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Hustler Goes U.K.

Alex Henderson
In October 2004, adult entertainment giant Larry Flynt's plans for a major expansion in the United Kingdom got underway in Birmingham, where Flynt himself was present for the grand opening of a 6,000-square-foot Hustler Hollywood store. That store, which marked Hustler Hollywood's debut in the United Kingdom, was followed by a store in Central London — and if things continue to go as planned, there may be many more Hustler Hollywood stores to come in England, Wales and Scotland. Last year, the BBC reported that Flynt hoped to open 10 Hustler Hollywood stores in the United Kingdom by 2012, but according to Roger Ede — Flynt's U.K. product manager — Hustler Hollywood may be opening more than 20 stores "in a shorter time."

"I think another five stores — in addition to the two we already have in the United Kingdom — will be added by the end of 2006," Ede said, adding that one of those five will be a second London store. Other cities Hustler Hollywood has its eye on include Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham in England, Cardiff in Wales and Glasgow in Scotland.

All of Hustler Hollywood's U.K. stores, according to Ede, will be very much like their U.S. stores and will offer a variety of sex toys and sexy clothing (including Hustler-branded attire). But there will be one major difference between Hustler Hollywood's U.S. and U.K. stores: the U.K. stores won't be selling sexually explicit videos and DVDs. In the United Kingdom, sexually explicit films are given a rating of R18 by the British Board of Film Classification — and a store must obtain a special sex shop license from its local authority in order to sell R18-rated material. Some local authorities, according to Ede, are more generous with sex shop licenses than others.

"Those sex shop licenses are restricted by number," Ede noted. "In Westminster, London, for example, there are as few as 12 sex shop licenses issued at any one moment in time. That is a strictly controlled number, and the only way you can get a sex shop license is if somebody gives one up — or occasionally, if someone is prepared to sell off a sex shop license. But it's never a case of Westminster creating additional sex shop licenses depending on need. You have to take over for somebody who already has one."

Ede added that the local authorities that offer the least amount of sex shop licenses in the United Kingdom tend to be in central areas of major cities — and by not selling R18-rated material and avoiding the need for sex shop licenses, Hustler Hollywood will have a much easier time opening stores that are centrally located. That approach, Ede said, is faithful to the vision that Flynt's daughter, Theresa Flynt- Gaerke, had when she conceived the Hustler Hollywood idea.

"Our proposition in the United Kingdom, as Theresa Flynt's has been in the U.S., is that we're as comfortable on the high street as a grocery store," Ede asserted. "We don't want to be seen as a seedy sex shop with blacked out windows; we want to be a big, open store. None of Hustler Hollywood's U.K. stores will be classified as sex shops; all of them will be normal A-1 retail stores, as the classification goes in the United Kingdom — and so, Hustler Hollywood is just another High Street store."

Hustler Hollywood's main competitor in the United Kingdom will be the popular Ann Summers chain, which boasts more than 120 stores (mostly in the United Kingdom) and is Great Britain's largest provider of sex toys and sexy attire. The main difference between Hustler Hollywood and Ann Summers, Flynt-Gaerke told the BBC, is that while Ann Summers is female oriented, Hustler Hollywood is couples oriented.

Ede asserted: "I think we're a different prospect from Ann Summers, which grew up as a kind of more 'mumsy' brand — sort of a soccer mom brand. It started through house parties — moms getting together and selling sexy lingerie and the odd sex toy to one another. And it grew from those house parties onto the High Street."

Although the Ann Summers stores in the United Kingdom are often described as sex shops, they don't actually sell ultra-explicit hardcore porn and therefore, don't need official sex shop licenses. But for stores that do have sex shop licenses and sell hardcore porn in the United Kingdom, British obscenity laws are an ongoing concern. The United Kingdom has some of Western Europe's more restrictive obscenity laws — most notably, the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, which Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, director of the British organization Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties, has described as "far more restrictive than comparable laws in other West European countries."

In 1994, Britain's Criminal Justice and Public Order Act amended the OPA to include electronically stored data, and in 1999, London-based adult webmaster Graham Waddon was prosecuted under OPA laws for distributing obscene material online. After pleading guilty, Waddon was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but the sentence was suspended for two years because of his health problems.

Huge Appetite
Although the Waddon case demonstrates that obscenity prosecutions can still be a very real problem for British adult entertainment providers, the United Kingdom has a huge appetite for erotica; according to a survey by the security/technology firm Secure Computing, more than 8.5 million pages of online porn were being hosted in the Internet's .uk suffix in 2004.

"If you ask the French, they would regard the British as very buttoned up and still having not discovered our sexuality," Ede said. "But I think that opinion is quite a few years out of date. I think the Britons are much more open in terms of their sexuality than the French would regard us as being."

Asked if the re-election of Prime Minister Tony Blair to a third term could have any effect on the sexual climate in the United Kingdom and Flynt's plans for U.K. expansion, Ede replied, "No, I don't think the higher end of government will affect things — it's much more the micro-changes at the local level that affect the running of the stores.

It's the lower-level/micro-level of politics in the United Kingdom that can cause stores to be inspected or stopped from opening or whatever. Who is running the country at the national level wouldn't make a difference one way or another; it's the lower level of politics."

Anyone who has visited London or other British cities knows that there is a tremendous amount of American influence in the United Kingdom; from "Sex and the City" to Starbucks Coffee to hip-hop, American imports are easy to find in Great Britain. Ede asserted that the British fascination with Americana will work to Hustler Hollywood's advantage in London, Birmingham and elsewhere.

"I think we've become hugely Americanized in the United Kingdom, particularly in the last 10 years, and coming with that is not only the fashion style, but the whole kind of embracing of the American way of life and the Americana that goes with it," Ede explained.

"The Brits have, right or wrong, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans because there is inherently a much closer bond between America and Britain than there is between America and any of the other European states. I think that psycho-politically, there is a huge gulf between America and many of the other European countries, particularly France and Germany. But Britain and America are fundamentally close."

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