LONDON'S Soho spawned an industrial first this weekend with the opening of Britain's only commercial strip show run as a worker's co-operative. The show, now on display in the capital's centre for everything erotic, is the work of a group of young ladies who want to cut out the middle-man.
Technically, the new venture is known as a peep-show, which makes it different from a striptease, a nude encounter parlour or a topless bar. Eight booths surround a narrow stage and for a bare 50p customers get a scanty 1 minute 40 seconds peering through a glazed slot as the naked ladies dance to music. When the time runs out, a shutter comes down.
Among the 200-or-so sex establishments in Soho, the peep shows have proliferated - and profits can be huge. Most take in more than £1,000 a day and are run by shady groups of businessmen who have moved from other areas of sex entertainment under pressure from Westminster council.
But at the bottom end of Wardour Street the pickings were not so great and the man who owned the peep-show there packed it in after making a loss. That provided the opportunity the ladies sought and they took over the premises themselves, painted the place in pastel pink and opened it up for the punters.
They are in a tough market, however, and the eight women know they will have to work hard if they are to make the venture pay. With a mere 30-foot-square space, they pay £2,000 a month in rent, with Westminster's rates on top. More than 400 customers are needed during each seven-hour shift before they stand a chance of staying afloat.
The current takings yield them each £20 a shift, but they say running your own business is best. "I really work harder here than I do anywhere else, just to get them to put more 50ps in," said Julia, after coming offstage. "It's working for yourself, and that really makes me throw myself about."
Liana added: "We get slightly less here than we would get working for one of the straight commercial places, although we do have communal funds for things we share. We are introducing a profit-sharing scheme, but we can't do that properly until we have registered for VAT."
Although they would like to stand on their own feet from the first, they are not averse to accepting some help. The government offers three schemes for small businesses and the ladies are seeking advice. The GLC women's committee is also regarded as a possible source of cash.
The Department of Trade and Industry said there could be money available under its business expansion scheme. "They need a sound business plan," said a spokesman. "People tend to get too involved in their own affairs and don't keep their eyes open to what is going on around them."
But the ladies are prepared to perspire for their living, and turnover yesterday was brisk. "We are getting a lot of support from the people round here," Jerry explains. "Because they know we are trying to do something different."