The Dilly Boys.

“The forgotten rent boy”.

Few rock music fans would know that a world famous musician, and gay icon, was just one celebrity at a party in London’s west end at which no less than twelve Piccadilly Circus boys (underage male sex workers) were provided for all to use and abuse as they please. I cannot imagine such a thing happening with the same amount of underage girls provided as entertainment at a past celebrity gathering and there not been today acres of outraged articles, tears galore, mysterious suicides in prison cells, and claims for astronomical amounts in compensation.

The invisible boy, the forgotten rent boy, the problem is known but no attempts in the past few decades at least have been taken to get to the truth. Quiet the opposite, a young Frenchman (gay but not a sex worker) who triggered @MeTooGay, was found hanged in his student dorm two weeks after doing so.

Below are answers to questions I sometimes get when asked about my experience of having been in the early seventies one of the infamous “Dilly Boys”.

Trigger alert.

Contents on this page may trigger painful memories for men who were a rent boy in their youth. If you are at risk please discuss your experience with a mental-health professional.

Piccadilly Circus in the early seventies.

A few FAQs

Who were the ‘Dilly Boys’?

Street boys in London’s Piccadilly Circus, and who were underage male sex workers. Many operated out of an amusement arcade called ‘Playland’ which was situated on Coventry Street between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

Playland pinball arcade on Coventry Street was also a boy brothel.

Average age of a Dilly Boy?

About sixteen years, but some were as young as twelve, and even younger. Boys were considered ‘too old’ for most customers (called ‘punters’) at about nineteen.

Were the ‘Dilly Boys’ all innocent victims?

Many were, and especially the younger boys, but some boys could be ‘as much victim as they were criminals themselves’, as one person put it. It could also be said that many believed they were engaged in a consensual exchange, but very young did not realise what they were doing to themselves.

Was international organised crime involved?

Yes. The ‘boy business’ was, and remains, big business.

There is talk of police corruption as many ‘punters’ were prominent members of society. True?

It’s to this day a hot topic, many punters were indeed rich and powerful men, and the evidence strongly supports there was high-level corruption in government and police. Retired police officers have themselves spoken about how investigations into boy prostitution in Piccadilly Circus were stopped before any arrests could be made.

How dangerous could it be for a Dilly Boy?

Very dangerous. Boys disappeared, and in few instances a body was found. Murder, sadistic torture, fatal overdose of drugs used to limit a boy’s ability to resist a gang rape, disease, substance and alcohol abuse, the list is long and must include the psychological damage ‘survivors’ suffer and often for life.

Were punters ‘gay’ men or straight/bisexual men with a sexual preference for underage boys?

All of the above.

Were all ‘punters’ men?

No. Some have put the percentage of female punters at about 25 percent.

How many boys might have been active in London?

Estimates were of about two and a half thousand active in London in the early seventies, but it would be difficult to get even close to an exact number as many boys drifted in and out of central London. The number is nevertheless possible.

Some gay advocates today have claimed the term ‘rent boy’ means boys who exchanged consensual sex for money to ‘pay the rent’ – true or false?

False. The majority of boys were too young to be alone on the street at night, let alone rent a place of their own. ‘Rent boy’ is a boy for rent.

I was ‘introduced’ to ‘Uncle Abe’ by two plain clothes policemen in Kensington Markets. I thank my guardian angel, or ‘sixth sense’, for being alive today.

What was the preferred age bracket for ‘punters’ when renting a boy for sexual purposes?

Most in demand were boys between ten and fifteen-years-old.

Were there any boys of colour?

Very few. Punters, and including men of colour, wanted white-skinned boys.

Were the Dilly boys gay?

The majority were heterosexual boys forced into, or choosing prostitution for reasons which could include desperate economic circumstances, fleeing abusive home or state-care environments, etc.

Some were of course gay, and many fleeing homophobic social and family environments found themselves alone, hungry, and on the street. Some, naive, decided to get ‘on the game’, but discovered very quickly they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Typically, what are the long-term effects of having been an underage ‘rent boy’?

Life lasting effects can include clinical depression, difficulty with relationships, substance and alcohol abuse, warped sexuality, personality disorders, and in more extreme cases, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Dissociative Amnesia. (DA)

Was I one of the ‘Dilly Boys’?

Yes.

You said you were writing a book about your own experience of the ‘Dilly’, is it complete and if not, what’s the hold up?

Correct and its completion is a priority. The delay is because I discovered a document that made the length of time I was in Piccadilly Circus about twice what I remembered, or was able to reconstruct by placing events and their approximate duration on a timeline. Knowing near to the day when I arrived and when I eventually returned home, I was able to pin point where and when the missing section of time begins and ends.
What happened between those two points remains beyond recall, a situation which lead me to investigate dissociative conditions. I think it important to if not retrieve the missing part of the story, then at least, and for the benefit of persons who might have a similar condition, be able to explain dissociative conditions, and do that with the help of experts in memory and trauma. Problem is finding someone willing and with the relevant expertise. I haven’t found anyone yet, and may have to rely on all-and-any peer-reviewed and open-source papers I can find. The problem might be that in today’s world, being critical of the behaviour of albeit a minority of gay men is verboten.
Whichever way, I have set a time limit on completion which is end of this year.

Where does the road to recovery begin?

Forgiveness.

Could some inter-generational relationships between men and teenage boys actually be non-damaging and consensual?

That’s a very touchy subject, but based on life experience in all honesty the answer would have to be a tentative yes, but with reservations. It’s a topic that needs discussion, and some prominent activists have tried including people such as gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, and famously poet and author, Allan Ginsberg. Many such as the editor of ‘Destroyer Magazine’ payed a high personal price for daring to raise the issue.

David Bowie cover. Question is – who was ‘the real’ Sweet Thing?

Sweet Thing, a song released in 1974 by David Bowie, is very accurate in describing the motives, struggles and every day life of a Piccadilly Circus boy. For example ‘run to the centre of things’ refers to Piccadilly Circus’, and ‘where the knowing one says…’ refers to those who received a ten pound ‘spotters fee’ for introducing a new boy to Playland. Basically the boy was sold into sexual slavery for ten quid. One, was Anthony [surname withheld, but I know it] a ‘street vendor’, who spotted runaways in the Dilly, and ‘introduced’ them to Playland. He was arrested and charged for ‘living on the proceeds of meat-rack (underage boys) prostitution in 1975. From memory of documents I found, he got three and a half years…

It’s safe in the city to love in a doorway
Wrangle some screams from the dawn
And isn’t it me, putting pain in a stranger?
Like a portrait in flesh, trails on a leash
Will you see that I’m scared and I’m lonely?
So I’ll break up my room, and yawn and I’ll
Run to the centre of things
Where the knowing one says:
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing, sweet thing
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
‘Cause hope, boys, is a cheap thing, cheap thing”
I’m glad that you’re older than me
Makes me feel important and free
Does that make you smile, isn’t that me?
I’m in your way, and I’ll steal every moment
If this trade is a curse, then I’ll bless you
And turn to crossroads and hamburgers
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing, sweet thing
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
‘Cause hope, boys, is a cheap thing, cheap thing”
I’ll make you a deal, like any other candidate
We’ll pretend we’re walking home ’cause your future’s at stake
My set is amazing, it even smells like a street
There’s a bar at the end where I can meet you and your friend
Someone scrawled on the wall “I smell the blood of les tricoteuses”
Who wrote up scandals in other bars
I’m having so much fun with the poisonous people
Spreading rumours and lies and stories they made up
Some make you sing and some make you scream
One makes you wish that you’d never been seen
But there’s a shop on the corner that’s selling papier mache
Making bullet-proof faces; Charlie Manson, Cassius Clay
“If you want it, boys, get it here, thing”
So you scream out of line:
“I want you! I need you! Anyone out there? Any time?”
Tres butch little number whines “Hey dirty, I want you
When it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad I go to pieces”
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
Well, on the street where you live I could not hold up my head
For I put all I have in another bed
On another floor, in the back of a car
In the cellar of a church with the door ajar
Well, I guess we must be looking for a different kind
But we can’t stop trying ’til we break up our minds
‘Til the sun drips blood on the seedy young knights
Who press you on the ground while shaking in fright
I guess we could cruise down one more time
With you by my side, it should be fine
We’ll buy some drugs and watch a band
Then jump in the river holding hands
[Part Three: Sweet Thing (Reprise)]
“If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
‘Cause hope, boys, is a cheap thing, cheap thing”
Is it nice in your snow storm, freezing your brain?
Do you think that your face looks the same?
Then let it be, it’s all I ever wanted
It’s a street with a deal, and a taste
It’s got claws, it’s got me, it’s got yo
u …”