People often ask me what was one of my most interesting 'Retrograph' encounters or jobs during the twenty years that I ran the photo library that I created out of my archive. There are several wacky stories and the following is one of them.
The phone rang one evening out of hours and a loud brash female voice asked from 'Down Under' if that was Retrograph. "Yes" was my reply allowing for the fact that there was a time difference and that I had never received a phone call from the land of Oz.
"How much would you charge for one of your Parisian ladies hanging on a bedroom wall?" was the tentative enquiry.
Unaware that my images of sepia 'Parisian ladies of the night' had reached Australia, I asked what kind of company wanted my images for reproduction as prints. The caller told me to hang on for a moment and screamed across the office "what kind of company are we?" The answer came in a word - a brothel.
I was fascinated and wanted to know more. I was thus proudly informed that the Madam of the Bordello was Mary-Anne Kenworthy. She would be flying to London to receive her Golden Flying Penis trophy at The Erotic Awards, an event organised within the infamous annual Sex Maniacs Ball. This international event was first conceived by Tuppy Owens the pioneer campaigner and sexual libertarian in the 70s.
An appointment was arranged on the Friday the day before the ball. It was summertime in London, a rare occurrence. I researched Langtrees on the net after I had received an email that Mary-Anne wanted to see my entire collection of the ladies of the night.
I had collected these attractive 'glimpse of stocking was something shocking' sepia French Postcards when I lived in Paris. I owned about 200 of them, buying these visuals for their underwear, nightwear and topless, but never bottomless, photographs. The ladies almost became 'friends' as some I recognised immediately as if to say 'Bonsoir'. Eventually they were used on book covers for out of print erotic books and finally 30 of them, carefully chosen by me, beautifully reproduced in a print book in the late 80s. I believe the print run was 50,000. But where are these prints today I ask myself? The ladies from the 'Roaring Twenties' long gone to heaven or hell.
I couldn't wait to meet Madam having convinced myself that she must be one of the voluptuous ladies on the Langtrees website. So I was amazed when a healthy looking smiling, with bright white teeth, Jane Fonda look-a-like arrived on my doorstop punctually with Lord Trev, her blotchy red nosed minder. She was wearing a short white skirt with a simple white shirt and white pumps. No jewellery or a vestige of makeup.
Madam studied my entire 'erotica' collection and then changed the subject. It became obvious it was almost a social call. Lord Trev sat looking bored at the presentation dying for some booze. Finally he couldn't stand it any longer and went off down Kensington Park Road in search of a drink. He had seen it all before. He was in charge of the girls. Madam seemed to be quite maternal and would advise her flock when they had female issues.
I asked Madam how she became a 'working girl' all those years ago. She originally came from New Zealand. It was unclear how or why she got to Australia and especially the old gold mining town of Kalgoolie but she was happy to talk about how she got into the sex industry.
Madam told me she was on benefit and was struggling to make ends meet as an unmarried mother. On her way to collect her meagre allowance she passed a Thai massage parlour and on her way back dropped in to see if any jobs were going. That was the start and she never looked back. No doubt she got the 'training' and had the aptitude for further services on offer.
How she met the brothel owner of the rundown bordello on Hay Street, she did not say but, inspired by the actress and courtesan Lillie Langtry, King Edward V11's mistress, she bought the business from the outgoing Madam and the goodwill that went with it. She quickly set to work and the rest is history.
I had already looked up the website and knew there was a boxing ring boudoir and a circular large bed in another. Each boudoir had a special name. She described her girls to me and even had a Scottish grandmother on her books wearing a red tartan mini skirt for those who liked an older woman. She went on to explain she had opened a museum too and charged the curious public an entrance fee to learn about how the gold miners working in the mines in the 19th century imported in French prostitutes as they were considered to be the best lay. After all the miners, who lived in tents, needed a little relaxation after their daily hard work. Thus prostitution in Kalgoolie had always been legal.
Mary-Anne told me that the next night she would be going to the famous Sex Maniac's Ball and had been nominated for a trophy for her role in the sex industry. She would be awarded a Golden Flying Penis in a ceremony like the Hollywood Oscars. The annual ball had been devised by the infamous libertine Tuppy Owens in 1986 alongside the Sex Maniac's Diary and the little red love book which had begun in 1972.
I recall buying one of these diaries, not for the partouze addresses in Paris, but because I was a dealer of optical illusions and optical toys back in the 70s and 80s and the pages, if you flicked them quickly like a flick book, showed a silhouette of a couple in action! However, without my permission, my Portobello Road postal address was given as an vintage collectables Erotica dealer probably due to my collection of ladies of the night. I only found out because a sex maniac wrote me a letter telling me what he wanted to do to me in no uncertain words!
Mary-Anne told me about her favourite book which she always travelled with entitled 'Sex for One'. Would I like to see it? Yes, I enthused. With that she agreed to come back on her own the following morning to show me her treasure. I had to think about her offer because it meant I would be loosing a couple of hours of business at Portobello on my stand. But then you don't meet a sex maniac brothel owner every day, so I finally agreed.
Saturday dawned and Madam arrived at 8.00 a.m. bright and bushy tailed as agreed armed with her treasured sex bible. Just as she was about to enlighten me, my husband Martin, not getting his daily coffee fix in bed as I was otherwise engaged, popped his head around the door minus his glasses to say hello. Mary-Anne, with the page open on diagrams of vaginas in all shapes and sizes, shouted out in a brash Aussie drawl, "Which one is Jilliana's?" Out of his depth, Martin mumbled he didn't know and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. We giggled like school girls. Well, British men are not so sexually curious, are they?
Time to go, Portobello and business for me and a Golden Flying Penis for her. We parted company with an embrace and her promise to post me a corporate brochure which she had brought with her but left in her hotel. She would be leaving on Monday back to the land of Oz.
Our paths were never to cross again. On Tuesday true to her word, I received a large envelope. Inside was a cd of a tour around the bedrooms, the corporate brochure with a glamorous studio photo of her a la Fonda, a vulgar large square fridge magnet and a red baseball cap by the company Getahead with two numbers in black on the cap. Not 69 but I was suspicious of the numerical meaning! I wrote to say thank you and ask about the number. Yes, I was correct it was the macho desired member number. I never wore it despite looking good in red and black. I didn't want those persons unknown in the Know to know. It takes one to know one.
Epilogue Number One
Some years later, my husband and I sat at the captain's table on the high seas heading towards Vietnam when we were split up and I was placed next to an older Australian redneck while his wife was way down the table next to Martin.
Oh God, thought I, this is going to be a dull conversation without a common interest point. How wrong I was!
The usual boring conversation opening having never been to the land of Oz, I politely asked which city he was from. Well, dear readers, you guessed it. Kalgoolie! I gasped casually saying I knew a woman there called Mary-Anne. So did he! In fact he hollered down the table to his wife a guess who she knows! "Are you a client?" No, he explained, he was the main agent for Ford in Australia before his retirement and knew the original Madam. Each of her girls, as a perk for good work, were given a red Ford sports car and Mr Redneck was the supplier and a personal friend of Madam's, although I did not dare ask how personal!
Epilogue Number Two
About four years ago I was at the WOMAD festival in the mediaeval Spanish city of Caceres. I was at a local bistro when in walked a well heeled couple who sat the other end of the restaurant. However, they could not read Spanish and had difficulty ordering. Jilliana to the rescue! The attractive woman was from Sweden and her companion from Kalgoolie. My cue to mention Madam who this man had interviewed because she had made the headlines. Madam had gone political like Cynthia Payne in the UK and the Police had closed down her Sydney brothel. She was protecting women's legal rights and her working girls. Apparently she had had to turn the Kalgoolie brothel into an upmarket guest house to buck the system and stay within the law.
Still at the helm fifteen years or so later. I checked her out on You Tube and watched her on video promoting her now not so new business. But we know what goes on behind the closed doors! The oldest profession in the world!
Epilogue Number Three
I was to meet Tuppy Owens at an educational sex fair/conference in Brighton about three years ago. We had our photo taken together and promised to keep in touch. I even met a British Archeologist travelling through Antalya, but based in Istanbul. He went to Exeter
university with Tuppy who photographed his wedding 40 years ago. How did
he work out the connection? Easy in this modern world! He just looked
through my Facebook friends while 'checking' out my pedigree. Yet
another case of synchronicity! Today in 2016, I am still in internet touch with both David Michelmore, the Archeologist and Tuppy Owen.
Written in El Barco de Avila in the countryside near Salamanca, Spain. September 2016.
Spoken Word Reading