Tag Archives: Cynthia Payne

Sex madam Cynthia Payne remembered

Cynthia on The Dame Edna Experience

Cynthia Payne as she appeared on The Dame Edna Experience

Cynthia Payne – ‘Madam Cyn’ – died two days ago. Obituaries were printed yesterday in the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent and The Times – in other words, all the UK’s quality newspapers.

In 1980, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison (reduced to 6 months on appeal) for running a brothel where “elderly men paid with Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women”.

Personal Services - billed as “from the director of Monty Python’;s Life of Brian

Personal Services – “from the director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian”

At the time, the tabloid newspapers had a field day reporting this sex case. But I reckoned only the Daily Mail captured the real flavour – that it was not about sex but about English eccentricity.

Two feature films about her were released in 1987 – Personal Services and Wish You Were Here. She stood for Parliament twice.

In the obituaries, a family friend Kevin Horkin described her as “a national treasure” and an “extremely colourful archetypal English eccentric”.

A friend of mine lived in Streatham at the same time that Cynthia Payne was ‘in business’. This is my friend’s memory of her:


I remember Cynthia well from her frequent shopping forays with her wretched wheeled shopping trolley down Streatham High Road post-prison. She was forever wandering around the High Road with her tartan shopping trolley as boring and common as ever wanting to be noticed. Everyone accompanied Cynthia on her shopping expeditions when they became entangled in that sodding shopping trolley. 

She was a boring, everyday empty vessel whose personality deficit was filled in and manipulated by the male media. ‘The tart with a heart’ has always been a lie that men delude themselves with. The truth is abused/mentally deficient women on drugs/drink. 

Streatham was hell when the story broke, with street prostitutes screeching all night outside my house near the Odeon when the pimps withheld their drugs. They were on the High Road instead of the backstreets and, even when I moved away from the High Road, there was a prostitute in the street – always high and aggressive, until one client destroyed her house after beating her up and so the landlord could finally evict her.

Cynthia was just dull, unlike the real Streatham personality Eddie Izzard, happily strolling the streets in his fringed suede jacket, always intelligent and amiable.


Cynthia Payne appeared on ITV’s The Dame Edna Experience chat show in 1987 – the other guests were actor Sir John Mills and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. There is an extract on YouTube. She is introduced 5 minutes in.

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Sex in my daily blog, stendapists & the surreal style of computer translations.

Well, I was going to blog about the London Film Festival documentary which I saw last night – Being Evel: The Lives and Loves of a Daredevil. The trouble is it is a good documentary but not an exceptional one. Plus it is obviously shot for TV (big close-ups of interviewees). Plus Evel Knievel was really just not a very nice person.

Unlike, I suspect, former brothel madame Cynthia Payne, though I have never met her.

She cropped up in a blog I posted three days ago.

A Comment was posted online:

Thank you for the mention in your blog today, I always read it. Those were the days eh John, such fun. Hope that you are keeping well. Life is a bit quieter for me nowadays, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it all. Wonderful memories. Much love Cynthia xx

It is a joke by someone, OK?

But unlikely people do read my blog including, it seems, Russian-born, Israeli sex therapists.

There was a real Comment on my blog this morning from Lev Korogodsky. He was reacting to my blog of two days ago, which was titled: In rainy Montenegro, Lynn Ruth Miller prefers vodka to sex advice from Israelis

Lev Korogodsky’s profile picture on Facebook

Lev Korogodsky’s straightforward profile picture on Facebook

Lev Korogodsky is the Israeli sex therapist mentioned (but not named) in that blog. He commented:

Geat thanks for so high evaluation of my lecture in Montenegro!

… and he also posted a link to my blog on his Facebook page.

Facebook now helpfully gives automatic translations, which have their own linguistic splendour.

They render Lev’s original Facebook comment about my blog and Lynn Ruth Miller:

Неожиданный отзыв о моей лекции )))))!!!
А она, реально, еще та штучка!!!
as
An unexpected feedback about my lectures)))))!!!
And she, really, still that little thing!!!

Further comments from Friends on Lev’s Facebook page (with automatic translation) include one from George Mladenov:

“We then recovered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in our rooms by drinking large tumblers of vodka and meditating.” Так вот значит какие у вас методы!

translated as:

“We then recovered from post traumatic stress syndrome in our rooms by drinking large tumblers of vodka and meditating.” So that’s what you have methods!

Lev replied to this with:

Это не наши методы )). Это их британское декадентство )))))

It’s not our methods)). It’s their British decay)))))

Then Nicolay Amiel Trzhascal commented:

Тётка решила поднять себе рейтинг, а заодно по израильтянам проехаться. Это называется возвышение себя через опущение другого.

Aunt decided to make herself rating, and as a bonus for the Israelis, go for a ride. It’s called the elevation of themselves through the omission of the other.

To which Lev replied:

Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!

Aunt in Yiddish nail, лучче than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, she стендапистка and, really cool!

As the Facebook computer failed to translate лучче and стендапистка, I looked them up in Google Translate, which reckoned they meant Lucci and stendapist. I then tried the whole comment in Google Translate and

Тетка на идише шпилит, лучче, чем мы с тобой на иврите. Кроме того, она стендапистка и , реально классная!
was translated into English as:
Aunt Yiddish spiers, better than we are with you in Hebrew. In addition, it stendapistka and really cool!

I am still none the wiser as to what the apparently English word ‘stendapist’ means.

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In praise of Randy Quaid, Lynn Ruth Miller & the oddly salacious Daily Mail

Lynn Ruth Miller with a friend in Montenegro. (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

Lynn Ruth Miller with a friend in Montenegro. (Photograph by Marat Abdrakhmanov)

I pride myself in taking an interest in quirky real-life events.

Yesterday’s blog was about 80-something performer Lynn Ruth Miller making merry with 200 Russians in Montenegro at a conference called Well Over Fifty.

When I heard about this, I told her: “I associate Montenegro with that poker game and international intrigue in Casino Royale.”

This morning, she replied:

“No casinos, darling. Just a lot of fish and vodka. Yesterday I went on a bus ride to see the sights. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain and the non-stop narration of what we were supposed to be seeing through the fog spoke only in Russian.

“I sat next to a woman with a bad hip who pole dances because all she has to use to hoist herself up is her arms. This is why she can only take baths, not showers.  She says she is 65 and gluten-free which explains why she has such powerful arms.

“She is traveling with her crazy sister who is a graduate engineer and a veteran of the US Navy, who insisted on singing Beatles’ songs to the Russians who joined in because they love our music and cannot understand why they can’t get a visa to come to London to sing-along.

“At least I think that is what they told me but I am not sure because it was all in Russian. They might very well have been discussing the crisis in Afghanistan (There is one there, isn’t there?) or that it is impossible to buy a decent avocado in this god forsaken place.

“The bus finally stopped when it ran out of gas and we all piled into boats (in the pouring rain) and the pilot of the boat plied us with doughnuts and honey, feta cheese and plenty of vodka, since the coffee here is like motor oil. This on an empty stomach.

“Within seconds, we were happily romping around the boat knocking up vodka and anyone else who would have us. When we landed, drenched, at a restaurant for traditional Montenegran food which is very fishy, we were fighting exploding bladders.

“There is another bus trip today where we get to buy souvenirs. I am not sure what the souvenirs will be but, by God, I intend to buy one to remind myself that this whole experience was not the result of ingesting rich food late at night.”

Now, as I said, I pride myself in taking an interest in quirky real-life events and Lynn Ruth in Montenegro qualifies, I think, as being a tad quirky – especially if you know Lynn Ruth.

But this all pales into normality compared to the doings of actor Randy Quaid, about which I was shamefully ignorant until yesterday.

I spotted an online report yesterday headlined:

SANTA BARBARA D.A. VOWS TO BRING RANDY QUAID TO JUSTICE DESPITE LEGAL SETBACK

which started: “Prosecutors say they ‘remain hopeful’ after Independence Day actor and his wife were released from a Vermont jail… Quaid and his wife are considered fugitives, wanted in Santa Barbara, California, to face felony vandalism charges from 2010.  Authorities said they were found squatting in a guesthouse of a home they previously owned. The couple fled to Canada, where Evi was granted citizenship but Randy was denied permanent residency.”

This may have been because he claimed he was being pursued by assassins paid by Hollywood studios.

I had somehow missed the back-story on this completely. On Facebook, Matthew Wilkes pointed me to an explanatory report from February this year headlined:

RANDY QUAID RETURNS BY HUMPING HIS WIFE WHILE SHE WEARS RUPERT MURDOCH MASK

Randy Quaid and his wife Avi in the oddly mesmeric video clip

Randy Quaid and his wife Avi in the oddly mesmeric video clip

And, indeed, that headline did not overstate the case. The report says: “As his wife Evi watches silently, clad in just a bikini and sunglasses, Quaid declares that they’ve been through ‘a hell of biblical proportions’… Quaid reserves his most cutting words for Rupert Murdoch, first noting that he’s wearing ‘the very same shirt that I wore in ’94 when I saved the world’ in the Fox movie Independence Day… Since Murdoch has tried to fuck him, now it’s his turn. He hands Evi a Rupert Murdoch mask, bends her over, spits in his hand, then proceeds to take her from behind while a trembling dog barks nervously at them, like a nation personified.”

At the time of writing, Randy’s video – taken down from YouTube but re-posted elsewhere – has had at least 3,584,231 plays – as it well deserves, despite potential claims of sexism.

An even fuller story of the background, though, comes – as is often the case – from the Daily Mail.

The extraordinary thing about the Daily Mail – much-read by the middle-of-the-road middle classes of Britain and much reviled by liberal Guardian-readers for its reactionary conservative views – is that it is extraordinary prurient and loves a bit of sleaze and eccentricity.

I got turned-on to the half-hidden glories of the Daily Mail when I was working at Anglia TV and we got all the national daily newspapers each morning. It was at the time Cynthia Payne – nicknamed ‘Madame Cyn’ by the tabloids – was being prosecuted for running a brothel in the unlikely locale of Streatham, in south London.

The tabloid ‘red top’ papers gloried in the sex aspects of the case, but the Daily Mail, alone in Fleet Street, seemed to zero in on the fact that the case was not about sex but about quirky British eccentricity.

The current Wikipedia entry on Cynthia wisely describes one of the highlights of the story as: “Elderly men paid in Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women”. The key quirky words here are not “spanked by young women” but “paid in Luncheon Vouchers”. Cynthia’s defence seemed partly to be that she was providing a valuable public service to retired Army majors in wheelchairs et al.  She was found innocent by a possibly amused jury.

Personal Services - billed as “from the director of Monty Python’;s Life of Brian

Personal Services was promoted with the selling-line: “From the Director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian”

She became something of a celebrity appearing, for example, on TV in The Dame Edna Experience with actor Sir John Mills and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She wrote a book titled Entertaining at Home – currently sold by Amazon under their Etiquette and Party Planning headings – and two feature films were based on her life, both released in 1987: Wish You Were Here and Personal Services.

The true reportage of quirkily eccentric lives in Britain used to appear in the Daily Telegraph’s obituary column and on their page three, which used to be their court report page. They have sadly long-since toned-down their obituaries and abandoned their old page three jollities after people in other publications started writing articles about the wild eccentricities held within. I still remember a short paragraph on page three of the Telegraph last century saying that a man had been prosecuted for leaping out of country hedgerows and scaring passing women horse-riders; he did this by dressing from head-to-toe in a rubber frogman’s outfit including snorkel and flippers. There was no more detail than this and no context. That was their full report.

The British press is less colourful since the Daily Telegraph reined-back on its quirkiness. But the Daily Mail now out-tabloids the tabloids with quirky stories and astonishingly widespread often salacious features on celebrities accompanied by pictures of curvaceous young women with prominent bosoms.

Those who diss the Mail for reactionary greyness don’t read it or look at its circulation figures.

Meanwhile, Randy Quaid’s video currently remains online HERE.

Beware – it contains a probably simulated but possibly real sex scene.

I am surprised the Daily Mail did not run the video online it in full.

RandyQuaidVideoClip

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The Daily Mail has its finger on the pulse of Britain – just like Margaret Thatcher did

I’ve had a good few reactions to yesterday’s blog about the Daily Mail – mostly in e-mails, a lot of them knee-jerk reactions, some vitriolic – which is good because, frankly, I had got bored with people occasionally agreeing with me. Admittedly, I did dash the blog off when I was overly-sleepy and a wee bit tetchy.

But I do think there’s an appalling knee-jerk reaction to the Daily Mail in which liberals hate – literally hate – what they perceive the paper says often without reading it or, in some cases, they do read what is written but then translate it into what they think is being said rather than what is actually being said.

One person pointed me to a particularly offensive Daily Mail headline about Muslims.

The complaint was specifically about the headline, which reads:

MUSLIM FANATIC PRISONERS TO BE ‘DE-PROGRAMMED’ USING CONTROVERSIAL TECHNIQUES TO ‘CURE’ THEM OF BELIEFS

Now – I could be wrong here but, to me – it seems impeccable straight reportage as a headline because the words ‘de-programmed’ and ‘cure’ are both in quotation marks. In Fleet Street Speak, this means a newspaper does not necessarily share or even believe what is quoted. The word ‘controversial’ is not in quotation marks. The news item which is being reported within the article might be questionable but the facts are well worth reporting.

Of course, the Daily Mail can also spout bollocks.

But I think knee-jerk liberal reaction to the Daily Mail is a bit like Gordon Brown’s reaction to Gillian Duffy, the 65 year-old Labour supporter whom he called “bigotted” during the 2010 General Election campaign when she brought up a widely-held worry about the level of Eastern European immigration into the UK. She was reflecting a widely-held concern about a genuine potential and sometimes actual problem.

Whether any newspaper is creating or reflecting a public view is a nice argument but it can certainly be argued that the Daily Mail reflects widespread public opinion on a variety of topics.

Whenever I read the Daily Mail, I’m amazed by how downmarket it is. Basically, it is as much of a tacky red-top as the Sun or the Daily Star. It’s designed to look like a quality newspaper, but it’s full of OK magazine style stories.

However, it does have and keeps its finger on the pulse of what ordinary people think to an extraordinary extent.

I remember years ago, the ‘Madam Cyn’ case in which Cynthia Payne was being prosecuted for running a brothel. I was working at Anglia TV in Norwich at the time  and, every morning, all the national papers would arrive in our office.

The other tabloids totally missed the point of the Madam Cyn case. They covered the court case as a sex story.

But the Daily Mail covered it as a quirky, near-comic tale of retired majors with gammy legs, people using luncheon vouchers to buy sex and sheer British eccentricity. And that was what, at heart, the story was. It was not a sex case, it was a Victoria Wood / Alan Bennett / Michael Palin style British comedy.

Indeed, the two 1987 movies loosely based on Cynthia Payne’s life Wish You Were Here and Personal Services were both light British social comedies and the second was directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Cynthia Payne’s is the perfect Daily Mail story. It is more saucy than sexy and is decidedly tabloid but with a veneer that makes it seem almost genteel to Middle England. It titillated without being, in Mail terms, dirty.

Around 2004, someone I know had to have her photo taken for an interview to be published in the Daily Mail. She was told not to wear trousers for the photo-shoot as the Daily Mail “doesn’t take photos of women wearing trousers because its readers didn’t like it.”

This mightily impressed me then and it mightily impresses me now. It shows an absolutely brilliant understanding of the Daily Mail’s readership at the time (and perhaps today too).

Female Daily Mail readers probably wore trousers a lot of the time for practical reasons, but their image of womanhood was probably that ‘feminine’ women did not wear trousers and they wanted to see in the Daily Mail what they perceived as feminine women.

It would never have entered my head to be wary of photographing women in trousers (largely because the thought is politically incorrect) but it is a superb piece of commercial psychology.

In the mid-1980s, I worked on two top-rating peak-time Saturday evening ITV series: Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! There was a rule of thumb on those show. It was not a 100% rule. But it was a strong rule-of-thumb.

It was that we should not have appearing on the shows people with tattoos.

Remember this was the mid-1980s before tattoos were common.

The reason for this non-tattoo rule (as I say, it was not a ban, just a rule-of-thumb to bear in mind) was that viewers felt threatened by people who had tattoos. The mainstream, mass of peak-time viewers felt people with tattoos were down-market, aggressive and ‘different’. A tattoo said ‘prison’ and ‘crime’ to the viewers. And, though it felt a bit odd, it was I think absolutely spot-on in understanding the mass market audience for the ‘real people’ shows we were screening in which ordinary people were the stars.

Ordinary people were watching themselves on TV and they did not (at that time) see themselves as being the sort of people who would wear tattoos.

I should maybe point out that we were encouraged to actively seek out non-white participants to try to prevent the shows being filled with totally white faces.

If you want to hit the mass market, you have to know your audience.

Associated Newspapers – owners of the Daily Mail – have a near-perfect touch – they have pitched not just the Mail but Metro at exactly the right mass readership in exactly the right way. They know exactly what the people who comprise mainstream Middle England want and think. The fact that the Mail does not have big sales in Scotland is interesting.

In both those respects – they have massive appeal in Middle England but none in Scotland – they are like Margaret Thatcher. Her ‘audience appreciation index’ in England always interested me.

The backward-looking view of her is that, somehow, she was disliked by the vast majority of people at the time. That is both true and completely false.

Whenever personal popularity was measured in opinion polls, she usually came out badly. But, when she went to the electorate in a General Election, the Conservative Party got in with large majorities. I think the reason was that people felt, “Ye Gods! She is scary but, if WE feel she’s scary and is bullying us, then she’s going to scare the bejesus shit out of the French and tear the throats out of them and anyone else who might be anti-British.”

People didn’t like her. But, in large numbers, they liked her policies.

Maggie Thatcher initially won power because she read the Daily Mail and Sun and understood what their readers wanted – what Essex Man wanted – like buying their own council houses and buying shares. In later years, she lost her touch because – as she admitted in interviews – she stopped reading the tabloids in case they ‘swayed’ her from what she knew was ‘right’. So she went for the Poll Tax which (though perfectly correct logically) was not something Essex Man wanted. Even then, though, another War win and I reckon she would have romped home.

Her downfall, at the end, was that the Conservative Party got spooked and ousted her because of Poll Tax riots and bad opinion poll results. They ousted her during the first Gulf War. The irony is that, if they had not ousted her, she would probably have bullied George Bush into finishing the first Gulf War decisively by taking Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein. An inevitable consequence, I reckon, would have been another massive General Election win for the Conservative Party, changing the next 20+ years of British and world history.

Margaret Thatcher had and the Daily Mail – or, more correctly, its owners Associated Newspapers – have their fingers on the pulse of Britain.

Some, of course, might say “the throat”.

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