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It was the 1970s. The three-day week was in force, strikes were everywhere and Britain lived under an oppressive gloom which cast a shadow over the entire country, but it wasn’t just the frequent blackouts which bathed Britain in darkness: puritanical campaigner Mary Whitehouse was out to ensure that the sexual liberation of the 60s stayed in the past, crushing the new freedoms under foot. The UK needed a new Lady Godiva to rally their spirits during dark days, and arrive she did, in the 4ft 11" package of Mary Maxted, but she became famous across the country as Mary Millington, Old Blighty’s first porn superstar.

Roland Rat might contest such a bold statement...

Director Simon Sheridan has spent many years researching the British adult film industry (or “vintage glamour” as he jokingly prefers) and his book, Keeping The British End Up is required reading for anyone interested in the sweaty underbelly of the British film industry,  where, - to misquote the late Colin Welland - “the British were cumming!”. We both have copies of that particular tome and Mr Sheridan's obsession with Mary Millington has finally been channelled into this loving documentary about one of Britain's tragic – and tragically unappreciated – icons of the late 20th century.

Like many of our generation, initial exposure to Mary Millington was through the sticky medium of old porno mags ones peers found stashed away in their parents’ bedrooms, where she adorned numerous pages in once-current photosets. Of course, the other entry point was through the nth reprinting of them in jazz-mags right into the mid-eighties. The divine Ms MM typified not only the concept of British porn, but that of the entire worldwide adult industry, with the same fate still befalling some of its stars to this day. With all the Chinese-whispers surrounding both her life and the squalid nature of her death, the world has always needed a fresh look at the girl whose smile radiated sexuality from a thousand pictures.

Harold Wilson saw much more than THAT - allegedly!

A look at the life of the Britain’s premiere porn star is not a new concept, but what makes this documentary stand out from the previous ones (being the tacky cash-in that was Mary Millington's True Blue Confessions and C4’s Sex and Fame: The Mary Millington Story) is that her all-important formative years are fleshed-out as opposed to broadly sketched, providing the viewer with more insight into what made her the person she became and how the remarkably strong ties to her mother governed her actions and sent down the path of destruction, culminating in a fatal drink/drugs overdose at the age of just 33.

There is a sense that once Millington completed her primary mission in life (whether or not she consciously saw paying for her mother's care during her terminal illness as such is open to debate) and that once this mission was complete, she saw little reason to continue with her own existence. No punches are pulled here, detailing her fairly rapid decline into drugs, depression and apathy are explored and fingers are pointed at those perceived to have helped her on her way to her early grave.

What we are getting here is a look at Millington as a human being, and not just a sexual object. For the oceans of jism her image has inspired, she was a dichotomy of strong and fragile. She was insecure and a number of things, including the almost morbid obsession with making money which contributed to her downfall. Yet at the same time, her sexual confidence made her a very strong individual, a confidence she hid behind, and for director Sheridan to explore this through interviews with Millington’s family is  nothing short of a master-stroke. Millington’s cousin, niece and nephew deliver the most human of perspectives and an angle which most others would have probably ignored, preferring to concentrate on those all-too ready to dish the dirt on her. The affection on the faces her niece and nephew as they talk of their famous aunt is something to relish, and the palpable sadness when recalling her death is affecting stuff.

Well, it's the 3rd year of Come Play With Me, anyway...

Although there are many interviewed herein with the description of being “Mary’s lover”, there is only one which seemed to attained purely through a personal connection, rather than via career/money-driven sex, and that is her childhood village of Dorking who knew her from her teenage years. Trevor Crook was there at key points in her life, right up to the day she died, and not being in showbiz or part of the elite, he gives valuable insight into and a grounding into Millington’s life. Some will note that as the documentary goes on, and the events he details become more tragic, his swearing increases in reflection of her wasted life.

A key player and lover in her life, David Sullivan has long had a reputation as being something of a sleaze-bag and his appearance in this documentary not precious little to dispel this image.   Sullivan (porno-mag king and later boss of the Sunday Sport) is on hand to tell how he got romantically involved with Mary and the lengths he went to promote her as the new sex sensation, as well as the police oppression she had to deal with when running her own sex shop. He also notes that Millington's mother was – at that time – the longest surviving breast cancer sufferer in the country; this can be seen as unfortunate in that the longer her mother continued to survive, the longer Mary worked in the adult entertainment industry and the further she ventured down the dark path of celebrity. Had Joan Quilter not had such longevity in the face of serious illness, it could be argued that the possibility of Mary Millington still being talked about today would be a tad unlikely.

There are many who argue that Mary was exploited by the industry, but such notions are quickly dispelled when model and actress Maureen Flanagan brings up the subject. She argues that the very nature of the game was exploitation and that the girls KNEW what was happening, what they were doing and how much they were being paid to do it. Such knowledge makes it difficult to argue if they were being completely exploited, and Mary was a very sharp woman, allowing her self to “top from the bottom”, to use and industry term. Still, it's not like any of the girls were in the same position that Linda Lovelace was – allegedly – in when she did the infamous short film about the love between a woman and her four-legged best friend.  Furthering such notions that Mary viewed it all as merely work that when on adult-related assignments in other countries, she would dutifully sent her ailing mother a postcard from wherever it was she had gone to do either a photo or film-shoot. It's a fairly safe bet that because of the nature of her international excursions, Mary didn't write the words “wish you were here” on them.

Official Chairman of the "Mary Whitehouse Appreciation Society".

Former glamour-girl (and occasional hardcore performer) Linzi Drew adds to the debate that Mary knew just how to play the game when she recounts the infamous audition process that Sullivan had for girls who wanted to appear in his magazines. You have probably guessed what it involves, by the girls  would have to perform fellatio on him in order to get in, a sort of quid-pro-blow, if you like. Whilst Drew gloats that she never submitted herself to such a degrading test, it's a certainty that Millington underwent this and other such indignities in order to get more money for her ill mother. Social Justice Warriors these days will be outraged that such practices went on, but they happened back then and probably still occur in some shady quarters these days.

The celebrity couple of former movie starlet Diana Dors and hell-raising alcoholic Alan Lake were also of significant importance in Mary’s life, and their son Jason Lake is on hand to fill in some the blanks when it came to her association with big stars. Looking alarmingly like his father, but without the glazed eyes and inflated sense of self-esteem only substances can bring, he is a fountain of stories about Millington and the wild parties his parents used to throw. The bond Millington shared with Dors was particularly close, some believing that the two had a lesbian fling, but the main contribution to her life (and death) was introducing her to cocaine, which warped her personality and fuelled the tailspin she was in since the her beloved mother died. This is certainly a different Jason Dors-Lake from years past, where he was on a path to self-destruction until an almost-fatal accident changed his outlook. He reveals how his childhood home - complete with cocaine and orgies - was not a nurturing environment, and that it really didn’t help anyone drawn into it.

There are a number of celebrities from the time to be found here recounting their experiences with diminutive sex-bomb, including Jess “famous for being famous” Conrad, but without doubt, the best interviewee has to be noted DJ Dave Cash, who was involved with Millington, recounting the time spend with her and provides the most insightful look at the change in her as life began to close in. It can be argued that he is the only one out of the participants who still seems genuinely saddened by Mary's tragic early demise, as her clearly had a lot of affection for her. He even played When Will I See You Again on his radio show when she died.

As well as interviewing personalities who got their togs off back in the day, director Sheridan also tracks down those working on the other side of the camera, giving their views on not only Millington, but also about the times and the industry they worked in, providing a background and context to those either viewers who either weren't alive during the seventies, or were too young to properly comprehend the socio-political events of the time.  Directors who worked with or knew Mary at the time appear, whether in new interviews or using archive footage of one or two who have “cut” and “print” called on their lives. It's a slightly embarrassing thing to admit, but one of your humble reviewers was once in the company of director Ken Rowles (who appears on this documentary) and - after one sherry too many - accidentally let slip an awkward comment about the acting abilities of one of his former starlet girlfriends. The one with the very nice Mercedes…

It is frustrating that there is precious little in the way of interview footage of Millington herself , but given the almost covert nature of a good portion of her live and career, it‘s more than understandable. Mary is represented here by excerpts from the same interview used in True Blue Confessions; Millington comes across as a fairly intelligent person, but the childlike quality to her nature is audible in her voice and always seems to radiate the feeling of a “little girl lost”.It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Millington was the almost the distaff flip-side of Kenneth Williams, prostituting themselves to the lower classes whilst enjoying the delights higher living and fame brought them, yet both loathing unwanted attention whilst simultaneously craving affection which was usually denied them. The big difference was that where Williams was crippled by an almost morbid case of penetration angst, Millington had no such qualms with impaling herself on masculinity.

Not for sale to minors?  Scargill must have been furious!

In some ways, Respectable also functions as a wee look at the making of Come Play With Me, which should have been included on the DVD release the Gone With the Wind of British sex comedies, but was left wanting. Here we are given numerous titbits and insight into the production, including just how shambolic the whole thing was, with the cast partying during the night and staggering onto the set late the next day, eventually having to be marshalled and watched to make sure the film was finished. Indeed, the subject of Sullivan hyping Come Play With Me at the time of the film's release is something that your humble reviewers remember, as the man blatantly lied his Kyhber off about just how strong the sex scenes were in the film; seemingly every one of Sullivan's publications had pictures of Mary with her legs spread wide open and her fingers parting her labia and some caption inferred that this was representative of the content of the film, which was, of course, complete bollocks. Still, such blatant false publicity helped the film run for five years (if Sullivan had used pictures of Irene Handl doing the same thing, the film would have closed within a week and prints would've been burnt and their ashes buried in salted earth!) The five year-run presumably ended when video recorders started to appear in UK homes and people either got hold of hardcore material, or got hold of copies of Come Play With Me and saw that it was no more explicit than one of the Confessions films. Speaking of which, you have to hand it to Pat Astley for telling it like it is, describing Come Play With Me as “rubbish"...

People who lived in the boom era of sex shops and pornographic magazines cannot fail to feel a certain nostalgic pang when looking at footage of such establishments, and the footage - much of it seemingly borrowed from Mary Millington's True Blue Confessions and The Playbirds - will seem like something from the Dark Ages if you showed it to some late teen who has grown up twisting their wrist to any manner of sexual act available at the click of a button. Speaking of sexual acts, there is some surprising hardcore footage included in Respectable, which consists of fellatio performed upon erect penises, along with mid-shot penetration; whether or not this was just looked upon as “vintage” by the BBFC and deemed too removed from modern time to be overly arousing, offensive or corrupting, this surprisingly explicit footage allows those without access to the internet a decent look at Mrs Borloch, Mary's infamous German-filmed hardcore short.  

Respectable will have people old enough to remember Mary Millington wanting to find out more about the woman that many fantasised about and those unfamiliar with her will find an entertaining and insightful look at a tragic figure who was used and abused, loved and loathed, and revered and reviled in equal measure by so many in Britain in the seventies. Whilst you might wonder if it’s been sugar-coated, we can confirm that it hasn’t. Drugs, high-class hooker-to-the-stars, kleptomania, police persecution, the sexless marriage, the downward spiral and impending divorce: all the tragic events are here. Oh, and you wait until you hear Dudley Sutton’s description of the aforementioned Ms Whitehouse! With a documentary this good, the visuals need to hold up well. Let’s take a look:

Cunt.  There, we said it!

Video


Shown in its original 1.78:1 ratio, Respectable looks much more than just its title, with the new interview footage practically gleaming.  Archive footage retains both print damage and subsequent charm, looking better than the age-old tape most of us reading would be familiar with. There isn’t much else to report, as it all looks lovely, and we’ll just say that the archive photos of MM look just fabulous!


Audio


Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, the soundtrack is serviceable enough, with crisp and clean dialogue from the interviewees and the music score has a pretty impressive degree of dynamic range - the sinister pulsing score as the documentary recounts Millington falling into the clutches of Dors and Lake practically throbs from your speakers.

Extras


Audio Commentary: The BFI’s Sam Dunn sit down with Simon Sheridan to watch the documentary together, and it‘s an enjoyable, informal account of not just the movie, but all the events contained therein. Striking a chord with us is when Sheridan recounts how he got into watching British sex films through the video explosion of the eighties, with a lovely description of the “big, chunky box VHS” cases which lured him in. There is even more info about Mary to be found here, with the running time of the movie alone insufficient to carry all of the film-maker’s knowledge about her. Nuggets include how Mary wasn’t allowed to appear on BBC programmes, even though she was a regular visitor to Broadcasting House, and that Sheridan owns her actual suicide note. He didn’t want the film to end on a sad note, choosing to show images of Mary at the sensual peak. Of the greatest interest is when it reveals the true extent of Mary’s cocaine addiction, detailing how she used to buy it in huge quantities, hiding it in film cans, at the homes of friends and even all the way along behind her skirting board. Not only that, but it clarifies a point from the documentary in that she was probably into drugs prior to meeting up with Diana Dors and Alan Lake, nurturing and feeding her addiction rather than starting it.

Give that space-alien a cheeseburger!

Confessions From The David Sullivan Affair: This amusingly-titled extra is a collection of unused interview material with Britain’s most successful pornographer. Many topics are covered, including the real reason why Mary Millington was found “not guilty” at her Old Bailey trial, as well as the subject of Rosemary England, the pneumatic starlet Sullivan was grooming to replace Mary even before her death. Best of all is a look at a Christmas present she gave him in 1977, being a portrait painting showcasing the different sides to her personality.

Keep It Up, Sue: In Conversation With Sue Longhurst:  The lovely Ms L has always been a favourite among aficionados of British smut, with her wit, charm and personality dispelling myths that everyone who made a career getting their kit off was born without a brain. She discusses Mary, the one time she was offered hardcore porn, and provides still more invaluable insight into Come Play With Me, where she fails to get her head around the ridiculous plotting and general goings-on of the production, noting with befuddlement that only the director seemed to be amused by the whole thing, with: “…Harrsion-Marks killing himself laughing at himself”. Longhurst is wonderful, and it takes a woman with a abundance of class to look back at her smut career and proudly say that she thoroughly enjoyed herself during her time on them.

Sex Talk With Ed Tudor-Pole: Appearing with Mary in The Great Rock & Roll Swindle, Ed recounts his time with her in minute detail, including how he saw the inside of her dressing-room, only to have his moment of glory derailed when he heard that fellow Sex Pistol Steve Jones had not only been in there, but had had oral sex with her, too. “Mind you,” he adds, “he was very good at getting blow-jobs!”. Also funny is his awkward time when he had to explain the appeal of dirty books to his son, where he asks the eternal question of: “How do you tell an eight-year-old what the point of porn is?” We’ve always liked Ed, but he’s gone down a little in our eyes when he calls Marty Whitehouse "well-intentioned", and that she was probably right about the decline in morals back in the seventies.

Party Pieces: This is an absolute must for the Millington devotee, being one the previously “lost” 8mm shorts she made before her days as a sex superstar. Presented in black and white, it’s 11 minutes of silent smut featuring numerous coupling couples, and Mary is pretty damned stunning in this one. Straight, and girl-on-girl are the order of the day, and given how poor a condition this was in when recovered, it is a miracle that it looks even this good, and the tramlines running down the print just add a good dose of nostalgic charm.

Original 1977 Come Play With Me Trailer: Unseen for nearly 40 years, this is an amazing find. If you have ever wondered just how the hell they would market the movie to an unsuspecting audience, then your answer is here! They just sell it exactly as it is: a horribly outmoded comedy film with crap humour and tits. There is plenty of nudity on display, but contrasting almost violently against the eternally-promising ads run in David Sullivan’s publications which claimed it was chock-full of hardcore sex.  Still, it has part of the lost footage shot for the hardcore European version, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. More than the movie itself, to be honest.

Respectable Teaser Trailer: Just what it says, and enough to whet the appetite, among other things…

From the makers of post-credits Great Rock & Roll Swindle tag.

Overall


Director Simon Sheridan has come a long way since staring at Mary Millington's grave in the 1996 documentary, Sex and Fame: The Mary Millington Story; his passion for Millington has spanned decades, and his knowledge of the British exploitation scene can be called definitive. Both have culminated in what can easily be called the definitive look at short life and career of a woman who was one of the most iconic faces in Britain during the seventies. Whilst it is required viewing for anyone with a keen interest sex, it is a must-see for anyone wanting to see the very human side of sex-destruction. Mr Sheridan has set the benchmark for incisive exploitation documentaries.

With the preponderance of porn freely available in the UK these days, the notion of a British sex superstar raises few eyebrows, as any idiot with big tits can whip ‘em out and impale themselves of the nearest meat-truncheon and call themselves a porno-queen. Take the trip back with this definitive documentary to see when good things came in small packages, when the most revelatory names in the history of the industry had the world in the palm of her hand. She was sexuality. She was not long for the world upon which she left her indelible mark.

There will never be another Mary Millington, and her memory is best served watching this superb look at the girl from Dorking.


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