THE first time The Star sent reporters to La Chambre swingers club in Attercliffe, they went undercover.
“They were trying to do an expose,” says owner Barry Calvert. “But they gave their address on the application as York Street. Everyone knows that’s The Star. I said to them: ‘We’re aware of who you are but go in anyway – just be fair on us’.
“I think they were among the last to leave that night.”
Needless to say, the corresponding article published in January 1998 gave the club - the first of its kind in the UK - a big thumbs up. So to speak.
Now, next month the Attercliffe Road venue - which attracts some 250 frolicking couples from across the UK each weekend - will reach its landmark 15th anniversary.
To celebrate, two things have happened.
One: Barry, who opened the place with wife Marie after their shoe-selling business went into decline, has written a book charting the venue’s rise and rise (“these days,” he notes, “we have a bigger bar, a better disco, and a torture rack”).
And two: The Star has sent your diarist (not undercover) to investigate why the place is not only still, er, banging, but continues to attract positive press everywhere from women’s mags to Radio 5 Live.
So, Thursday evening, fetish night, here we are...
To our left, a woman in PVC leads a man around on a chain. To our right two couples grow increasingly intimate at the bar. And, just in front, Barry is leading us round this converted pub’s party pool, dungeon and kama sutra rooms.
“Calling bi girls,” one wall sign reads. “No stilettos on beds,” states another. “Hot drinks for sale,” announces a third.
“It’s like Cheers,” says one patron. “Everyone is made to feel at home. We’re all friendly. We just happen to like getting intimate with each other.”
And then she inquires if we’d care for a caning. We make our excuses.
That’s the thing, though, according to 62-year-old Barry. Everyone finds pleasure in different ways and La Chambre is all about exploring that in a safe, friendly environment for consenting, coupled-up adults.
He and Marie - grandparents of four - have been together since they were teens and swinging since they were 30. But by 1997 they were fed up with meeting other couples through contact magazines and attending unenjoyable car key parties.
So, they took the plunge, borrowed £76,000 off three different banks and set up La Chambre.
“In those days we had to jump through so many council hoops,” says Marie, 60, tonight wearing a corset and little else. “When we first told the council what we wanted to do, this official looked at us and his first question was: ‘What’s a swingers club?’ It was hard work”.
But worth it, apparently.
The couple, who live in Barlborough, have taken their fair share of criticism from moral crusaders but, 15 years on, La Chambre is a Sheffield institution. There are 20,000 members. A Las Vegas newspaper once voted it the third best visitor attraction in the world. Top was the Grand Canyon.
“We bring money into this city,” says Barry. “The hotels in Attercliffe are rammed on a weekend with our customers. People will come here Friday, spend the day in the Peaks or at Meadowhall on a Saturday, then come back here again in the evening. It benefits Sheffield.”
And those customers - ranging from joiners and electricians to doctors and solicitors - they keep coming back. Why?
“It’s a great atmosphere,” says a 42-year-old woman, here with her husband. “Where else can you have a drink, meet interesting people and then really let your hair down?”
Swingers 3 is the third in Barry’s trilogy of books about swinging.