Q: What do the following eight pictures have in common?
A: None of them shows a girl being spanked.
If you want to know where each one comes from, head for the end of the article, where all will be revealed. But what I want to propose right now is simply that these images are enjoyable in their own right even though they aren’t, technically, spanking pictures. The girls are OTK, or at least horizontally perpendicular to a second figure: it is classic spanking positioning, only without the spanking. I have a nickname for this type of non-spanking picture: ‘Faux-TK’.
Probably the most widely circulated example of Faux-TK imagery, and certainly the best known, is the death of the mysterious spy Annabella Schmidt in the stage version of The 39 Steps.
What’s odd about the scene is that there isn’t even a latent suggestion anywhere in the play that the pose might imply that Annabella is being spanked: that’s entirely in the eye of the beholder. It’s odd because, despite what we see in the eight pictures at the top, there aren’t actually very many other circumstances in which a woman would find herself face down across somebody’s lap. In a casual context, with the right positioning of the characters beforehand, it might indicate uninhibited physical intimacy if the woman chooses to lie across the man for to reach for something on the other side, like this example from the 1977 television play Spend, Spend, Spend, featuring Susan Littler in lace-trimmed black panties:
But generally, if we see a woman OTK, even if it’s really only Faux-TK, the first assumption we will usually make is that she is there in order to be given a good spanking.
And there are Faux-TK scenes that play up to that, giving us something that looks like a spanking and that, in context, we might reasonably expect to be a spanking, but isn’t.
Take the 1941 movie romance The Bride Came C.O.D., in which Bette Davis plays Joan Winfield, a madcap heiress determined to make a bad marriage, and James Cagney is Steve Collins, the tough, plebeian pilot hired by her father to prevent it by kidnapping her.
It’s a familiar kind of story in pre-war Hollywood, that usually ends with the rich girl falling in love and marrying her bit of rough, and often also entails, at an earlier stage:
Those are, of course, actual spanking scenes, OTK not Faux-TK, from Flying Down to Rio and Public Deb No. 1. And the publicity material for The Bride Came C.O.D. made a point of showing its two stars like this:
The scene was also among those chosen to feature on the film poster:
One of the fan magazines, reporting on the filming, duly made the reasonable inference that Cagney was ‘administering a spanking to Miss Davis’.
And it’s reasonable not just as an interpretation of what’s shown in the photograph, but because of Cagney’s reputation for playing roles in which he was rough with women. But take a closer look at that shot from the poster, paying particular attention to Bette’s bot.
In the movie, Joan accidentally sits on a cactus,
and Steve has to extract the spines, which means she has to lie in the most convenient position:
We then cut to a low shot showing Joan’s facial reactions: each time Steve does something to her bottom, it produces a shout of indignant pain, only in this case it’s not because of smacks landing but spines coming out.
This is a sequence that looks almost exactly like a spanking,
and leaves Joan with a sore bottom…
… the difference being that it was already sore even before Steve put her across his knee!
So it isn’t a spanking scene: it uses Faux-TK to present an extended pun on a spanking scene. And it’s not the only example.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century to 1966, where one of the many televisual delights on offer was the quirky spy series The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as the unconventional agents Steed and Mrs Peel. In the episode ‘How to Succeed… at Murder’, the duo are investigating a secretarial agency that is really an assassination bureau: the temps turn out to be trained killers, among them Mary, played by Angela Browne.
The object of the exercise in each case is for the hired secretary to bump off the boss and then take over the company, thereby putting women in control of an ever expanding business empire. Yes, the agency has strong feminist principles – or appears to have them, since in the end it turns out that it’s being run, incognito, by a middle-aged man. So on the face of it, this is one of those stupid, reactionary 1960s scare stories about the women’s movement, which tend to finish up with the proposition that the best way to deal with a ‘women’s libber’ is to put her across your knee – something that, admittedly, I enjoy seeing even though I repudiate the anti-progressive sentiments that motivate it.
And that’s what happens to Mary after her final confrontation with Steed, in which she’s dressed for action:
As Steed remarks to her, there’s ‘nothing between you and the weather but leather’ – an arch way of saying that her trousers are so tight that she obviously isn’t wearing panties. Probably not all that good an idea for a girl who’s destined to find herself over a man’s knee before too long…
Steed needs information from Mary and her colleague, but they attack him.
He gets the other girl trapped under a stool, which he then sits on. So that’s one female assassin out of the game, so long as he stays sitting down. How then is he to deal with Mary? Well, obviously…
A less witty, less inventive series would have Steed proceed to spank the information out of her, and obviously part of me wishes that he did just that. But what he actually does is tickle her into submission:
So just as in The Bride Came C.O.D., the story takes a scenario where you might expect the girl to be spanked, but where that would be something of a cliché. Then it gives you something that looks like a spanking but isn’t. It uses Faux-TK as a way of being clever with run-of-the-mill material. And (who can deny it?) in the process it produces some very attractive imagery.
And talking of attractive imagery, I promised you a rundown of the origins of those eight pictures at the top of the article. They are:
1: Nerys Hughes, star of the BBC sitcom The Liver Birds, leaning across Clive Francis to take a phone call in a 1972 episode.
2: Jean Carson as the title character in the 1951 London Casino production of Emil Littler’s pantomime Aladdin, getting the seat of her shorts sewn up by Widow Twankey, played by Nat Jackley.
3: Alicia Witt doing some lap-dancing in a 2008 episode of the US sitcom Two and a Half Men.
4: Eva Jedlickova as Dolores in the 2011 Czech production of Sugar, a stage musical based on the gender-bending Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. (The apparently female figure she’s across is a bender of gender, Jerry, played by Milan Nemec – the Jack Lemmon character in the movie.)
5: The 1990s comic book superheroine Freefall getting her bottom tattooed.
6: Tom Ewell and Nicole Shelby in the 1968 West End production of Robert Anderson’s comedy anthology You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running.
7: Poster artwork for the 1981 Italian comedy Spaghetti a Mezzanotte (… at Midnight), showing Barbara Bouchet failing to distract Lino Banfi from his pasta.
8: And finally, Isabelle Huppert getting an injection in her bottom in the 2002 French murder mystery musical 8 Femmes. In the movie itself, she is not only OTK but has her skirt raised…
And if even that’s not enough for you, if you really do need there to be some actual spanking, maybe you can take heart from the fact that, in a much earlier role, Isabelle Huppert was put across a man’s knee and had her pants taken down for a spanking. The movie was Jean-Luc Godard’s Slow Motion (1980), and what you saw on screen was this:
The spanker is sitting in the back seat of the Swiss car, while an accomplice is hanging onto her ankles. All you can see of Isabelle is her bare calves. Even so, her character is undoubtedly being spanked, and spanked on her panties too (if worn). But when you compare the scene with some of the ‘Faux-TK’ imagery we’ve been looking at, it really does beg the question:
Who needs spanking?