Rocky Flintstone blasts into the Bull and Last pub in north London. It is a chilly November afternoon, yet “Flintstone” (not his real name) is dressed in a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. “Patricia Delisha” is how he greets me, the first journalist to have officially met this pseudonymous author of dubious erotica.
The name Rocky Flintstone might be unfamiliar unless you’re a student of erotic novels. But the podcast spawned by his tale of a sex-mad saleswoman shouldn’t be. My Dad Wrote a Porno is Britain’s most successful podcast — a game-changer that, at a time when podcasts were confined to true crime, proved they could also do funny.
We are at the Bull and Last because this is where the podcast, which has had two sellout world tours and been downloaded 430 million times, began. In December 2014 Jamie Morton, Alice Levine and James Cooper met for a Christmas walk on nearby Hampstead Heath, then had a pub lunch. “It was all very Richard Curtis-y,” Cooper, 38, says.
Late in the day, Morton revealed that his father, a retired builder, had asked him to read a novel he was writing. “The pornographic side was a surprise,” Morton, 35, admits. Inspired by EL James’s blockbusting Fifty Shades of Grey, his dad had resolved to write an erotic adventure that drew on his years in business, using a “nom-de-porn”.
As they awaited pudding, Morton read aloud the first chapters of Belinda Blinked. For the uninitiated, they feature breasts hanging like pomegranates, nipples like rivets and some unorthodox work mentoring. Levine, 36, recalls their gales of laughter clearing the pub. Was she surprised Morton’s dad had written a porno? “Less so than I would have been about anyone else’s father,” she says. “He’s a supremely confident man.”
Morton, Flintstone’s only son, adds: “He’s such a wind-up merchant. It’s like he sent it to me just to mess with my head.” A game of one-upmanship ensued. “‘Fine,’ I thought, ‘I’m going to read it to the world.’ But almost immediately we realized he would be the one having the last laugh.” Because although Cooper, Levine and Morton — who all worked in broadcasting — thought Morton’s father’s badly written tale of one saleswoman’s sexual progress at Steele’s Pots and Pans was preposterous, they also glimpsed a winning format.
On New Year’s Day Morton played his father, mother and three sisters a rough episode and asked their permission to develop it as a podcast. “He could have been ostracized forever,” Flintstone jokes. Morton recalls: “My mum was hesitant initially, but came around after admitting, ‘I’ve never let your dad tell me what to do with my life.’” The down-to-earth “Wilma” has since toured the world with the “porno” gang and is here today.
“The pornographic side was a surprise.”
Why a podcast? ”Serial had just become this massive breakthrough hit,” Cooper says. Levine says it was also about ownership. “We’re not comedians,” she says of a friendship forged at Leeds Student Television, where she and Cooper presented a show directed by Morton. “We thought we could make something funny, but didn’t think we’d get commissioned. But we did know how to make something in a nimble, DIY way, and podcasting is the medium for that.”
The core format has always been Morton reading his father’s eye-popping porn to snarky comments from his pals. It is fascinating to go back to series one, from October 2015, and hear how savvy, from the outset, this millennial trio were at building an audience through social media. Levine says: “It was the first time, out of any of the things we’d done for fun, that we went all in, buying microphones, domain names.” Although heard only through his prose, Flintstone has always been an equal partner.
Soon their Monday night side hustle became the backbone of their lives. Highlights of the past eight years and six seasons have included selling out the Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House, an HBO special, and booze-fueled episodes with famous fans such as Daisy Ridley and Michael Sheen.
Celebrity fans have always approached them. “Workshopping a Belinda Blinked musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda was special,” Morton says, recalling their evening together at a dingy B&B in Wales, where the Hamilton creator was filming His Dark Materials. They also enjoyed a kitchen supper at Emma Thompson’s home. “That was surreal,” Levine says. “Your dad’s porn meaning we get to eat fish pie with Greg [Wise], Emma and their daughter Gaia while talking about consent.”
Thompson said that Belinda Blinked “was probably the only porno that passes the Bechdel test”. The show’s devoted fan base (“Belinkers”) is 60 percent female. Flintstone insists it is “a feminist book”. Certainly the heroine is self-actualizing. Still, I find it surprising that this cheerfully smutty picaresque has thrived in such a hypersensitive era. “There is some quite retrograde erotica,” Levine admits. “But what makes it contemporary is our analysis — or piss-taking — which draws attention to those areas, us talking about our own lives and the audience’s engagement. Listeners tell us it has made them look at sexual relationships in a different way.”
Now, though, Belinda is to be canceled. Morton, Levine and Cooper will broadcast two more episodes of Porno on November 28 and December 5, then the podcast will climax on December 12 with an interview with Flintstone. There are heavy hints, though, that this is not the end of Belinda, or the team, just the podcast — Flintstone will continue writing his careering heroine.
[Emma] Thompson said that Belinda Blinked “was probably the only porno that passes the Bechdel test.”
Still, it’s the end of an era. The three presenters joke self-deprecatingly about how little their personal lives have moved on in the eight years. Separately Flintstone is bullish about the futures of all three. “We’ll now be going to the weddings and christenings as they move through their lives,” he predicts breezily. They will certainly have some cracking stories to share with the next generation. On second thoughts, maybe not.
Exclusive Q&A with Rocky Flintstone
“Rocky Flintstone” is the pseudonymous author of Belinda Blinked, the (hilariously bad) erotic novel that is read aloud by Rocky’s son, Jamie, and his friends James Morton and Alice Levine on My Dad Wrote a Porno. In his first newspaper interview, “Rocky” tells Patricia Nicol how he discovered his son was turning his novel into a podcast with his friends and why he believes Belinda Blinked should be classed as feminist fiction.
How did you research your erotic novel Belinda Blinked?
The business and management stuff was easy, the sexual content not so. Early on I made a big faux pas of using the word cervix, which I’d heard about from the various births of my four children, in a sexually impassioned piece of description about our main protagonist Belinda Blumenthal.
Rocky and the podcast seem to harken back to an older era of Carry On, 1980s bonkbusters… Perhaps, too, 1990s lad culture? Why do you think it has thrived?
Everyone says Belinda Blinked is a feminist book, and it is. Having raised a family of three girls and one boy with a wonderful wife, I always wanted women to be at the center of the story. Belinda acts as the reader’s eyes and ears so we see things from her point of view and that’s important in today’s world. And it’s pure escapism at the end of the day… fiction, and that’s what I believe the Belinkers enjoy. Because of this I believe we’ve thrived because we’re just telling a story the best way we can.
Did you feel confident writing from a woman’s point of view?
Yes. Our protagonist Belinda Blumenthal doesn’t say very much in the first two or three books. There’s a lot of action, but little dialogue, which to be honest suits me fine.
How did you feel when your son told you he’d shared it with his friends, they’d all had a laugh and were going to do a podcast?
He was the first human being to read the adventures of Belinda Blinked, but he’s definitely survived that no doubt harrowing experience. When he eventually came back to me with some feedback, I was astonished that he’d read it to his friends. He could have been ostracized forever!
Did they ask your permission? Were you allowed to veto anything?
Yes, they were very good about it and when they’d made the first recording, Jamie presented it to the family on New Year’s Day. To be honest my wife did leave the room but sat at the bottom of the stairs listening. I have absolutely nothing to do with it after I write the books. They take the roughly hewn raw material and refine it during the podcast (which the world is listening to), into a beautiful flight of fantasy… it’s magical.
How well did you know Alice and James before the podcast?
The trio all met at Leeds University. By the end of Jamie’s third year we’d got to know them so well that they’d join us for fish and chips as we all cleaned up his flat in the vain hope of getting some deposit money back.
How did you feel when friends/neighbors/former colleagues found out about it?
They still haven’t. However, if they asked a direct question as one neighbor did at a barbecue, I would answer without giving away too much information. In other words they’d have to be a Belinker (as we call all fans of Belinda Blinked) to understand my answer and if they questioned me enough, as any Belinker would do, then I’d come clean. Of course, I’ve been immensely helped by the fans and the trio in keeping my name and face out of any publicity. I’m one of those old-fashioned enigmas… is that so bad in our present world?
It all stems from you, but have you enjoyed the same perks as the others?
I’m a director of the company along with the others, and get 25 percent of profits.
Now that the show is ending, might you and Belinda carry on?
I’m writing book ten at present, so all I can say just now is look out for “Rocky Flintstone Unleashed”.
Patricia Nicol is a freelance journalist and a columnist for The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail