THE BROADER PICTURE: MEN BEHAVING PATHETICALLY
Sunday 25 February 1996
Since last May, male patrons have been discovering the pleasure of inflicting the ultimate indignity on the film stars, politicians and sports personalities of their choice, thanks to three strategically-placed Perspex-covered video screens inset into the stainless steel urinals. They make their requests on their way to the gents', the bar staff insert the relevant cassette, and the rest is pure satisfaction.
Carling has consistently proved the most popular choice; however, there is plenty of competition. Saddam Hussein (main picture) is also a favourite, closely followed by sports-personalities-turned-TV-stars such as Gary Lineker, Geoffrey Boycott and Frank Bruno. President Clinton and Margaret Thatcher are keenly sought-after by politically-minded punters without a voice but with full bladders. Videos featuring not only the entire Cabinet but the Shadow Cabinet as well are expected soon. Other videos in the pipeline include Anneka Rice, Ruby Wax, Keith Chegwin and Hugh Grant. The latest hit, meanwhile, shows the bewhiskered features of Channel 4 Racing pundit turned Lottery groupie, John McCririck.
"The idea came to me in the bath," ex-plains the Paramount Bar's owner, former seafood trader Michael Wilson. "We had a test trial with a video of Rangers playing, and it was an instant hit. Now we can't keep people out of our loos." Up to 50 men at a time pack themselves into the modestly- sized conveniences to watch their betes noires being showered with derision and worse. Local sporting hate figures like Mark Hateley, Vinny Jones and Eric Cantona always draw good crowds, while would-be spectators for the premiere of "Gazza in Rangers kit" had to book weeks in advance.
"The customers come out in hysterics," says Jeannine Keating, a 24-year- old architecture student who works at the Paramount as a waitress. "They really have a good time in there. You can hear them cheering each other on and giving each other directions. It used to be the girls who went into the loo in groups; now it's the fellas." There are, she adds, no plans as yet for equivalent in-loo entertainment in the ladies'. "There are gravitational problems involved. But I understand the management is looking into it. It's great therapy, and a way that TV and video can be used as a public art form. It's the people getting their own back at the media - an expression of the thoughts and feelings of the nation. It's real theatre."
"WCTV helps people relax," comments barman Paul Barber. "We all have a lot of stuff bottled up inside us just waiting to come out. We just want someone and something to take it out on."
Each video lasts five minutes and features full-face close-ups which can be slowed down and freeze-framed for greater enjoyment. The latest fashion is for custom-made videos. While DJ-ing recently at "The Ministry of Sin", Boy George brought in a Take That On Tour to play in the little boys' room. Since then, oil businessmen have started arriving with videotapes of their bosses, while one man had a video of his mother-in-law.
"We draw the line at royalty," says Andy Hughes, the Paramount's manager. "But we'll play anything. Anyone can bring anything in and we'll put it on for them to have a shot at."
Wilson is in the throes of patenting his invention, and hopes to market it worldwide. There has already been interest from various Japanese visitors, and from a chain of clubs in London. If it takes off, it will probably be under the brand name WCTV.
It is, believes Andy Hughes, a sure-fire winner. "Everybody wants to let their bladder do the talking, and to tell people what they think of them straight to their face. You can really tell who is popular on the small and wide screen. There was quite a run on Brian Moore during last year's Rugby World Cup.
"Nobody's been sick over Will Carling yet," he adds. "But give it time." !
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