Pornography Part One: It's a dirty job, but someone (presumably) has got to do it. Dominic Cavendish meets the men (and women) at Fantasy Publications, Britain's biggest publisher of mainstream porn
The first thing that hits you is the silence. You're walking into porn city, into the perve-centre of the UK adult mag market, and it's as quiet as a chapel. You are expecting explicit wall-to-wall babe action, the smell of fag ash trodden into carpet, dirty laughter. What you get is the hum of PCs, the hush of an open-plan Docklands office and not much more than a Loaded bacon sandwich poster to contemplate. It is just after 10am, and a dozen men and women at Fantasy Publications have work to do.

In the corner where they produce Fantasy's flagship titles - Amateur Video, Real Wives, New Talent and Penthouse (Fantasy, which is owned by Northern and Shell, has 20-odd titles altogether selling, they claim, in the region of 1.5 million copies a month) - a man with shoulder-length blond hair, ruddy cheeks and a soupcon of beard is on the phone. "That was Stef," he announces, slightly nasally. "What did she want this time?" inquires an unshaven man with a large beer gut, not bothering to look up from his screen. "Don't ask - she's a complete nutter. She says she's got a multiple personality, one minute she's a schoolgirl, the next she's a nymphomaniac." "It's like a Social Services department here sometimes," explains the stubble-faced, beer-gutted man, who it transpires is Stewart Meagher, deputy editor of all four magazines.

"The hours we spend talking to our readers, it's incredible." The blond man is introduced as Ricco Porter "the golden-haired pussy charmer". "If Ricco was a dog, his tail would always be wagging," says Meagher helpfully. "My ideal job would be a sixth-form janitor," says Porter, grinning lasciviously. "Don't mind me, girls, I'm just mopping up the showers, you go right in."

There is a long pause. Then Porter, who directs and produces the videos that come attached to the self-explanatory Amateur Video, reveals that he has just come back from an international porn trade fair in Belgium - "I can't remember the name of it." It was, he says, a breath of fresh air. "All the stars were there, and they were there because they fuck. There was no embarrassment about it. Here that sort of thing would be sneered at."

He is told that his body will be required for a photo-shoot later in the day. "We all have to pose from time to time, but Rick would do it as often as he could, given the chance," Darren Tassell, the office junior, chips in. "Yeah, but we'd get sick of his skinny arse," says Meagher, still staring fixedly at his computer.

What he is staring at is, in fact, a bright pink computer generated phallus. Using his mouse, he pushes it hard against the "Meat[sic] the Wives" headline that dominates a page of blurry full frontals. "Here, Rick, look," he says. "Nice one," says Porter. These are the finishing touches to the April edition of the self-explanatory Real Wives, for which he will be credited under the nom-de porn Gareth W Steamer. He also appears as the serious-sounding Mathew Garester in Penthouse (`our respectable wank mag"), and as Margaret Wheets for "the female perspective where it's needed".

The line between fact and fiction is crossed and recrossed many times during the nine-week production cycle. The team prides itself on its genuine article pledge: real wives, never-seen-before-models, authentic names. They run most things that are sent in, including photos from young and not-so-young hopefuls. "They all imagine they are going to get into Penthouse," Tassell says. More often than not, they'll end up in one of the many "horny home corner" slots, but if the mugshot meets with general approval, ("ie gorgeous looking," Tassell explains) a professional shoot will be commissioned - often in the model's own home. If they're young, the (self-explanatory) New Talent awaits. If they're not, there's always Real Wives. The main source of models is, however, freelance photographers. This seems to threaten the biographical authenticity of the my-husband-won't-mind-so-come-and- get-it copy. Meagher's eyes go cold. "Sometimes you ask them a few questions on the phone. Other times, you don't even have the model's name. What can you do? It won't be verbatim, of course, just roughly what she would have said." He returns to the screen. "Besides, we've come to the conclusion that people don't buy these magazines to read them."

At this point a man with dark cropped hair and NHS specs calls him over to the design desk. Lee Jones is having a spot of bother with the front cover of Big Girls (formerly Big and Fat). The models are indeed very big, "any larger and we'd have trouble fitting her on to the page." Apart from a few basic directives (Noddy colours, as much flesh coverage per page as possible), the designers are left to their own devices. Two of them are women. "People say `How can you watch other women being exploited?' '' says one of them, Karen Brain. "If anything, the models exploit us. They get a kick out of it. They're proud of what they've got." Helping the models, helping the readers, it's all part of the job description. Behind her hangs a sketch of Canary Wharf tower, with added male genitalia.

Designer Kevin Coward (stubble, beer gut) is modest about their overall input: "If the model looks happy, you're 70 per cent there. Obviously if she's sexy, it's a joy - you blow up the pictures really big. If not, you keep the photos small and emphasise the clothes shots. Great she's taken the plunge and all that, but to be frank it's like pouring perfume on a pig." Porn is in many ways Coward's vocation - "As a teenager I used to cut out the best pages from adult mags and paste them into a scrap book." Now he's all porned out. "I'd rather watch a video of Richard and Judy."

"If you don't get turned on by it, then you shouldn't work here," says Deric Botham, 48, (Spiv Eldridge to readers, Mr B to colleagues, managing editor to everyone else) over a lunchtime bowl of sweet and sour pork. Porn, he says, is not an easy game. He works the whole time, making do with one hour's sleep at night. "You have to put together an editorial package once a month on the same subject. If you're editing Cosmo, you've got the whole world to write about."

Variety is his answer: not just new titles but variety Cannon-and-Ball style. End of the pier humour. Of all his creations he is proudest of Shagnasty and Mutley, two middle-aged lechers who always manage to pull. His is a simple philosophy: "The British male wants the pretty girls you see in shops and offices. The girl next door. Not some silicone-implanted American who has sex with eight guys, and whose boobs don't move once. Personally, I find that stuff offensive."

He leans across the table, his eyes narrowing through gold-framed oval specs. "The vast majority of men in this country go to bed with a woman who doesn't want to have sex with them. They dream about the sort of woman who is not going to say no.

"They want," he says, picking up speed, "small details. They want to know where our girls come from. They want to know vital statistics. They want striptease."

He is nevertheless, he insists, the worst person to be running a porn empire. "I do none of the things that people like me are normally associated with - I don't sleep with models or play around. I'm very happily married, with children. I just keep my eyes on the market. I might as well be working for Universal Widgets. It really doesn't matter if I know the difference between a good pair of tits and a bad pair."

It it hard to believe that this is the same Deric Botham who sits in a downstairs office half an hour later directing a photo-story involving Ricco Porter and Miki Leigh, an auburn-haired 30-year-old from Mansfield. The scenario: a reader has seen a picture of Porter and arrives at his office to seduce him. Er, that's it. Leigh is not bothered by what she does, so long as the photographer does not shoot her from underneath - "You'll get the scars on my boobs. I'm suing the plastic surgeon at the moment."

Botham, slumped in a chair at the back, his mouth working furiously on a stick of gum, calls the shots, insisting that she wear the polo-neck, blue skirt, thigh-length boots and overcoat she arrived in, for the sake of authenticity. He commentates on the action: "Jumper comes off, lovely... your hand on her boob would look good at this point, Ricco." "Indeed it would."

"Off with the corset ... [as though subtitling a silent movie] ... ecstasy, please Miki [eyes closed, a kind of stifled yawn] ... let the light shine on that boob ... going down at this point would look rather good, Ricco". By this stage Porter is down to his black thermal undies and Leigh is naked apart from her green pants and boots.

"Here," Leigh snaps, "don't breathe on my fanny. And if you rip my panties, I'll kill you. - they cost me 15 quid."

There is a short break while she applies some powder to her bikini line - "You don't want to see my shaving rash, do you?" Porter then strips completely and she simulates oral sex, though there seems to be some confusion about how far away her mouth has to be to please the distributors - "Is that three inches?" the photographers asks. Finally, they cast around for some liquid with which to spatter her face. "What about some water?" Botham suggests. "I've got a much better idea. Let's use milk," Leigh beams, pointing to a catering sachet. "I'm just the managing editor of 16 porn titles. What do I know?" comes the reply. And finally, as droplets of UHT trickle down the side of Leigh's mouth, Botham stands up - "The words `Bravura performance' come to mind."

The policeman's tale: `My job has left me with a sadness about the human condition.'

MICHAEL HAMES has seen a wider variety of pornographic material than almost anyone in Britain, even pornographers themselves. Before he retired in 1994, he spent five years as head of Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Branch, the culmination of a career spent investigating sex crime. This long exposure to obscenity has made its mark. "It has left me with a sadness about the human condition and the way we treat each other," he says.

"The things I saw were horrible. Most of it you just watch, you try to switch off your feelings, a bit like a pathologist with a dead body. But when you see people eating faeces it tends to put you off your tea ... and the material with children obviously affects you as a parent."

After retiring from the Met, Hames and a group of psychologists set up Faircheck, a service to help employers vet applicants for jobs with children and the elderly, to ensure they were safe to employ. The service has closed due to lack of funding.

Hames believes that pornography does untold harm. He concedes that there is no conclusive evidence to prove or disprove a connection between porn and sexual offences. However, he is convinced a strong link exists between pornography and child sexual abusers. "It's all part of their fantasy and they use it to show children to persuade them it's all right. Pornography also seems to be addictive," he says.

"People go on to harder and harder stuff. That can cause great problems in families." He scoffs at the view that porn could in some way help men to overcome sexual frustration. "When you've got two people, a man and a woman, having sex and the man has an orgasm, he's not going to think - that'll do for a bit. He's going to come back for more."

Hames wants to see a Royal Commission or similar study set up. Cross- party support is already forthcoming; three years ago he staged a two- day exhibition for MPs and peers which visibly shocked those who saw it. Some left in tears.

"I think the reality is that law enforcement agencies all over the world have lost control of this situation," he says. "Because of the enormous advances in technology, I think it's soon going to be almost impossible to police pornography. You'll get law enforcement agencies saying `What's the point? We've got a tight budget and plenty of other worthwhile things to spend it on.' The last major inquiry into pornography was just before the Obscene Publications Act came out in the early Fifties. It's time to stop and to take stock again."

Confusion over definitions in the law are a major cause of the recent rise of pornography, he says. "The definition of obscenity is so loose and open to different interpretations that juries are confused. They will be asked in court: Have you been depraved by watching this? and they'll say: `No, not me Guv.' So they'll acquit. Even scenes of people having sex with animals.

"In any sensible situation you would find people having sex with animals obscene."