Madam Cyn's orgies were like a vicar's tea party with sex
Famed brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne has died aged 82. John McEntee recalls the night he partied at her bordello
Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30
Cynthia Payne answered the front door of 32 Ambleside Avenue with a twinkle in her eye. Before I had time to introduce myself, she slid her right hand palm upwards between the legs of my Prince of Wales check suit trousers. Energetically patting upwards, she chuckled, "Ooooh, you're a big boy, come in."
The occasion was a party to celebrate the publication of Paul Bailey's An English Madam - an account of Cynthia's life in general, and, in particular, her magnificent stewardship of the brothel which led to her imprisonment and national fame.
I had come to interview her, and subsequently stayed to enjoy a very raucous shindig with her working girls and curious customers.
In December, 1978, police who raided Cynthia's surburban villa found 53 men huddled in the hall. Most were queueing on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms, and were clutching vouchers to be redeemed for sex; some appeared to have come straight from the office. Of the 13 women on the premises, some were completely naked.
For £25, Cynthia offered mature clients (no one under 40 was admitted), including peers, MPs, clergymen, bank managers and captains of industry, a luncheon voucher buffet, which included wine and sex with one of the girls she employed.
Most of her customers eschewed conventional sexual intercourse, preferring bondage, whipping, spanking - one delighted in being stripped, covered in honey and having one of Cynthia's ladies switch a vacuum from suck to blow thus pebble dashing him with household dust.
Afterwards, the girls returned the vouchers to Cynthia and received £8 for each sexual chore. They invariably finished their shift with a snack of poached egg on toast and a hot cup of tea.
Britain's best-known brothel-keeper, who has died aged 82, went to jail after the police raid (there were rumours the police action was triggered by Cynthia's failure to offer freebies to the PC Plods).
At her trial, she was ineradicably branded 'Madam Cyn' and imprisoned for 18 months for running "the biggest disorderly house" in British history.
"We had a high-class clientele," Cynthia Payne recalled many years later, "no rowdy kids, no yobs, all well-dressed men in suits, who knew how to respect a lady. It was like a vicar's tea party with sex thrown in - a lot of elderly, lonely people drinking sherry."
A rapt media feasted on stories of middle-aged and elderly men queueing up in SW16 to exchange "luncheon vouchers" for food, drink, conversation, striptease shows, and a trip upstairs with the girl of their choice.
Jeffrey Bernard in The Spectator declared her "the greatest Englishwoman since Boadicea".
On appeal, Cynthia's sentence was reduced to six months and a hefty fine. She was unrepentant, however, and on her release from prison, she resumed her parties until the police called again in 1986.
When Cynthia, a jolly, roly poly figure, let me into her home in 1982, it was furnished in a style of overwhelming suburban ordinariness, with nets at the windows, starched antimacassars and plenty of pretty china. We found a quiet room to conduct the interview. By the time we'd finished, the party was in full swing (I'd noticed the ice-laden bath upstairs was full of bottles of wine, vodka, brandy, Pernod and even sherry).
The crowded front room was filled with Cynthia's former working girls. They all spoke with fondness of her. Many had been rescued from pimps and a grubby existence on street corners and loveless sexual commerce in the back of clients' motor cars.
Cynthia's imprisonment had forced many back to a life of exploitation. As a former prostitute herself, she understood and supported these working girls.
At the party, there was one elderly gent in a wheelchair who had been a regular attendee at the luncheon-voucher parties (Cynthia made a point of gratifying invalids), a PVC-clad transvestite and a bewhiskered ex-RAF wing commander, who told me, straight-faced, that he enjoyed trips to nearby Epping Forest, where one of Cynthia's scantily clad girls stripped him naked, blindfolded him and left him alone tied to a tree where he spent the afternoon excited by the prospect of discovery. Once, he joked, they'd forgotton about him until nightfall.
I stayed far too long and failed to notice the winking camera as I talked to a beautifully dressed transvestite and a PVC-clad bondage aficionado with stiletto pointed breasts and a leather balaclava. I paid no attention to reporter John Stapleton recording a report for that night's edition of BBC 2's Newsnight.
I arrived home just as Newsnight was starting on the TV in my surburban living room. "Where have you been?" asked my long-suffering wife. As I mumbled gibberish about an important interview, she pointed excitedly at the TV. "It's you! What are you doing?" I peered at the telly.
Stapleton was delivering his pre-recorded piece on Madam Cyn's party. Behind him, in full view, glass in hand, head thrown back as I laughed at the tranny's joke, was yours truly. Needless to say, I did not mention Cynthia's opening remark.