Made in the Carry-On school of film-making (lingering shots of a sign reading “Open, please use rear entrance”), this documentary followed Sheffield’s only mother/daughter run brothel. A family business where the tools of the trade are fishnets and fantasy rather than rivets or bonds was undeniably interesting, although I did have to set down the chocolate bar I was about to tuck into as the show commenced.
According to Mum Cath, City Sauna offers a “friendly, family atmosphere” with “18 movies” on offer in the gentleman’s lounge with a “self service” option. There was a pug named Frank and a tropical fish named Pimp. It was a very tea-centric brothel, with one regular Sean seeming to come in just for tea and biscuits, despite booby perennial Anna’s best efforts.
The show was rife with hilarious characters and quotes, such as Foxy, who saw herself as an unconventional outreach worker preventing blue balls for the good of the nation. She spoke in a jerky Jamaica/Sheffield hybrid accent, bowled around town glamorously and spouted honest gems such as “if I wasn’t doing this I’d be shoplifting”. She was very popular with the customers, incongruously mixing with flat capped granddads, but in the end she left to have a baby (“Petal Rose […] Smith-Smith, known as Water”) with Mother Madam top of the Godmother list. Another regular, who reminded uncannily of a human Bob the Builder, had had his sexuality appropriated at 14 by a predatory Brazilian brass and had had a predilection for escorts ever since, like an estimated 1 in 10 British men who regularly use the services of women such as Anna and Foxy. The camera listened at the door to hear his session with Anna, who had not yet “found anything she couldn’t do” ( which is quite an unsettling statement if given even cursory thought), to hear his ecstatic and verbose sex noises: “that feels nice”.
There was a most unsavoury incident with the Jacuzzi and a food fetish customer who had “gone too far.” Cath lambasting the girl who allowed this to happen over the phone – “you should know when he’s coming with fish, what’s gonna happen” – was cut with doleful shots of haddock chowder and custard packets around the Jacuzzi. I could have done without that scene – I’d been looking forward to that chocolate.
Occasionally, Cath roped in other daughter Rachel to help out, I mention this only for Cath’s description: “She’s the posh one of the family. You’d never catch Rachel giving her child a hot dog”. Rachel saw a shift at the sauna like a night out. There was a camaraderie between the women as they sipped tea and discussed Big Brother and breaking whips on customers. The whole thing was a cosy yet queasy affair, but it was undeniably fascinating.