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Jacqueline Gold stood in front of an Ann Summers shop

The history of Ann Summers

Image: Jacqueline Gold turned Ann Summers into an iconic British brand | Ann Summers

SEX: A Bonkers History explores how sexual behaviour through the ages has shaped civilisation in ways we are only now beginning to discover. Host Amanda Holden shines a light on history's most unknown and risqué sex stories. The show premieres on Sky HISTORY on Monday, 18 September at 9pm.

Ann Summers didn’t just transform the British high street. It opened up the national conversation about sex, empowered millions of women to unashamedly embrace their desires and it livened up bedrooms across the nation.

But who was the unlikely figure who founded the trailblazing brand? Was there even a real Ann Summers? And who was the boundary-smashing woman who made Ann Summers a household name?

The ‘gentleman adventurer’

Ann Summers was the brainchild of one of the most colourful and controversial characters of the 1950s and 60s. His name was Michael George Kimberly Caborn-Waterfield, though everyone knew him as 'Dandy Kim'.

It was a well-deserved moniker. Dandy Kim was a flashy, flamboyant, devilishly handsome rogue about town, who spent his days mingling with aristocrats, romancing film stars and heiresses, and making a fortune through various scurrilous schemes.

The latter included robbing a safe at the lavish Cap d’Antibes villa of Hollywood kingpin Jack Warner, of Warner Bros fame. Dandy Kim did time in a French jail for that particular escapade, but he was soon back in England and mingling in high society once more.

At the start of the 1970s, he launched a rather more legitimate business enterprise which ended up having a much bigger impact than he could have dreamed: a sex shop in the West End of London called 'Ann Summers'.

The start of a new era

Contrary to popular belief, ‘Ann Summers’ isn’t a made-up name for a make-believe person, a la Ted Baker or Dorothy Perkins. In fact, the name of the store was Dandy Kim’s homage to his one-time girlfriend and secretary, Annice Summers.

This wasn’t just a romantic gesture. He was savvy enough to realise that having an attractive, vivacious young woman as the face of his brand would help distance it from the Soho sex shops of popular imagination. However, things quickly unravelled when the pair fell out and Dandy Kim’s status as the true founder became more widely known.

Annice Summers went on to marry a millionaire and start a new life out of the limelight in Italy. But her departure in 1971 proved to be a PR disaster for the fledgling company and it went into voluntary liquidation. Then came its saviours in the form of brothers David and Ralph Gold, who bought it in 1972.

The sibling entrepreneurs, who hailed from a working-class background and had found success through sheer graft, worked hard to bring the brand back from the brink. But the real turning point came in 1979, when David’s daughter, Jacqueline Gold, joined as an intern.

The birth of an iconic brand

Despite being the boss’s daughter, the 19-year-old Jacqueline wasn’t given special privileges. In fact, she was paid less than the tea lady and her main job was handling the payroll. Back then, Ann Summers was still largely the haunt of what Jacqueline described as ‘the seedy raincoat brigade’ and it wasn’t an atmosphere she exactly relished.

‘I originally joined Ann Summers for work experience, I had no intention of staying,’ she later told Marie Claire magazine. ‘It was a really male-dominated business – most of the customers were men and only 10% of the women actually went in the shop.’

But she stuck at it, coming up with an innovation that changed the face of the company. Jacqueline took the concept of Tupperware parties – which had seen generations of hostesses promote Tupperware products to their friends at house gatherings – and swapped out the plastic tubs for raunchy underwear and sex toys.

Soon enough, droves of British women were becoming brand ambassadors, throwing spicy shindigs across the nation. The Ann Summers party rapidly emerged as a bona fide British cultural phenomenon, becoming a safe space for women to chat freely about sex, and paving the way for products like vibrators to become a mainstream talking point.

Battling for success

Jacqueline eventually became CEO of Ann Summers, propelling the company to greater and greater success. But it wasn’t easy, with plenty of vehement opposition from those who were perturbed by a progressive brand which unashamedly celebrated female sexuality.

During the course of her career, Jacqueline received serious threats, including a bullet sent in the post when she was planning to open a store in Dublin. She was arrested in Bristol after displaying sex toys at a trade fair.

Despite it all, she rolled Ann Summers stores out across the UK and even took the UK government to court to fight for the right to advertise positions through Jobcentre Plus. The High Court ruled in favour of Ann Summers, dismissing the government’s argument that the ads might ‘embarrass’ jobseekers.

Jacqueline’s work as an ingenious CEO and ardent promoter of women in the workplace helped earn her a CBE in 2016. Sadly, that same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but that didn’t put the brakes on her work and activism. When she passed away in 2023, Jacqueline Gold was hailed by numerous figures in the corporate and media worlds. Deborah Meaden, another iconic female entrepreneur, perhaps summed Jacqueline up best, describing her as ‘a visionary and trailblazer for women in business’.