Authors: Robert Barnard
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For Louise, again
AKE A CASUAL GLANCE
at Phil Fennilow and you would put him down as the typical, grubby-raincoated purchaser of pornography. I often used to see him, some years ago, when I was part of an investigation into corruption in the Metropolitan Police Vice Squadâan investigation which resembled trying to root out maggots from Gorgonzola cheese. Regularly at about half past nine in the morning he would emerge from the Leicester Square underground station, drawing around him that grubby mac which he wore in all weathers, and scuttle along the main streets on the fringes of Soho until he turned into a miserable doorway and scurried up the stairs. The plate on the doorway read H
, and though I once or twice lingered around, I never saw him emerge carrying books or magazines in a brown paper wrapping, as the archetypal grubby-raincoated figure ought to have done. It was a long time before I twigged that Phil Fennilow did not purchase porn, he published itâor rather, he edited a monthly periodical which, to the censorious, might have come under the heading of soft porn, though even they would have had to admit that it came at the fairly harmless, more enjoyable end of the soft porn spectrumâso soft, in
fact, as to be practically marshmallow. The title of the magazine was
I saw him often, as I say, during that investigation, and even talked to him once, in a pub at lunch-time. But my real professional interest in him began on a bitter November morning in 198â. On that day Phil did not alter his routine (he told me all this that same day, during our first interview, and I never had reason to doubt that, as far as it went, he spoke the truth). He came up the escalator from the Northern Line, clutching his
and emerged as usual, blinking behind his thick spectacles, into the drizzle, pulling his raincoat around him. It was not the raincoat I had been used to see him wearing, but it too had got dirty, or else it had never been clean. He dived off the square into the shabby streets, and he made like a homing pigeon for his office. Phil, I later discovered, knew almost nothing of the rest of London, beyond his chosen route, and he would mention Whitehall as if it were foreign territory. When he got inside the doorway he shook the rain from his coat, mounted the dingy staircase in his sprightly crab-like manner, shouted “Â 'Morning, Bob” as he walked past the brightly lit studio, then went into his office. He took off his raincoat, and settled down to work.
The morning's correspondence was along standard lines: letters asking for the addresses of people (bodies, perhaps I should say) whose picture had appeared in the magazine; letters from health cranks, from anti-porn campaigners, from semi-literate teenagers, most of the last wanting to “brake into moddling,” as one of them put it. There was a letter from a clergyman who offered to put up a thousand pounds towards a film of
To him Phil replied that very much more would be necessary to produce a film of any quality; to the seekers of addresses he sent a firm no; for the rest he had standard form replies. The mail answered, he started in on the proof-reading for the December
The text of the magazine was not its most important feature, and he had, in fact, very nearly finished the task when something that had been nagging away at the back of his mind pushed its way unanswerably to the front: why was it so quiet? There was traffic noise outside, of course, and the usual sounds from the brothel next door as they coped with the early influx of night-shift workers. But where were the noises from inside the premises of Health and Vitality Publications? Bob Cordle was a quiet, efficient workman, but inevitably there were sounds: directions to the models, a flash exploding, equipment being moved. Then another thought struck him, and he looked
for confirmation at the masthead of his
it was Thursday. Bob never worked in the
studio on Thursday mornings, or almost never. It was the day he photographed half-timbered houses for the
He often worked on Wednesday evenings, but not on Thursday mornings.
But if he wasn't working today, why had the lights been on? Bob was always very careful, and he knew that economy with any electrical appliance was one of Phil's little foibles.
Phil Fennilow sat back in his chair and listened. Nothing. He got up, hesitantly, and went to the door. Still there was light blazing from the crack in the studio door, but no sound. Phil was not embarrassed about breaking in on one of Bob's sessions: the poses were always perfectly decent, and there was never any hanky-panky going on because that wouldn't have been
style at all. Practically a family magazine, as Phil always said. But what Phil felt was that Bob was an artist, and he shouldn't be interruptedâ“any more,” as he afterwards expressed it to me, “than I'd've barged in on Whistler when 'e was painting 'is muvver-in-law.” So he stood there for a full minute before, finding the silence eerie, he walked down the passage and quietly pushed open the door.
“OH! Oh my Gawd! Help!”
With rising panic he began to run, stumbling down the stairs, screaming and calling for help. He arrived at the bottom almost in a heap, ran along the passage, and then out of the doorway into Windlesham Street. “Help! Oh my Gawd, help!” he was crying still. To his enormous relief he practically ran into the arms of a police constable (for this was, after all, Soho).
When I got there, about an hour later, they had let Phil go and lie down on the sofa in the little room off from his office. He was still in a state of near-hysteria, and they feared that his heart would give way.
“It was all those bodies,” he kept babbling apologetically. “I can't get over the sight of all those bodies.”
T WAS ELEVEN O'CLOCK
before I got the detail for the Health and Vitality murders. “You're just the man,” said Joe Grierley, my superior. “There's a lot of you, and there's a lot of them.” My name is Perry Trethowan, by the way, and I tend to get landed with cases that have snob associations or literary ones. I think JoeâGod help himâclassed this one among the literary ones.
I was in Windlesham Street by eleven-fifteen, and (perhaps to demonstrate my health and vitality) I bounded up the stairs to the first floor. It was spurious activity, because my time had not come yet. The technicians were in their first frenzy of busy-ness, and beyond registering first impressions there was not a great deal I could do. I stood in the doorway, and for the first time really took in the scale of the investigation I was embarking on. By the scale of massacresâSt. Bartholomew's, say, or St. Valentine'sâthis one was very small: only four. I wondered who in the Calendar of Saints had presided over this little affair.
The unnaturally bright light in the room certainly enabled me to get a good view of the set-up. Glaring spots were positioned on both sides of the studio, focused on the far wall. A couple of feet from the door cameras were set up, and it was by them that the two bodies
were sprawled. One was a squat, pot-bellied man in his shirt-sleeves, the other a lanky boy of, I guessed, no more than twenty.
The lights beat hardest on the other two. They had clearly been killed last. The woman had backed as if in terror, and put her arms over her body, as if they could be some protection. The man seemed to have been starting forward. She had light brown hair, was full-breasted with creamy skin. He, face down, was six feet tall, with a well-muscled back and strong thighs. Considered as bodies, they were perfect.
There was nothing more to be done there for a bit. A sergeant directed me to Phil Fennilow's office, and told me that the editor himself was lying down on a bed in the little office next door to his own. I nodded, and went very quietly along to Phil's sanctum. It suited me to have a look round without his presence. Something, it was quite clear, had been going on in the offices of
and I wanted to know if it was with or without the knowledge of the editor.
The office was seedy in the extreme, and probably dirty to boot. In the studio, lights and drapes had hidden the seediness, but here it was thrust at one. Not somewhere, I thought, that Phil would bring anyone he wanted to impress, if any such person existed. There was a desk, a desk chair, and an armchair with springs that poked out like ostentatious muscle. One small table with
piled up on it, and a few rickety bookshelves, piled with magazines and books. The calendars on the walls displayed, all too predictably, bodies.
I first flipped through the correspondence on the desk. I've mentioned some of the letters already, and there were others spiked. Most of them were from readers, regular models or subscribers annoyed about the magazine's non-arrival. There was a little pile of shrieks to the paper's agony aunt. All was fairly predictable, including those complaints about the non-arrival of the magazine: the police, I had no doubt, would on occasion check
to see whether it had changed its character and become openly pornographic. No doubt the missing copies were now, in a well-thumbed condition, adorning police canteens somewhere or other in London.
I decided it wouldn't be a bad idea if I made a similar check on the current state of the magazine. The last five or six issues were stacked on the small table by the door, and I took them over to the armchair, which fought back as I sat down on it. Then I flipped through the most recent
I had to hand it to Phil Fennilow:
was a damned good idea. It consisted almost entirely of pictures of people with nice bodies.
Nice bodies, be it said, of all kinds: there were busty ladies and boyish girls, there were musclemen and girlish boys. It was a magazine, therefore, that did not stamp the sexual orientation of the buyer. It could be bought without embarrassment by a homosexual in Barnsley or a heterosexual in Bayswater. There was one other clever point about it. Large parts of the magazine were made up of pictures sent in by readers. They did use models as well, of course, as the bodies in the studio made only too clear: there were professionals posing in briefs or tastefully naked (genitals were avoided, or merely “suggested”), sometimes in color, usually smiling and bursting with health. These models, no doubt, had to be paid, though probably much less than if there had been anything erotic or explicit about the poses. But at least two double pages of each issue would be taken up with a spread of readers' picturesâof themselves, their loved ones, their childrenâand every month there was a “star” picture, that had one page to itself, and earned the lucky reader the princely sum of Â£I0. It was wonderfully cheap, and good for reader-relations as well. Was Phil proprietor as well as editor of the magazine, I wondered? If so, he was probably coining it in.
There were other features each month, to fill up the space. There was a sort of editorial, full of avuncular heartiness to the “boys and girls” who read the paper. There was an interview with a “personality,” who told readers how he or she took care of their body. There was an advice column, answering readers' questionsâmedical questions, queries about diet or exercise routines, occasional sexual problems, delicately framed. There was a column about exercises that dealt with a different part of the body each month (“Don't Neglect Your Diaphragm”). One did not need the sort of exhaustive computer tests that supposedly have proved Shakespeare to be the author of
Sir Thomas More
to conclude that each and every one of these regular features was written by Phil Fennilow. Coining it in, as I said.