Mary as ‘Marion Ellis’ in Parade magazine, scans courtesy of Ffucs
Friday, 26 August 2011
Thursday, 18 August 2011
So August 19th comes around again, marking 32 years since Mary Millington died. Its a date I skipped over giving attention to last year, and yet so much has gone on this year-both good, bad and ugly- that it is hard not to be drawn to the significance of the date this time around.
As we sail into the 21st century, now is certainly as good a time as any to preserve what we can of 20th century pop culture, and I do genuinely feel that Mary Millington is worth remembering. Kudos then to Simon Sheridan, someone who has done a lot to keep her legacy in the public eye, recently having been the driving force in getting her key films –and Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair- out on DVD, thus giving the uninitiated the chance to see the sort of cinema he has been bigging up in print for the last several years. Whatever else can be said about the British sex film era, few of its players could be accused of being dull. The genre offers up an endlessly fascinating array of sexy starlets, poorly paid screenwriters cranking out scripts in bedsits and university study halls, wealthy city businessmen who had money in these films but always insisted on keeping their names off the credits, slumming thespians who’d become too identified with one sitcom role, and producers and directors whose films often mirrored their off screen activities as crumpet chasers and/or obsessive voyeurs.
None of these characters however epitomises the British sex film quite like Mary Millington, a woman whose entire career would be played out during it, her rise to fame paralleling the peak of the genre’s popularity in the mid-1970s and her death in 1979 signalling the final elbow for this period of filmmaking. It is impossible to separate the woman from her era, with any mental image of her inevitably bringing with it such unmistakably 1970s trappings as the funky platform boots she wears in Betrayed, the blue eye shadow she sports in The Playbirds’ sauna scenes, and the Emmanuelle T-Shirt and oversized sunglasses compo modelled by her in the opening of I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight. In the past it has been suggested she was the genre’s Marilyn Monroe, and whilst the Monroe comparisons might not hold up under close scrutiny, at least it provides a damn sight more dignified comparison than having her explained as “the Jordan of her generation”.
Aside from merely titillating the masses, Millington’s career would see her break taboos, challenge the status quo regarding the portrayal of sex and nudity in British society, become militantly anti-censorship and actively mouth back to the law and the prudes of the period, and then get crucified for it.
Just as the “Confessions” films took on the Carry On series in the mid-1970s, and by adding sex and nudity to the British comedy mix, eventually overtook them in popularity because of this, so too the top shelf publications of David Sullivan were similarly upping the ante in terms of explicitness and blowing away the old fashioned competition in the process. Prior to Sullivan’s assault on the top shelf magazines like Mayfair still clung to the 1950s Playboy model of being a men’s lifestyle magazine. Mayfair’s mixture of tasteful nude shoots, fiction, cartoon funnies and old WW2 stories suggesting contents aimed at a gentleman’s club mentality, a fact emphasized by that magazine’s chosen title. Sullivan’s magazines had no time for such social niceties, offered little pretence to being anything other than pornography and were aimed squarely at an 18-30 working class male audience. A demographic Sullivan instinctively understood, after all having been born in 1949 on a council estate he certainly qualified as being one himself. Millington –who first appeared in Sullivan magazines in 1975- became the perfect muse for this new style of porn magazine and instantly clicked with its target audience. The magazines themselves offer the best proof of this, open up any Sullivan magazine from this period and you’re likely to see her pictured draped over joe public, be it busmen, dustmen, electricians or taxi drivers, generally accompanied by made up sex stories that spoke to the working class libido as much as any ‘Confessions of a…’ or ‘Adventures of a..’ film. All of which succeeded in making Millington a far more believable and accessible fantasy figure to the everyman than the superficially similar Fiona Richmond. As her friend/dialogue coach/hanger-on John M. East once remarked “to the upper classes they didn’t know her, but (to) the ordinary working men she was their masturbatory idol”. This erotic spark between Millington and her audience, and certainly the size of her popularity with them, was destined never to be equalled by the numerous other models whose faces and personalities would be splashed over Sullivan’s magazines in the years to follow. The lifeless, nude gyrations of her would-be-successors in 1981’s desperate, cash-in film “Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza”, only illustrate how hard her appeal was to replicate.
History largely suggests the claims within Sullivan’s magazines to be fighting censorship on their punters behalf was all phoney baloney. These days Sullivan readily admits to have only been interested in publishing “the strongest possible material without breaking the law”, and falling foul of Britain’s obscene publications act on a regular basis was clearly not among his ambitions in life. For all their explicitness, ultimately his magazines are likely to be remembered for what they falsely promised rather than what they actually delivered. Claims in the magazines that they would soon be ‘going hardcore’ were never followed through and it is routinely pointed out that his film productions never lived up to the ludicrous hype (“the only blue film made in Britain”, “makes Linda Lovelace look like Noddy”) that preceded them. The list of exaggerations and fibs in Sullivan’s magazines was as long as Big John English’s cock. Yet there can be no doubt that Millington herself had a firm belief in the anti-censorship ideology of his magazines, and took people’s right to view, produce and publish pornographic material on as her own personal cause. A difference of opinion on this matter would see cracks appearing in the both the personal and professional sides to the Sullivan/Millington relationship. While Sullivan clearly had no desire to antagonise the authorities, Millington relished any opportunity to do so, provocatively appearing as a policewoman in The Playbirds- a film that continually makes the police force look stupid and incompetent- and offering quotes to journalists like “I hate policemen, their truncheons are always bigger than their cocks”. Predictably police harassment, tax difficulties, and just about every other problem the establishment could throw her way ensued. By 1977 she was in court on obscenity charges, only to be found not guilty, an incident that victoriously opens her 1979 biography ‘The Amazing Mary Millington’. If the book is anything to go by her fight against censorship had become an obsession by this point. It’s a subject she returns to in the book over and over and over again, even going so far as reprinting 40 pages of a report commissioned by David Webb’s campaign to reform the obscene publications act as an appendix. Right till the very end she was still pleading the case for this cause. One of several of her suicide notes- likely written as a lethal cocktail of anafranil, alcohol and paracetamol were taking effect- comments ‘I do hope so much porn is legal one day, they called me obscene names for being in possession of it- I can’t go through anymore’. Chances are that sentiments like those were some the last thoughts to ever go through that tormented mind.
For a person who has been dead over 30 years, Millington’s life and career is still offering up its fair share of new surprises, twists and revelations. As I mentioned at the start of this piece this has been a busy year for Millington archaeology, an especially exciting find was ‘Wild Lovers’, a hither to unknown 8mm sex film from her pre-fame days, a find that pour moi offered the double thrill of uncovering a forgotten film of hers and also played to my interest in tracking down and documenting truly obscure examples of British filmmaking. On a somewhat more lowbrow note, the names of several famous people who quite literally bought the dear girl’s affections i.e. are likely to have ‘known’ her in her capacity as a high class prostitute, have also come to my attention, as has the identity of the “Capital Radio DJ Boyfriend”. Explosive information indeed, although good sense tells me not to use it, given that it might be seen as tacky or muckraking to bring this information to the internet, not to mention have whatever mischief the disclosure of this info would undoubtedly cause boomerang back on me in the form of libel action. Even so it does leave a bad taste in the mouth to think that she is likely to be remembered in the history books as a “70s porn star who became addicted to cocaine and committed suicide”, while other individuals get to keep their family friendly, light entertainment reputations intact, and their public in the dark about their involvement with drugs or having paid for the services of Miss Bohrloch herself. Of course even if I could name names, I doubt many would thank me for the mental images they’d evoke, suffice to say there is good reason why a number of these famous gents HAD to pay for sex. On several occasions after being told of her celebrity clients’ identities, my initial reaction has been “I hope they paid her well”.
For all of the insider gossip, rare photos and a lost film that have come to light this year, 2011 is turning out to be a bumpy year for several Mary Millington fans. Discretion prevents me from going into detail about a lot of the madness that has/is being played out privately, but in the last few months I’ve seen friends and fellow Millington aficionados conned, threatened and hurt mainly at the hands of freaks, fantasists, and persons with an disingenuous interest in her. The most extreme example of this saw a Millington connoisseur of my acquaintance having to call her old foes the police after receiving death threats from one human nightmare masquerading as a seller of film memorabilia. At times it feels like I’ve been on a ghost train ride-‘Mary Millington’s House of Horrors’ if you will- and shunted around views of one horrific incident after another that are currently being played out in other people’s lives. Part of me wonders whether Mary would get a slight kick out her ability to still cause controversy and thirty odd years after her death get to be the subject of a film, death threats and a police investigation, at the same time she doesn’t come across as the type who would have suffered fools gladly, and I’m in little doubt that she would choke on her Campari and Lemonade if she were around to hear a few of the stories from the last twelve months. It’s a testament to these peoples’ dedication to her that their interest and fandom in her remains undiminished despite all the shit storm of troubles recently thrown their way by a few bad eggs.
Today Millington has a far greater presence on the internet than ever before, with fan sites and forums springing up and encouraging people to dig out old magazines and get long forgotten 8mm films and photo-shoots of hers back into circulation. Hopefully these sites will continue to grow, educate, titillate, entertain and allow Mary to cast her sexy spell over the internet, while in the process stoking the memories of those who remember her first time around, and winning her new fans too, because well…….there really is something about Mary Millington.
Monday, 1 August 2011
These were clearly taken during a very long (given the amount of photos that have surfaced from it) lesbian themed shoot, presumably as an afterthought by a photographer with an eye on selling some photos to a spanking magazine of the time. Mary is known to have appeared in Swish magazine a few times in the early part of her career, so possibly that is where these photos ended up. Credit to original uploader.