Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pictures of Rude Health

I belong to a generation whose understanding of the female anatomy was informed in the early years by a magazine called Health and Efficiency. I am not sure if it is still going, but given what is on offer in any copy of the Daily Star, in any news agents now, I cannot see how it could compete.

For the younger ones (one?) amongst you here is a description of the famous proto jazz-mag, and I hope that once you have accepted it to be true, you will look upon your elders and betters with a renewed sense of pity and understanding. You will eventually come to accept that we really did invent sex in the 50's and 60's, and the stuff that is represented in every advert and on every bill-board in the land today is a pale and jaded facsimile of the real thing that we conjured up in our imagination from nothing but black and white photos, printed on cheap paper, with ink that left your hands as dirty as your under-developed little mind.

Health and Efficiency must have started in the late 1940s, sometime after the war, when paper rationing had ceased. I have not researched it, but I will do if someone wants to pay me to write a proper historical account - and they ought to, as this must be long overdue.

The contents were pretty much always the same, so they were only refreshed once a month because - as every divorcee knows - familiarity breeds contempt and sales go down as a result. It's the same with modern girlie mags, but they are so explicit these days (so I'm told), that you would have to turn the subjects inside-out in order to depict any more detail.

The girls would almost always be photographed in the outdoors, and quite often on beaches. The props were simple - a large, inflatable, striped beach-ball would be tossed between one and another, or simply held aloft by a girl on her own. I doubt if they had any letters of complaint about it being the same old, boring beach-ball that had been in the last ten issues, but I bet they only replaced it if it burst. If there were no props, then the girl would be posing demurely on an old log, or simply sprawled out on the sand, sunbathing. I think they may have included the odd male to spice it up a bit every now and then, and I seem to remember that they wore posing-pouches.

The most striking thing - in retrospect - about the models' anatomy was that they were completely devoid of pubic hair, or any other details associated with that area of the body. I don't mean that they were shaved - they were as blank as an ancient Greek, marble statue in that department, and this was achieved by skillful use of an 'air-brush' applied directly to the photo before publication.

These days, if you wanted to get that effect (as if!) it could be done on a computor in the same way they blank out people's faces to protect their identity, but then it involved spraying a fine mist of white paint from a small gun with a compressor attached to one end. The result was that - as children - we had no real idea about ladies nether regions, and - also as children - many of us could just about remember what breasts looked like, so that was unnecessary information.

I remember fevered conversations with my mates discussing what they really looked like, and I don't remember anyone coming up with the right answer, even though we suspected it wasn't how it appeared in H&E. Just as well really, as knowledge of that complexity would have signified some sort of maladjusted childhood, and I'm glad to say that most of our long summers were spent in pretty much the same way as Rupert Bear used to spend his - but without the company of exotic girls like Ting a Ling.

It is said that the famous 19th century critic and Art Historian, John Ruskin, had the same sort of visual concept about female genitalia well into his thirties, but his was formed by the study of all the ancient Greek statues mentioned above, and not Health and Efficiency. On his wedding night, he was apparently so horrified by the gruesome reality, that the marriage was never consummated and he died a madman, sitting in a rustic wooden chair at the bottom of his garden, contemplating the river.

Luckily, the naked truth did not have the same effect on me, so I grew into the well-balanced and mature individual that you see today ...


  1. i remember posing pouches from life classes at art school! they were so much ruder than what they concealed! or, on occasions, failed to conceal. ;-D

    my first boyfriend (i was his first girlfriend) - having only viewed fully clothed, mature buxom women, thought that all women had only one breast - a kind of shelf, located a few inches above the midriff. this was the era of twin sets, and before conical Playtex bras...

  2. Bloody hell, Cat! One breast??? What kind of an upbringing did he have? I'm not going to ask any more questions...

  3. I've got editions 7 to 156 (minus No 34, which the cat had kittens on). If you wish to borrow some (for research purposes only) do let me know. Condition, I'm afraid, is what's known as 'well thumbed'.

    Sadly, Cat, our male life models FAILED to wear pouches. I think there's a definite market for such things. YUK!

  4. Do you remember that ENORMOUS, black African, male model who got a bit of a stiffy one day, Cro? He just said, "Excuse me", then went off and calmed down for 5 minutes - unlike the girls in the class. Mags? Yes please - plain brown wrappers, just like the old days. I've just remembered the Snibbo deliveries.

    Cro and me went t Art School together, just in case you others are wondering...

  5. It's just occurred to me that my last comment sounds about racial, stereo-typical, but it was not meant like that. The guy happened to be African and a physically big man, and I mentioned it so that Cro knew which model I was talking about. No hard feelings, eh?

  6. No, not racist. Just an accurate description. Not so sure about the 'hard feelings' though.