As a fresh-faced innocent reporter, just out of college, I was sent to interview Cynthia Payne – who had let it be known to my paper that she was staying at a guest house in Margate, where I was working, and had a story for us.
There was no PC to access the internet to do some quick research – and in the days of Benny Hill and Carry On films the other PC was still years away – but I knew a bit about her: the parties, her brushes with the law and her customers’ payments by luncheon vouchers rather than cash.
The photographer and I were ushered into the lounge of the shabby guest house, which tried to portray itself as the choice of showbiz stars (I think Max Bygraves had stayed there once during his summer season at the Winter Gardens) and we waited.
Eventually Cynthia made a grand entrance – as grand as the surroundings and her audience allowed – and proceeded to spin a yarn about setting up her own care home in Margate… for men only. There would be strippers and other entertainers and the residents would be having too much fun to die.
Up until then I had been covering council meetings or doing stories about golden wedding couples, so this was manna from heaven. I lapped it up. Cynthia, of course, had no intention of setting up a guest house. Even if she had, I should have realised – having become a reluctant expert on council planning meetings – that there was no way she would get permission. She just wanted to get back into the limelight to promote the film about her life – Personal Services – which was due for release later that year with Julie Walters playing Madame Cyn.
Anyway, my paper loved the story – even though it had little foundation in reality – and it was picked up by the local broadcast media and Daily Mail.
Although I still have the cutting I have sadly lost her business card which named her as Cynthia Payne LV. She invited me to one of her parties in St Reatham (her embellishment of Streatham) but unfortunately I did not go. I did not have any luncheon vouchers.
Her funeral took place earlier this week: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/mourners-pay-tribute-at-funeral-for-notorious-former-brothel-madam-cynthia-payne-a3133916.html