Former madam Cynthia Payne dies, aged 82

Flower on a grave

Britain’s best known madam Cynthia Payne – who was nicknamed Madame Cyn – has died aged 82, her family has said.

Payne was known for running a brothel in Streatham, south London, that was shut down in the late 1980s. In later life, she became an after-dinner speaker and she has been the subject of books and films.

She hit the headlines in 1978 when police raided a sex party at her home to find elderly men paying with luncheon vouchers.

Her life story was told in two films, one starring Julie Walters, and several books, including An English Madam. In 1980, she was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, reduced to six months and a fine on appeal, for running a brothel at her house on Ambleside Avenue.

But, in 1987, she was acquitted of controlling prostitutes in a second trial at the Inner London crown court. “This is a victory for common sense. But I have to admit all this has put me off having parties for a bit,” she said afterwards.

The BBC reported that she sent the judge, Brian Pryor QC, a copy of An English Madam following the conclusion of the 13-day trial with the inscription: “I hope this book will broaden your rather sheltered life”.

Family friend Kevin Horkin described her as “a national treasure” and an “extremely colourful archetypal English eccentric”.

“She was a person with a very big heart,” he said. “She is someone who epitomised the phrase ‘what you saw is what you got’. Her beliefs, however, shone through strongly in the campaigning activity she was involved with in order to change Britain’s sex laws, publicising the issue when she stood for parliament on two occasions in the Kensington and Chelsea byelection of 1988 and in the general election of 1992 in Streatham. She is someone who will be very sorely missed by all who knew her.”

Payne’s website read: “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.

“For months afterwards, the media would write of queues of middle-aged and elderly men waiting to exchange their ‘luncheon vouchers’ for food, drink, friendly chat, striptease shows, and a trip upstairs with the girl of their choice. Vicars, MPs and lawyers were amongst those who considered me to be the best hostess in London.”

Powered by article was written by Kevin Rawlinson, for The Guardian on Sunday 15th November 2015 22.26 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010