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American Imago 63.2 (2006) 227-233

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Letter From London

Suite 6
4 Marty's Yard
17 Hampstead High Street
London NW3 1QW

Filming Sexual Fantasies

I am standing in the center of London's Millennium Bridge, on a blisteringly cold Tuesday morning in April, with St. Paul's Cathedral looming behind me and a veritable flotilla of noisy tugboats tooting below. Overhead, a bevy of jets continues to whoosh by, whipping up the wind; and with no overcoat to protect me, I have begun to freeze. Hundreds of mid-morning commuters rush past in both directions, wondering why I remain so absolutely still in the center of the bridge, sporting merely a thin cashmere jacket, with makeup smeared all over my face. I have now stood here, virtually motionless, for approximately two hours, and I seem to have very little sensation remaining in any of my extremities.

With a group of colleagues from the independent television production company Tiger Aspect Productions, I have begun filming a one-hour science documentary, Britain's Sexual Fantasies, for the British terrestrial broadcaster Channel Five, based on my three-year research project on the psychology of sexual fantasies. With the assistance of the pollsters YouGov, I have now assembled a database of more than 18,000 British sexual fantasies, probably the largest collection of such material in the world. Dan Chambers, the Director of Programmes at Five, and Justine Kershaw, the Commissioning Editor for Science, had engaged me to write and present this one-hour film back in 2003, and it has taken rather a long time for us to complete the background research before the cameras could roll.

I have microphone wires concealed beneath my shirt, and a battery-operated microphone pack in my back trouser pocket. [End Page 227] The lovely Irish makeup artist pats some foundation on my brow and smears a daub of Carmex gloss on my lips; then, doubling as a technical assistant, she removes herself some fifty paces and places her ears to the walkie-talkie so that she can receive instructions from Fred Casella, the Producer-Director of the program, perched several feet away, at the foot of the bridge, with an executive producer, a cameraman, a sound engineer, a production coordinator, and a "runner" (the ambitious, eager young "gofer" who fetches our tea and coffee) poised nearby. Fred speaks to the Irish makeup artist through the walkie-talkie, and he calls out "Action." She then relays Fred's instructions to me, and like a well-trained puppet, I begin to speak my carefully scripted line: "But what exactly does it tell us about ourselves if we have a masturbatory fantasy about someone other than our regular sexual partner?" Unfortunately, another tugboat has motored past beneath the Millennium Bridge, and Simon Dyer, our perfectionist soundman, has indicated to Fred that we must reshoot the entire sequence once again.

Undaunted, I contain my mounting frustration, reminding myself that I have had a lot of personal psychoanalysis over the years, and I resume my position, ready for another "take," only to be told through the walkie-talkie that we must wait for the next two approaching airplanes to whiz by. At last we seem to have relative quiet, and I begin to speak my line: "But what exactly does it tell us about ourselves if we have a masturbatory fantasy about someone other than our regular sexual partner?" I have delivered my words with, I trust, full vocal resonance, breathing from my diaphragm. I feel relieved, and eager to move on to the next sequence; but sadly Fred comes running up the length of the bridge to join me, wrapped in his puffa jacket, looking very warm: "Sorry, Brett, we shall have to do this line yet again. You were absolutely brilliant, absolutely brilliant, but there was a young hooligan jumping up and down behind you, purposely ruining the shot." Having spent years working psychotherapeutically with young delinquents, I feel compassionate. But I am very cold, and Fred has absolutely insisted that I should not wear my comfortable floor-length overcoat in...