Soho heading back to the sleazy Sixties: James Cusick visits the peep shows of London's growing sex industry

THE NARROW stairway in Great Windmill Street has all the style of an abandoned, condemned building. Threadbare carpets and ripped white walls, produce a sharp stench. The sign says 'peep show' and the large man at the top, baseball hat turned round, says ' pounds 2, mate'.

The room looks as though a bomb has exploded. The comment that his 'office' could do with a clean is answered by 'Sorry, we keep getting raided. Last night was the last one.'

The raids, by Westminster council inspectors patrolling the sex industry of Soho, is 'like painting the Forth Bridge' according to senior officer, Paul Mills.

Without new legal powers 'the village', he says, is heading back to the old days of the Sixties and Seventies. Eighties gentrification - fashion shops, cafes, brasseries, and the revitalisation of residential property - stopped during the recession. In 1984, new licensing powers were introduced in Soho, which then had 300 premises 'retailing' sex. At the beginning of 1992 there were 26. Now it is growing again, approaching 40, mostly unlicensed.

Moor Street, near Cambridge Circus, Old Compton Steet, Brewer Steet and the side lanes of Great Windmill Street and Tisbury Court is the main production line of London's sex industry. A pounds 1 coin is the minimum fee to open a letter box-sized viewing panel in a dark booth at the Girls Girls Girls peep show in Brewer Steet, one of only six premises in Soho with a licence. For that pounds 1, in dim light, a girl in a mask, white underwear and stiletto heels, will writhe before you for 15 seconds.

The peep show at Great Windmill Street has nothing as hi-tech as a letter box. This week's raid - 200 warrants have been issued this year - meant the joiners worked hard to get the place open the following morning.

Four black painted booths are as sophisticated as it gets - pounds 2 is paid, the name of a girl is shouted, and behind a Perspex panel she 'dances' for 20 seconds. Then, barely audible, she asks 'Do you want a private show for pounds 15?.'

The show is in a side room. The room includes a one-bar electric fire, a small chair, a red curtain. There are negotiable extras, but the charges are uniform in most of the peep shows. So, too, is the smell of semen in the small booths.

Club 61 in Old Compton Street and the Mona Lisa in Brewer Steet offer combinations of live- erotic-review-bed-sex-shows. The law offers no precise definition of 'live' and clubs take advantage.

The doorman at the Mona Lisa shouted that for pounds 5 you should: 'Come on in, and have beer' and 'whatever you want is no problem.' However, if you wanted a beer it was a problem. What used to be called clip joints are now called by inspectors 'near-beer joints'.

Paul Mills said: 'They're not licensed to sell alcohol so the drink that is nearly beer and invent drink names like Schollzenfizz or Plonkenburg'. In one club a soft drink was pounds 5. If you agreed to buy a drink for the 'show' sitting next to you, and did not have a torch to check the drinks tariff, a bottle of champagne-style fizz could have cost another pounds 200. Mr Mills warned: 'My advice to most people who venture into a live show in Soho is to have pounds 300 in cash on them.'

According to one source, the aim is often to get a huge bill run up. If the customer cannot or will not pay, a legal document acknowledging the debt is produced. Tactics can also run to 'accompanying' a client to a cash-point machine.

A new report by Westminster council maintains that existing level of fines for unlicensed premises are not a deterent.

Pamela Batty, of the licensing committee, said: 'We are worried about Soho going back to the old days. So we will be pushing for a Private Member's Bill to allow us to close, lock and secure premises that are unlicensed.'

Today, Richard Barker, a lawyer, will be in one of London's divisional courts defending his client, the Soho Cabaret Club in Great Windmill Street. It will be the latest in a chain of Soho court cases for Mr Barker, who represents numerous sex outlets.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own