English erotic male physique photography pioneer specialising in military and naval discipline.
text by squaddie John © 2002-7
"Royale" was a photographer active in Victoria, London in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, the period corresponding to Physique Pictorial magazine and Athletic Model Guild in the USA.
"Studio Royale" specialised in erotic photo sets of athletic and muscular adult guys in muscle posing and army or naval guardroom or barracks discipline situations, including corporal punishment (CP). This groundbreaking material circulated underground as it was then considered illegal or borderline illegal in England.
"Royale" photos are well lit and well composed: he had significant photographic and lighting skills despite limited studio resources. I've always assumed that he initially used black and white materials, presumably developed and printed by himself and only later moved to colour. However "Sailor Al" reports all photos were taken on colour film but printed in black and white for distribution. It's also possible that two cameras were in use during the sessions, one for b/w another for colour.
The models were posed in army battledress uniforms of the era, naval duck whites, khaki drill shorts and tight cotton white shorts so tight they were probably specifically tailored, or posing pouches. Some of the white kit was specially made from thin white cotton material and stitched on the models. The KD shorts were worn with ammo boots and puttees, the gym shorts with plimsoles, the ubiquitous gym footwear that could also land across the buttocks with a nasty sting. Primordial training shoes and cross-country running shoes feature in later sets.
Some models displayed regimental tattoos. Many have well-developed thighs, calves and buttocks typical of squaddies accustomed to marching and drill in the Regiment of Guards.
Corporal punishment scenes depicted are using a baton or cane or rope-end (naval starter or togie or stonikey) on shorts with the receiver either standing spread-eagled or touching toes or laid over a gym vaulting horse. Some photosets depict a sequence of a squaddie or matelot presenting for punishment with frames showing the sequence from arrival and presentation in CP uniform, reaction to first and subsequent stripes.
It's ambiguous here whether the naval cat o' nine tails will be aimed at the rating's shoulders or his buttocks nicely presented in the duck whites, rolled up as for fatigues swabbing wooden decks.
Some photosets are earnest and serious, depicting formal situations. Endearingly and reflecting the realities of National Service life, other photosets show squaddies and matelots larking about but with the ever-present threat of the CP cane: the guy with the naval starter - also known as a togie - chasing the receiver around the set. It looks like the guys in uniform were enjoying the photo shoot sessions. CP is both about "taking punishment like a man" and a Rite of Passage to join the club of the CP experienced in an era when almost everyone got caned at some time for something.
Later photos show bare buttocks, and some realistic-looking CP Marks. Unquestionably, "Studio Royale" knew well the fantasies and techniques of army CP and naval CP of the National Service era; it's an open question whether or not he would have preferred that the models who posed in shorts were bare-assed but either "Studio Royale" did not dare to or the models would not agree to appear naked. The results in shorts are arguably more erotic for being more tantalising and because the shorts - plus the army boots and headgear - give some fetish details to locate the fantasy.
Many of "Studio Royale" photographs are storyboards of fifteen or more frames that suggest a sequence of events. "Studio Royale" was one of the first to contribute this new genre to erotic male photography, his stories in pictures / photo essays are precursors of the porno video. He shows the models arrive, change kit and get into punishment position as well as the sequence of actual corporal punishment; we are also shown the reactions afterwards - the recipient rubbing a sore bum.
Other Royale photos are traditional single photographs that summarise a scene; the photographer and viewer understand or fantasise what has gone before, why and what will happen after the instant the photo is taken. Some of these are Royale's most enduring work.
Maybe Royale also made movies? I've not yet seen a Royale advertisement that promoted a specific movie title and although I've met several conservers of original Royale material, I've never found anyone with movies.
Some of Royale's storyettes are shot outdoors. Technically it would have been easier to make a movie outdoors because of the greater available light; Royale's product of that era is all black and white that could have been processed and printed in-house. Movie processing would have required more advanced facilities only available commercially. 8mm black and white or colour reversal film stock would have provided him with a moving picture record of the sessions but would have been unsuitable for duplication.
It seems most likely that if Royale ever made movies they were never duplicated on a commercial scale and the originals probably haven't survived: the police raided "Studio Royale" on many occasions in line with the repression of homosexuality in England: a total ban on sex between men existed from 1885 until the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality on 27 July 1967 when the Sexual Offences Act finally received Royal Assent.
From the enlightened perspective of more than three or four dozen years and now under a more liberal legal regime it's hard to appreciate how difficult and dangerous these pioneering studio photo sessions must have been.
On one hand, straightforward contact with army or navy servicemen was more common in the National Service era: almost everyone was liable for National Service and guys in uniform were frequently seen on the streets and at railway stations. Pay was poor and some servicemen were known as "free drinks" in pubs or augmented their income by playing "The Game".
On the other, homosexuality was illegal in the armed forces, as well as in civvie street so all sexual liaisons were covert and furtive. However the stakes were equal on both sides and this reportedly led to a freedom that disappeared after the 1967 act which legalised homosexuality for civilians in private but left it illegal in the army and navy, leaving servicemen open to blackmail and denunciation or alternatively sexual repression, a situation only recently resolved in the British forces.
Photo sessions such as these must have been an oasis where the participants could enact their fantasies that were otherwise repressed but based on the realities of service life of the times.
The situations appear "gay" to us because they depict men in close physical contact but social mores were different in those times. It's probably more relevant that women were not present.
Another shift in interest over the years concerns bondage and corporal punishment. In the UK at the time of writing, images involving kinky bondage (handcuffs etc) are widely available to the general public, eg poster advertising, where images depicting corporal punishment would be unacceptable. Perhaps this is because attitudes to cp and bondage have reversed over the period and bondage is now more widespread than cp. Studio Royale's surviving oeuvre shows much more cp than bondage; although this reflects his own interests and those of his customers, it's also a reflection of his era.
It seems that eventually "Studio Royale" took the quest for authenticity too far for those times: some of the models were serving guardsmen who posed wearing State Kit: thigh boots, brass breastplate and plumed helmet but otherwise naked except for just a brass posing pouch, ie without breeches and tunic.
British authorities - military police - became aware of this material. That might have been the original "Studio Royale" or the later "Guys in Uniform" magazine. Some models were cashiered from the forces (with consequent criminal records) and this photographic genre ceased.
The police raided on several occasions. Very few negatives or colour slides of this groundbreaking material appears to have survived.
Another chap started doing the same type of thing in the 1960s, he had a flat in Notting Hill Gate. Subsequently quarto-sized magazines titled "Guys in Uniform" were published in the 1970's which appear to have been his work. It may have been him who had been involved in the court case when the Army found out that guardsman were receiving money to pose. His neighbours were trying to have him evicted, and I've been told that he was living in Portabello road and went to the market every week looking for old uniforms, but he has had a breakdown.
I've always admired the finely crafted photography of "Studio Royale" and the adult military SM and adult corporal punishment fantasies portrayed. It's difficult to be definitive about this interesting period of erotic photography with a distinctly British flavour. From what I have seen, it is an important part of our early gay sm heritage and it should be archived and made available to be honoured in an high a quality format as possible.
If you're the holder of the copyrights to the photos of "Studio Royale" please get in touch.
I would be interested to have sight of any surviving examples of the craft of Studio Royale, London: I believe the studio produced contact sheets that were distributed as publicity for photosets, full plate 10"x8" portraits, quarter-plate 5"x4" prints and some 8mm movies. There might even be some negatives that survive.
Easter 2007: since writing the above in 2002 a couple of developments: we've had a couple of attempt to recreate the Royale style with current CP enthusiasts. Also there has been much discussion and swapping of scans of Royale photos on various groups, most recently britishgayphotographers group. Although the British images cry out for publication, recognition that has been accorded for their contemporaneous counterpart photographers of American beefcake, in particular the Athletic Model Guild, difficulties of obtaining definitive copyright and model clearance has so far dissuaded publishers. However the original purchasers of this genre are now refinding long-lost images, as described in postings like this:
Several years ago, a member of m_mspanking Google-group offered to donate his collection of Royale/Men In Uniform pictures, collected in the 1950's and 1960's, to me. The generous group member, b-bchelmitt (I won't use his real name without permission), had reached a time in his life when he felt like passing them on, and he knew of my great interest in them.
I have relocated since then to Europe, from Australia, and with one thing and another it never came to pass. Last month he got in touch with me again via Rich at www.stingpictures.tv and, as I don't live in Britain, arranged for Rich to pick them up from his home and mail them to me (Recorded Delivery!), which Rich kindly did. My thanks to both Rich and to b_bchelmitt.
I now have them and have had a chance to see what I have.
It is many dozens of pictures, most of which have appeared in some form or another on the m_mspanking group (often scanned by b_bchelmitt), but generally in various states of degradation due to bandwidth restrictions or storage space limitations which have lessened over time. They cover all sorts of material, including Tom of Finland, but mainly "Royale Studios" and "Men in Uniform Studios".
I decided that, given the base pictures are generally not 'new', if I were to share them it would only be worthwhile if I made uncompromisingly large, high-quality scans, and this I have tried to do.
A consequence is the scans, almost 2 mb each, are too large for the groups therefore I have placed them on an external storage site in a Zip file.
I decided to start with those indisputably from "Men in Uniform Studios". I am genuinely interested in the debate about the history of the studios and their relationship to Basil Clavering of Royale, but frankly I have no direct personal knowledge (I am too young!) and I don't think much of hearsay and speculation so I will leave contribution to the debate to others who know more. Personally my "eye" screams Royale or MIU when I see them, I don't need to see certificates of authenticity as they are so noticeably (to me) dissimilar, down to the photo-quality and level of detail and authenticity/time period of the uniforms, but this may be a minority opinion.
The first series I have named "Numbers", for reasons which will be obvious on viewing. It seems to have been shot in the same session as "Preparation" and "Tawse" (which follow).
The original pictures are printed on Kodak paper, 20cm square, in colour and cut, somewhat carelessly, with a guillotine (no borders). I have made absolutely no attempt to put them in any sort of logical order however I see a small number of the pictures have a number on the lower left, implying we have somewhat less than half the number in the complete set. Who knows?
Enjoy, from half a century ago in London, with all thanks to b_bchelmitt and to Rich.
To locate these files of sets from the Men in Uniform magazines, you need to search the britishgayphotographers group message archive for "Royale". Lochgelly has entitled these Royale Football, Numbers, Preparation, Rigging, Tawse, Whips.
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