Tag Archives: trial

The Colour of Murder: Julian Symons (1957)

“What can you say about a marriage? You peel off the years, seven of them there had been, like the skin off an onion, and there’s nothing inside.”

John Wilkins is, at least on the surface, an ordinary sort of man. He isn’t a great achiever, and following the collapse of the family business (and the family fortunes), he takes a job with Palings, a large Oxford Street store. Eventually, he climbs the ladder and becomes assistant manager of the Complaints Department. His lacklustre, passionless marriage to May is stale. She’s a social climber who married John thinking he had more potential (and money) but now they are stuck in a rut. To the joyless May, some people are “worth cultivating,” and so the couple’s social life, organised by May, is built on “little dinner parties or bridge parties or television parties.”

And then one day, John meets Sheila, a librarian. …

The colour of murder

The book’s first section is mostly composed of a lengthy statement from John Wilkins to consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Max Andreadis (along with a couple of letters). John opens up to Dr. Andreadis, telling him things he’s told no one else. Following bouts of drinking, John has blackouts, and wakes up with no memory of his actions. Plus then there are hints of a troubled sex life:

I found out something else too, and this was about myself, I had always been I suppose what you might say an innocent young man. I had never thought much about girls, and as I’ve said I had not been successful with them, so that although I knew what to do, I was inexperienced. What you have never had you don’t miss, they say. I don’t know about that, but I do know that now I had May I wanted her. What was more, even in that first week I became aware that I wanted her in special ways and wanted her to do certain things, usual perhaps.

Oh dear.

John’s statement allows us to see into his mind. On one hand he seems like a very ordinary man, unsatisfied with life and marriage, but lacking the energy to do anything about it. At the same time there are troubling hints that he may be a little unbalanced. Yes, the blackouts, of course, but then there’s a stint from the army in his past along with the complaint that “people who hadn’t got a quarter of my intelligence and enthusiasm got one stripe and even two stripes up while I remained a trooper.” Does John have a realistic image of himself? On a couple of occasions, he’s “gone out for lunch, had a couple of drinks, and apparently not returned [to work] in the afternoon.” John seems more concerned that his boss doesn’t believe his story about blackouts than the fact that he’s boozing at lunch until he sinks into oblivion. This latter behaviour doesn’t seem to worry him at all!

John’s life begins to go out-of-control after meeting Sheila. He makes a complete idiot of himself on several occasions, but again, the interview reveals that John is not dealing with reality. Soon he’s fascinated by a murder case in which a man beat his wife to death, and then John hints at divorce to May. When she won’t take the hint, he asks his Uncle Dan the best way to murder someone. Hypothetically, of course.

The book’s second section concerns, yes, you’ve got it, a murder trial. But who has been murdered is The Big Question. As Martin Edwards points out in his lively introduction, The Colour of Murder is a “whowasdunnin.” As the plot, full of colourful characters, progresses in the book’s second section, we eliminate possible victims, and then the book concentrates on the court case. There’s a brassy prostitute, a mild-mannered, humble private investigator, a father who relishes the court case, surreptitiously smuggling custard cream biscuits into the courtroom, and a solicitor who picks his nose. Then finally, there’s John Wilkins, a man whose reflection seems from a shattered mirror. You can’t really tell what is there, how dangerous he is. ….

As noted in a recent read from Julian Symons, The Belting Inheritance, we’ve read this sort of plot before, but the delight emerges in how Symons tells his tale. Symons really is a first class storyteller

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Sexplicity Yours: The Trial of Cynthia Payne by Gloria Walker

“It was a kind of contained outrageousness.”

Following a police raid by the Vice Squad during her Christmas party in 1978, Cynthia Payne (Madam Cyn) was convicted of “running a disorderly house,” and exercising control over prostitutes for gain. After serving 6 months, she was released. She served additional prison time after she was charged and convicted again in 1980. She was already quite a bit of a celebrity in England by then, and a book called An English Madam by Paul Bailey detailed Cynthia’s brothel keeping career. It was ostensibly to celebrate the creation of the film Personal Services–based on Bailey’s book–that Cynthia threw her infamous raided party in May 1986.

Cynthia claimed she was retired from the “biz” when in May 1986, the party at her home in London was raided. The case of Regina vs Payne was brought to trial, and during a short period in 1987, England was titillated by the salacious details of Cynthia’s parties. Sexplicitly Yours: The Trial of Cynthia Payne is a detailed record of the court proceedings.

It seems that Cynthia’s attitude towards parties–was–as everything else in her life–a little ununsual, for Cynthia hosted sex parties. Men, Cynthia knew from her past, were invited to parties at her home, and there they were entertained by stripteases (amongst other things) and introduced to various swingers and young working ladies. The prosecution’s entire case rested on the issue of whether or not Cynthia controlled prostitutes and if she profited from these parties. (Was there or was there not an entrance fee? Did she receive a percentage of any money her female guests earned?)

The police conducted an undercover operation beginning in 1985–when PC (Police Constable) Stewart made contact with Cynthia. He was invited to attend her parties, and he subsequently attended a total of three. The last party he attended was the party raided in 1986. The prosecution’s police witnesses detail the partygoers’ various states of undress at the moment of the raid, the numerous compromising positions of guests, and the long queues of attendees waiting to utilize the bedroom facilities.

The defence, on the other hand, claimed that the only naughty partygoers were indeed the undercover policemen, and the court (and the reader) is regaled with stories of transvestite policemen, groping, and the naughtiness concerning the “French maid.” The defence maintained that if Cynthia’s home was subject to raid, then partygoers all over the country could be subject to the same treatment.

The trial is detailed in almost comical fashion by Gloria Walker and Lynn Daly–female reporters who found that covering the scandalous trial was “great fun.” They took notes as each of the prostitutes testified, and recorded not only the testimony, but also Cynthia’s charming responses (including her Luncheon Voucher Programme), and the public’s reaction as they heard the testimony. Witnesses included an 85-year-old party goer, a PC from the Obscene Publications Branch, a retired police superintendent (a great fan of Cynthia’s ), and former Monty Python member, Terry Jones. The book also includes some photographs of Cynthia and copies of cartoons which appeared in British newspapers during the trial. My only criticism of the book is that the reader needs to know a little bit about Cynthia’s background in order to get the most from the book. I can also highly recommend the films Personal Services and Wish You Were Here. Personal Services details Cynthia’s adult life and her bordello which catered to the kinky rich. Wish You Were Here is an excellent film based on Cynthia’s teenage years.

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An English Madam by Paul Bailey

“I provide a useful service.”

The book An English Madam by Paul Bailey is based on the life of Cynthia Payne–the infamous British Madam who gained a fair amount of notoriety after the police raided her Christmas Party in December 1978. Guests–in various states of undress–were discovered in most of the rooms in the house. Men lined the stairs waiting for bedrooms to become available. Police removed pornographic films with inventive titles along with various leather whips and straps, and these items later appeared in court as evidence against Cynthia Payne–or Madam Cyn as she is also known. Vouchers were also confiscated, for it seems that male guests who paid an entrance fee of twenty five pounds were awarded these vouchers in exchange for alcohol, food, entertainment, and the ‘company’ of a female guest of their choice.

The raid and subsequent trial resulted in a prison sentence for Cynthia, but it also brought her into the headlines. Cynthia’s charming frankness, ready wit, and outspoken attitude towards sex both entertained and shocked those at the trial. Bailey’s book explores Cynthia’s childhood, her difficult teenage years, and her career as a prostitute and a brothel madam. The book plots Cynthia’s course through the many relationships she maintained with men–including the highly unusual one she enjoyed with retired RAF Squadron Leader Mitchell Smith. One chapter is devoted to the various would-be admirers who applied for posts in her household. Through it all, Payne frankly admits her past with a refreshing and unabashed candor.

There are two films about the life of Cynthia Payne. The excellent Wish You Were Here focuses on her childhood and teenage years. The second film Personal Services details Cynthia’s adult life up until the raid conducted at a Christmas Party. Many of the characters in An English Madam appear in Personal Services. For further reading, Sexplicitly Yours: The Trial of Cynthia Payne by Gloria Walker and Lynne Daly details the trial resulting from a 1986 raid on yet another of Cynthia’s parties. This newsworthy party was ostensibly thrown to celebrate the filming of Personal Services.

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