West End Girls by Barbara Tate

Barbara Tate’s memoir West End Girls is a totally absorbing and revelatory memoir about the author’s two-year stint working as a maid for the Queen of Soho – aka 1940s prostitute Mae.

It’s a remarkable glimpse at a lost Soho – grubby, still a residential neighbourhood with small businesses, seedy and with an air of criminality.

Barbara is a wide-eyed 21-year-old who has escaped a miserable childhood and has ambitions to be an artist, when she is invited by Mae to earn a lot of money as her companion, security guard and tea-maker.

I read this book as research about Soho in the 1940s, the background for a series of shocking murders that may become a book and/or TV documentary. It is informative, revelatory and hugely enjoyable.

Bondage, cross-dressers and ponces

Mae is a charismatic force of nature and introduces young Babs to her twilight world of bondage devotees, cross-dressers, punters, Maltese ponces and sister prostitutes. Barbara would eventually become a successful artist but reveals herself here to be a fantastic, empathetic writer.

She is never seduced into joining the sisterhood, but is a witty, non-judgmental and loyal observer throughout. Her recollections of Mae’s world are not for the faint-hearted, but, my goodness, it is hilarious, while ending on a tragic note. A brilliant and unforgettable read.

Playland – a shattering memoir

Playland by Anthony Daly

Posted originally on robinjarossi.com 22 3 18

I do some work as a book editor. This month has seen the publication of a memoir I helped to prepare that was one of the most shocking and disturbing I have ever read.

Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal is by Anthony Daly. It recounts how as a young man in Ulster of the 1970s he fled the Troubles and came to London.

A book lover, he got a job in Foyles. Then his story took a dark turn.

He was swindled out of his money and found himself in Playland, a notorious games arcade on Piccadilly Circus. Here he was befriended by two men, one posh, one not.

Playland exposes the seedy side of the 1970s

They were charming and concerned about him. Accepting their offer of a meal and a loan, he joins them. However, he is drugged and raped, and then blackmailed into becoming a male prostitute.

He is beaten, abused and forced to gratify high-ranking politicians at sordid parties. It is a brutal and terrifying existence. Daly drowns out the trauma of it by taking all the drugs and drink he can get.

Despite the squalor and cruelty he depicts, the author writes tenderly and evocatively about the period and the lads he befriended on the Dilly. In particular, his friendship with the reckless Damie is painfully moving.

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