Tag Archives: prostitution

A Migrant Trans Sex Worker’s Murder Has Set Off Protests Around the World

Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, reports from Vancouver… Anna is a director of the Triple-X Workers Solidarity Association of British Columbia. She has strong views.


One of several Vanesa Campos demonstrations held in Paris

Vanesa Campos was a sex worker from Peru who was working in France to support her family in Peru, after the death of her father.

She was shot to death by five men in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris this summer. The men were trying to rob her client, a crime they had already committed numerous times.

The police in Paris are currently more concerned to catch men who see sex workers than catching robbers. The ‘johns’ have become easy targets due to France’s new ‘client’ law, because they are afraid to report robberies to the police, in case they are implicated.

But the five men who shot Vanesa have now been apprehended and are awaiting trial.

Vanesa’s death has sparked international protests – in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, in Latin America and in Vancouver.

I spoke with Guillaume Roy, the French Consul in Vancouver, on Friday to express my sadness that a cultured country like France is trying to abolish prostitution. Well, actually, he is the Deputy Consul, but a consul is still a consul.

The new ‘client’ law in France means that the clients of sex workers are arrested if they try to obtain the services of a sex worker. The sex workers are not arrested but treated as ‘ victims’ of these evil men who want to compensate them for sex (or for simply spending time with the worker, which is often the case).

Prosecuting the clients is known as ‘the Nordic Model’, because it originated in Sweden.

Anna Smith (left) and Poison Pompadour at Vancouver demo

The workers in Sweden are not arrested. Instead, they are forced to participate in psychological counselling, evicted from their apartments, forfeit their property (dwelling place) and have their children removed from their custody. 

They are then ‘re-educated’ on how to integrate with ‘normal society’, which is absurd because I think most sex workers already know how to do that. I would argue that they are helping society to function, by relaxing men and helping them to relax and cope with stresses of modern life.

Politicians in many countries in Europe and in England and Canada are trying to introduce ‘the Nordic Model’. The Nordic Model makes working conditions much more dangerous for sex workers because they are then forced into working in more clandestine situations: outdoors in parks and alleyways and in isolated industrial areas. 

Also, due to the Nordic Model, more and more newspapers and internet services like Craigslist and Backpage are afraid of prosecution so no longer carry the contact info for sex workers, making them unable to negotiate with or select  customers prior to meeting them in person.

Besides, calling the law ‘The Nordic Model’ is misleading and sounds ridiculous.

I like to call it ‘The Nordic Method’ so it sounds like some archaic type of birth control.

In Vancouver last Friday, the Vanesa Campos protest demo was organised by Poison Pompadour and myself. After our demo, Poison Pompadour took all the protest people for cocoa and coffee at a nearby cafe. Then the two of us went for a beer and hamburgers.

French Deputy Consul, Guillaume Roy, accepts a list of the Vancouver protesters’ demands about Parisian safety

I marvelled that the French Deputy Consul had come into the hallway outside the consulate to speak with us. He was alone, unencumbered by secretaries.

There was only the Sikh security guard who normally waits at a little table outside the Consulate door. The Deputy Consul listened patiently as we explained why we were there and took our petition in his hands. The Sikh security guard took a group photo of us, with my phone.

“Well,” Poison Pompadour said to me: “Imagine how boring the things he normally has to do are as Deputy Consul. Talking with French tourists who tell him: I have lost my camera…. It is not every day he has twenty sex workers come to his office.“

… CONTINUED HERE

A group photo of protesters, as shakily taken by the French Consulate’s security guard in Vancouver

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Filed under Crime, France, prostitution, Sex

Chris Dangerfield – ‘clean’ from heroin after brothel visit – but now called Nazi

Chris Dangerfield had afternoon tea with me

What do you do if people start calling you a Nazi?

Well, if you are Chris Dangerfield, you send me an email and suggest I write a blog about it.

What do you do if you have a heroin habit and want to stop?

Well, if you are Chris Dangerfield, you go to Thailand and live in a brothel for a while. He has done it before.

“So,” Chris told me when we met two days ago, “I went to Thailand for eight weeks and did my Thai brothel detox.”

“Is this the third time?” I asked.

“Well, I done it four times. First two times was mild: a little codeine, a little Valium problem. So I go out there, nip it in the bud. And I nipped a few in the bud while I was there, I can assure you. I deflowered many.”

“Well I can’t put that in the blog,” I said.

“No. You can,” Chris told me, “Use anything. I don’t give a fuck any more. I’m done with humans. This is ‘next stage’ Dangerfield… Second time I went out there, I had almost a proper mild smack habit…”

“Chris,” I told him, “you have never had a MILD smack habit.”

“No, no,” he insisted, “it takes a while for me to get back in properly. That second time I thought: Nip it in the bud again. But the third time, yes. Big smack habit. Wall climbing, black foam coming out of my arse, the full…”

I interrupted him: “Black foam coming out of your arse?”

“Yeah. Smack really fucks up your gastro intestinal tracts. Some literal and figurative and metaphorical dark stuff comes out. But this time, man, new level. I’d been using a lot for the last four years.”

“That’s as long as I’ve known you,” I said.

“No, John. It’s been eight years.”

“Oh God,” I said. “Anyway, you are now Mr Clean, are you? When did you get back?”

“About three weeks ago. But I’m going to go back out there in a couple of weeks.”

“To the brothel?”

“Well no, but yes. Not to stay.”

“The same brothel on all four occasions?” I asked.

“The same madam. Different locations, because her enterprise is growing. She was a streetwalker when I first met her.”

“So you,” I asked, “have made that woman the entrepreneurial success she is today?”

A Chris selfie taken in Thailand back in 2014

“A part of me likes to think that when, weirdly, the truth is she saved my life at least twice. An amazing woman. She instructs all her girls – about 40 of them spread over the three shops. All the working girls come from Isan, north east Thailand. They all speak Thai, but Lao is their first language. In Isan, they are working in fields or factories for 10-20 baht a day. In Patong, they’ll take 6,000 baht a day. What would you do?”

“So you are totally clean now?” I asked.

“Let’s not jump the gun,” said Chris. “I’m off smack.”

“So anyway,” I said, “why did you want to talk to me?”

“I like you, Fleming, because comedians read your stuff.”

“And?” I asked.

“People keep calling me a Nazi.”

“Well,” I said, “you do seem to have decided to go Breitbart and become a British Steve Bannon. Anti-Islamic and all those things.”

“I am 100% anti-Islamic, yeah. I’m anti-religion. I’m anti-theist.”

“You can’t attack Islam en masse,” I suggested. “For a start, there’s Sunni and Shi’ite.”

“There’s kind-of one set of books, though,” countered Chris. “The Hadith, the Sunnah and the Koran.”

“But,” I said, “there’s only one lot that want to chop our heads off.”

“Alright then, I’m anti-Sunni,” said Chris. “I’m anti-Sunni and I’m anti-Wahhabi. But, hold on, how does me being anti-theist make me a Nazi?”

“Who’s saying this anyway?” I asked.

“Comedians,” said Chris. “Where do they get that from? I went out to the French House (pub in Soho) the other night. People I’ve known for twenty years. Five of them called me a Nazi!”

“Why?”

“Well, this is my point. If you’re not sort of militant Left now, there’s only one option left for you. You get called a Nazi.”

“Your postings,” I said, “do sound like you’ve gone a bit Alt-Right, whatever that means.”

“It means white supremacist. You’ve just casually called me a supremacist, a separatist! I’m not!”

“So you are not Alt-Right,” I said. “What are you?”

“I’m a conservative Marxist.”

“What is a conservative Marxist?” I asked.

Christopher Hitchens: a Conservative Marxist? (Photo by Fri Tanke)

Christopher Hitchens?”

“What,” I said. “Not who. Define it.”

“I’m not a conservative Marxist. But I was Marxist for most of my adult life from about the age of 19.”

“Do you not think,” I asked, “that it’s a circle? If you take extreme Left wing and extreme Right wing, they end up in the same place?”

“Well, it’s not a circle, John, it’s a horseshoe.”

“So what happens,” I asked, “in the gap of the horseshoe?”

“I just think it’s strange I get this accusation. I get it a lot.”

“I have to admit,” I told him, “that I’ve not read the Koran. But most religions are OK. It’s organised religions – churches – that are often a bad thing, not religions.”

“You haven’t read the Koran,” said Chris. “You can’t go more than three pages without it telling you how to torture and kill infidels. It’s a vile, barbaric book.”

“What you are saying,” I told him, “is not going to look good in print.”

“I don’t give a fuck, John.”

“So how are you going to persuade people you are not an Alt-Right neo-Nazi?

“I’m not. I don’t give a fuck about what they think, really, I will carry on putting Pepe memes up so they think I am.”

“Pepe?” I asked.

“You seriously don’t know Pepe?”

“No.”

“You have got to include a picture of Pepe in the blog,”

“Pepe’ a green frog. It’s Lord Kek of Kekistan.”

“Are you sure you are off the smack?” I asked.

“Don’t you understand,” said Chris, “that Kekistani meme magic won Donald Trump the election? He was the chosen one of the Kekistani people.”

“I have no idea what you’re on about,” I said.

“Do you know about. 4Chan?”

“No.”

“4Chan invented the internet.”

“I thought that was Tim Berners-Lee. Or the Web, anyway. What is 4Chan?”

“It’s an image board. It’s very famous, John. Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet but these people invented the content. They weaponised autism.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s how people on 4Chan track people down.”

“What’s 4Chan?”

“What do you do all day, John?

“I fantasise about Lewis Schaffer becoming a mainstream success.”

“Well, there’s a militant anarcho-communist violent – I dunno what you’d call ‘em – gaggle of cunts? They protest anything that they think is Nazism and Fascism. They ‘bash Fash’. That’s why they call it. They bash Fash. They’re middle class idiots and they turn up with banners and sticks and they’ve been smashing up property in Berkeley, de-platforming speakers and all that. But the other day they got the shit kicked out of them at a Patriots’ Day Rally in Berkeley.”

“Are you trying to shut down Islamic free speech?” I asked.

“There is no Islamic free speech,” said Chris. “It’s a religion. Come on, I’m not trying to shut down anyone; I’m trying to keep free speech alive.”

“Who are you going to be voting for in the (UK) General Election?” I asked.

“Oh, Tory. I will be taking a photo of that ballot paper and sticking it on Facebook with a big Up Yours and a picture of Pepe.”

“Have you always voted Conservative?”

“No.”

“If you were a Marxist earlier in life, you couldn’t really vote Labour back then, could you?”

“Didn’t vote,” said Chris. “When you want an armed revolution, voting for Tony Blair doesn’t really cut it. I am not a Tory, though.”

“So why will you be voting Conservative?”

“I’ve probably made myself look a lot worse”

“I don’t want a Socialist in my fucking country. They’re incompetent. There are literal Rivers of Blood behind Communism that make the Nazis look like a flash in the pan. We are talking hundreds of millions of people die when inevitably Socialist/Communist states become dictatorships and then everyone gets murdered and starved.”

“It’s a horseshoe?” I asked.

“If they want to bash Fash,” suggested Chris, “they should be punching themselves in the face.”

“So,” I said, “you called me in to the middle of London to make yourself look better…”

“I think I’ve probably made myself look a lot worse, though, haven’t I?” Chris laughed.

“Well,” I said, “That’s a good blog ending, then.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick in Kenya and in trouble

On Tuesday, I will be hosting the Grouchy Club live in London without co-host Kate Copstick. She is in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small legitimate businesses to support themselves.

Here is a heavily-edited version of the Kenyan diary entries she has been posting on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Copstick in Kenya

“I am having something of an accommodation crisis.”

SATURDAY 4th JUNE

I am having something of an accommodation crisis in Nairobi.

Someone told my (Seventh-day Adventist) landlady that I come to Kenya to train people how to be gay. So she has evicted me.

Doris has just about given herself a stroke spending the past few weeks trying to find another place on my budget, which was £50 for three weeks.

When David picks me up at the airport, we drive for about an hour before reaching my new home. It is far out in the geographical, not the John Denver, sense. On the road from Dagoretti Market to Karen. Thankfully not close enough to Dagoretti Market to smell or hear the abattoir. But a real bugger for transport or walking. The room is big and I have a toilet inside !!! My mattress is on the floor and my bucket (now redundant what with the en suite) under a wee sink. Which actually has running water. So, except for the geographical location, it is bloody wonderful.

The place is a sort of a knocking shop… Chaps rent rooms and bring their girlfriends. Or vice versa. The sign on the gate says Home from Home.

As I sit in my new accommodation and look around – bare plaster walls, bare tiled floor, room empty except for my mattress on the floor – I cannot help but think that, if someone asked me where I was, I should say “Ahm in masel”. That translates as “I am in my cell” but also ” I am in by myself” It is not really that funny. But I am cold and damp and it seems hilarious when you are here.

I tell the Pamoja Boys and Martin Sombua about the trip to Samburu. They have heard all about the British soldiers raping local girls. It also happens around Nanyuki, apparently, where there is a big army base. They catch them when they are tending to the animals, or going for water apparently. The other talk is all of civil unrest and ethnic cleansing. There are now weekly demos/riots in the city centre – Tear Gas Mondays they call them. The opposition parties want the wildly corrupt electoral commission reformed. Unsurprisingly, the Government do not agree. Next year’s elections will, I fear, be messy.

SUNDAY 5th JUNE

I get a matatu to Karen. The fare is 20 bob but, because of my colour, I am charged 30 bob. I get off at The Hub, a new shopping centre.

Most of the outlets in The Hub are not yet open. Which does little to undermine the sheer, gobsmacking, breathtaking, indecent opulence of the place once you are inside. A sweeping palatial staircase leads to a balustraded second level, a massive stone flagged piazza opens up surrounded by porticoed walkways, a jazz band plays and children are riding around on life-size toy ponies which move forward as the child posts (as in a posting trot) up and down on the saddle. I walk through another archway to find fountains playing alongside a boating lake. A BOATING LAKE. Turning left I chance upon a chap who offers me gluten-free artisanal breads. He is part of their weekly Organic Farmers’ Market. There are biodynamic jellies and vegan spreads, organic wines and thoughtful sorbets. I cannot speak. I am in Vegas. It just seems so so wrong.

I meet Doris. She comes back to my cell and picks up three baby dolls for babycare training (we are MUCH in demand) and a load of rubber rings: armbands and beachballs for our burgeoning groups in Mombasa. Amazing to think a lad can make more money renting out Poundland blow up swimming aids than he can renting out himself.

Doris goes and I curl up with my slightly damp blankets and a game of solitaire. In the next room, a baby starts crying. A man’s voice starts to sing something local-sounding. The child continues to whine. And, just as I thought it could not get any worse, the man changes tune. And starts to sing Coldplay’s Yellow. The child likes it.

The Kenyan national flag

The Kenyan national flag

MONDAY 6th JUNE

David arrives. His car is in the Sick Car Hospital after a drunk driver hit him head on. He has a borrowed car. It makes a clunking noise in any gear below 4th.

We take a road that loops a little around the town centre in case they have started demonstrating early. The demonstrations are fairly peaceful. The uniformed thugs ‘policing’ them are not.

The Ngong Road looks like a war zone. And it is really. A war between rich and poor. Once the road had wide chunks at the side where people sold flowers and plants and turf and stuff. Then there were newspaper kiosks and snack stops. A whole little micro economy. Under lovely old trees.

The whole lot has been bulldozed. There is some sort of a plan to widen the road so the fat cats don’t have to wait behind a matatu when they are driving to a meeting. The contract will of course be given to the Chinese on a government deal.

No one is ever compensated or offered an alternative. This is money coming into Nairobi and, instead of helping the poor, it is simply forcing them out. Lord knows what they will do to the Kibera people when the road goes through. I now hate everyone in a 4×4 on principle. A radical idea but it is working for me for the moment.

Down on the coast, we are helping the ex sex workers who have destroyed their skin by scrubbing it with household bleach twice daily, I took them E45 and they are hailing it as a miracle. They are able to walk outside without pain (although they shouldn’t), they can sleep and their skin is coming back.

TUESDAY 7th JUNE

We have a meeting with Margaret – my ex landlady – to see if there is any hope of a rapprochement. I go bearing gifts of cod liver oil, garlic and iron as she is run-down and poorly. She meets us outside the property on the street. She is very nice but explains that, because of what The Scriptures say, they cannot have me living there because, if they help me, it would be as if they themselves are helping gay people. It was Poundland’s coloured and flavoured condoms what did for us.

We leave and even David – who is a Kenyan man and therefore thinks gay men are just ill and gay women don’t exist – is outraged.

But you cannot go against The Scriptures.

This is The Hub. Unreal. And Doris, as Sondheim would say ... On the steps of the palace

This is the Hub – with Doris, as Sondheim would say, on the steps of the palace…

WEDNESDAY 8th JUNE

We head for Ongata Rongai, a big town in the heartland of the area where (President Daniel arap) Moi‘s land-grabbing habit reached its apotheosis. There is enough bad blood between the Kikkuyu and the Maasai to transfuse the cast of Twilight.

The women we are going to fund are the pariah’s of the area – mixed tribe. The sons and daughters of a Maasai/Kikkuyu union. Think Catholic and Protestant marriage in Northern Ireland and you are close. Our women (and men) are working in a stone quarry for a tiny pittance, if they get paid at all. And I am talking about a quid a day. For breaking stones.

When troubles erupt – and they are now – these people are the targets’ targets. We have half a dozen groups and we are meeting at the home of another of Doris’ friends from her old life. This lady married one of her customers. She has a fab house and a huge business in electronics which her husband set up. And when Doris contacted her she has stepped up not just to the plate but to the whole dinner service. She will be overseeing and mentoring the groups we fund today.

Doris and I head back home and stop at The Hub so that I can show her this extraordinary temple to money. We drink a cocktail on the inner square. And gape.

I look the place up.

4 billion Kenya shillings. “Local investors.” Hmmmmm. 30,000 square feet of retail space. And the boating lake. This has to be dirty money. All money this big is dirty here. Interestingly, when I have a look at the local paper the headline tells of 4.2 billion being stolen from the National Youth Service. Money given out to three building companies, one of which was not even registered and two which were registered as business names only.

Sometimes I wonder what the actual fuck I am doing here …

THURSDAY 9th JUNE

I am meeting Felista who says she has found a place for me to stay that is more convenient. We look at three places. They were a bit like old Gorbals tenements. Or something from Little Dorrit. Not dreadful, but they were no nearer to town than I am now and the fact that by the time we got in the car to go back we had already attracted a couple of groups of men with the look of vampires in a convent made me think that perhaps I am safer where I am.

Doris is in town searching for the little spritzing bottles we need to take to Samburu and arm the local women against sexual attack – hence the chilli vinegar. This simple but effective deterrent worked wonders during a spree of gang rape in Nairobi. An eyeful of chilli vinegar will soon put paid to ideas of, well, anything really.

I am massively stressed at the thought of the trip to Awendo. I think, because I am living in the cell at the back of beyond and everything is taking exponentially longer and the money is running out and I am feeling ridiculously lonely (whine whine whine), the thought of the utter lack of autonomy that there is when I go to Awendo plus the fact that it takes a day to get there and a day to get back and I do not have that time to spare, the volcano of despair that is bubbling inside is fed by this further indication that nothing I ever do will be enough and I will always be disappointing someone.


Copstick’s Grouchy Club Podcast, recorded during the above period is online.

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Filed under Africa, Politics, Poverty

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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A visit to a Chicago sex summit and how to get through the Canada-US border

This morning I received a message from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, who lives on a boat in Vancouver.

I felt I should share it.


Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna looks back on her recent trip visiting a Chicago Virgin

I am back from Chicago.

I was there for four days to help initiate the first North American Sex Worker Summit.

Sex workers (including strippers) are technically not allowed to enter the United States because of our moral turpitude, whatever that means.

Fortunately, Richard Branson doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, so we stayed in his hotel – The Chicago Virgin – where we sat in a spacious conference room around an enormous table which was decorated with flags of the United States, Canada and the United Nations. The standard blue and white United Nations flags had the words United Nations of Sex Workers added to the bottom. We discussed problems and defined policy for the North American region of the international Network of Sex Work Projects.

There are many problems. The United States currently has the 12th highest rate of AIDS infection in the entire world, ahead of most countries in Africa and Asia. Sex workers have always been on the leading edge of disease prevention, not only practicing safer sex, but producing films, performing at benefits, educating medical professionals, students and youth and doing outreach work including distributing condoms, lube and safe injection supplies where needed. I have done all of those things. Shockingly, in the United States

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin, with one of her editors

Anna with one of her editors at the Virgin hotel

The hotel was lovely: a 26-storey former office tower. It now has a rooftop bar with an encircling patio and other fashionable bars and restaurants interspersed throughout the building with a spa in the basement.

In the homey coffee shop, I glanced through a little book of photos called Horrible London. While I sat at the coffee bar looking out the window, the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses was playing on a record player and that made me feel happy because it reminded me of my friend, dear Martin Sharp, who wrote the lyrics and I knew it would have made him happy that I heard them at that time when I was feeling a bit lonely, before the conference started.

I had been very concerned about crossing the border because, although I used to do that all the time as a dancer, I had not done it in a while.

A lawyer working for the conference had advised me not to bring my cell phone, high heels, lingerie or condoms or anything to indicate I was planning on having a good time – and under no circumstances was I to say I was going to attend a hookers’ convention. I felt a bit lost without the necessities of life and tried to figure out how to explain why I was going all the way to Chicago. Was it to just look at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting? Why had someone else paid for my airfare and hotel?

Fortunately, I had visited a drop-in center for street girls a few days before my trip (there are no drop-in centers for boat girls). I was looking for some more normal clothing, since most of my clothes are either costumes or rags or a combination of both. I found a nice thin loose grey sweater, a cheap quilted pastel plaid vest and a bulky grey below-the-knee skirt. Best of all I met a capable, bright young lady with a shaved head and skin riddled with piercings and tattoos who told me the secret of crossing the border. She said she did it all the time.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

Anna reflects on cross-border dress protocol

How, I wondered, did she get away with it? Surely she would have been detained for hours and scoured for drugs?

They held my sister for an hour – and she dresses in fine hand-woven fabrics and she’s an archaeologist (not my priest sister – she is totally fashionable).

My archaeologist sister is a textile conservator. Well I guess she does look a bit suspicious, because she often wears hand-made clothing rather like what they wore in the Middle Ages.

She’s in Colombia right now because the museum she works for sends her abroad to deliver artefacts because she is entirely trustworthy. She has to carry the artefacts in her hand luggage. If the artefacts are extremely valuable – like some beaten-up flag from an Arctic expedition – they send an armed guard to accompany her. If she has to use the toilet at an airport, the guard watches her luggage. Sometimes, because of the way she dresses, she gets mistaken for a Buddhist monk and that causes confusion, because Buddhist monks don’t usually have armed guards.

She says the rest of her work is bureaucratic and mostly tedious, but I think it’s great. She usually gets to listen to the CBC at work and she has a washing machine and ironing boards in her office. In the summertime, they sometimes park John Lennon’s yellow Rolls Royce in the lobby of the museum and put barriers around it so nobody can touch it. When this happens, my sister goes into a closet and fetches a special long duster that says Rolls Royce Only written on it by hand. She puts on white cotton gloves, slips under the barrier and she dusts each part of the exterior very modestly and precisely, almost like a dance. Japanese tourists especially like to watch her do the dusting.

Anyway, at The Chicago Virgin hotel, I was very, very well behaved and only used the sink for the purpose for which it was designed.

Anna Smith’s Virgin Chicago sheep present

The Virgin Hotel shower sheep present from Richard Branson

I found a little sheep in the shower. I think it is a hotel thing. Someone did a study. A sheep in the shower. I heard some hotels put a doll on your bed, which would be revolting. The sheep I found to be mildly intrusive, but then I took it for a walk.

The main thing I bought in Chicago was crisps – a surprising request from a relative in Vancouver. He wanted foreign crisps.

I found the secret to crossing the Canada/US border is, when they ask the reason for your trip, to say: I am going to a Women’s Health Conference.

The immigration official will blanche and hurry you along without many more questions.


As Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses was mentioned, here is a video on YouTube with annoyingly tinny vocals.

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My Top Ten biggest blog hits – Maybe I should forget comedy and turn to crime

Pencil_CUTYesterday, there were a lot of hits on a non-comedy-related piece I wrote in 2013.

This blog is often called a comedy blog, but the statistics of all-time highest hits on specific pieces are interesting. Only three out of the top ten are actually comedy-related.

On my Twitter page, I say: “I blog daily about interesting people doing creative things.”

And who am I to disbelieve myself?

But it is more complicated than that.

My ten blogs with the most hits are:

No 1
JIMMY SAVILE: THE BIRTH OF A PAEDOPHILE HOAX ON “HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU”

No 2
FEMINIST FEMALE COMEDIANS AGREE THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF RAPE IN EDINBURGH

No 3
HOW THE EDINBURGH FRINGE IS FINANCED: THE ARTICLE WHICH YOU CANNOT READ IN THIS MORNING’S EDITION OF “THE SCOTSMAN”

No 4
WHAT THE TAXI DRIVER TOLD ME ABOUT THE PROSTITUTES AND THE CRIMINAL FAMILIES

No 5
JIMMY SAVILE: THE INFAMOUS “HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU” TRANSCRIPT FROM 1999

No 6
KRAYZY DAYS – WHY LONDON GANGSTER RONNIE KRAY REALLY SHOT GEORGE CORNELL INSIDE THE BLIND BEGGAR PUB IN 1966

No 7
THE STORY TWO-FACED TONY BLAIR/BLIAR SUCCESSFULLY HID FROM THE BRITISH PUBLIC

No 8
THE QUIET MEN: ‘MAD’ FRANK FRASER, MALCOLM HARDEE AND JOHN McVICAR

No 9
CABINET MINISTER CHRIS HUHNE AND THE CONVENT-RAISED COMEDIAN

No 10
THE DEATH OF A UK BOXER LINKED TO THE SADISTIC MURDERS OF PROSTITUTES BY SERIAL KILLER ‘JACK THE STRIPPER’

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Woman who links John F Kennedy, the Profumo sex scandal & a film producer

Harry Alan Towers: an interesting man

Questionable Harry Alan Towers

A couple of days ago, I stumbled on the decidedly ropey 1972 film version of Treasure Island on the Movie Mix TV channel. It was produced by Harry Alan Towers.

Now there was a man with a life like a movie plot.

I first heard of him years ago as a prolific and rather shady B-movie producer; I heard some of his films were set up simply to launder money internationally. In its obituary, the Independent said “he acquired a legendary reputation as the most prolific – and occasionally elusive – independent producer in the business.”

He made over 100 quickly-made films. Variety‘s obituary claimed he was “known for his sometimes questionable practices”.

Starting as a child actor, he became head of the RAF radio unit with the British Forces Broadcasting Service then, in 1946, with his mother, started a company called Towers of London which syndicated radio shows around the world. He then started producing film series like the The Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1956) which he sold to ITV in the UK.

In 1962, he started making feature films in places such as South Africa (under apartheid), Hong Kong, Ireland and Bulgaria. This was when the Cold War was at its height.

He continued producing movies well into his 80s and died in Canada, aged 89, in 2009. At the time of his death, he was working on post-production of a film adaptation of Moll Flanders directed by Ken Russell.

Stephen Ward: fall guy for the Profumo scandal

Stephen Ward: fall guy for Profumo scandal

The interesting year in his career is 1960. In February, he was allegedly introduced to Czech-born Mariella Novotny by ‘society osteopath’ Stephen Ward at a party held by American millionaire Huntington Hartford.

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to the November 1983 issue of Lobster magazine:

Maria and Towers didn’t meet at the party, but Towers must have recognised her: four days later a letter arrived suggesting a meeting at Claridges to discuss some possible modelling work. The letter was actually signed by Tower’s mother, Margaret, who Novotny claims had an extraordinary influence over him, and from whom he took his instructions. At the meeting Towers was brisk to the point of rudeness. He told her that he could make her a top television model doing commercials in America. Although she didn’t like Towers, she found it difficult to turn down the contract, which offered upwards of $50,000 a year. Over the next days the contract was sorted out and Maria was introduced to some of Towers’ friends, one of whom tried to have sex with her in Paris. Towers, over the next year, made no sexual advances towards Maria but didn’t mind pushing his friends on her. She signed to Towers’ modelling agency and he gave her a large deposit. 

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to Novotny herself, what happened in London was that Towers invited her to his flat to meet his mother and a group of Americans, one of whom – having asked her into another room to speak privately – promptly stripped off his clothes. “I was anxious to do well in New York,” she wrote, “so I shrugged and decided to do whatever was necessary… Neither Towers nor his mother gave any indication of knowing what we had done on our return to the drawing-room.”

Mariella’s uncle, Czech president Antonin Novotny in New York in 1960

Her uncle, President Antonín Novotný, in New York in 1960

Maria (Mariella) Stella Novotny was born in 1941 in Prague. The story goes that her father was brother to the President of Czechoslovakia and they lived in the Royal palace until she was 6 years old. The President supported the Communists, but Maria’s father was actively anti-Communist. The President warned Maria’s father that the Soviets were liable to arrest him and advised him to leave the country. Instead, he joined the underground, making arrangements for Maria to leave the country with a family called Rutter. They escaped in a railway truck hiding under some corn, and crossed the border into Austria.

Unfortunately, they ended up in the Soviet sector where they were put in a displaced persons camp. In 1948, Maria was released, apparently through the efforts of a Mrs Capes, who had known her father when he was a university student in England. Maria went to England, where she lived as the daughter of Mrs Capes. When she became a teenager she went into modelling and was determined to make it into a successful career.

But there are other versions of what happened.

According to Christine Keeler in her 2001 book The Truth at Last, Mariella was born in 1942 London and her real name was Stella Capes but she changed it to Mariella Novotny because it “had a more whiplash ring to it.” After the death of her father, she became a striptease dancer to support her widowed mother and worked as a prostitute in London. Christine Keeler claimed: “She was a siren, a sexual athlete of Olympian proportions – she could do it all. I know. I saw her in action. She knew all the strange pleasures that were wanted and could deliver them.”

Maria/Mariella married Horace/Hod

Maria/Mariella married Horace/Hod

What seems agreed is that, aged 18, Mariella met Horace ‘Hod’ Dibden, aged 57, an expert on English antiques and furniture. They met at his Black Sheep Club in Piccadilly and got married in January 1960. Dibden was a friend of Stephen Ward.

It was Stephen Ward who may have introduced Novotny to Harry Alan Towers at the party in February 1960. He also introduced Towers to Mandy Rice-Davies (this was three years before the Profumo scandal broke).

Horace Dibden and Mariella Novotny held their own parties.

In her autobiography, Mandy (1980), Mandy Rice-Davies described what happened when she arrived at one of these parties in Bayswater:

“The door was opened by Stephen (Ward) – naked except for his socks… All the men were naked, the women naked except for wisps of clothing like suspender belts and stockings. I recognised our host and hostess, Mariella Novotny and her husband Horace Dibbins, and unfortunately I recognised too a fair number of other faces as belonging to people so famous you could not fail to recognise them: a Harley Street gynaecologist, several politicians, including a Cabinet minister of the day, now dead, who, Stephen told us with great glee, had served dinner of roast peacock wearing nothing but a mask and a bow tie instead of a fig leaf.”

Sometime that same year, Harry Alan Towers started an affair with Novotny and promised to get her work in US TV commercials. Towers flew to New York in December 1960, followed by Novotny. She later told a friend that “I wanted to be famous and show my mother that I could make a go of life myself.”

After two weeks in the US, Towers allegedly arranged a lunch for her with actor Peter Lawford, the brother-in-law of soon-to-be President John F Kennedy. She was introduced to Kennedy and later, at a party held by singer Vic Damone, almost immediately shown into a bedroom where she had sex with Kennedy. They were not gone very long before there was a commotion in the main room. Damone’s Asian girlfriend had made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and had been found in the bathroom with her wrists slashed. The apartment quickly emptied. Kennedy disappeared with his bodyguard and his associates and the incident was hushed up.

The quick departure could have had something to do with the fact that, according to Novotny, an FBI man was known to attend these parties.

Novotny being arrested by the FBI

Novotny being taken into custody by a rather cliché FBI man

On 3rd March 1961, Novotny was arrested by the FBI and charged with soliciting. Three days later, Towers was accused of transporting her from Britain to New York for the purpose of prostitution. It was claimed that Towers ran a call-girl ring at a New York hotel. And a call-girl ring at the UN was also mentioned.

Novotny told the FBI that, in New York, “Towers took me to the Great Northern Hotel… The following afternoon Towers brought a prostitution date to me, who paid me $40 to commit a sexual act. Thereafter I entertained prostitution dates regularly and earned approximately $400 a week. I gave Towers about $300 of this money… Towers was present when prostitution acts were committed.”

In her FBI statement, she also claimed: “Towers was a Soviet agent” responsible for “providing the Russians with information for the purposes of compromising certain prominent individuals”.

On 12th April 1961, Towers appeared before a US grand jury on five counts of violating the White Slave Traffic Act. On 25th April, he pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

By the time his trial was due to begin on 16th May 1961, he had jumped bail and fled back to Britain, then to Eastern Europe (at the height of the Cold War) where he started producing low budget thrillers financed through Liechtenstein and other tax havens.

Novotny returned to running sex parties in London, which were (according to a Guardian article in 2009) “attended by so many senior politicians that she began to refer to herself as the government’s chief whip.” The parties allegedly included British politicians John Profumo and Ernest Marples as well as foreign leaders including (allegedly) Willy Brandt and Ayub Khan.

In June, 1963, FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover wrote an internal memo on the current Profumo Scandal:

J.Edgar Hoover - a man of many files - in 1961

J.Edgar Hoover, dressed in men’s clothing, 1961

For information. John Profumo was British Minister of War until his recent resignation following disclosure of his relations with Christine Keeler. Stephen Ward, London osteopath, has been arrested in London charged with living on the earnings of Keeler and Marilyn Rice-Davies, prostitutes. Ward’s operations reportedly part of a large vice ring involving many people including many prominent people in the US and England including other Ministers of British Cabinet… Other individuals involved include Yevgeny Ivanov, aka Eugene Ivanov, former Soviet Naval Attache, London, who patronised Keeler and who reportedly requested Keeler to obtain information from Profumo… Horace Dibben, British citizen, in whose residence sex orgies were held is husband of Maria Novotny; Maria Novotny is prostitute who operated in NYC and was victim in white slave case involving her procurer, Alan Towers. She fled to England and has participated in orgies at Ward residence. Alan Towers… is reportedly now permanently residing behind Iron Curtain. Novotny alleges Towers was a Soviet agent and that Soviets wanted information for purposes of compromise of prominent individuals; Lord Astor of England on whose Cliveden Estate sex orgies reportedly occurred: it was here that Profumo first met Keeler; Douglas Fairbanks, Jnr, movie actor; Earl Felton, American screen writer; and many others also involved.

In 1978 Novotny announced that she had started work on her autobiography which would include details of her work for MI5. She claimed that her book would include details of a “plot to discredit Jack Kennedy”.

In 1980, all charges against Towers were dropped after he paid a £4,200 fine for jumping bail.

Mariella Novotny was found dead in her bed in February 1983. Reportedly, “Shortly after her death her house was burgled and all her files and large day-to-day diaries from the early sixties to the seventies were stolen.”

So it goes.

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