Smooth Operator’ by Richard Jarman

In the Seventies advert­ising was doing its best to swal­low Western man­hood whole, but it just wasn’t up to the job.  It couldn’t quite sup­press its gag reflex.  Or ours.  Men’s advert­ising was almost uni­ver­sally a joke and an hil­ari­ously camp one at that that.

It wasn’t until some way into the Eighties, the dec­ade in which advert­ising became sex­ier than sex, and with the arrival of slick, slutty allies in the form of men’s fash­ion magazines – the pop­pers of men’s mar­ket­ing — that it really began to get the hang of deep-throating mas­culin­ity without even blink­ing, turn­ing it into the shiny, hard-cash, quiv­er­ingly ser­i­ous com­mod­ity it is today.  The rampant Nineties and Noughties met­ro­sexual was fluffed by the Eighties.

Richard Jarman’s just-published ‘Smooth Operator’ (New Holland), a light-hearted, hil­ari­ously illus­trated and cap­tioned bijou book-ette ana­tom­ises that almost-innocent period from the Seventies and into the early Eighties when suited admen were doing their man­ful best, but were really only barely man­aging to get the bell-end in before dis­solv­ing into splut­ters and trau­matic public-school flashbacks.

The kind of man they were selling and slick­ing back then was of course as ‘smooth’ as their own man-swallowing action was dodgy and toothy.  He was, in other words, utterly absurd, but rather like­able for that:

‘Smooth Operator cel­eb­rates that dis­tinctly ‘70s and ‘80s breed of man — the Hai Karate-wearing, lounge-suit-sporting, big-hair-boasting hunk.  Modern man can only aspire to the God-like status of these Smooth Operators, pho­to­graphed here in their nat­ural hab­itat of cool bars, poolside loun­gers and, er, knit­wear catalogues’

Or, as he puts it else­where, the Smooth Operator is ‘the metrosexual’s grandad’.  Jarman him­self is closely related to the sub­ject: ‘I would like to thank my father and his man-clogs and fuzzy perm for the inspir­a­tion for this book,’ he writes.  The ‘Smooth Operator’, like Jarman’s dad, was a ‘ladies’ man’ — or at least, he would have been if ladies were actu­ally put­ting out in the 1970s without first being prom­ised, as a min­imum, a finger-buffet recep­tion, two weeks in a high-rise in Magaluf and a lifetime’s bick­er­ing in a semi-detached in Macclesfield.

Unlike the met­ro­sexual, the Smooth Operator hadn’t dis­covered Wilde’s maxim that lov­ing one­self could be the start of a lifelong romance — one unin­ter­rup­ted by in-laws or kids or in fact any­one else, save your styl­ist.  The Smooth Operator though wasn’t really cap­able of lov­ing him­self.  I mean, could you love match­ing col­oured vests and Y-fronts?  The Smooth Operator, like much of ‘men’s’ advert­ising itself back then, was much more inter­ested in selling him­self to women.  Or at least appeal­ing to their sym­pathy.  The Smooth Operator was as like­able as the met­ro­sexual is attract­ive — or as unat­tract­ive as the met­ro­sexual is unlikeable.

Which reminds me: I should warn that some people, espe­cially those of a sens­it­ive or aes­thetic dis­pos­i­tion, will find some of the images col­lec­ted in Jarman’s book very dis­turb­ing indeed.  Weeks of retail ther­apy and a year’s sub­scrip­tion to Arena Hommes Plus may be required after view­ing them.

Here’s a selec­tion of some of the less shock­ing ‘Smooth Operator’ images and Jarman cap­tions (and Simpson comments):

Smooth Y gang.jpg

 ‘The prob­lem with Y-fronts, and their match­ing vests and T-shirts, was that they led many a smooth oper­ator to leave the house half-dressed to stand about in gangs on sand dunes look­ing cool.

(If you look closely you’ll notice that all three mod­els are wear­ing the same cleft chin.  Big chins were very import­ant in Seventies advert­ising - big pack­ets less so.…)

Smooth Audrey.JPG


 ‘These two bus­boys from Studio 54 in New York are vis­it­ing their friend Audrey, who’s con­vales­cing at a Miaimi Gender Reassignment Clinic.’

(Lovingly push­ing her down in her chair, pre­vent­ing her from show­ing off her sur­gical dressing.)

Smooth Wyn.jpg

 ‘Peter Wyngarde, undoubt­ably the smoothest of smooth oper­at­ors, was voted the sex­i­est man alive and was a house­hold name because of his alter ego, play­boy Jason King in the TV show Department S.  In 1975, he was con­victed of gross inde­cency with a truck driver in the toi­lets of Gloucester Bus Station, and the nation was cruelly robbed of a true superstar.’ 

(Especially cruel when you con­sider that, unlike Seventies men’s advert­ising, Mr Wyngarde had prob­ably got the hang of swal­low­ing South Western man­hood whole.)


Smooth Y front 2.jpg