The voice on the telephone may not be familiar, but the message can be heard in the seedier districts of every city. "Your English Rose, Rosie, is waiting for you. I'm 5ft 3in tall, size 10, 36C, sun-tanned, blonde, sensuous and wicked. I'm a top-class, experienced, escort therapist offering full personal massage at up to ?150 and call-outs."
But this "English Rose" is not advertising in the red-light district of London, Manchester or Edinburgh. She lives "in a discreet cottage in the Shaftesbury area of Dorset, handy for the A303, A350 and A30." Thomas Hardy country is not the place you'd expect to find a hooker, but Rosie is no normal lady of the night. According to her telephone message, over the next four weeks her hours are "strictly limited because I'm attending an art course."
News that the world's oldest profession is flourishing in one of England's oldest villages broke last week when a retired army major, Michael Chubb, was convicted of living off the immoral earnings of his partner, Jilly Bywater. Dorchester Crown Court heard that Chubb, 55, ran a brothel at the top of Shaftesbury's Gold Hill, made famous by a classic TV advertisement for Hovis bread, featuring a delivery boy pushing a bread-laden bike up a cobbled street.
Almost everyone in Shaftesbury and the surrounding villages is now talking about how all is not wholesome in Hovisland. "What did she do for ?500 a night? The ladies in my bridge circle want to know," says Janet Bardy, 48, her dog, Max, by her feet as she sips coffee in the Rose Cafe. This part of Englande is the land of the tea shoppe. "Why did she do it?" her husband Brian asks.
"Why not cut back on the supermarket shop or get a loan?'
Everyone, it seems, has heard the latest "Hovis Hooker" joke. Over a pint of Fursty Ferret in the White Horse Inn, Mike Collier, 28, a laborer from Shaftesbury, tells it for the dubious benefit of an American tourist. "For ?30, she'll show you her baps. For ?60, you can have her buns. For ?100, she'll offer you her bloomers. And for ?150, she'll let you dip your little soldier in."
A brothel in such an unlikely location must have seemed like the ideal way of raising the cash and for several years it worked. Only when a local man uncovered a Web site offering "the cultured, gentle and sensuous services of Jilly, a woman who loves to be borrowed and shared" did police raid the brothel and arrest Chubb and Bywater, who was halfway through "a sensual massage."
Although the pair knew they would be the butt of "sex in the shires" jokes, friends say they hoped their motives would win them some sympathy. "Because no one was getting hurt and their daughter was getting a good education, I actually think they had convinced themselves what they were doing was right and people would come to see that," one says.
Not so. The "Hooker on the Hill" may be this week's joke, but this corner of England does not easily forgive those who upset its quiet, arts-and-crafts way of life. Bywater and Chubb have been forced to abandon their homes and put them up for sale. Friends say Bywater is drinking heavily, her behavior is erratic and they fear for her health. The 38-year-old appeared in Blandford Magistrates' Court last Friday charged with shoplifting. Her lawyer asked for a four-week adjournment to "examine psychiatric issues."