches to men ... telephone numbers too scratched on peeling shreds of paper. ‘Lovely Model has Large Chest for Sale’; ‘Rainware fitted while you wait. Miss Belt’; ‘Beds Made to Measure by Female Joiner’.
Further in, by the door, a textbook: ‘Teach Yourself Massage! Boys! Give Me 10 Minutes a Day and I can Make you B-I-G.’
We prepare to penetrate the entrance to the boutique, that narrow door by which the magazines hang, leaning out against slack string: Beautiful Britons, Sehnsucht, Spik, Delite, Teaze, Bizarre, Swank.
We pass the threshold. A profusion of books now glitters before our eyes: Love Me Now; Wild Nymphs; She Stopped at Nothing to Get Her Kicks; Sin Cove; Sex in Reverse. There are also grave textbooks, written by lengthy German professors: A History of Torture and of Death. Perched among these a large notice in huge red letters: COSY UP WITH A KOZY BOOK.
A sort of ecstasy comes over us as we feel the heat from the electric wall heaters beating down on our heads, snuff the sodden smell of dust, feel at once fearful and yet excited, anxious to prolong our pleasure. More magazines here, articles on subjects which, whatever else you might call them, could not be described as frivolous: Fantastic Lust Plot of a Nazi Harlot Spy; Why I Treat My Wife Like a Prostitute; Can We Save the Doomed Pyromaniac Nudes of the Arena of Homer?
For a moment our world reels. It is as if a bright mist hovers about us. There is a drowsy numbness about our legs.
Now we approach the darkened farther end of the boutique. It is partly screened by a bookcase, lit green from a discoloured skylight overhead, down to which the light must have come down a long well. The green glass is spattered with dirt, old orange-peel.
We look about us. The walls of this back room are daubed with patchy murals showing faded march hares with top hats, and carnations stuck nonchalantly into their fur. A man in a tweed suit with a seedy wide ferocious moustache is ensconced here.
We ask, in the phrase that we’ve been told we must use: ‘Excuse me, do you by any chance have anything more interesting?’
‘Interesting than what?’
‘Well, than Beautiful Britons, Sehnsucht, Spik, all that sort of thing.’
‘Ever had anything like that before?’
‘Well, yes. But not here.’
The suited man scrutinises us a moment, then swings open a card index on the desk: ‘Yes. Thought so. Been here too before haven’t you, sir? Was you the ones was interested in bestials? Yes, I remember. Well we got man and man, girl and girl, man alone, stallion, bestials, oh and a few multiples.’
‘Well, what we actually had in mind was man and woman.’
The proprietor flicks open a drawer. ‘These are a pound for a packet of five. They’re all wrapped in cellophane as you see, and the ones underneath are variations on the ones on top.’
Grey rigid flesh. Black hair.
We leaf through the man and woman section. Peer briefly at the men alone, standing sheepishly erect.
‘Or would it be drawings you was interested in, sir?’
Also wrapped in cellophane he produces a series of roneo biro drawings, under the title Henrietta and the Stormtroopers.
‘Used to be a knocking shop, this. Had two teenage girls in here. Try these.
‘Else we can hire out books, if you prefer.’ He fingers Torture and Death.
After a pause he produces even more esoteric merchandise from ever remoter drawers and crannies. Gaunt women stripped wearing saddle and bridle; in thigh boots and nothing else; with donkeys; surrounded by flies; being pissed on by ten-year-old girls in firemen’s trousers.
‘These are of course a fairly costly item, of course. Supply and demand. Perhaps you’d care to glance at this. Yes, this is a set we’re tolerably pleased with. In this case I produced the whole thing myself. Laid it all on – models, lighting, cameramen, the lot.’
He holds them under the light as we admire the complexity of curious positions displayed. As he flicks over to No.7 he apologises. ‘Here, as you see, one of the male models is unfortunately beginning to go a little soft. It’s the difficult angles for the camera shots, of course. And it takes time. Heat of the spotlights. He got tired. You may notice in this next one, one of the males in the photo is wearing the same type of wristwatch as I’m wearing myself. Yes, I did, er, at one point, have to drop my role as a director of proceedings and become, instead, an actor in the little drama.’
4 a.m. A man staggers out of the darkness. ‘You looking for women? Yeah. Women are expensive though. Not many about. There’s always complications. Don’t want to trust the women round here, can give you diseases. You can’t be too careful. Look, I’ll be frank, shall I suck off your stick for a tanner?’
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
Almost all of the content of these webpages is copyright of the estate of
Jeremy Sandford, RIP.
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[Jeremy Sandford FanClub]