My Thoughts on ‘A Very British Brothel’

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.

Red bed in a red room

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.

Some Issues

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.

Martin Ward
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One thought on “My Thoughts on ‘A Very British Brothel’”

  1. I think you have been a little harsh with your evaluation and you have missed a few things out too.

    The lady who was a street worker also commented that she would also get picked up by pimps posing as clients, who would try to get her hooked on drugs, so they can use her and take away her independence. This is in itself quite a statement and something that is not hard to imagine. Drugs are often used to manipulate people and I’m sure this is no exception.

    The shots of legs and breasts I took to show the variety of other sex workers who were not keen to show their faces. Yes it was a little too often, but they did also show the ones that were wearing dressing gowns between jobs, so not all about glam or slutty and it had been made clear that the girls that dressed the sluttiest got more work, as the guys imagined them to be dirtier in the bedroom, which is what they wanted.

    I found it odd that the majority of them appeared to be wearing wigs. How do they keep them on? I’d have liked a tip on that.

    The bit at the end with the raffle, I think you have slightly got wrong also. The guy that won the hour was a client who normally booked 15 minutes, so it was kind of funny that he won the longer time, as it was not his preference. I think that is all that was meant by it. They didn’t really say much about the middle winner and sure they didn’t like James, but I doubt there is a business on this land that has a good working relationship with all their clients and there will always be those that are tolerated and not appreciated. Why should this industry be any different?

    On the whole I thought it was a good and honest account for Sheffield, which is a place I have worked in once myself. There isn’t much money over there and the girls were working in a safe and clean environment (although they didn’t show showers, which I would have liked to see). It seemed like they looked out for each other and generally there was an air of respect.

    The comment about the lady squirting to me, was more to do with the fact that she actually enjoyed her work and it was mutual. I didn’t see that as disrespectful at all.

    It’s all about interpretation and people will take from it what they will and it will either reinforce their opinion or make them consider that it might not be how they imagined. Either way, it does allow people to make up their own mind without forcing an agenda or bias and I appreciated that.

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