The lost Greater Manchester sex shop dreamed up by Peter Kay that took on a life of its own

Softys' Hard Stuff adult shop
-Credit: (Image: Ian Pattinson |

A seedy looking sex shop that was dreamed up for a Peter Kay TV series nearly 25-years ago, took on a life of its own after the cameras stopped rolling.

In the Noughties, Softys' Hard Stuff peddled 'adult' magazines, videos and toys on Bridge Street in Bolton. Sandwiched between a newsagents plastered with Botlon Evening News adverts and Sizzles takeaway, Softys was frequented by shady characters and kids who had been dared to go in by their mates.

But the shop itself didn't exist until it was dreamed up by Bolton's own comic genius, Peter Kay, and his co-writers. It featured at the end of the episode of The Ice-Cream Man Cometh, the third episode of the comedian's debut TV series.

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That Peter Kay Thing was a mockumentary style series first shown on Channel 4 in 2000. Written by the comic alongside Dave Spikey, Neil Fitzmaurice and Gareth Hughes, the series was set in and around Bolton following a group of oddball characters, often played by Kay.

The pilot episode for the series, which aired in 1988, was set in an actual motorway service station on the M61 in Bolton that was later demolished. The successful pilot led to his first TV series, That Peter Kay Thing, consisting of six episodes being commissioned.

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Softys' Hard Stuff appeared in episode three, with Kay playing ice-cream man, Robert Edge. With a fine whip of blonde hair and wearing a pair of aviators, we're introduced to Kay's mardy ice-cream seller driving his van.

Narrated by Andrew Sachs, famous for playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers, we're told: "Robert Edge is Mr Softy Top. On the streets of Bolton where he's been dispensing ice cream for most of his life he is known as Softy."

Peter Kay as ice-cream man Robert Edge (Mr Softy) in an episode of That Peter Kay Thing, first aired in 2000
Peter Kay as ice-cream man Robert Edge (Mr Softy) in an episode of That Peter Kay Thing, first aired in 2000 -Credit:Channel 4 | Screen grab

Kay's character then tells us - "The a**e has fallen out of this business...". The episode revolves around Mr Softys' struggling ice-cream business which he supplements by selling 'adult' videos to locals, which he keeps in the van's freezer alongside the choc-ices.

There's also a turf war between Mr Softy and rival ice-cream selling interloper, Signor Whippee. After running out of ice-cream at the Bolton Show in Leverhulme Park - not helped by his assistant bringing back Crunchie bars instead of Flakes for the 99ers - Kay's character has his own meltdown, trashing his own van and calling time on his ice-cream business.

We learn at the end of the show that inspired by his video selling, Mr Softy had a new sex shop business, Softys' Hard Stuff. What's even more bizarre is that after filming had stopped, the shop itself took on a life of its own.

In one photo of the shop that appears on the fascinating shop front elegy website - an archive for old shop fronts. There is a handwritten sign outside the shop that says: "Cheapest adult toys in Bolton? We think so - take a look."

Peter Kay's character outside Softys' Hard Stuff sex shop in the TV series That Peter Kay Thing
Peter Kay's character outside Softys' Hard Stuff sex shop in the TV series That Peter Kay Thing -Credit:Channel 4 | Screen grab

In November 2008, The Bolton News reported the landlord of the shop - which was still decked out like it appeared in That Peter Kay Thing - had been fined £4,000 for operating a sex shop without a licence. Although the shop has since closed, with no trace of the old signage, the Softys' Hard Stuff sex shop has gone on to become the stuff of local legend in the town.

Whenever a photo of the grotty looking sex shop have appeared on the hugely popular I Belong To Bolton Facebook page, Boltonians have taken to the comments to reminisce.

One person, said: "I remember! Not that I frequented the place though." Another said: "God, it looks seedy!"

Another person, posted: "We got kicked out regularly in the mid Nineties [...] he chased us with a brush once."

While another person, more appalled by the grammar on the shop's sign, said: "This is absolutely disgusting and should not be allowed. Just look at that misplaced apostrophe."

Bridge Street in Bolton, Aug 2008. Softys' Hard Stuff
Softys' Hard Stuff next to takeaway Sizzles on Bridge Street in Bolton, Aug 2008 -Credit:Google

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However, it seems that the takeaway shop next door - now also gone - may well have been just as well remembered. One person posted: "The chicken burger shop next door after a night in Ritzys is more iconic!"

Another said: "Sizzles next door! After Ritzy - did the best burger and chips."

While another person remembered: "Sizzles next door for a kebab after a night in Rockerfellas, then join the long queue for a taxi at 2.30am."

Interestingly for Peter Kay fans, Softys' Hard Stuff also appears in a deleted scene in series two of Phoenix Nights, when Paddy - played by Paddy McGuinness - walks into the shop.

Do you know of any other locations with an interesting past? If so, email the M.E.N's nostalgia writer or let us know in the comments section below.