Working boys: London's male brothels offer a more lucrative way for young men to ply their trade than the streets and a more discreet service to the discerning customer

People walk past it every day and never notice. To them it's perfectly ordinary, just another basement flat in a street of white-painted terraces sandwiched between Kensington High Street and the King's Road. Except that this flat houses a male brothel.

Inside, there is an anteroom where up to a dozen 'boys (the term is universally used among them), mostly in their twenties, lounge on a sofa watching satellite television.

There are four bedrooms here, recently reduced from five to accommodate an office. A boy who calls himself Rita acts as receptionist, accountant and maitre d' for the night.

The atmosphere is musty; the smell of polish barely conceals a whiff of something cooked a while ago. But it's spotlessly clean, even if the flock wallpaper and cheap prints seem out of place for this salubrious west London address.

At any given time, up to 20 addresses in London offer escort and massage services for men, with men. Fifteen seem to stay the course and, of these, four are known for offering sex on the premises. There were five until last year, when the owner of 'Rome, a few streets away from Kensington Town Hall, was jailed for credit card fraud. According to the Metropolitan Police, the last convictions for running a 'disorderly house were brought in 1990 against two men who ran a gay sauna in Streatham (they were imprisoned for three and six months respectively).

Some of the boys here are actors between jobs, but there are also office workers who are into the gay club scene in a big way and who cannot finance this lifestyle solely out of a regular wage. Some are heterosexual and have girlfriends. There are variations in the hours that the boys are expected to work. Some of the houses allow the boys to drop in more or less when they like, although they are expected to stay at least five hours and to telephone in advance to check that they are needed. Others operate a more conventional shift system and boys are sent home if they are late for the start at noon or at 6pm. On a quiet weekend the boys will go home at midnight.

Most dislike the job. 'It's just temporary, I would not want to do it forever, said 'Philip. 'I sort of switch off when I'm here. I make noises like I'm enjoying it - I moan and all that, but it's like I can watch myself. I'm not involved like I am when it's just for me.'

The customers' view is somewhat different. 'It's brilliant, said Murray, a debonair former actor, 'like a well-organised and very jolly repertory company. It is a minor branch of showbusiness after all. Everyone is there to please and they just do it professionally . . . they are almost always excellent masseurs for a start.

'I'm only there for one thing and so are they; there's none of the hassle of a club or bar. Quite often I don't see the type of boy I'm after here, in which case I've no hesitation in just leaving.

About half the customers are 'in the closet. 'Many prominent people know they are safe here, that they won't be exposed, said Stephen, a regular since the Sixties.

The customer chooses his boy and pays pounds 50. Half goes to the owner of the brothel, and half - eventually - to the boy. Credit cards are accepted at most establishments. At some houses this buys an hour in which to do whatever you wish. At others pounds 50 only pays for a massage; other services must be negotiated between customer and boy. 'I've never been hassled about the time, and I've spent up to an hour and a half with some boys, said a regular client. 'It's very relaxed, but of course you leave the boy a good tip for anything on top of the basic.

The usual 'tip is at least an additional pounds 50, the exact sum dependent - at least in part - on how desperate the boy is for cash. Sex aids are laid on. One boss has what he calls his 'batterie de cuisine in a cupboard for loan: leather thongs, masks and whips, hard-core pornography and dildos.

Many men do simply come for a massage or to seek a dinner companion. The demand for anal sex is comparatively rare. The greatest number of requests are for 'water sports and 'scat. The practice of being urinated on or of drinking urine for sexual gratification is not as uncommon as might be supposed.

Customers also pay for a stranger to defecate on the floor. The boy is then required to leave while the customer smears himself. Acts of group sex are not unusual, but it is sado-masochistic sex that is most in demand, particularly from foreign businessmen on trips to London.

Most of the boys have been on call-outs to some of London's smartest hotels at one time or another. These are the most lucrative jobs and up to pounds 300 can be earned for an all-night stay. One boy told of his experience with a German in the Intercontinental Hotel who wanted to be beaten until he bled. 'He just begged for mercy and for me to hit him harder, like they all do. Afterwards, we just slept together for the rest of the night, had a bite to eat the following morning and parted company.

Sometimes attachments form in these circumstances. 'I was quite heartbroken when an Australian Mel Gibson look-alike returned to Perth at Christmas, said Murray. 'I'm absolutely sure we could never have had a relationship on the outside but I just wanted him to be around.

Bosses discourage ongoing liaisons. Many customers, keen to see their boy under different circumstances, will leave their business cards. Surprisingly few boys pursue these contacts. 'There is a kind of loyalty to the house, said one boss. 'I just feel it takes up enough time as it is, a boy counters. 'I wouldn't do it unless I was really desperate for cash. Others feel that contact outside the house would interfere with their 'real lives.

Despite the existence of brothels, the rent boy scene is still going strong in London. Prices for this kind of service again attracts about pounds 50 a time but can be highly variable. Many rent boys are younger, plying their trade in the streets around Piccadilly Circus. In addition, some boys operate informally in singles or in pairs from private addresses. Brothels, by contrast, offer security to customers and boys alike.

London's male brothels offer a more lucrative way for young men to ply their trade than the streets and a more discreet service to the discerning customer

Report by David Hall

A Customer's Story - Terry I always had a regular boyfriend when I was in my twenties and thirties. I was with one Malaysian guy for several years. But I suppose my last real boyfriend was a 12-year-old in Rio when I was there several years ago. I've been going to bawdy houses for some years now.

Frankly I'm never going to be a big hit in the bars and clubs and I prefer to be in control of the sex, which I am when I pay.

Another big consideration is safety; I'm not going to be bashed on the head in one of these places as I could be if I took a stranger home. I'm also less willing to wake up the morning after with a total stranger and laboriously kick them out of my home.

It's difficult to give up once you start. I go less than I did a few years ago, mainly because of the recession. I go to all the houses, but I like two in particular and I'm at them most weeks.

Sometimes group sex is nice and doesn't cost that much more because two or three boys are not necessarily double or triple the price.

Once a Thai boy did get very attached to me; I gave him my address and he sent me a Christmas card, but never called or phoned. That's the only time that ever happened.

A Boy's Story - Mauro

I came from Italy 18 months ago.

A friend had a job lined up for me as a dishwasher in a restaurant, but I got made redundant because it wasn't doing so well. I wanted to stay in London and someone suggested that I look for massage and escort agency numbers in the press. When I telephoned I was told that I was too old (I'm 28) and that I shouldn't come unless I had a very nice body or looked younger. The first place I went to is in Chelsea.

The boss asked me to have anal sex with him on a table after I had given him a short massage. I knew we were being watched. I was nervous and couldn't have full sex with him. But he said I was good enough to work there and would I start that night. I was so upset by this time that I said no and came the next day.

When I did start I discovered that we had been watched through a two-way mirror by all the boys the previous night. The customer comes in and picks his boy while we watch television. We cannot see them unless we stand very close to the mirror.

I found that the boss didn't recommend customers to me at first and I think this is because of what happened on my first day. He does have favourites.

There is a very good atmosphere and I often go to 'Trade (a gay club) with the boys after work on Saturday night. We all borrow each others' condoms (we have to buy our own) and have a laugh.

My strangest experience was having sex with a woman while her husband watched. I think she pretended to enjoy it a lot more than she actually did. The couple came back again and asked for a different boy. I have a regular boyfriend and don't like this work. Every evening is just a lot of waiting, sometimes for nothing. Friday and Saturday evenings and all day Sunday are the busiest times. Some of us earn pounds 1,000 a week most weeks.

I have earned pounds 200 in one night but usually that's about all I earn a week.

(Photographs omitted)

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