Topless Fish Saleswomen Legal in Liverpool

Status: Undetermined (though I'm assuming it's false, until proven otherwise)
Some of you may have read this claim before: "Topless saleswomen are legal in Liverpool, England, but only in tropical fish stores." I hadn't heard it before until I happened upon it on the blog of Cavan Scott who is (rightly, I think) quite skeptical of it. He's emailed the Liverpool county council to get their opinion about it, but my guess is that he probably won't get a reply. (Though I decided to send them an email too... they must be wondering why so many emails about topless fish clerks are pouring in.)

I then wasted a lot of time trying to track down the source of the claim. I quickly figured out that it's posted on (which is probably where everyone else on the internet learned about it), but they provide no references for it. So they could have just made it up. I then searched the Lexis-Nexis legal and news database for any mention of topless Liverpudlian fish saleswomen, but found nothing besides references to the dumb laws site. (No surprise there.) My wife, whose grandmother lives in Liverpool, had never heard of such a law. In other words, I can find absolutely no source, besides, to indicate that this Liverpool law is true. Which is why I'm labelling it as false, until proven otherwise. If it does happen to be true, I'd really like to know what the original reason for passing such a law was.


Posted on Thu Feb 02, 2006


Liverpool isn't a state, it's a city and it has no law-making government so this couldn't possibly be a currently valid law. Liverpool Council have limited powers relating to parking, planning applications, etc, but something like this would be well outside their remit.

The only bodies in the UK that can make laws are the British Parliament in London, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and Northern Irish Parliament (when it isn't suspended). It is theoretically possible that the Houses of Commons and Lords could vote through a law about topless saleswomen in Liverpool but it obviously hasn't ever happened.

It is also possible that this is some very old law from pre-UK days. This is the catagory that most of these stories fall into (it's legal to shoot Welshmen with longbows in Bristol, etc) but if so then it is no longer legal anyway. All pre-British Parliament law was repealed. And "tropical fish" doesn't fit that idea anyway.
Posted by Killer Bob  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  04:02 AM
I don't think there would be any need for such a law anyway. There are topless bars dotted around England, and as far as I know, as long as they give clear warnings outside, and the women can't be seen from the outside, there is no problem.
Posted by Andrew Nixon  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  04:22 AM
So it may be kinda like the archaic Texas laws like the one where you can shoot trespassers on your property after dark as they might be "cattle rustlers"....o, wait, they still use that law to defend people who shot someone.
Posted by Chuck  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  04:52 AM
actually in the UK city and county councils can pass bye laws that are specific to their local jurisdiction. usually they're fairly inane and deal with fairly run of the mill stuff, such as dealing with travellers etc. but it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that wacky bye-laws exist.

again with this topless fish lady thing though, you've gotta wonder "why?"
Posted by David  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  05:00 AM
This may be a joke relevant to an episode of Monty Pythons Flying Circus. Not the movies, the BBC show. I rented some of the episodes on DVD from netflix. I'm not sure if the scene was set in Liverpool, but it consisted of John Cleese walking into a store and buying a newspaper from a topless women and acting entirely unsurprised. It was pretty funny. I don't remember if there were fish in the store.
Posted by rolaids  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  07:38 AM
Useless without a pic.
Posted by Craig  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  07:40 AM
If that is a law, I doubt is a very practised one. A lot of time towns will not bother to change old laws, but instead will just pretend that they don't exist.
Posted by Dracul  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  01:16 PM
*wonders if people actually read previous comments prior to making one of their own*
Posted by Chuck  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  02:15 PM
In the Monty Python sketch, it was a newsstand (not a pet shop) that had the topless (and presumably completely nude, though you couldn't see all of her) saleswoman. The sketch was called something like, "The Boring Life of a Chartered Public Accountant." All sorts of wild stuff went on everywhere he went, but he never seemed to notice.

Maybe you're confusing this with the "Dead Parrot" sketch, which did take place in a pet shop, but it was in a different episode.
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  02:44 PM
It does seem extremely unlikely that there's ever been such a law. But there should be!
I'm going to start lobbying for this ordinance, and if I'm successful, I'll open the first topless aquarium shop. Since my fellow aquarium hobbyists are about 96% male, and mostly of the nerdy and lonely variety, it should be a huge success.
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  02:47 PM
To have a topless bar they would have to apply for a licence. so... did a fish shop owner apply for one?

Although it just occurred to me this is wild and mindless speculation.

I just wasted 5 seconds of your life.. I am sorry.
Posted by Peter  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  03:09 PM
I've got to think "mindless speculation" is a lot like "eyeless watching".

ooh! Just gave a brilliant idea! A topless blouse. Think of the marketing possibilities! I'll bet every aquarium-store clerk in Liverpool will want one.
Posted by Joe  on  Thu Feb 02, 2006  at  08:52 PM
topless, because when they lean over into the fish tank to get a fish, their boobs get wet anyway, so this saves a lot of clothing changes. i am pretty sure this was in a movie, i can't remember which one, though.
Posted by thephrog  on  Fri Feb 03, 2006  at  10:09 PM
deuce bigelow, male gigolo. that is the movie!
Posted by thephrog  on  Fri Feb 03, 2006  at  10:09 PM
It's to do with mermaids and that sorta thing
Posted by fool_hardy  on  Sun Feb 05, 2006  at  07:54 PM
I've heard about this. City councils can pass by-laws which only are affected within the city limits where the by-law was created.
Posted by Count_Varg  on  Sat Apr 22, 2006  at  01:46 AM
So - has anyone ever considered what this does to the tropical fish .... excited, agitated,
Posted by Hmm  on  Tue Nov 07, 2006  at  02:07 PM
Local Councils in England and Wales may pass local by-laws which are enforceable within the limits of the city. These are usually concerned with such trivialities as parking restrictions and picking up dog shit from the street etc. You won't find any English city with a sense of humour like Liverpool, but even there, I have never heard of topless fish vendors, or any other type of saleswoman routinely showing her knockers by legal requirement. Urban myth, like the bloke whose mother died in the caravan, and when he returned for help found the caravan had been stolen. Although if the argument is that the vendor MAY legally go topless, that is completely true, since nudity is not a crime in England, (so long as anyone who sees the naked person is not offended), and topless women in any case are not considered to be naked. Tits do not cause offence in Europe and most UK family tabloid papers carry daily pictures of topless models.
Posted by Lee  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  08:33 PM
Further to my previous comment; this "law" is not a law at all, merely a statement of what is legal, not what is required in law. A saleswoman may choose to show her jugs in Liverpool. Any woman anywhere in England and Wales may go topless and not be prosecuted. This does not mean there is specifically a law aimed at female vendors of live tropical fish. "Indecent exposure" (the public display of one's genitals) is only a crime if anyone who sees them categorically expresses offence, and breast are not genitals!
Posted by Lee  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  08:52 PM
Has no-one ever been to England then? It's too flaming cold to go topless, regardless of whether or not it is legal!
Posted by Michelle  on  Fri Aug 31, 2007  at  08:58 AM
A quick search of the Liverpool city council by laws yields this document :

Whilst it goes into great details about how a pet shop owner should run their business (especially if they are going to stock marmosets), alas it makes no mention of topless attendants.... but it doesn't say they can't either.
The only mention of "topless" is in section 3.30 of the liecencing guidlines for pubs and clubs where bars offering topless bar service will be subject to close scrutiny.... Well Duh!
Posted by Redfred  on  Fri Nov 02, 2007  at  06:33 AM
Sorry, it's not true!
Posted by Helen  on  Thu Nov 08, 2007  at  06:25 AM
I'm sorry it's not true too!
Posted by Mal  on  Mon Sep 08, 2008  at  02:43 PM
I had never heard of this until it was mentioned on Bones tonight. On looking it up, I found this site. Just thought I'd mention that it had been brought up!
Posted by Matt  on  Wed Oct 08, 2008  at  11:04 PM
It was just mentioned in a recent episode of Bones.
Posted by Sage  on  Fri Oct 10, 2008  at  09:23 PM
This story seems to have started with an episode of Bones on Sky tv. In an early episode they have an english gradute from Leeds university who spouts the statement Topless saleswomen are legal in Liverpool, England, but only in tropical fish stores. If he actually was a Leeds graduate I am hardly surprised.
Posted by Bill  on  Thu Jan 15, 2009  at  03:18 PM
I smiled when I read this post, and I have yet to come upon a topless pet shop owner here in Liverpool.
In my humble opinion I think the history of this law would be to do with the men who worked at the dockside,handling fish as they were brought in off the boats. Another possibility could be to do with the stalls as they sold fish, in case ladies might be embarressed by a bare chested bloke.
I am going back a bit, as in this day and age a lady sadly would not blink an eyelid if the stall holder dropped his kecks and mooned all day long
such is life
Posted by Irene  on  Tue Feb 17, 2009  at  05:21 AM
There is no law in England that prevents people from being topless or nude on private property if they can't be seen from the road. As a fish shop would undoubtedly be private property then no specific legislation is required for the staff to be topless.
Furthermore, as stated previously, exposure of the breasts in public is not specifically prohibited in England.
Posted by Eeyore  on  Fri Mar 05, 2010  at  02:05 AM
The interesting thing about the Telegraph article
is that it cites the law in question as stating that it is illegal for a woman to be topless in Liverpool UNLESS she works in a tropical fish shop. They go on to state that no such law exists. Therefore, if the law making it illegal to be topless in Liverpool doesn't exist, then the obvious conclusion is that it is entirely legal for a woman to be topless anywhere in Liverpool INCLUDING in a tropical fish shop!
Posted by Eeyore  on  Fri Mar 05, 2010  at  02:32 AM
i need a aquarium job
i am specialised in marine aquariums
Posted by afroz  on  Thu Mar 25, 2010  at  01:18 AM
Mostly this thread has got to the correct conclusion. However there is no such law as indecent exposure, it was repealed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The replacement should be called "Aggressive Exposure" because it is carefully worded to deal with flashers but avoid turning other nudity into a sexual offence. It isn't so people get mislead and assume that all nudity must be illegal.

The law does not say that it is illegal to cause offence, it says that it is illegal to do anything which is likely to cause offence (a very important difference). That is so vague (how offensive, how likely?) that to a large extent the police, CPS and Courts can make it up as they go along. Also, the definition of public place is very much wider than just visible from a highway.

I would not be at all surprised if there was a byelaw somewhere in the country similar to the Liverpool hoax. The enabling powers are are many, varied and often so broad that councils can make just about anything that they don't like illegal. For example there is one stretch of the UK coast with a byelaw requires swim suits to cover from neck to knees. I obtained a copy from the council solicitor to confirm it.
Posted by Malcolm Boura  on  Sun Mar 28, 2010  at  02:02 PM
This was mentioned in an episode of Bones, Season 4 episode 7 "The He in the She"... I found this site in a google search to see if it was true. 😊)
Posted by Pickles  on  Mon Jun 28, 2010  at  09:23 AM
Have to check with my Scouse mates
Posted by Peter b  on  Mon Jun 28, 2010  at  10:07 AM
I have found a text dating back to 1973 which makes reference to the subject. A local resident Mr Stanley Boardmen suggested that in the 1940's quite a number of Fish Shops in Liverpool were made topless. Furthermore he made acussations that Germans might have been responsible.
Posted by JonJo  on  Thu Jul 01, 2010  at  04:07 PM
I saw this so called fact about topless saleswomen(I knew it was fake too) on a website that also had this fake fact: In 2004 the Olsen twins (Mary Kate And Ashley) business grossed over $1 billion. The Olsen twins have a lot of money but they aren't billionaires, and their various fashion and video schemes are not grossing anything close to that. But the liar who wrote this knows that it is hard to disprove, because a private company does not disclose how much it grosses per year. A huge percentage of people are just extremely gullible and believe any nutty email or website. Look, most people in this country believed 7 years ago that a country with no nuclear weapons (Iraq) was going to hit us with a nuclear weapon! That is impossible.
Posted by RCA  on  Mon Nov 29, 2010  at  08:23 AM
Not saying if it's true or false but there is ALOT of laws in England which date back century's that arcade never been out lawed. So it could be a law that's never been flagged and therefore still technically enforced. There are some really funny ones out there.
Posted by Becky  on  Tue Jun 12, 2012  at  06:14 PM
This was mentioned in and episode of Bones. Season 4 episode 7. Maybe that's why it's all over the net.
Posted by Paul Nelson  on  Wed Jan 02, 2013  at  07:32 PM
Which is why this story was originally posted in February 2006, two and a half years before the "Bones" episode you're referring to (which initially aired in November 2008). Maybe the writers got the idea from this website? 😉
Posted by Smerk  on  Thu Jan 03, 2013  at  03:50 AM
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