All They Had Was Hank

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Try it yourself. Assemble a handful of chaps of pensionable age – because these will be men whose voices were wavering between treble and tenor in the 1950s – and ask them if they remember the name Hank Janson. I guarantee you an interesting reaction – first the joy of slowly dawning recognition, then a shifty flush of guilt as they realize why they remember it so well. During the Fifties Hank Janson was by far the most famous writer of sexy books in Britain. These days, young men have sex education. Then, ten years after the war, we had Hank.

If I may remind you of that distant time. There were no bare breasts in the tabloids, no contraceptive pill for either the day before or the morning after, no half-naked ladettes writhing on the pavements of an evening, no sex lessons featuring courgettes, almost no single mums. Our television chef, a plump little chap with a beard called Philip Harben, never used the f-word but quite often the gwords: gosh and golly. A cry of ‘Get them out for the lads’ would have meant nothing to anyone. Hard to imagine, but it’s true. With so little information, it’s a miracle the human race didn’t die out. As I say, all we had was Hank, which is probably why, six decades later, his name is still remembered with mingled pleasure and shame.

I thought I was the only one who remembered him until I came across his name in Simon Gray’s diaries. ‘The titles alone drove my blood wild – Torment for TrixyHotsy, You’ll Be Chilled,’ he wrote. Gray had a secret library of Jansons: he ripped off the lurid covers before squirrelling the books away in his bedroom, often under loose floorboards. When he discovered at the age of 65 that there was a whole website devoted to Hank and his works, he was quite beside himself: ‘I really went through the most astonishing tumble of emotions, the confusion of desire and thrilled shame.’

Now I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that reading Hank helped

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About the contributor

Colin Dunne has published eight novels and written articles and columns for everyone from the Mirror to The Times. His career as a writer, a story marked for the most part by cruel humiliation and bitter disappointment, is recorded in his latest book, Man Bites Talking Dog.

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