By Stephen Basdeo
Robert Fabian (1901–1978) began his career as a police constable in London. He rose through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police and was eventually appointed to the rank of detective superintendent.
The sights he saw could have filled volumes—and they did!
In his retirement, he wrote two books chronicling his adventures as a policeman: Fabian of the Yard (1950) and London After Dark (1954). The books are now quite hard to come across but I was lucky enough to see one quite cheap in a second-hand bookshop. Let’s retrace Fabian’s nightly wanderings in the 1950s London underworld by focusing on a chapter included in London After Dark entitled ‘The Problem of Perverts’.
Remember as you read that the so-called Sixties Sexual Revolution had not yet happened, and Fabian, having grown up in the Edwardian period, retained even into his old age what we might say was a very “Victorian” attitude to sex—the many fetishes he encountered surprised him, to say the least!
Take, for example, a sex worker named “Red Katy”, a “very handsome woman, with hair that was once fiercely red and today is streaked with grey.”
She possesses in full measure that valuable attribute of the successful prostitute—an unloving coldness for all men. Katy hates men, despises them and treats them with unconcealed contempt. They pay her hundreds of pounds per week, to the accompaniment of a stream of vituperation and abuse from her—and they like it!
For context, £100 in the 1950s was worth approximately £3,000 in today’s money. The fetish which “Red Katy” catered to was obviously high in demand. Fabian made to sure to remark that she was once unmarried, yet he also noted, perhaps unusually for the time, that Katy was not doing her “job” because she was driven to it by poverty; instead, she actually enjoyed it! — She had been doing it for fifteen years, after all, and had a very comfortable apartment in a fashionable district of London. She had two sons; at the time Fabian was writing one of them was attending Oxford University and the other, under an assumed name, was attending a very prestigious public school in the south of England (possibly Eton or Harrow).
And why shouldn’t her sons go to the best schools and universities? Her most favoured clients were members of the aristocracy!
So, what went on when one had an appointment with Red Katy?
Fabian went on further to say that,
Her trade begins at her front door, which is shamelessly unusual … the impatient client never gets as far as pushing this bell until he has made an appointment—often days ahead—by telephone. He is treated with scorn over the phone … her clients are all masochists—men whose perverse, nightmare need is to be humiliated and physically hurt by the object of their lusts.
Now, Fabian was not a psychologist, but that did not stop him from attempting to explain these “perversions”:
So there he is, this misguided man, whose family and friends know nothing of his peculiarity thumping and pounding at Katy’s plush-curtained door, concealed less than two hundred yards from Piccadilly Circus. And the door itself is remarkable. Sharp nails have been hammered through it, points outward, and … her clients find their first pleasure in hurting themselves against its hideous surface. She opens the door to them, at last, in a storm of abuse for their impatience, of acid scorn for their weakness in coming to her at all, and reviles them for “polluting” her dwelling place with their presence. Most of this is quite genuine, for Katy really does despise her customers.
“See,” says she, “you filthy contemptible, ill-mannered pig—how dare you show impatience at my door!”
“Wipe your filthy feet!”
The client must pass through her bedroom—he is not permitted to linger in it—and goes to the room beyond, which she calls her “operation room” … it is harshly lit. It contains an assortment of devices for inflicting pain. All the time, the client is pleading with Katy for her forgiveness, promising “he will be good,” while she lays into him with the whiplash of her tongue, and afterwards with her collection of implements.
Fabian may have disapproved of the men and their fetishes, but he never passed judgment on Katy herself. He comes across as rather admiring of Katy for being able to make money out of men’s perversions, although he do wish she’d declare her earnings to the Inland Revenue. The real danger, according to Fabian, were the “perverts” themselves, for out of their “perversions,” “all the most savage, puzzling crimes emerge.”
Fabian concluded his account of Red Katy by saying: “I do not think the average person knows much about perverts at all. I am only too happy to leave him in that ignorance.”