The Stripper & the Oral Historian Chit Chat
These pictures illustrate what happens when you put a stripper and an eminent oral historian together in a photobooth. It was the perfect way to record the outcome of the our first Chit-Chat presented last week at Rough Trade East, with Lara Clifton celebrated stripper of Shoreditch in conversation with Clive Murphy, oral historian of Spitalfields and writer of ribald rhymes. For those of you who were not able to be there, here are a few excerpts to give you a flavour of the occasion.
Clive: When I was told I was going to interview a stripper, I was very amazed and very honoured, and I was told there was a photo of you and it’s the most outrageous photo I have ever seen in my life! Are you an exhibitionist by nature?
Lara: I guess I must be.
Clive: Because of lot of people do this (I’ve been to Raymond Revuebar and so on) because they are very shy. It’s very, very strange, they overcome their shyness by stripping
Lara: I completely associate with that, I’m a very shy person.
Clive: Would you like to tell me your first professional performance?
Lara: My very first job was at the Nag’s Head on Whitechapel High St and there was a certain circuit of pubs that we did. It used to be that you were paid to be there (given money to cover your travel), but when I was there it got worse, you were only paid the money that was in your pot – though you didn’t actually have to pay to be there like you do now.
Clive: I’ve read that you had a different way of performing to most strippers…
Lara: I used to jump off the stage with my knickers round my ankles and then run through the crowd because it was funny. Everyone came off the stage and jumped from table to table, but I was maybe a bit more hysterical in my delivery – it made the other girls laugh.
Clive: What do you think of the feminist point of view, that you’re demeaning yourself and you’re opening yourself up to men who will despise you?
Lara: I think it’s wrong. They haven’t been in a strip club if they think that’s the way, there isn’t any victimisation going on there, aside from men being asked to put money in the pot. I think it’s a very fair exchange.
Clive: How do you deal with the hostile punters?
Lara: It’s part of the job that you deal with customers and if anyone’s really awful they get kicked out. You get less verbal abuse from men in a strip club than you would in any other pub on a Friday night. Really the only way to offend a stripper is to not give her a pound in the jug.
Clive: You said the clubs were dying out in this area?
Lara: Yes, they are closing them down right now in Hackney and all of the strippers are campaigning against it, but their word is not valid apparently.
Clive: The White Horse is one that I go into …
Lara: That’s one that is in danger.
Clive: …and I just see people doing the crossword in there.
Lara: Yes, it’s genteel of an afternoon.
Clive: Did you dance entirely nude?
Clive: That was ahead of its time wasn’t it?
Lara: No, no, it has been going on a long time in the East End.
Clive: And did you allow people to touch you?
Lara: No, that’s why it was fun because they knew they weren’t allowed, so you could charge at them and they would all run away because they knew they weren’t allowed to touch.
Clive: I thought that was the whole fun of it, trying to touch you.
Lara: Those were different clubs. It used to be even that if anyone had a camera you stilettoed it.
Clive: I knew you were physical! I have done a lot of interviewing but not of sex bombs. Shall we be natural now and every question I ask, you take off one item of clothing?
Lara: I will if you will.
Clive: You’ve called my bluff! So you don’t hate men, humiliating them by making them drool?
Lara: No. Lots of punters become good friends. You rely on regulars, because it’s more or less the same crowd of people that you see every day in all the pubs.
Clive: They become addicted?
Lara: It’s like trainspotting but more fun!
Clive: Did you go into it for money? Did you find it paid so much better than a humdrum job from nine to five, that you preferred it for that reason above all others?
Lara: Not above, but everyone works for money, so you might as well do something you like.
Clive: So you do enjoy stripping?
Clive: Is there anything else you want to say?
Lara: Let me ask you about oral history, why did you chose to come and live in Spitalfields and talk to people?
Clive: Because I am very interested in people, their background and why they are where are they now. I had done interviews in Pimlico but then I came to live here because a room was vacant at four pounds a month.
Lara: Yowsa! What people did you interview?
Clive: Lavatory attendants, two of them, a male and female and they were both published and I was asked would I do a hermaphroditic one next – but I think they had their tongue in their cheek a bit! I came here and I did an East End Hosteller and a Singer.
Lara: So my book is similar? It’s an oral history of strippers
Clive: Yes, but I did a whole book about each person.
Questions from the audience.
Question: What’s the situation with Hackney Council trying to close down the clubs?
Lara: All the strippers are writing in and saying this shouldn’t happen. Yet it looks like its going to happen anyway, even those places that have been here a very long time, even before the rich people started moving in. It’s part of this area’s heritage and history, and if we lose the strip clubs not only will a whole body of women lose their income but it’s a vibrant part of what the East End has always been. I think it would go underground, but the pubs manage the laws, so once it goes underground you loose all the rules and it becomes a lot more dangerous for the women.
Question: Do you think social mores with regard to stripping are changing?
Lara: I think people are getting a lot more prudey. The right wing and feminists are almost on the same line at the moment and that I find odd. I can understand how it’s evolved that way but I think there’s a fundamentalism around sexuality which is growing.
Question: Could it be due to the Islamic community?
Lara: But Muslims love strip clubs! Of course they come, everyone comes. One of the most amazing things about going in a strip club is the different people that are in there, the different classes and the different races. There isn’t one type of man that comes to a strip club, you get a variety of different types of men. I did a strip at a Muslim club on Green Lanes. There are also female Muslim strippers who work mostly on the underground scene. They say if their families found out they would be in trouble, but they are doing it because they enjoy doing it and they want to do it, not because they have to.
Question: Can you tell me about the history of stripping in the East End?
Lara: The strippers that I know now in their fifties were working as go-go dancers in the sixties, but there’s also evidence of Victorian strippers who stripped on metal trays with a candle nearby that would show their reflection, but I think they just stripped under their skirts. There’s a painting in Sir John Soane’s Museum that shows a girl holding a tray and that’s what she’s about to do.
Clive: I’ve got a marvellous idea, what about people arriving naked and then dressing slowly – they bring a costume in a bag and then as the evening goes on everyone gets dressed.
Lara: Sounds good! When shall we do that?