Hagen Engler. Picture: Supplied
Oh, it was the salad days of that time. We were journalists on a magazine, and people still read magazines, so life was good. Also this was a fun-ass magazine: FHM, a mag for young men with a twinkle in their eye and a taste for mischief.
Our stock in trade was well-styled shoots of beautiful women in bikinis and lingerie, ideally posing on beaches on exotic Indian Ocean islands.
That was the content that sold us millions of magazines, but that wasn’t the fun stuff. I mean, sure it’s not awful to stand on a beach in your shorts, directing a young lady to arch her back and turn her shoulders this way. But after an entire day you’re pretty drained. It is possible to sustain bikini exhaustion.
No, the real fun stuff was the stunts! This was the kind of content that was fun to do, and fun to shoot. It was also fun to brainstorm, especially in the knowledge that there was a budget to execute just about any editorial idea, and to make it as entertaining as hell for our readers.
Around SA in a Day was one such stunt, where we tried – and succeeded – in visiting every one of South Africa’s nine provinces by road within 24 hours. The Race Against the Sun saw us leave Durban in the FHM Mini at sunrise, and scream across the country, trying to get to Cape Town before sunset. This was a fail.
Then there was The Drunk Olympics, Can FHM Make the Pop Charts?, FHM vs Fokofpolisiekar, FHM Goes Streaking, and any number of other classics. As you can tell, many of these stories required drinking during work hours, with your work mates, which also contributed to the general awesomeness of the projects.
Of course, every reader of a bikini magazine will tell you that they read the thing “for the stories”, but we did have proof that much of the stuff we wrote was actually getting read. “Sexy, funny, useful” was our formula, and people lapped it up.
The gender politics may have been from the Pleistocene, but we navigated the space with a healthy sense of our own ridiculousness, which saved us a bit. We tried to show a humble respect for the power of sexiness. One in four readers were women, so maybe that worked.
But ah, the stunts! That was where the fun lay. The bravest idea we ever had was for a story named Can FHM Get Tasered?
This one was to do what exactly what it said on the box. We would get tasered to hell, film it, photograph it and turn it into a killer story.
To add spice to the event, we enlisted the help of the sexiest person in the office, a petite lady named Erin, who also happened to own a kind of electric self-defence stun gun.
Safety always being paramount, we decided we couldn’t get tasered standing up. What if we fell down and hit our head? So rather do it lying down on the office pool table.
We did some research, and realised there was a very real possibility that the chosen stunt person might soil themselves while being tasered. So we decided to purchase a set of adult diapers to preserve the dignity of FHM’s man.
This was a real concern, because there was going to be an audience – the all-women team of True Love magazine next door. If you’re going to soil yourself in front of them while getting tasered, you want to be wearing a nappy. A man must respect himself.
Erin confirmed that she was more than willing to taser any one of us at any time. The nappies were purchased and the photographer was standing by. But something gave me pause.
“Can tasers kill you?” I googled. I was disappointed to learn that, indeed, stun guns such as tasers can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death.
As editor of the magazine, I had sent reporters into Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and the Tahrir Square revolution, but I drew the line at shocking them to death in a nappy. Indemnity forms or not, I just could not bring myself to put my people in that kind of danger. Also, there was no way I was going to do it!
Thus did Can FHM Get Tasered? founder on the rocks of workplace safety. The idea was shelved, to be replaced by FHM Gets Abused in an S&M Dungeon.
But I think of the idea often. It’s one of the great could-have-beens of my life. A real missed opportunity. I mean, just think of it. If it appeared in a mag with Lee-Ann Liebenberg on the cover, we could have sold 100,000 copies.
The story would have been a thing of beauty. FHM’s man there, naked save for an adult nappy, lying on the table before an audience of gorgeous women. Then the coup de grace. Erin applies the taser! He screams! He shrieks! He begins soiling himself. He blushes! They cheer! Flashes go off!
It might climax with a magnanimous peck on the cheek from Erin, and a group shot with all the ladies. It might also climax with him dying in a puddle of his own bodily fluids, which would have been unfortunate, and would have been hard for me to come back from, professionally.
And so that story idea remains unrealised. But it is a symbol for me of all the other ideas we have that are never brought to fruition. The unproduced screenplays, the unfinished novels. The business ideas never implemented. Many of us have these.
We do a lot. We achieve many of our goals. There are heaps of achievements we can be proud of. But there is always that one that got away. For each of us, there is a vision of what could have been. What we might have achieved. For me, that is a naked man in a nappy, getting shocked to death while he poos himself.
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