Me and my stiff upper lip

Independent on Sunday: Talk of the Town, 6 April 2003

May 1st 1997 will forever be with me. Not because it was the night New Labour routed the Tories, blessed event though that was. No, for me Mayday 1997 is special because it was ‘General Erection’ night.  Television X, The Fantasy Channel, for whom I was then a tender young lawyer, had decided to broadcast its own unique accompaniment to the election festivities. This was to be a jamboree filmed live in its studios on the Isle of Dogs, in which sundry strippers, glamour models and doyennes of the UK adult film industry would provide their own, some might say irreverent, take on Major’s last stand. With the improbably named ‘Ben Dover’ one of the star attractions, the nom de l’occasion was suitably fitting.

It was also an event that me decidedly aroused. On the legal front, that is. For weeks since I knew the show was going on air, I’d been furiously reading all the relevant codes, wondering just what financial penalties would be thrown at the channel if something went wrong. After all, responsible though the channel’s owners and production staff were, their invitees had not got where they are today through sensitivity to concepts such as taste and decency, defamation and all the rest of it.

I’d issued memos and had meetings with the producers. I’d carefully outlined what was, and was not, permissible. I’d become something of an expert in the field, steering a top-shelf magazine safely through a promotion subtly headlined ‘Win a Shag’ and assisting in the legitimate broadcast of one the first erections on UK television. “What are you worried about?” said my friends at The Fantasy Channel. “You’re the man! Besides, it’ll all be alright on the night.”

The day began with a curious vignette. I used to cycle to work and would leave my bike at the studio. The simple reason for this was that there was a shower there. Cynics will say that there is more to this than meets the eye, and yes, it is true that the shower was in a changing room used by the models before any photo-shoots or filming. However, not once, early in the morning, had I ever seen anyone there. My blue pinstripe suit would hang happily in the wardrobe until I emerged from the shower, and months had passed without anyone once disturbing me as I underwent the transmutation from sweaty cyclist into respectable man of the law.

On election day, I walked naked out of the shower only to find an underclad blonde barring my way to the wardrobe. This being the adult industry the last thing I could do was put on airs, protest about my privacy and usher her out, and so, as she bent over the dressing room table, rouging her lips in a mirror that left nothing to chance, I simply said: “Hello, do you mind if I get my suit?”

She smiled, a smile a little too languorous for that time of day, and said she did not mind at all. “Be my guest,” were her words. Somehow though, as I tried to squeeze past her stockinged legs, she felt obliged to push back against me, until we ended up in a position of which Mr Dover would heartily approve.

This was a tricky moment. I looked at her in the mirror, and she looked at me. She smiled. I smiled back and thought to myself, “If you do anything, your life will never be the same again.” With the kind of stiff upper lip for which Chancery Lane should give out medals, I said I really had to get my suit, terribly sorry, and ever so gently eased myself away from a scene that anyone from the Criminal Bar would have said was highly suspicious.

Come the big night, I had the kind of headache that a truckload of viagra wouldn’t cure. But funnily enough, apart from an incident with a model and a banana, ‘General Erection’ night passed without incident. Except, that is, for Ben Dover. If you’re out there, Ben, I was the lawyer with the booming voice. The rest is history (and was off air).