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In 1969, the following announcement appeared in the contacts magazine, Way Out: "Lady 32 seeks female who will make fun with me in front of my husband. Only genuine replies please."

This quickly attracted the attentions of the Obscene Publications Squad of the Metropolitan Police. But when they tracked down the potential fun-seeker who had placed the announcement, they were surprised to find that she was, in fact, a man - a married office manager and keen amateur photographer from South London.

The man had put in the advertisement, he explained, without the knowledge of his wife. "She would never do anything like that," he told them, a little glumly perhaps. When questioned, he insisted he had torn up all the replies, except for one - "a letter that had come from a woman in the Canary Islands". Alas, we will never know what fragrant enticements this letter contained.

As soon becomes apparent, deceit and subterfuge have traditionally clung to the personal columns. Although lonely-hearts ads have been around in various guises since the late 17th century, it was not until the First World War that the market really boomed. Here, in magazines such as The Link, one could find all manner of potential companions advertising their attractions - most of them coyly veiled in innuendo. There was the "modern girl who wanted to correspond with a naval officer (submarines preferred)", and also the "bachelor, just discharged, intelligent, artistic temperament, though rather pagan" who was looking for "friends, own sex".

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