There’s an episode of the peerless 70s sitcom ‘Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads’ in which Bob and Terry are forced to share a bed on the eve of the former’s marriage to Thelma on account of every other available bed in the house being occupied by relatives visiting for the nuptials. Bob’s insomnia, brought about by nerves over the upcoming occasion, is momentarily eased by Terry’s advice to imagine a sexual fantasy as an aid to sleep; Bob does his best, conjuring up an exotic erotic interlude that he describes vividly to his receptive bedfellow. Unfortunately, as the identity of the mystery woman on the Caribbean beach is finally revealed, Terry’s expectation of Ursula Andress is ruined by Bob’s revelation that she is actually Thelma. Terry’s insistence that sexual fantasies are the one thing married life cannot rob a man of is backed-up by reference to his own marriage. ‘My wife was there when I went to sleep,’ he says, ‘and she was there when I woke-up; but in-between, she never got a look in.’

Some of the other shared fantasies hinted at by Bob and Terry include such off-limits ones that are no longer allowed to be aired in public – usually involving schoolgirls. Cue shocked expressions by twenty-first century so-called comedians on some crappy clips programme ridiculing the TV of a decade that produced genuinely funny comedy series that today’s woeful crop are incapable of matching. The post-Swinging 60s ‘Permissive Society’ enabled a few outré fantasies to creep into mainstream television as oblique references as well as figure in dramas that featured caricatures of contemporary Soho porn barons as lead characters, such as Charlie Endell in ‘Budgie’; but the more extreme end of the sexual fantasy underworld – S&M, for example – was easier to accept as a nudge-nudge/wink-wink aside on a sitcom rather than confronting in documentary fashion.

Sexual fantasies are private unless we decide to share them. Because they take place in the head, not even the Speech Police monitoring what we say out loud can outlaw them – not yet, anyway. Physical manifestations of sexual fantasies, such as sex dolls, nipple clamps, strap-on dildos, manacles, whips and baby outfits for adults, are items that appeal to a fairly small minority and are entered into consensually by over-18s; they provide the means to make a fantasy reality, to a small degree, anyway. That’s the thing with sexual fantasies, however; they’re utterly subjective. What turns on one person repels another.

The traditional inflatable model of the sex doll was another recurring symbol of the new permissiveness that occasionally surfaced in 70s comedy, but advances in technology – inevitably emanating from Japan – have seen the sad substitute for a living, breathing human being recently transform into an eerily lifelike android object of kinky desire; and considering the Japanese pop culture predilection for schoolgirls, it was only a matter of time before these creepy creations took on an even younger appearance to cater for that particular fancy.

72-year-old David Turner was today gaoled for 16 months for the crime of importing one of these pre-pubescent pieces of plastic into the UK. One wonders if he’d stuck a drawing of a child’s face on the handle of his Hoover and then inserted his manhood into it if that would also count as a crime. As it is, Mr Turner was charged under an archaic law in the absence of any on the statue book that cater for unnatural sexual urges towards inanimate objects – the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876, to be precise. Granted, Turner was also found in possession of indecent images of little girls, but it is the sex doll story that will grab the headlines.

The National Crime Agency and Border Force have seized over a hundred of the Far East child sex dolls imported into Britain since March 2016, and though seven people have subsequently been done for importing, it’s actually not an offence to make, distribute or possess them. No wonder the NCA has to dust down nineteenth century legislation to secure a conviction; it must have come as a relief that David Turner could be additionally nailed on charges more familiar to Paedo Hunters. Apparently, Mr Turner also had 29 ‘fictional stories which described the rape of children’, though these couldn’t even fall under the remit of the Obscene Publications Act. ‘Fictional stories’ is an important distinction, however; it matters not how badly-written they may have been, for they were pretend, just like role-play pornography, fake fannies, tits and willies – or sex dolls.

In response to David Turner’s sentencing, Hazel Stewart of the NCA claims ‘Child sex robots are just around the corner!’ And if that is indeed the case, which ancient law will cover that innovation? Even with a face and a design that might seek to replicate the look and feel of flesh, they will still be as far removed from the real thing as your laptop or your Smartphone are. If you stuck your dick in those, would that count as a similar offence? I have a feeling this is another of those future shock narratives scripted by either Chris Morris or Charlie Brooker.

The argument against sentencing people for importing these dolls into the country is that they act as a safer option for latent paedophilic tendencies to express themselves without any child coming to harm; the argument for is that such articles pander to these feelings and are the first step towards eventual abuse. Personally, I can’t see them as any different to all the other facsimile body parts mentioned in this post that are used in a sexual fantasy context; if they’re not real, no abuse is taking place. Therefore, why not enable unhealthy urges to be got out of the system with a doll if it prevents the real thing being targeted? I’ve even come across bloody plastic severed feet with a convenient hole in them to satisfy the cravings of those with a foot fetish, so it’s not as though technology can’t cover all bases.

As with the anti-smoking lobby’s illogical opposition to vaping, however, any sensible debate on such a subject seems unlikely to receive a fair hearing. These silicon infants are merely the latest manifestation of the multifaceted human capacity for finding eroticism in areas that will always be anathema to the majority. But a make-believe alternative to the gruesome horrors of the reality is surely preferable unless all such desires can be eradicated through the electric chair. After all, ‘anging’s too good for ’em, innit.

© The Editor