Sex-themed shows at the Edinburgh Festival
This article is from 2009.
Three very different observers of sexual mores are doing the Fringe this year. Anna Millar wonders whether they’ll be able to keep it up for a month
From origami private parts to Jesus as a nightclubbing homosexual, the Edinburgh Fringe seldom lacks controversy. Talk of The Chippendales rocking into town direct from an oiled-up stint in Las Vegas, has already had the chattering classes gasping for a stiff sherry. And some semi-clad muscle-men are just the beginning of what this year’s Festival has to offer.
Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography finds two writers debating the universal differences between sex and love, while across town, Sex and the City consultant Greg Behrendt makes his UK debut, pondering the whys and what-fors of sex and relationships. Porn: The Musical will titillate the masses with tunes such as ‘Naked on a Sunday’ and ‘So Young and Yet So Slutty’.
Down in the Grassmarket, comedienne Rosie Wilby sets up stall with The Science of Sex, a tongue and cheek look at whether a relationship can really survive the scientifically proven three-year stumbling block. During her research, Wilby discovered that her own real-life relationship couldn’t. ‘It’s a bit of an irony, really, as I basically pre-empted our break-up,’ explains Wilby with a wry smile. ‘The thing with shows about relationships and sex is that they’ll always be fascinating to people because we want to feel that we’re alright. We’re forever worrying about whether we’re having enough sex and feel reassured about ourselves when we hear about other people’s exploits.’
A case in point, perhaps, is the existence of more hardcore sex-related shows, namely the self-confessed ‘Bruce Forsyth of porn’ Ben Dover with Innocent ‘til Proven Filthy! or Bravo TV’s Sin Cities frontman Ashley Hames with his x-rated show Confessions of a Sex Reporter. From his beginnings as the original L!VE TV News Bunny through to his promotion as Head of Sex, Hames has built a loaded career, culminating in his gig as presenter in late night show, Sin Cities, affording him an up-close and personal look at porn shoots, swingers parties, fetish nights and gang-bangs.
His Fringe debut provides a platform in which to unleash the gallus details of his life on the frontline of human sexual behaviour. ‘As a kid I always wanted to be a good boy,’ Hames assures me. ‘But that’s the one thing I never quite managed to get to grips with.’ A start in radio left Hames feeling a little bored by the ‘murder and the mayhem and before long he admits he was off in search of ‘something a bit more fluffy’. He got his wish with a cult following as the News Bunny, a job which required him to dress up as a rabbit and take the mickey out of his fellow presenters. The real kudos would come when, aged 27, he was promoted to Head of Sex for the channel, which he happily admits was ‘the best day ever. I then spent every day with naked women. Tough times but somebody had to do it.’
A jaunt to Texas and a subsequent road trip with a Playboy bunny and a homeless alcoholic as part of an indie documentary, would set the scene for the Sin Cities gig to come. ‘It was gonzo journalism at its best but it opened a wormhole to another world and I happily went through it.’ His time as a frontman has never been short of adventures, and Hames isn’t shy about getting in on the action. ‘It was porn shoots by day, brothels by nights. Most of the time we were flying by the seat of our pants, just me, a director and a producer living in hotels. I was very aware that I wanted to make TV that I would like to see. People are always very intrigued by sex but the truth is most people tend to learn about sex in secret.’
Over the course of four Sin Cities series (the show ended in 2007), Hames would have his scrotum nailed to a plank of wood, enjoy a red wine enema, get his breast injected with saline and star in several low-rent porn flicks. On one occasion, he dressed up as a baby (nappy and all) and did wee-wees. Just to see how the other half lived, you understand. ‘It’s not easy to forget having your scrotum nailed to a piece of wood but there was always a thought process behind it. It’s very easy to sneer, but when I did some of the slightly stranger stuff, I remember thinking “it’s not for me, but fair enough if it’s your thing”.’
With this in mind, he’s not as nervous as he might be about facing an occasionally unforgiving Fringe audience. ‘I’ve been a stripper in a seedy bar in Amsterdam and done a transvestite show in New Orleans, so believe me I’m a man unafraid of potential failure.’ Besides, he claims, society is more ready than ever for it. ‘We’re getting better; I certainly think shows like Sin Cities have opened up attitudes to sex. Everyone has their own sexual foible and kink.’
Another man hoping to capitalise on our love for things a little ‘oo-er missus’ is porn lothario Ben Dover (real name Lindsay Honey). Having starred in and directed over 150 adult films around the world, Dover will let his tongue do the talking as he muses on a 30-year career in the adult movie industry. As the man responsible for the world’s only scratch ‘n’ sniff flick, Smells Like Sex, and having been named in Hustler’s 50 most influential people poll, it’s a fair assumption that the audience can leave their blushes at the door.
One critic referred to him as carrying on the ‘great British tradition of the Carry On movie’ and ‘a latter-day Sid James’. Dover is a bit more realistic. ‘I’ve won three lifetime achievement awards and was beginning to feel a bit like the Bruce Forsyth of the porn world,’ says the 53-year-old. ‘I know that this business is going to give me up eventually, even if I don’t want it to, so I decided this was a good time to put together the show and see what happens.’
More so than Hames, porn was always in Dover’s make-up. As a paperboy he would steal top-shelf magazines and practice stripper routines in his room. By his teens, he was working as a projectionist’s assistant in a ‘blue’ cinema in Soho.
An early gig drumming for a band would eventually pave the way for what was to come. ‘I got back from a tour in Japan with no money to my name and nothing to pay the rent. Through a string of different incidents I was offered a casting call from an ad in Stage magazine.’ The rest, he says is pornoland history. ‘I just remember being told: “you have sex with a girl and we take pictures. Oh, and we’ll pay you £150”. That was a lot of money for 1979. Then this girl walked in and she was really hot. I thought: “fucking hell, someone’s going to pay me to have sex with this person?”’
As the years passed, and he became a serious ‘porn player,’ the character of ‘Ben Dover’ was inspired when he saw a magazine entitled Bend Over Babes. ‘I remember staring at the name and having this eureka moment because it totally fitted in with this love I have of the female bottom.’ Of late, Dover realised that while people may be loathe to admit it, they were fascinated by him. At dinner parties, he would be asked to regale people with stories from his career. As taboos about sex were broken down, Cambridge and Oxford Unions were asking him to appear as a guest speaker. Then someone suggested a one-man show.
‘More and more people thought I should get my stories together and make a show. I’m quite good friends with Bobby Davro and Jim Davidson and, through them, I’ve met Jack Dee and Patrick Kielty. All of them have been very supportive of the idea of just getting up there and doing it. There’s no challenge left for me in porn, so I thought why not? I’m trying to move into a different realm though porn gets into your blood and is difficult to give up. This feels like a nice middle ground. And I still get to freelance for film on the side …’
While Dover is promising a no-holds barred show chronicling his experiences, he does concede that it’s ‘probably no ruder than Frankie Boyle on Mock the Week’. Besides, he wouldn’t want to put any future career plans in jeopardy now, would he? ‘My ultimate ambition is to go into politics. I have my own party which I’ve registered called the New Democrats. The interest maybe stems from the trouble I’ve had from the law over the whole porn thing.’
For now, he’s happy just to concentrate on the job at hand, though his main concern is the ‘stamina’ issue for a full Fringe run. ‘I’ve got to go 28 days straight,’ he exclaims. Based on the historical evidence, combat fatigue is not something Dover has a problem with.
Ashley Hames: Confessions of a Sex Reporter, Pleasance Courtyard, The Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 8–31 Aug (not 17), 11pm, £9.50–£12.50 (£8–£11). Previews 5–7 Aug, £5; Ben Dover: Innocent ‘til Proven Filthy!, Underbelly, Cowgate, 0844 545 8252, 8–30 Aug (not 17), 10pm, £6.50–£10.50 (£8–£9.50). Previews 6&7 Aug, £6; Rosie Wilby: The Science of Sex, Apex City Hotel, Grassmarket, 0870 241 0136, 7–30 Aug (not 17), 6.15pm, £8 (£7). Preview 6 Aug, £5.