For more of all things London history, sign up for our new (free) newsletter and community: Londonist: Time Machine.
There is a pub on Streatham High Road with a distinctive name: Pratts & Payne.
The 'Pratts' portion can be attributed to the grand department store which stood nearby, and was so big-hearted to its staff, they had their own rooftop garden brimming with sweet peas and apricot trees.
As for the 'Payne', that relates to the former resident of 32 Ambleside Avenue — Cynthia Payne, also known as "Madame Cyn" due to the fact she kept a brothel on this unassuming Streatham street. The street was unassuming until December 1978, anyway, when all hell broke loose: "I hit the headlines in 1978 when the police raided my home along a pleasant tree-lined avenue in suburban Streatham, interrupting a sex party that was in full swing," Payne later recalled.
"I think everybody likes a party, don't you?"
Payne's clientele were largely older men — she counted MPs, vicars, bank managers, lawyers and policemen among her customers. Their kinks spanned everything from a good old fashioned spanking, to having vacuum cleaner dust tipped over them. As for Payne herself, apparently she was too busy making sandwiches to join in with the fun, but said she "liked to see other people enjoying themselves."
Payne recognised the faint absurdity of the whole thing; she had an ersatz Westminster Council sign in the house which read "Please Adjust Your Clothing Before Leaving". The most eccentric part of the whole carry-on were the out-of-date luncheon vouchers she gave to punters as receipts for cash; they could then exchange these for strip teases and sexual favours. (She later had her business cards made up to look like luncheon vouchers.) In her measured, nasal tone, Payne always explained that she never made much money from these 'get-togethers,' claiming she hosted mainly for the fun: "I think everybody likes a party, don't you?"
Apparently not everyone did, though. In 1980 Payne was taken to trial, found guilty of running "a disorderly house" and spent six months in Holloway prison. This only boosted her profile, and when she left prison, a former client was there to pick her up in a Rolls-Royce. At another trial in 1987, the court heard how business was still booming for Payne: "busy as Piccadilly Circus in the rush-hour", with some attendees so desperate to get down to it, they had sex on the stairs. When she was acquitted, Payne handed the judge a copy of her biography, telling him: "I hope this book will broaden your rather sheltered life."
"I've always been attracted by policemen"
Payne revelled in the limelight. She wrote a book, Entertaining at Home, which provided 101 tips for hosting, including how to look out for undercover policemen. She put on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, and had two films made about her — one of them, Personal Services was directed by Terry Jones and starring Julie Walters. (When Payne first met Walters she asked outright: "Do you like sex, Julie?"). Hanging out with celebrities from Lenny Henry to Vera Lynn, Payne became something of a public figure herself, standing (unsuccessfully) for Parliament and often appearing on TV. On the Mrs Merton Show, Caroline Aherne's alter ego asked Payne about her sex parties: "What gave you the idea, Cynthia, that it would be popular?" she smirked.
"I've always been attracted by policemen," Payne told another TV host, Trevor Hyett, in 1982, "I've been raided about five times in my life I think, and three of those raids I got a boyfriend out of it!"
Shortly before she died at the age of 82 (still living at the same address, but no longer hosting the parties), Payne is said to have lobbied Andrew Lloyd Webber to make a musical about her. Nothing ever materialised, and if the West End is ever looking for their next big hit, post Bake Off: The Musical, this story of sex and sandwiches in Streatham suburbia might just be it.