Different Strokes

A Users’ Guide to the Top Shelf by Rik Rawling.

My first exposure to the then-unknown female form was thumbing through the pages of my brother’s “nuddy books” in the hazy morning light when I thought he was asleep. I think these early experiences of hushed secrecy and (literally) dawning revelation have shaped the way I look at these publications today. When I go into a newsagent and scan across The Top Shelf, I feel that childlike sense of mystery and wonder flush through me every time. Having sampled virtually all the legal variations on the available themes, I’ve obviously found personal favourites, and quite a few that are nothing but a sad waste of trees.

Based on years of dogged research, I’ve compiled the following, which is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives those about to embark on adventures into the SuperUnknown some pointers to keep them out of the ditch that is Readers’ Wives.

Level 1: Escort/Razzle/Parade/Park Lane/Adult Fantasy

This is by no means the general initiatory level. I usually equate these sort of mags with that mythical archetype: the Dirty Old Raincoat. Something about these titles implies that you’ve sunk to a level below that which you originally had your sights on – a bit like shopping at Poundstretcher. The women who appear in these mags are of two types:

a) Readers’ Wives: these are either home shot Polaroids – the favoured hardware of home pornographers, avoiding as it does those embarrassing trips to Boots – emphasising that old truism, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or special photo-shoots when the least foul are invited in for a proper session on satin sheets with what appears to be a Kodak Brownie.

b) “Proper” “models” that can’t quite cut the mustard to get into Mayfair or Men Only. The shots are usually ineptly staged, poorly framed and reproduced on the crappiest sort of glossy paper. Pink flesh glows almost fluorescently from the pages, and the overdone make-up and Ann Summers underwear lends the entire venture an air of desperation and silliness.

The letters and ‘Confession’ stories tend to be of the “Scrubber has three truckers” variety, with heavy emphasis on multiple penetration and oral sports. These scenarios can be easily imagined taking place in grotty front rooms amidst crusty coffee cups and furniture smelling of old dogs.

About as arousing as shit on your shoes – or if this is not clear enough, let’s say it explicitly: you can have these, I don’t want ’em.

Level 2: Men Only/Knave/Model Directory/Men’s World/Club International

Now we’re talking. Really good-looking models ranging from drop-dead gorgeous to eminently agreeable ‘girl next door’ types. Well-staged poses with appealing (and occasionally bizarre) backdrops, and good graphic layout allowing the eye to roam freely and smoothly from page to page. The best ‘posers’ appear regularly in the different titles (changing names with each appearance) and ‘seem’ to develop a genuine fan-following amongst the regular letter-writers. All yer basic fetishes are catered for – lingerie; high heels; bikinis; leather and rubber – with occasional interesting variations.

As for the letters and “Ladies Write” (I’m not fooled for a second), they’re quite varied in their settings but usually degenerate into lively oral and doggy sessions. Some titles have special features like agony aunts, but my favourite, “Men’s World” has the amazing ‘You Lucky Git’ where an alleged reader writes in and gets the chance to pose near naked on a bed with one of the mag’s regular “Stable of Stunnas”. At the end of each session, there’s a picture of next month’s model and an invite for readers to write in. Basically, if you’re lucky, you get to pull the model’s clarts off with your teeth, or lie under her while she squats suggestively on your boxer shorts/Y-front trapped member. It doesn’t look too awful… I’d be half tempted myself, if I got a chance to cavort with ‘Amy’/’Patricia’, the one true goddess.

As these are the most popular titles, they are the most widespread in circulation, and therefore the ones 8-year old boys are most likely to find in bushes, or under big brother’s LP’s. Basically, we’ve all seen ’em and we like ’em. Unless your tastes are particularly ‘different’ or you really do like the cottage-cheese thighs and bulldogs-licking-piss-from-a-nettle faces in Razzle, then you can’t go wrong here.

Level 3: Mayfair/Playboy/Penthouse/Hustler

Not much different to level 2 really, but these are the titles that really hang on the “Men’s Magazines” euphemism, by featuring articles on vintage cars, windsurfing and Dr. Crippen, along with woefully inept, unfunny, comedy skits and the obligatory Hunt Emerson fan-club illos. Playboy and Penthouse play on the ‘celebrity nude’ deal, which can be anything from a proper photo-session with Pam Anderson (yes!) to fuzzy shots of someone who might be Madonna on a beach that could be Copacabana or Cleethorpes; the former has a nasty habit of turning up on British shelves in an emasculated format, with a sticker on the front saying “certain pages have been removed for legal reasons”. Make of that what you will…

Mayfair has some good models in more ‘tasteful’ than level 2 poses, but the American mags really go for air-brushed Barbie perfection, and after a while you get tired of the preposterously tiny ‘cute’ noses, sultry heavy eye-lashes and strawberry blonde bangs, and long for a dark broody Amazonian fire queen to spice things up. Hustler is almost a law unto itself, but I include it here because of it’s origins and price. It’s articles are actually of interest to thinking humans and the photo sessions go for a no-nonsense, splayed-legs, split-beaver approach (known in pro-video as ‘The American Shot’) which leaves nothing to the imagination, thereby losing it for me. Stories are your standard ‘Nympho Wants It’ type, and serve to fill in the gaps. Overall, not bad, but expensive. Give me “Men’s World” any day.

Level 4: Playbirds XXX/Whitehouse/Derriere/Rustler

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Pricier again than Playboy and Penthouse, these titles point to the darker fringes of what ‘porn’ can be to some people. What you get for your extra cash is a massive reduction in production values, but thicker, shiner, wipe-clean pages (ahem!) and occasional card covers. Some of the models are ex-Men Only stable, but some are so rough that they obviously bypassed all that and went straight out to the edge of the map.

Graphic, gynaecological close-ups of almost painfully splayed vaginas. simulated lesbian licking sessions and splayed buttocks to reveal rosy pink anal ducts. Occasionally, you’ll see dildos in here, but never fully inserted. Once upon a time, Whitehouse was notorious at our school for featuring a session where two fat old bags reamed each other out with a broom handle. It doesn’t go quite that far these days, but I still find their contents so blatant and crass that I have to feel sorry for those out there who can only get the blood rushing with this sort of material.
Absolutely no imagination is required.

Level 5: ???

This is the far fringe of newsagent availability as far as porn is concerned. Expect to pay around a fiver for dull-looking girls, wearing back of the market underwear, in simulated sex scenes with building site rejects sporting penii flaccid enough to hang below the crucial 45 degree legal limit. Looking at the girls and the settings (like a wing of Auschwitz painted by blind children), it’s easy to see why these men have got the flop on.

Beyond this sort of crap, you’re into sub/dom SM territory, contact mags, and the sort of shrink-wrapped strangeness that regularly gets advertised in ‘The Sport’, as there is an enormous range of what might be called “specialist” material, going down to incredibly refined levels. I can see the possible market place for a magazine catering to those who like Oriental females; I can just about cope with the existence of a publication specialising in women without hair on their genitals; but the existence of “Shaved Orientals” magazine leaves me shaking my head in awed disbelief. My interest is definitely not picqued by ‘Dwarf Sex’, ‘Golden Shower’, or the well-known fuck mags like ‘Color Climax’. I leave that to the connoisseurs.

So there you have the top shelf as I see it. However, everyone has their own definition of pornography, be it good or bad. I just like looking at pictures of women. But if your interest has been triggered, and you do intend to reach ‘up there’ for something, just remember:

This is not a library. If you do not intend to purchase, please do not read.
Thank You