THE BLOG

The Twilight Years of a Soho Sex Courier

25/08/2014 19:11 BST | Updated 25/10/2014 10:59 BST

Mikey wasn't on his usual stool outside a Soho sex shop when I last encountered him. He was sitting in my doctor's surgery.

I should say in our doctor's surgery. It turns out Mikey suffers, like I do, from high blood pressure. Or so he told me. He was complaining about his blurred vision, and lack of balance, only the first of which I associate with very high blood pressure. The 'cure' he proposed was certainly different to the little white tablets the doctor prescribes for me. "You know what you need? A bottle of lovely. Red. Wine."

There are a lot of full stops in Mikey's sentences, as if in his mind the occasional emphasis makes up for the perpetual shakiness in his voice. He'd already drunk half the bottle of red before coming to the surgery at 8.30 in the morning, and was planning to polish the remainder off when he got home.

One of those characters who could be anything from mid 50s to mid 70s under his unkempt, dirty beard and shock of unwashed, greying hair, Mikey told me he had been a part of the Soho sex trade since he was a teenage lorry driver, bringing in box loads of porn from Amsterdam, the fruit and veg of the performers buried under a mountain of actual fruit and veg.

In those days, it seemed like almost every other shop in Soho was selling porn. And before the days when just one video or DVD could be copied endlessly, it was necessary to import the 8mm film reels from the continent. A Heavy Goods Vehicle license practically equated to a Hard Core Courier license. "For us lads, it was a nice. Little. Earner," Mikey told me, tapping one finger knowingly against the side of his red, flaking nose, like a low-life rogue out of central casting.

In time, the porn import business became Mikey's main source of income. Then one day he was recruited by a famously cheeky British director of 'blue movies', who broke the unwritten code established by London's notoriously corrupt Porn Squad of the '60s, and started exporting his movies back to Holland and Denmark.

Despite subsequent events, Mikey still has unbounded admiration for this director, given the limitations of the era. These were not the days of picking up a smartphone and shooting the missus and a mate, the result of which can be distributed digitally with ease. 16mm film and cameras were required, a reasonable technical knowledge of how to shoot and light a movie was necessary even if the outcome was dodgily framed and erratically focussed, and the resulting footage had then to be processed at either a regular lab out of hours after a suitable "bung" to the management, or, as time went on, at a purpose-equipped warehouse in the suburbs.

The final result, reduced to 8mm for home consumption, was supplied to the sex shops which then dominated Soho. Even local landmarks of the late '50s like the huge record store owned by singer Kenny Lynch on Walker's Court had become, under new owners, a booming porn emporium, and this particular director's 'oeuvre' was much in demand.

But Britain is a limited marketplace when you are a director with ambitions, particularly in the financial department, and despite being warned off by the Detective Inspector who he met up with regularly to share a pint and a large brown envelope stuffed with cash, the cheeky Brit started sending his stuff abroad to new and high-paying end-users.

Initially, Mikey told me, he thought this was a "Very.Good.Idea", as he now had consignments to deliver as well as to collect. But the bent officers who were more or less acting as a protection racket to British pornographers knew that there would be hell to pay with their reputation if a cargo of locally-produced stuff was ever uncovered on the continent.

And of course, this turned out to be one porn story that did not have a Happy Ending. After a stop-off too many at bars along the route, inevitably Mikey was pulled over and turned over, his shaky grasp of not only where he was, but who he was, contributing no end to his misfortune.

Lucky to escape with a heavy fine, Mikey nonetheless lost his HGV license, and with his major employer now facing a lengthy spell at the pleasure of Her Majesty, the formerly footloose and relatively fancy-free courier found himself landlocked and temporarily on the dole.

But the siren call of Soho and, more importantly, the relatively easy money to be made out of the porn business, soon had him weighing up the danger of being nicked against the amount of dosh he could make, and it wasn't long before Mikey was carrying suitcases stuffed with hard core magazines off cross-channel ferries, leading to a lifetime of both suppling and working in sex shops.

He now lives just round the corner from the shop that employs him to "keep an eye on things", which, despite a slightly sketchy grasp of what is going on around him, he does from his seated vantage point just outside. In this internet era, it seems hard to believe that punters are still buying DVDs and magazines, but despite the additional sales from fake Viagra and god knows what other drugs might be held on the premises, it's the traditional stuff still lining the shelves that Mikey is there to ensure no-one nicks.

In all the time I've walked past him in Soho and nodded hello, it was only in the doctor's surgery that I was given such a full account of Mikey's life. I suspected, as did others in the waiting room, that he'd mostly come to the surgery to talk to people. He left, prescription-less, after the briefest consultation in history.

When your cure for most of life's ills is Lovely.Red.Wine, I suspect that life is rather lonely on a stool outside one of the last sex shops in Soho.