Although the idea of stripping or striptease was not a new one (The Moulin Rouge and The Folies Bergere had been showing such acts for years), it did not really take off in the UK until the 1930s. Part of the problem was that English law prohibited nudes from actually moving. The manager of the Whitehall theatre, Vivian Van Damm, decided that incorporating nude females in his shows could turn around the theatre’s losses, so he persuaded Lord Cromer, the Lord Chancellor, that provided the girls did not move this could not be construed as illegal or offensive, and so the tableaux vivants (French for “living pictures”) were born.
His optimism was justified and soon the “Windmill Girls” were touring other theatres, in and out of London. However, the demands of male audiences were such that creativity was necessary to further circumvent the law. One successful trick was for the girl to hold a spinning rope. Since the rope was moving rather than the girl, authorities allowed it, even though the girl’s body was displayed in motion. In 1937 Denise Vane became well-known for the Fan Dance; her body was concealed by fans held by her and two female attendants. At the end of the act she would stand still and her attendants would remove the concealing fans to reveal her nudity. She would then hold the pose for a short time before the close of the performance. This idea was taken up by other dancers most noticeably Phyllis Dixey in 1939 Male Strippers.
Phyllis Dixey with her husband, Jack Tracy, had performed in the provinces, managing to lift a ban by the Lord Chancellor on their act, before coming to the Whitehall Theatre in 1942 which they rented for their own troupe, the Whitehall Follies with Phyllis as its main attraction. Phyllis always considered her shows a true artistic expression and with large audiences of serving soldiers on leave, the shows were very successful for a period of five years. Phyllis became known as “the Queen of Striptease”.
In the 1950s, with the death of the music halls underway, striptease acts were used to attract new audiences. In 1951 Paul Raymond produced a touring show and later set-up a show in London’s now famous striptease area, Soho. He opened the very first private members striptease club in the UK, the Raymond Revuebar in 1958.
In the 1960s, the impracticalities of policing the existing law led to changes allowing for full nudity shows without the motion restrictions of the earlier decades. Soho, the centre of striptease in London for many years, saw a boom in the opening of many new strip clubs with ‘fully nude’ dancing and even audience participation. Pubs also became a popular venue for these new shows with Shoreditch, in the east end of London, becoming a popular area owing to the ease of access from the City of London. Despite continuing opposition from some local authorities, the strip club/pub continues to exist to this day. In pubs, the strippers often walk around with a beer jug to collect money before performing, which is a throwback to the go-go dancers of the 70s who would ask for money before stripping.
In the 80s and 90s a number of “Gentlemen’s Clubs” arose and became very popular for men wishing to enjoy female strippers, where the individual strippers perform both ‘pole dances’ and private strips (lap dances) for their clients. Although pole dancing has been around in various forms for many years, it is now that it has reached its zenith, with many young women enjoying financially successful careers as pole dancers in the gentlemen’s clubs.
The advent of male strippers had to wait until the 1970s before it really took off in the UK. Males strippers had become part of the gay scene in America, growing out of the go-go tradition. The increase of gay clubs and pubs saw a rise in the number of strippers performing for same-sex audiences. Male strippers for female audiences now has a very high-profile, thanks in part to acts like the Chippendales and the film “The Full Monty” which has now entered common parlance as a description of a full strip. Add the advent of “Girl Power” in the 90s and male strippers are now as commonplace as their female counterparts.
The idea of sending someone a message, delivered with a kiss by an attractive man or woman, led to the introduction of another form of striptease which became known as the “strippergram”. Agencies who have independent male and female strippers on their books arrange for acts to go to a location, usually for a special occasion, such as a birthday, hen night or stag night. These “strippergrams” generally perform a short striptease act for an individual or group, frequently arriving in suitable fancy dress costumes (e.g. policeman/policewoman, fireman, Navy officer etc.).