Media: A spanking good read for a Major

Retired army officers might like 'The Erotic Review' - but Glenda Cooper is less than passionate about the relaunched magazine
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The Independent Online
Goodness, it's hard work being a harlot. No, really, you can't imagine. If you're not being laced into a corset then you're carelessly forgetting your underwear altogether. And then it's just sex, sex, sex all the time. There isn't a moment for a poor girl to flop on the sofa, glass of wine in hand, to catch up with the latest in the soaps.

Or so The Erotic Review would have you believe. The publication, formerly the Erotic Print Society Review, is being relaunched, going bi-monthly and taking advertising for the first time (an enterprising mixture of Kama Sutra chocolates, impotence treatments and pyjamas).

The Erotic Review is billed as an "entertaining, licentious read" and its readers are 75 per cent male (surprise, surprise), a typical subscriber being "a retired Major General living in The Old Rectory... Godalming... who enjoys a few illicit pleasures: the odd cigar, a glass or two of claret and The Erotic Review", according to the publishers themselves.

Well, if you ever want to know how to seduce a Major General, this is the publication for you. (Whether you'd want is another matter, after reading it). First you have to brush up on your dreadful puns. The editor's letter is entitled Keeping Abreast and an article about a youthful President in Oxford is given the headline of "Clinton's Cunning Stunts" (oh please). There is much excited correspondence in the letters page about possible rhymes in a limerick concerning the Bishop of Buckingham. Despite the article about Aubrey Beardsley, you have a feeling his friend Oscar Wilde wouldn't be turning to it as a crib sheet for his repartee.

Second, you have to realise that there's no point being a 20th century gal. The ER reader is firmly based in the 18th century like Moll Flanders or Fanny Hill. The historian Lucy Moore rhapsodises about courtesans such as Sally Salisbury who used to enjoy frolicking naked in Richmond Park with the Secretary of State for War (I don't know what any future London mayor would have to say about such a use of the capital's parks) while publisher James MacLean gives us "mislaid pages" from the diary of the Marquis de Sade.

The other thing is to brush up on your spanking. I always wondered if it was true about public schoolboys and it obviously is. Scarcely a page goes by without a whip or a birch making its appearance. Le vice anglais deserves its name.

The ER wants to be seen as terribly cultured as well, so there are high- brow articles on erotic art, the legal position on sado-masochism (snigger) and the aforementioned Beardsley. There are also reviews of Boogie Nights, the exhibition Erotica '97 and a book entitled Bonobos the Forgotten Ape, a comparison of human and chimpanzee's attitude to sexual behaviour (you guessed it, we haven't progressed very far).

One elderly lecher I showed it to expressed disappointment. "Not many pictures," he said disconsolately. "Far too literary for its own good". Indeed the illustrations are limited to a few small line drawings (apart from two pages at the back listing prints for sale).The cover could be mistaken for a publication like The Spectator, but for the fact that one of the women has carelessly mislaid her top.

To be fair, unlike many other "erotic" publications there is a strong female input from the "editrice" downwards. But the whiff of gentlemen's clubs remains strong, with much stroking of moustaches and popping of monocles and occasional donning of French letters.

But is it erotic? The definition of erotic is "what you do with a feather; perverse involves the whole bird". It's certainly a classy-looking read and if you think the height of titillation is birching, or limericks beginning "There was a young maid at the Ritz" and people like Pongo Van de Ville yelling "Tally ho", then this is your mag. But you come away with the feeling that the English are still terribly bad at sophistication and elegance in the ways of love. If they didn't have a magazine like this to tell them differently there'd still be a lot of worried looking chickens.

Maybe it's just that I haven't got what it takes to be a harlot. But then I suspect a professional harlot's favourite fantasy would probably be a quiet night in, wearing a tracksuit and watching EastEnders. Definitely a break from all that alfresco sex, manacles and uncomfortable corsets. Maybe that's an unexploited market waiting to be filled. In these days of ever closer European unity the most perspicacious comment comes from the German magazine Der Spiegel: "It comes as no surprise that [Britain] having fallen to such depths of continental decadence, a magazine should recently want to establish itself which mainly addresses the lecher in the middle-aged citizen". There you have it.