Jamie Morton can scarcely remember what life was like before Belinda.
“What is it now — two and a half years ago?” he wonders over Skype, from his home in London. “My life was so simple. It was just a normal life — minding my own business, hanging out with my friends, doing my work — and then all of a sudden it got turned on its head.”
Everything changed when Morton’s father retired, decided to try his hand at writing and ended up creating the most popular homemade erotica series you’ve never heard of: Belinda Blinked. Morton took the books and turned them into the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno, where he and his friends, Alice Levine and James Cooper, read from and gently mock the novels, chapter by chapter. So far they’ve recorded two seasons — reading from the first two self-published, quasi-erotic books in the series — and will begin a third season this spring to tackle Book 3.
“It’s still very bizarre to me that I’m even talking about my dad’s pornography on such a regular basis,” Morton, 29, says with a laugh.
The series centers mostly around Belinda Blumenthal, the buxom sales director for a pots-and-pans company who will do just about anything to hawk a braiser — beginning, almost always, with removing her top.
The gag of the podcast is highlighting the books’ unintentional anti-eroticism. “Her nipples hardened,” reads a sex scene from the first book, “and they were now as large as the three-inch rivets which had held the hull of the fateful Titanic together.” (For those not following along, the rivet-like nipples belong to a character only referred to as “The Duchess,” with whom Belinda tangles on more than one occasion.)
Lines like these are simultaneously brilliant and awful: Her tits hung freely like pomegranates and she gently massaged them with her hands. “Come on Belinda,” whispered Ken. “Don’t let the sales team down now!”
You don’t read them to get turned on, nor to better understand the mechanics of sex. Morton’s father is undeterred by his deep misunderstanding of female anatomy, using phrases like “he grabbed her cervix …” (not physically possible), and “vaginal lids” that “pop” open.
There’s a section in Book 2 that is entirely in Dutch. Chapters end abruptly, sometimes seemingly mid-sentence. One character introduces herself with, “I’m Christina and here’s my ass!” before removing her clothes.
But the stories themselves are nothing if not imaginative: Belinda gets handcuffed to a trellis in a “medium-sized garden maze.” At one point there’s a sex scene at a fund-raiser for the Asses & Donkeys Trust, a made-up charity. Some of the most detailed descriptions are the non-sex parts — an elegant wooden coat rack, a mole’s-hair riding jacket (which is not a thing; did he mean “mohair?”) and mundane details of the kitchenware sales business.
“It’s almost like my dad’s a bit — not ashamed of sex, but he’s more interested in the immaculate coat hooks in the corner,” Morton says.
In each episode of the podcast, Morton reads one chapter — sometimes changing his voice to play different characters (his Texas accent is impressive) — while Levine and Cooper chime in freely throughout. Sometimes it’s to laugh at the writing, sometimes it’s to Google an obscure reference or clarify a typo, sometimes they’re merely trying to follow the story and figure out what’s going on. Why is the pots-and-pans buyer from Amsterdam drawing symbols in mud all over Belinda’s naked back? Did Morton’s dad mean to write “congenital disease” where he wrote a character had a “genital disease”? Did Belinda really just take off all of her clothes in a hotel lobby?
The combination of the erratic plot and the commentary of Morton and his friends is comedy gold, earning the project fans all over the world, from the U.K. to Hollywood and beyond. The morning I spoke with Morton, he had just finished giving an interview to an Israeli newspaper about the podcast. Elijah Wood and Thomas Middleditch are among the show’s celebrity fans who have appeared on the podcast as guests. Middleditch, hoping the books might one day be made into movies, called dibs on the role of Dr. Robbins — a creepy voyeur with a high-pitched laugh, and a pair of long-handled surgical scissors, who wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch film. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom offered to write a musical number for the show: “My Pussy Hurts.”
“People love Belinda,” Morton says, still slightly incredulous about the morning’s news that the podcast has just passed the 50 million downloads mark. (More than a year longer than it took the podcast Serial to hit that mark — a slower burn but still a significant success.) “Dad is a genius. An absolutely deranged genius, but a genius nonetheless.”
Morton didn’t mean for this to happen.
A few years ago, his dad took him aside at a family gathering and said he’d written a book.
“I was like — ‘That’s amazing! Great, Dad!’ Because he was newly retired and I thought, ‘That’s a really good way to keep his mind active, and keep him out of mischief’ …” he looks down and shakes his head. “How wrong I ended up being.”
Morton was a little put off when his dad added, “Don’t tell the girls,” referring to Morton’s mom and three sisters, but assumed it was his dad’s self-consciousness about his writing. He guessed his dad had written a spy thriller, perhaps. Wrong again.
“He sent me kind of three chapters of the first book, but almost in note form,” Morton says, “Or so I thought — turned out, that was just the book.”
His dad, who now goes by the pen name Rocky Flintstone, has a stream-of-consciousness, “First draft — nailed it!” writing style.
“Belinda blinked, it wasn’t a dream” the first book begins. “The job interviewer had just asked her to remove her jacket and silk blouse.”
“I nearly died,” remembers Morton, after reading the opening lines. “I was like, ‘What the fuck has he written? Oh my god, it’s pornography!’ I shut the lid of my laptop, and I was like, ‘I can’t.’”
But his curiosity got the better of him. That night he read the rest of what his dad sent, took it to the pub and read it aloud to a group of friends, which included Cooper and Levine — much as he does on the podcast.
Not long after, the three co-hosts were shopping for microphones and planning a podcast they assumed would mostly amuse themselves.
“We never thought that it was going to be at all popular,” Morton says. “I remember us talking at the start, before we recorded a single episode. ‘Are people going to find this funny? Is this just our sense of humor?’”
It was an instant hit. Shortly after the first episode, in October 2015, My Dad Wrote a Porno went to number one on U.K. iTunes charts. The first season had a million downloads; by the third episode, influencers with huge social media followings were tweeting about it.
“We can’t believe how big it has become,” says Cooper. “ It’s not how any of us thought our lives would turn out — but when life gives you porn, make a podcast.”
“I think the first time we realized the podcast was successful was when Elijah Wood tweeted about us early on in the first season,” says Morton. “That’s a pinch-yourself moment — knowing that the star of The Lord of the Rings is listening to you and your mates reading your dad’s porn ‘round the kitchen table.”
Morton says fans have written in to share stories of losing their virginity to the podcast; women have used the podcast as a soundtrack to giving birth, as a distraction from the pain of labor; and many have gotten in touch about how the show has helped them with depression.
But there’s perhaps no bigger fan than Morton’s dad. Even though he’s often not in on the joke, he gave Morton his blessing to do the show, assuming it would help with book sales (it has).
Morton says his dad was originally inspired by the financial success of E. L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, whose famously bad writing (“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge chocolate … or something”) Flintstone never bothered to read.
“I mean, E.L. James has nothing to worry about because my dad is much worse,” Morton says. But in a funny way, Flintstone is following in her footsteps. James originally self-published the first 50 Shades installment before getting subsequent book and movie deals.
Belinda Blinked is not quite there, but the book has become successful, too — enough for the book-turned-podcast to become a family business spanning print and ebooks (including a book version of the podcast); sold-out live readings for thousands in the U.K. (and plans for a show at the Sydney Opera House in August); and merch, including totes and t-shirts, which Morton’s mom occasionally helps to fold and ship.
“It’s been a journey for my mom,” he says. “But she’s always been completely supportive; she’s never said no.”
Before he retired and became a sultan of ironic erotica, Flintstone had a host of different jobs: retail sales manager (though not in the pots and pans business), mechanic, builder.
“I think he’s just got a short attention span,” Morton says, laughing again, “which you can really see in his writing.”
The podcast has, unexpectedly, brought father and son a lot closer, despite the fact that Morton now jokingly describes him himself as “a cipher for my dad’s porn.”
“Working with him for the first time has been really cool — not everyone gets to do that with their dad.”
Despite the podcast’s constant mocking, Morton finds merit in his dad’s work. “Obviously a lot of the show is about how terrible my dad is at writing,” says Morton, “But I would argue he’s done an incredibly hard thing to do, which is write really engaging, indelible characters in like five sentences.”
“It’s wonderful,” Flintstone says of the podcast’s success, over email. “It really means my erotica art form is being appreciated, maybe not in the way it was originally intended. But enjoyment is a wonderful thing and to bring so much laughter to this world is humbling.”
Morton doesn’t read the books ahead of time — the first time he reads a new chapter is on the podcast — so he’s not sure what’s in store for Belinda and friends in Book 3.
Meanwhile, Rocky Flintstone is already finishing Book 6.