Did we like it?
An interesting and amusing look at the home movies of the most infamous resident of Ambleside Avenue in Streatham – and how her ‘parties’ led to some of the most tabloid-friendly trials of the 1980s. Judges, peers, policemen – all were guests at this innocuous suburban residence – and the media loved it. It also gave some insight into the circumstances that led to Cynthia Payne ending up as Britain’s most famous Madame.
What was good about it?
• Cynthia’s altruism was revealed. At every party there was a £5 discount for OAP’s; half-price if the customers were ‘past it’ and she always made sure that there were two disabled customers admitted free.
• Cynthia’s amusing account of how she would get all her housework done by ‘Slave Rodney’ as long as she humiliated him – riding him around the garden and making him kiss her feet.
• The documentary also secured interviews with the two main arresting officers on the cases that led to her most famous trials. Both Sergeant Clive Rees and Inspector Colin White described how the evidence was gathered and raids mounted. Rees revealed that his raid turned up 53 men and 13 women in the one party!
• White described how in the pursuit of gathering evidence, two undercover detectives had gone to the parties – one dressed a country yokel, the other as a ‘confused’ transvestite. Predictably, this caused much hilarity in court and in the media.
• The publicity from Payne’s first trial led to her getting an agent and the publication of her biography. This in turn led to two films based on her life. Wish You Were Here with Emily Lloyd covered her teenage years, and Personal Services with Julie Walters focused on her later life.
• Colin White revealed how he became convinced that his case would fail when members of the jury would smile and laugh at Cynthia’s performances in the dock. He seemed to have a grudging respect for her, acknowledging how likeable she was, and seemed remarkably philosophical about losing the case when he had suffered so much vitriol in the press at its conclusion.
• Cynthia’s troubled relationship with her father reached some kind of resolution after he attended one of her parties. She claimed that his time with her girls made him live an extra eight years!
What was bad about it?
• The interview with one of Cynthia’s old girls reminded you of the stark reality of prostitution. ‘Carol’ looked like she’d had a number of addictions to contend with if the dirty fingernails, shaking hands and ravaged face were anything to go by.
• The details of Cynthia’s childhood and teenage years told the story of how she ended up running a brothel. A tyrannical father, a mother who died young, unsuitable boyfriends, back-street abortions and a lack of money all conspired to force her on the game. Crucially, the voiceover mentioned the birth of two sons, but they were neveralluded to again. Were they adopted? Had they disowned her? We never found out.