Alpha Romeos

At some time in the first half of the 1970s, a British periodical ran the not altogether remarkable story that the actor Anthony Valentine, who specialized in playing suave, patrician ‘rotters’ and villains, had a very large female following.

What may have been more surprising was that what these women most wanted, it seems, was to be spanked by him.

There’s no record of whether any of these ladies declared their desires to Anthony Valentine himself, but one leading actor who was propositioned was Tom Baker. In 1975, when he took over as Doctor Who, a lady in Edinburgh developed such a crush on him that she offered to pay his return fare if he would travel up from London and spank her.

The picture, of course, does not show the lady from Edinburgh but the lady I’d most like to see being spanked by Tom Baker, his Doctor Who co-star at the time, Elisabeth Sladen. That usefully marks out a key difference between my broad outlook (which is probably shared by many readers of this site) and that of the lady enthusiasts in question: in the ordinary way of things, I’m primarily interested in the attractive young woman who’s getting spanked, but they’re much more interested in who it is that’s doing the spanking. A full-scale spanking scene, or even instances of masterful behavior short of a spanking, will be of interest to both parties,

03d Sarah Jane

but the fact remains that I’m mainly looking at her, whereas they’re looking at him. Done well, the scene plays two ways for the two genders. As I illustrate the rest of this article, I’ll naturally favor my own orientation, but what I actually want to talk about is the other side of the coin: the appeal of alpha male characters for girls who just want to be spanked.

It’s always a mistake to generalize, but it’s also a mistake to suppose that this was a niche fantasy limited to a handful of lonely fetishists and obsessives. Mainstream British television drama in the 1970s was full of leading men, many of them more conventionally attractive than Tom Baker, who set female viewers’ hearts a-flutter, and sometimes raised a delicious frisson at the idea that they might spank their leading ladies.

Here’s one such lady:

She’s Angharad Rees, who became famous as Demelza in the original version of the BBC period drama Poldark (1975-77). Here she is in character, along with her alpha in the series, Ross Poldark himself, played by Robin Ellis:

The key moment comes in the penultimate episode, when Ross and Demelza are going to a society party in London. He is dismayed at the fashionable style of dress she intends to go in: he thinks it is just her underwear. ‘I should really damp it down to make it cling more,’ she says. To which he responds, ‘Do that and I’ll spank you.’

It’s useful to contrast this with a scene at the other end of the series, in the second episode, when Ross sees Demelza, his future wife, for the first time. At that precise moment, she is being spanked. She’s a teenage street urchin who has stolen a cake from a trader (David Shaw), and is receiving retribution:

As screen spankings go, this is on the severe side; he’s using a stick. Ross intervenes to help what he initially takes to be a lad. But it’s not a gender confusion spanking, only a gender confusion rescue: the trader is quick to point out that Demelza is actually a girl.

So at different ends of the series, Ross is first savior and then potential spanker. But there’s no necessary contradiction or inconsistency in that, because these are two completely different kinds of spanking: one purely retributive, administered by an uncouth stranger, the other grounded in a larger relationship with an attractive and sometimes masterful man. And of course, it wasn’t just Demelza: many of the female audience fancied Ross too – a phenomenon that was replicated when the BBC remade the series in 2015.

Poldark was ‘bodice-ripping’ period drama, but what goes on in the 18th century stays in the 18th century, right? Wrong. Fast forward a few hundred years and we’ll find that many things haven’t changed when it comes to handsome, confident television heroes, including their occasional ability to excite the feminine part of the audience by raising the possibility that somebody might be getting spanked. Exhibit A is the well-bred, wealthy, cultured Yorkshire landowner, James Hadleigh, played by Gerald Harper:

The character began in the ensemble-based newspaper series Gazette (1968), in which he was the journal’s proprietor. Yorkshire Television saw his potential (and his female fanbase) and the following year he span off into his own series, Hadleigh, which ran on and off until 1976 and recounted the varied exploits, in business and the bedroom, of the most ‘eligible bachelor’ in the county. By the time we meet him in the 1973 series, however, he is on the way to acquiring a temperamental wife, Jennifer, played by Hilary Dwyer,

an actress who by all accounts was very unhappy making the series and evidently channeled some of it into her performance.

In one of their early scenes together, he’s considering the purchase of a brood mare, and she asks him what qualities he looks for; his answer is set up as one of those ambiguous speeches that also refers to his taste in women. So it’s of interest that one of his desiderata is hindquarters that are ‘nicely rounded’.

The marriage requires superhuman reserves of patience from Hadleigh as she alternately rages and sulks her way through the series – though he does accuse her of ‘behaving like a spoilt brat’ after one especially egregious display of bad manners.

In the final episode of the run, their relationship lurches towards crisis point after eight months, and Jennifer makes the first moves towards leaving him. There’s no shortage of opinion, mainly from the older generation, about how he should deal with the situation, including a hint from his aunt that he should not be ‘too soft’ on her, but it takes her father, Charlie Caldwell, to articulate it openly:

CALDWELL: What she wants is a firm hand, that’s all she’s ever needed.

HADLEIGH: Did she ever get it, Charlie?

CALDWELL: Well, I never put her over my knee, if that’s what you mean.

And after a long, trenchant discussion involving the telling of many home truths, Hadleigh does put Jennifer over his knee – but face-up, to be kissed.

At one level, the episode functions like an unfulfilled spanking threat, extended but diffused: it establishes one of the conceivable outcomes for Jennifer, obvious to everybody except Jennifer herself, but then doesn’t go through with it. This is not, as it turns out, because James Hadleigh is too much of a gentleman…

In the next and final series, Jennifer has taken herself off to America, apparently still unspanked. The feminine interest in the Hadleigh household is now supplied by Joanna Roberts, played by Jenny Twigge:

Hadleigh describes her as ‘a bright girl, but wilful’. She too has disagreements with him, but usually it’s because she’s idealistic rather than spoilt, and in any event it’s clear that they do genuinely like one another. Another relevant difference from Jennifer is that she’s markedly rounder in the hindquarters:

But her relationship with Hadleigh isn’t a fundamentally romantic one: she’s in the house to work as his secretary, and (more to the point) she’s also his goddaughter. Charlie Caldwell supposes otherwise when he comes visiting, and that isn’t an entirely unreasonable inference in the circumstances: in an earlier scene, she comes in soaked from a rainstorm, and Hadleigh forbids her to sit on his recently recovered furniture, whereupon she calmly removes her sopping jeans and sits down in her top and black panties; the jeans then remain abandoned on the floor for Charlie to find when he arrives.

Among other plotlines in this particular episode (‘Echoes’, shown on March 26, 1976), Joanna finds her godfather and employer so infuriating that she deliberately tries to provoke him into firing her. What she actually provokes, however, is an order to be about her business, or else. And the ‘else’ is the interesting bit:

‘Now go, or I shall really give Charlie something to think about by giving you a good, old-fashioned thrashing, with style, with flair, but without finesse.’

‘Sounds fun,’ says Joanna, her eyes sparkling with excitement; but she does go, so she doesn’t get the threatened spanking.

You may well feel that all this is about the idea of being spanked by a good-looking man, without ever getting as far as the downside of actually being spanked by him. But not all spankings are as disagreeable as the one Demelza was saved from, and to develop the point we turn to a different genre, the cosmopolitan adventure series, and a man who was, in retrospect, the unlikeliest Seventies heartthrob of them all:

Jason King, a bestselling novelist first introduced as a member of the unconventional crime-solving organization in Department S (1969-70), but who, like James Hadleigh, span off into his own series, Jason King (1971-72). He was played by Peter Wyngarde with flamboyant aplomb and more than a little high camp, which began to look rather different after he was convicted in 1975 of an act of ‘gross indecency’ with another man in a public toilet. It ruined his career, partly through the homophobia of the narrow-minded, but also because it was incompatible with his principal acting persona as an attractive heterosexual man who was a focus for all sorts of female fantasies.

It is worth emphasizing that Jason King got his own series in part because of his ‘femme-appeal’, because the show is now often remembered in terms of its devotion to what feminists call ‘the male gaze’, an aspect of the tone that was expertly caught when the series was parodied by The Two Ronnies in 1973:

But in fact, when King was played by Peter Wyngarde (pre-scandal), rather than by Ronnie Corbett, this was a series built on ‘equal opportunities gazing’, with female viewers fantasizing about the alpha male hero just as much as male ones might enjoy watching the uncommonly beautiful women in his life.

One such is business consultant Ingrid Bonival in the episode ‘The Stones of Venice’. She’s played by Anna Gaël, previously spanked in the French exploitation movie Espions à L’Affût (1967) and subsequently the Marchioness of Bath in the real-life English peerage:

King has been invited to Venice to receive a biennale prize for one of his novels, which would be an unlikely story even if it were a novel he had actually written – whereas in fact, he has no knowledge of the book whatsoever. More awkwardly, the book closely parallels a recent kidnapping case involving Ingrid’s twin sister, and contains passages that are libelous. So when he is asked to call on Ingrid in her office, he gets a frosty reception: she just carries on working at her desk without acknowledging his presence or even looking up. Exasperated, he gets her attention by pretending to leave, whilst actually staying in the room, forcing her to get up and call after him through the door. When she realizes she’s been tricked, she tells him she considers it ‘an extremely childish gesture’. To which he replies:

‘And I consider your manners extremely deplorable. In fact, I think I’ll put you across my knee and spank you – hard!’

That concludes the preliminary fencing: she’s not cowed by his threat, but she does apologise and their discussion proceeds with the real matter at issue.

What gives the line added resonance, raising it above the level of the commonplace, is King’s considered, deliberate deployment of the final word to escalate the threat that has just been issued: he will not only put her across his knee and spank her, he will spank her hard.

We’ll turn to the full implications of that after we consider another Jason King episode in which there is no spanking threat – just an actual spanking. In ‘To Russia with … Panache’, the Kremlin wants King’s Department S expertise in solving an ‘impossible’ crime, but doesn’t have the simple courtesy to just ask him. The upside of this is that their alternative plan introduces a relatively minor character into the episode, so minor that she is credited only as ‘The Tall Girl’, played by Andrea Allan in hot pants.

King arrives back at his Paris apartment to find that his usual cleaning lady has taken the day off and there’s a Tall Girl doing the dusting in her place.

Thanks to the male side of the series’ gazing, his first view involves the part of her that will become most relevant:

It quickly emerges that she’s not really a cleaning lady, but a Russian agent planted to distract him while a heavy renders him unconscious for transportation to Moscow in a crate. But Jason King is more than a match for the thug, which means The Tall Girl has no chance, even when she pulls a pistol from her handbag.

He disarms her with ease, and then arms himself… with her feather duster.

The cane handle is put to brisk use on her rear end, after which he can’t resist a witticism – giving her the chance to knock him down with a punch on the jaw, and the heavy the chance to recover and take charge of the situation. Off he goes to Moscow, leaving The Tall Girl nursing a sore bottom:

These Jason King scenes have two things in common. In each case King spanks, or threatens to spank, a girl he has only just met: it’s the act of a hostile stranger, not part of any larger and more complex relationship. And in each case it’s defined as more severe than a ‘normal’ spanking: King says he is going to spank Ingrid hard, and though the four whacks sustained by The Tall Girl may not be excessive by screen spanking standards, he does administer them using a stick. Both spankings, the contemplated and the actual, ought to come across like the one from which Ross Poldark rescued Demelza: aggressive, violent and not in the least sexy. The interesting thing is that they don’t.

In broad terms, that’s because, in any series based around a heroic central character, we usually come into events through that character and see things mainly from his point of view: we don’t think of it as a spanking by a stranger because he’s not a stranger to us. Putting it another way, how we view a spanking scene depends in part on who it is doing the spanking – which I previously identified as a main dimension of the (heterosexual) female interest in such scenes. And indeed, it also holds in the slightly narrower terms of the female audience doing their share of the gazing at the alpha male hero: they wouldn’t want to be spanked by a dirty, brutal peasant, but some of them might not mind it, or at least the thought of it, if the spanker were enough of a dish.

Say that in the hearing of a certain kind of feminist and you’ll likely be met with a condescending sneer of ‘That’s a male fantasy.’ I retort, without intentional condescension, that in fact M/F spanking was also a female fantasy, and to some extent still is. And that’s an issue that calls for further investigation next time.

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