Monday, 5 March 2012

West End Jungle


In 1957, the publication of the famous Wolfenden Report led to two things: the eventual decriminalisation of homosexuality, and a harder stance on street prostitution. ‘West End Jungle’ is a dramatized documentary (a mockumentary, if you will) which examines the aftermath of the crackdown and, more specifically, how the oldest profession moved from the street corner into the clip joint, the massage parlour and the studio flat.


On the game. 

Pre-Wolfenden.

Post-Wolfenden.

Let me assure you, drinks here aren't free.

All human life is here: the club where the gullible pay ten shillings for two cups of Ribena just to get the chance to talk to a woman who feigns interest in them until the money runs out; the suburban whore who entertains out of town businessmen and invoices for her services; the massage parlour where the many extras may include a massage, and the old hands who still take to the streets and run the risk of arrest and a heavy fine simply because they don’t know any other way.

Narrated in a stern, sardonic way by American David Gell, the commentary is unsympathetic: the girls are con artists, the punters are fools, the business leads to disappointment and depression and self-disgust. In one interesting sequence, a young girl arrives from the country to make her way in the big city – within a few minutes she is in the car of a swarthy, seedy looking man sharing cigarettes and off colour jokes – the next evening, she’s working in his clip joint, letting herself be pawed in public for a half crown commission on every ludicrously expensive soft drink purchased. I’ve no idea how realistic this scenario is, but it's effectively put across – I shall certainly be much more careful on my next trip to London.


From country girl...

...to Soho tart.

Perhaps what ‘West End Jungle’ does best is to highlight the pathos of prostitution – the girls forced by circumstance, by expedience or by compulsion to sell themselves; the men forced by circumstance, by expedience or by compulsion to buy. The girls have it worse, of course, as they have to pretend that they’re enjoying themselves.

A typical tart. Please note hard face but wistful eyes. 

'Would you like a massage with your extras, Sir?'

He genuinely thinks she fancies him, the twat.

There’s one telling bit where a student looking man visits a ‘model’ in her scruffy flat. She’s got a good figure, but her stockings are laddered, her eyebrows don’t match her hair, she has awful teeth and, in the words of the narrator, she ‘needs a good wash’. Here, the pathetic, perspiring man pays her simply to see her in her grubby underwear and then again for a quick flash of her tits. The whole transaction takes about five minutes and costs him about three pounds.

'Sexy, ain't I?'

'Ulp!'

'Annuver quid and I'll flip 'em out'

'West End Jungle’ is a neat piece of low budget film making – interesting, varied, short and to the point. It has a good (if slightly repetitive) jazz soundtrack from the Synchro and Brull Library and gives us some fascinating glimpses of Olde Londinium. Next time you have just under an hour to spare you should watch it as rather like a pre-Wolfenden* brass, it's pretty easy to find.

* As an aside, the Wolfenden Committee used the codewords 'Huntley & Palmers' in order not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the female members of the enquiry. A Huntley was a homosexual; a Palmer a prostitute. I find this sad and funny in equal measures.

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