Charles Darwent discovers there has been a sea change in the customer profile of Anne Summers, purveyors of personal products and racy novelties.
Deep in leafiest Surrey a resolutely coiffed woman picks up a Royal Doulton teapot, looks you meaningfully in the eye and opens her mouth to speak. You are mentally rehearsing the expected response, 'Just milk, please', when the woman in question casually says, 'It looks like a condom ad, don't you think?' This renders your mooted reply suddenly and singularly inappropriate. 'All pouty lips, massive boobs and not much else,' continues the woman, pointing at a framed catalogue cover and blissfully unaware of the confusion she is causing. 'Typical male image of what "sexy" means.' You are yourself male. You cannot instantly recall what a condom ad looks like, and you do not expect demure women in cream linen jackets with mother-of-pearl buttons to be able to do so either. Especially not in Surrey. So you stutter, 'Just milk, please', anyway, blush furiously and watch Jacqueline Gold's eyebrows - for it is she - form themselves into a circumflex of mingled amusement and pity. For any readers recently returned from outer space, Jacqueline Gold may still be more familiar under her long-time professional pseudonym. For the last 14 years, Ms Gold has played the highly lucrative role of eminence grise behind the corporate throne of Anne Summers Limited: purveyor of egregious lingerie, racy novelties and an extensive series of battery-driven objects euphemistically referred to by both Gold and the Anne Summers catalogue as 'personal products'.