As anyone who has visited a seaside town in Britain will know, a love affair with the past is strong in these places. Southport is no exception, and echoes of entertainment from yesteryear haunt its very, very long pier, from the Hall of Mirrors at the Pier’s outset to the red jacket attired cabaret artist belting out oldies all day under the pier like ‘Peggie Sue’, ‘The Green, Green, Grass of Home’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’, jokingly acknowledging his core audience by doing a rewrite of one of the latter’s lyrics “if you can't find a partner, use a mobilized chair. Let's rock; everybody, let's rock”.
The arcade at the end of the pier isn’t about to buck a trend and has dusted off some ye olde arcade machines from the 1950s and 1960s for a nostalgia hungry audience. In truth these poor old machines probably deserve to be retired off to a museum someplace, rather than be at the mercy of the afternoon sun and a manhandling by a greedy, 21st century public. They are simply not up to the task anymore; several appeared to have already stopped working or died right in front of my very eyes.
If further proof were needed that there is no greater carrot that can be dangled in front of the British public than sex, the biggest crowd puller here appears to be ‘Peeping Butler’ a 1990s built homage to the ‘What the Butler Saw’ peep show machines of the late Victorian era. Despite being discreetly hidden away towards the back of the arcade and bearing an ‘adults only’ warning, Peeping Butler had already won the very vocal praise of a bunch of students by the time I entered the place. Their post-peeping discussion acted as an irresistible come-on for anyone within earshot. “Do you see anything, mate” asked one inquisitive soul, to which his friend –blessed with one of the strongest liverpudlian accents imaginable- replied “yeah, deffo, you see everything, even her fanny”. Who could resist being the next in line after overhearing a recommendation like that, which of course doubled as reassurance that this machine actually works.
For just 20p then, this machine serves up a mutoscope style series of quickly projected slides featuring a Victorian maid in various stages of undress, before spotting the butler peeping through the keyhole (who’s voyeuristic POV you assume) and subsequently attempting to protect her modesty whilst striking up a series of shocked and/or pouting facial expressions. It all added up to a delightful recreation of the kind of pre-moving pictures form of titillation that must have gotten some of our Victorian forefathers hot under the collar, and others up in arms. Should you require evidence that nothing ever really changes much, especially where moralisers are concerned, consider this letter written about such machines to the Times in 1899, and how these century old words could easily have come from the mouths of any of today’s anti-sexualition campaigners “It is hardly possible to exaggerate the corruption of the young that comes from exhibiting under a strong light, nude female figures represented as living and moving, going into and out of baths, sitting as artists' models etc.”.
The fact that Peeping Butler is a 1990s imitation rather than the real deal- the peepshow equivalent of a tribute band if you will- may offend some purists. Still the fact that Peeping Butler’s glamour snaps were taken in the 1990s does spare you the guilt trip that a genuine ‘What the Butler Saw’ machine would give you of having to later contemplate the fact that those machines’ glamour models are likely in an old people’s home, or worse still, dust these days.
Of lesser entertainment value is ‘The Harlot’ aka ‘Sexy Slots’ an X-rated model of a threesome hidden behind glass. Insert 2p into this machine and you can see what ‘the model does in her spare time’, well that is the idea anyway. Presumably in days gone by two pence would have caused this machine to rambunctiously spring to life and cause something torrid to occur between the model and the two men in bed with her, in the process offending the Cissy and Ada types whose portrait hangs in the background. Sad to report that by the time I dropped my 2p into the machine, nothing whatsoever proceeded to happen, so chalk up The Harlot as yet another machine that has been exhausted by the public and has quietly died a death on Southport Pier without anyone realising it.
In fairness, I’m not sure I could work up much enthusiasm for performing sex acts at the end of a pier for only 2p a go either. So I leave the pier to the sound of a determined yet very hoarse sounding man launching into ‘’The Green, Green Grass of Home’ for what must be the 10, 0000 time in his life, safe in the newly acquired knowledge that 2p might not get you far with a harlot here, but 20p can buy you a flash of fanny at the end of Southport Pier.