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‘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 Wyn.jpg



 ‘Peter Wyngarde, undoubtedly 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.’


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6 thoughts on “‘Smooth Operator’ by Richard Jarman”

  1. God God, nobody I knew would dare wear something as declasse’ as Hai Karate by 1970 and I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Same with Brut. Both were viewed as “boy’s first colognes” along with Aqua Velva and Old Spice, all laboratory-crafted scents. Old Spice’s main ingedient in ammonia, so everybody’s nose shuts off at first whiff – thankfully.

  2. Great pics. Love the gender reassignment quip. What is that boy wearing – drapes? I think this shows that metrosexuality has been around for longer than we think; only then it had no real sense of irony which makes it more endearing.

  3. Hooray – I figured out what I’m going to be next Halloween – a ‘Smooth Operator’ complete with Mark Simpson comment in a thought bubble!

    My dad was a smooth operator with white man ‘fro & leisure suits. Of course he had to be as my Mom was in something from Fredricks of Hollywood, so they had to go together, don’t you think?

    The gay soft-porn version of this was the Men’s Look catalog starring Tony Ward, which was the height of camp in the early 80’s. Goes along with your Camp Beverly Hills catalog, which spawned a generation of metrosexuals unto itself.

    There is something so clummsily cute about this time period where they are trying to market to men, there was a changing of the guard as always goes on in Ad houses. In this case – from the stuffy old white men in suits, with secretaries they slap on the ass and no sense that the world is changing. Clashing with the young vigorous homos who had come on staff wanting to put their secret code messages in there. It’s like Can’t Stop the Music meets a John Wayne classic. A trainwreck in other words, a brilliantly camp one.


  4. Dear Mark,

    Moving to the countryside next to a military base has definately inspired you !

    Or is it the other way round ?

    I like the dramatic way you idealise the army through your Homme Arena + column. You really should consider becoming a recruiting officer. I am shure you would be very creative and persuasive. Would there be a physical test ???

    Nevertheless, the army is also the place where you have very little self jugement. An order is to be obeyed, never discussed. According to your military anthusiasm, the Nazis could appear as an ideal men’s community.

    The army you are talking about, and the one you experimented, is a demilitarised army. As we say in French, « une armée d’opérette », the one to promote on stage or on the screens.

    Also, our civilisation is not the first to be so demilitarised. Hardrian had a big army, but the Roman army was 100% professionnal, which eventually lead to the decadence of Rome (combined with many other factors, of course).

    Nevertheless I like your prose that perfectly fits with the beautiful photos.

    Actually I think there is no good or bad way to become a man. My vision is that everything looks much more plain if you have an ideal in life. This is why I changed my life and restarted everything from scratch.

    I am very pleased to announce you that I am about to succeed. I may launch my onwn brand, Francois LEGENDRE (thank’s for your advice), by next March. This will include a shop in the Marais. I am now meeting business angels : though fashion is usually not a priority to them, they really loved my concept. I am expecting a big (financial… ?) support.

    Even if I do march through the Marais with a queer uniform, I hope my mum can say :

    « Oh ! I never thought I’d see it ! E’s finally become a man ! »

    ;-)) franxoxoxois

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