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Obituary: Cynthia Payne  

2015-11-27 15:36:13|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Sex in Streatham

Cynthia Payne, brothel-keeper and exposer of Britain’s sexual hypocrisies

, died on November 15th, aged 82

NUMBER 32 Ambleside Avenue, London SW16, could not have looked more respectable, or more right for Cynthia Payne. A detached Edwardian house, double-fronted, four-bed, with a wooden porch and bluebells in the garden. Lovely inside, too, once she’d had her way with it, with thick carpets, antimacassars on the sofas, scalloped nets at the windows and flowery china in the cupboards. It was the ideal place, in short, to conduct her business from 1974 onwards. So ideal that, as the police said in 1980 when she was sentenced to 18 months in jail, 32 Ambleside Avenue was the biggest “disorderly house” run in Britain for more than 200 years.

That made her proud, though it was not disorderly by a long shot. Hers was a high-class establishment. The clients at her afternoon “parties” were all over 40: no yobs or Jack-the-lads boasting about their equipment, but men with perfect manners, in suits, who would drink sherry and partake of a cheese-and-ham roll before going up to the bedrooms. Moreover, they included—as the police found when, just before Christmas in 1978, they kicked her nice front door down—vicars, barristers, bankers, an MP and “a peer of the realm”. The 53 men, many in lingerie and some in flagrante, got off scot-free; the 13 girls fled; Mrs Payne went to Holloway, which wasn’t pleasant. Her ordeal and her defiance of Britain’s hypocritical prostitution laws entertained the country for years.   

According to the law she was running a brothel and controlling prostitutes, both criminal offences. According to herself, in her cheery sarf-London tones, she was providing an essential social service. Nine times out of ten, if men didn’t get the sort of sex they needed, they became irritable or squiffy, or even violent. Her parties calmed them down in the time-honoured fashion and, for the old and lonely, gave them back their confidence in the arms of a lovely girl. (Pensioners got a special discount and, to restore their energy afterwards, mugs of beef extract.) In Ambleside Avenue the immaculate cleaning and decorating were done, often naked and in deep contentment, by Slave Rodney and Slave Philip, married men whose wives did not humiliate them enough; and tea might be served by ex-Squadron Leader Robert “Mitch” Mitchell Smith, her devoted friend (in the porch, above), sporting his RAF moustache but dressed as a French maid.

Taking money for sex, she stoutly said, was no different from a private doctor charging for half an hour of his time. In fact, sex was very good value compared, and probably did the job quicker. She didn’t exactly charge, in any case. She sold old luncheon vouchers for ?25 each, which barely covered the buffet and unlimited drinks and could also be exchanged upstairs; but there the clients made their own arrangements with the girls, who later redeemed the vouchers for ?10 each. (Incidentally, she looked after her girls, who had to be willing and usually did it for laughs anyway, and would cook them poached eggs on toast when they had finished work for the day.) Since her luncheon-voucher sales were “immoral earnings”, the Inland Revenue was bound to make a virtuous show of not wanting to extract the tax—but then presented her, as she left prison, with a back-bill for ?236,000.


The man from Margate

In Ambleside Avenue, smiling and bossy in low-bosomed satin gowns, she was part-Madame (Madame Cyn, indeed), part-matriarch, but seldom joined in herself. That was mostly because she was past it, of course, and too busy brewing the tea. It was also because, for all her light and merry talk about sex, flashing her knickers in the bus station or dancing naked on the garden shed, her own sexual history had been tough. Since her teenage years in the louche, faded towns of the south coast, she had liked male company far too much to discriminate, with disastrous results. One lover drank too much. Another, from an amusement arcade in Margate, refused to wear a condom, leading to three illegal abortions. She ended up with one son fostered, one stillborn, another given up for adoption—and no flaming bloody passion with any of the men. In her 30s she briefly went on the game herself, lying there like a log and miserable, to pay for her first son’s education. Better to rent a nice premises and let other girls use it; or, with Mitch’s help, just buy a big house and give the most wonderful parties there.

The prison sentence interrupted them only for a time. By the mid-80s everything was in full swing again, until a second arrest and trial in 1986. At that point, though she was cleared, she decided to go into politics instead, standing as a candidate for her own Payne and Pleasure Party in Kensington in 1988 and Streatham in 1992. Not many votes came her way, but it didn’t matter, for dozens of MPs had already joined her fight to get brothel-keeping decriminalised. They failed; it remains illegal in Britain, though prostitution is not, and on the streets, at least, criminality now lies with customers rather than providers.

Decriminalisation was all Mrs Payne wanted; not legalisation, which would have stifled the free enterprise she so enjoyed. And as one of her party guests, an ex-chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, once told her, there would be no problem with decriminalisation, if all the houses of disorder were as nice as hers.



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