Spankarama was a cinema in the Soho district of London that operated in 1981–83, showing a continuous programme of spanking videos. It styled itself a ‘spanking video lounge’ and its cartoon logo showed a kneeling woman with a cane hovering over her naked bottom.
Officially, the Spankarama was a private cinema club, but membership was free and practically a formality. The original premises were at 10/11 Moor Street in the basement of Ram Books (‘For the Collector of the Bizarre and Erotic’), though it had its own entrance from the street through a bead curtain. About twenty old cinema seats faced a large television screen. It was open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Friday and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Admission cost £4.
Regular advertisements in Roué and Justice described the Spankarama as ‘the only cinema in the centre of London that caters primarily for the spanking enthusiast’. Its programme, changed weekly, comprised five or six films, lasting in total about two hours. Most were videos produced by Roué and Janus, but it also claimed that every showing included at least one exclusive title from its own Spankarama series. ‘They are produced to exacting requirements,’ said the advert, ‘and will satisfy the most discriminating spanking enthusiast’.
This was not the view of a critic from the film journal Sight and Sound, who spent a fortnight researching Soho sex cinemas in 1982: ‘The videos shown at the Spankarama were of the worst technical quality of any I saw in the two weeks, but the ‘lounge’ – a tiny, stuffy basement with 25 seats – was packed out at 1.30 on a Saturday afternoon’. Though the cinema was shabby and smelt strongly of cigarette smoke, there was often standing-room only 1–2 p.m. and 5–7 p.m.
A review in the mainstream men’s sex magazine Razzle was unflattering: ‘Downstairs was a tiny cinema with erratically placed seats – like a mouth with half the teeth removed. I sat at the back. The seat didn’t collapse under me. Give the place 1 star. …The screen was filled with a whirl of coloured dots, like a drunken kaleidoscope. The sort of thing you get when the telly goes on the blink. I sat back and waited for the film to start. Nothing changed. Five minutes later I was about to complain when the words THE END appeared amongst the dancing dots. I’d missed it.
In 1983, the Spankarama moved to slightly better premises at 48a Dean Street and increased its admission fee to £5. Despite a change of name to the Arama Cinema Club, it kept its exclusive focus on erotic corporal punishment. Advertisements mentioned such titles as First Week of Term, Nurse’s Remedy, Rebel at St Angela’s, and Schoolgirl Nieces. Not long afterwards, the Arama Club was forced to close by Westminster City Council, either for violation of planning regulations or failure to comply with new laws requiring the licensing of sex establishments. The Cinematograph (Amendment) Act 1982 had contained measures to facilitate the suppression of sex cinemas in Soho.
Despite its short existence and general sleaziness, the Spankarama has some significance as the place where many British spanking fetishists saw their first spanking videos. Many patrons soon concluded that they needed to invest in their own video-players, but even then the cinema served a function by allowing them to view recent releases and judge which suited their tastes. The videos shown at the Spankarama could be bought from the ticket desk upstairs.
The Spankarama shop
The Spankarama name was afterwards used by a dingy sex shop on the corner of Berwick Street and Peter Street in Soho that sold pirated versions of spanking videos and CDs which were often very poor copies or not, in fact, the film that they purported to be. Its windows showed faded posters for such 1970s soft-core sex-films as School for Virgins and Further Confessions of a Sixth Form Girl, which looked as if they might be spanking films but were actually not (as spanking videos could not then be legally sold). The shop was an unlicensed sex establishment that tried to limit its financial losses from periodic police confiscations by keeping a very small stock and pretending that its retail space was rented by a succession of entirely separate traders for a few hours at a time. Customers who attempted to return faulty products were told that they must have bought them from a different business on the site, so their money could not be refunded. The shop moved across the road to 7 Walkers Court in the early 21st century and occupied the basement of a mainstream sex shop called Seymore’s World until both closed in 2013.
Regular buyers of spanking videos learned to avoid Spankarama and patronised the more trustworthy Janus shop on Old Compton Street in Soho. Janus was very discreet about its spanking-related products with nothing distinguishing its exterior from a typical sex shop. The Spankarama name, by contrast, caught the attention of the public and the police, along with a large sign depicting a cane beside the words ‘Leda-Nu-West Blushes in the Basement – Dom World’. Its closure removed the most visible manifestation of spanking fetishism from the streets of London.
- Nick Roddick, ‘Soho – Two weeks in another town’, Sight and Sound – International Film Quarterly, Volume 52 No.1 (Winter 1982/83) pp21-22.
- Bob Diver, ‘Rock-Bottom Porn’, Razzle, Volume 1 No.3 (1983) pp6-7.