Did anybody else see that ‘A Very British Brothel’ programme on Channel 4 on Monday night? I have to say, it was one of the most interesting pieces of TV I have seen in a while.
It all centred around ‘City Sauna’ in Sheffield which was run by mother and daughter Kath and Jenny. The set up is typical of many massage parlours. The men pay for a massage and what goes on upstairs is between consenting adults. The owners only take a ‘door fee’ and a percentage of the massage charge.
A Good Environment
Now from the word go, it was very clear that the owners considered the girls an extended family. This was a place where sex workers could come off the street and work in a safe, secure environment. One working girl spoke about her times on the streets, and how she was constantly in danger from both clients, and other girls who were looking to take her cash. Whether this is a true reflection of life on the street for all girls I hesitate to say, but she certainly seemed to feel that she had landed on her feet.
The girls were an interesting bunch. They were all very normal. Where many of the uneducated would have expected to see girls with a whole list of problems, instead we found people who had decided all by themselves that this was a good way of making decent money in a safe environment. We even met Laura Lee, who is a popular escort in Scotland who actually writes pieces for our blog up there. Many of them had families and in no way did it seem to be affecting their home lives.
The punters were equally happy to talk about things. Instead of finding 50 year old men in dirty mac’s, we found normal guys who decided that they enjoyed paying for sex. They were like kids in a candy shop, coming in and being able to pick out who they wanted to see upstairs. They spoke to the girls with respect and seemed to have a good relationship with them.
However, there were some major drawbacks. Firstly, Channel 4 seemed insistent on continually showing close up shots of the girls cleavages and legs. That was probably for those who had forgotten it was a brothel. It just seemed an extra level of sleazy which wasn’t needed. Yes, they are sex workers and yes, they are wearing skimpy clothes, we get it.
When talking about one of the girls, one of the punters pointed out that a particular girl really enjoyed their sessions together as she was a ‘squirter’. Once again, this seemed strange. It was like we were being subtly told that these guys had no respect for the girls, and all the evidence to the contrary was a façade.
The most amazing bit came at the end. Punters had put in for a raffle, with all proceeds going to an Alzheimers charity (the owners Dad had suffered with the disease, so it was a cause that was close to their heart) The winner would get an hour free service, the second would get half an hour and third place would get 15. Now let us remember that the last hour had been a story of a good relationship between willing clients and happy punters. However, when the raffle winners were announced, it is safe to say the winners got savaged. The winner “would only last three minutes anyway.” The second placed guy was hated because he was ‘pervy’. This was totally contrary to everything we had heard before and I can only feel for the guys mentioned. One suspects they felt they had a good relationship with the girls, and would be sat watching the show with their chippy dinner, proceeding to have a heart attack with what they were hearing about themselves. I am going to guess that this goes on in any customer facing business, but most employees don’t have a camera following them around.
What were the Motivations?
This all happened at the end of the show, and it has to be said, I spent a few hours working out why they had done that. This ‘sign off’ seemed to be a total ‘screw you’ to the business and the punters. It was basically telling the customers what the sauna really thought of them. These may just have been throwaway comments, but the message will be very clear to customers in that area.
It struck me that Channel 4 were pretending that they were having a proper look at the sex industry, but in the end, they wanted to see sensationalist nonsense that would get social media traction. A happy brothel with satisfied punters may have been too boring. A brothel basically calling a few punters losers (for 20 seconds of an hour long show) would fit into a narrative where these places were in fact unpleasant.
I think, in the end, we need to take the positives out of the piece. Are the girls safe? Yes. Are they doing it of their own free will? Yes. Are they some stereotypically abused girl who needs to be saved from this awful life? No.
When it comes to the sex industry, the important thing is that the girls are safe. This is why massage parlours like this should be encouraged, and it is why we should work towards decriminalisation of the sex industry.
No amount of hatchet job editing can ruin that kind of message. For that alone, the programme gets a thumbs up from us.