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George McCoy is a man with a mission. He is a relentless consumer advocate, alone on an unstoppable crusade to tell the truth about….Britain’s massage parlours. “I am firmly of the opinion,” states the no-nonsense McCoy, “that the quality of service that one receives in these establishments varies enormously.” Stop the press!
 
I first stumbled upon the work of McCoy in a local used bookstore, where, for a bargain $2, I picked up a copy of McCoy’s British Massage Parlour Guide No. 5 (1999-2000, which includes McCoy’s Post-Football Match Massage Guide as a free bonus). Since then, although he still issues the paperback guides, Mr. McCoy has gone digital. Curious souls with £20 to spare can request access to the Members Only areas of McCoy’s website, which contains Mr. McCoy’s expert opinions on “over 1,800 individual working ladies, parlours, escort agencies, private flats and houses, dominatrixes, parties etc. etc. which can be sent directly to your address.”
 
On his website, McCoy explains how he got into this unusual business. Back in the ‘80s, he explains, he used to be in the record industry, principally dealing in vast quantities of overstock vinyl records, a lot of which he exported, particularly to Germany. As someone who “enjoys adult entertainment as much as the next man,” McCoy fondly recalls getting stuck for the weekend in Hamburg or Frankfurt, “fascinating cities, with a fascinating range of adult entertainment.” He noticed it was easy to pick up a thorough guide to “the entire adult entertainment situation throughout Germany,” and in 1995, when his vinyl business collapsed, McCoy decided that a guide of the same kind he found in Germany would be useful in Britain, too.


Photo from McCoy's Guide.com

Photo from McCoy’s Guide.com


Websites describing “adult” services are invariably up front and in-your-face about what’s on offer, and how much it will set you back. What makes McCoy’s guides so special is the author’s funny, fussbudget prose and his genteel, old-world attitude to the “charms” of the “ladies” he visits, waxing lyrical, for example, about a “mature but sprightly Brazilian lass who strikes me as potentially very energetic”, or the exotic delights of “a Jewish lady from Liverpool”. He also manages to be unfailingly polite while leaving little to the imagination. One establishment has a staff that are “friendly and cheerful, but neither young nor shapely”, another is run by a “cheerful yet mature, well-rounded and heavily tattooed workforce”.
 
McCoy’s Guides make fascinating, even compelling reading. His reviews describe not only the “ladies”, but the whole experience, including the qualities of the facilities, the size of the shower, and availability of easy parking. If the photographs on his website are anything to go by, these establishments—places with names like Vixens, Angels, Caesar’s (and Ceasar’s), describing themselves as “Elite Health Clubs” or “Executive Spas”—are cramped, seedy back rooms in urban or suburban homes, gussied up with mirrors, leopard print fabrics, small Jacuzzis, and sordid-looking “VIP rooms”. Yet McCoy is relentlessly upbeat. “Where credit is due for facilities, cleanliness, value, choice, quality etc. it is duly given,” he asserts, giving extra credit, for example, to an establishment that offers “an isolation suite, if you fancy being locked up on your own”, and “a parlour that featured in the ITV program “Vice: The Sex Trade”.


Photo from McCoy's Guide.com

Photo from McCoy’s Guide.com


“Where there is clearly room for improvement, we say so,” claims McCoy sternly, though his criticism is generally mild (“This unique parlour in a container still has the noise problem when it rains,” “apparently, the fantasy shed out back is no longer in use.”) And sometimes you wonder what poor George has done to be treated so rudely. “As often as not when I turn up there, they are too busy to see me”, he comments of one parlor. Another is “run by as unfriendly a couple as I have ever come across,” of a third, he complains: “the door is slammed in my face whenever I try to visit the establishment.” And when even the unfailingly polite McCoy describes an establishment as “pretty tawdry”, well, watch out.


Another endearing feature of the guides is that McCoy seems oblivious to the nudge-nudge, wink-wink irony that prose on this subject could so easily fall into. He always seems to have a straight face. “Mature Massage” is described as “only a stone’s throw from the new Relief Road.” Of another establishment, he comments, “Paradise has its ups and downs.”


Sometimes, you get the feeling that things are changing too fast, even for a suave man-about-town like George McCoy. “Alas, the charming black lady who used to run things is no longer around,” he comments on one establishment. And of another, he confesses: “I had the shock of my life when I discovered it had become a gay sauna by the name of Atlantis.” Still, he has a touching faith in the power of his fame. “Incidentally, some of the superstars can be a bit like prima donnas,” he says. Tell them you expect to be treated as George said you would, and you should have a massage to remember.”


Photo from McCoy's Guide.com

Photo from McCoy’s Guide.com


Oh, and in case you get the wrong idea, the 1999-2000 Guide includes a proviso in the Introduction: “In some cases, it has been rumoured that the masseuses have offered sexual services in addition to a standard massage.” Goodness me. What does McCoy have to say about that? “With no personal experience of such activity,” he concludes, discreetly, “the publishers could not possibly comment.”

Mikita Brottman is an author, psychoanalyst, and chair of the humanities program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Her book, The Solitary Vice, was published as a PopMatters imprint in 2008 (see 1 of 3 excerpts here). She lives in Ojai, California. Her website is available here.


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