Monday, 15 December 2014

RIP Chris O’Loughlin

A dark cloud looms over this month, with the news that my internet pal Chris O’Loughlin, who also wrote under the pen name Jonny Sambuca, passed away on the 21st of November, after a battle with cancer. I guess you could say it was Timmy Lea who first caused Chris to enter into my orbit, when Chris contacted me with the idea of him writing a book about the Timmy Lea ‘Confessions of a’ film series. What initially struck me was that Chris was an Australian, born in Hobart, Tasmania, and while I’d been aware that Australia was something of a second home for British sex comedies –with even terrible ones like The Love Pill and Emmanuelle in Soho having been released there- Chris really opened my eyes to just how well loved Robin Askwith’s cinematic sexcapades were ‘down under’. Chris had amassed a huge collection of Confessions related memorabilia from around the world, Yugoslavian stills, Icelandic pressbooks, back issues of Titbits, and ads for cheapskate ‘Confessions’ tie-in competitions with prizes including an electric blanket and a deluxe pop-up toaster, good grief Columbia pictures and Greg Smith were really pushing the boat out with those glittering prizes.

Chris’ main reason for contacting me was due to my friendship with Suzy Mandel, who he’d hoped to interview for the book. A plan that eventually morphed into Suzy writing the ‘outro’ for the chapter about Confessions of a Driving Instructor. I encouraged Chris to seek out further former Confessions starlets for the book, not that he needed my encouragement there, Carol Hawkins initially showed an interest but never got back to him, Chris did however strike up a friendship with Nicola Blackman, ‘Blackbird’ in Confessions from a Holiday Camp. Nicola’s outro to the Holiday Camp chapter turned out to be a superb piece of writing in its own right, and satisfied my own curiosity as to what the actress made of a now rather contentious role thirty odd years on. Chris had hoped to round out the book with an interview with the great man himself, Robin Askwith, but in the event had to make do with archive interviews with Askwith and Greg Smith, originally conducted in the mid to late 2000s.

So much hostility exists towards the Confessions films on home turf, decades of put downs, snobbery and historical revisionism have taken its toll on the series, with much of the criticism predictably emanating from people detached from the working class culture these films were a product of. This was one of the reasons why I threw whatever support I could behind Chris’ book. Much like Su Tune’s Robin Askwith blog, I felt that having being born outside the land these films sprung from was actually their mutual strong point. The likes of Chris and Su never having been tainted by the negativity that haunts these films in the UK, or the fear of being branded ‘unhip’ for saying anything nice about the Confessions series. Sure enough, Chris’ book boasted a true fan’s enthusiasm for the series, with pages and pages of headshots of his favourite characters, the crème de la crème of their Christopher Wood dialogue, and bits and bobs of rarely heard trivia (Suzy was particularly tickled by the revelation that Confessions producer Greg Smith had been a pantomime dame early on in his career.) Chris wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few politically correct feathers either, and fully entered into the spirit of the films by phwoaring over their actresses. Olivia Munday earned his praise for her “great slutty performance”’ in Window Cleaner, whilst in Confessions of a Driving Instructor “Suzy Mandel looks real hands down the front of ya pants horn cracking, the best she has ever looked on film”. Everything about the book spoke of his gratitude for the fun and enjoyment the films had given him over the years “it was a great thrill to be amongst two hundred odd people laughing and hollering from the very first opening to the closing credits” he wrote of attending a 1981 cinema screening of Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

His take on the Confessions films wasn’t entirely in keeping with my own or popular opinion, he wasn’t a big fan of Confessions of a Pop Performer and thought the sequels director Norman Cohen was an notably inferior director to Window Cleaner’s Val Guest (I’ve never seen the join where one ends and the other’s work begins myself). However the book was Chris’ own personal journey to the heart of the Confessions films, and I couldn’t help but respect the time and effort he’d put into it.

Privately I was rather concerned that finding a publisher for such a book would be an uphill struggle, especially with it being a visually driven book, and one that only the expensive, coffee table treatment would have done justice to. Realistically, I have to admit that British sexploitation cinema is a very hard sell to people, harder than say British horror or American sexploitation cinema. I kept my fears to myself though, hoping they were unjustified, and passed onto him the names of just about every niche British publisher I could think of who might pick it up and run with the idea. Their responses were- I gather- a bit muted, with one publisher pretty much echoing my private fears when they turned him down- citing the fact that a similar themed book they’d published had been one of their lowest selling titles.

I didn’t hear back from Chris for a long while after that, and he seemed to disappear from the internet for a time. His silence I’d hoped would be entirely down to him being busy re-tuning the book and pitching it to various publishers, but when he eventually re-emerged ill-health sadly turned out to be the real reason for his absence. “I’m alright at the mo, but long-term unfortunately doesn’t look too positive” he told me back in June. It was around this time that he sent me a 185 page PDF copy of the book, and asked for my feedback. Under normal circumstances I might have chipped in the odd bit of constructive criticism and advice, but given the awfulness of his situation, I felt the need to offer nothing but praise and good will. I did make the suggestion that if all else failed then maybe the book could be published electronically, or self-distributed on data CDs, but I got the impression that he always wanted it to be a ‘real’ book, and besides I suspected his health needed to be his number one priority and that the book was being put on the back burner. In our last correspondence I brought up the subject of Guy N. Smith’s unofficial ‘Confessions’ books, which Chris had given a special visual mention to at the end of his book. Atrocious looking, even by the inglorious standards of Confessions rip-offs, these books were so creatively barren they came up with their names by merely adding the word ‘sexy’ to the titles of pre-existing Askwith films, hence ‘Sexy Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ and ‘Sexy Confessions of a Pop Performer’.


Confessions of a Window Cleaner- Guy N Smith style

Smith’s writing in these books appears to play second fiddle to softcore photos of lame Askwith and Olivia Munday clones going at it. Whereas in Smith’s horror paperbacks the characters were frequently in danger of being killed by crabs, the models in his Confessions books look more in peril of contracting the crabs. Needless to say, the sneak peek of the Smith knockoffs in Chris’ book makes you instantly want to go out and find one of these monstrosities for yourself. “They are what you would expect” Chris jokingly warned. So our relationship at least ended on a high, and a laugh, with both of us taking the piss out of Guy N. Smith.

In a perfect world, Chris would still be around, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you’d be holding a glossy, hardback, coffee table version of his book in your hands. I can only hope that the book surfaces in one form or another, and I’m heartbroken that he didn’t realize his dream of having it published. It deserves to be regarded as a treasure trove by Confessions fans, and Chris himself deserves to be remembered as a man who flew the flag high for all things Confessions.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Review: Double Exposure (1977, William Webb)

Double Exposure turns out to be that rare beast, an Anouska Hempel vehicle that is actually worth seeing. James Compton (David Baron) a middle-aged fashion photographer accepts a private commission from shipping tycoon Howard Townsend (Alan Brown) to photograph Townsend’s trophy girlfriend/mistress Simone (Hempel). A series of intimate photo-shoots soon unwisely transforms into a secret affair between photographer and subject. However romance gets nipped in the bud when Simone is kidnapped by three criminal former associates of Townsend, who use their knowledge of the affair to blackmail Compton into the dangerous position of acting as middle man between themselves and the crooked Townsend, whose shipping business is a front for arms dealing.

Double Exposure appears to have been independently produced then jointly distributed by two big American companies (Columbia and Warner Brothers), fittingly then it’s a low-budget film that is initially preoccupied with masquerading as a major studio production. Anything that indicates wealth and success, be it characters travelling by Rolls-Royce, private jet and steam train, or country estates and rows of antique cars is treated as visually holy here, and constantly captures the eye and camera of regular British exploitation director of photography Alan Pudney. It doesn’t really have the budget to stretch to A-List stars though, a factor that isn’t necessary a disadvantage. Since as a result, Double Exposure is filled with solid British character actors, all clearly relishing the opportunity to get their hands on larger-than-usual roles for them. David Baron makes for a laid back but efficient hero. With his lived in face and hangdog expressions, Baron is perfectly cast as the Bailey-esque swinging Sixties photographer disgracefully drifting into middle age and unapologetically still wearing jeans and suede jackets to work. You can just about buy into the idea that Simone would go for him, due to a combination of Compton’s own likeability and the despicability of Townsend, who isn’t above slapping Simone around as a way of relieving his frustrations.

Another standout performance comes courtesy of Robert Russell, a prolific TV and film actor, probably best remembered as John Stearne in Witchfinder General. Cast here as Bradley, the head kidnapper, at the outset it’s the type of sadistic goon role that Russell could have played in his sleep, but the character grows more compelling as the film progresses revealing Bradley to be a man who isn’t entirely without his own moral compass. Bradley acts as Simone’s savour at one point when his brutish underlings try to rape her, and attempts to justify his kidnapping of her by pointing out that Townsend himself has committed far worse acts in the pursuit of money. In the process stirring Simon’s long dormant consciousness over the murderous activities that have been funding her and Townsend’s privileged lifestyles.

Hempel is the cast member who has drawn the short straw when it comes to roles here, while male characters develop during the film, Hempel is stuck with a role that goes from beautiful but shallow fashion model to captured damsel in distress. Inevitably evoking unwanted memories of her role in the dreaded Tiffany Jones, and denying her any of the acting sparks that flew by the casting of her as a villainess in Russ Meyer’s Blacksnake. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair on the filmmakers and The Hemp there though, as there is evidence in the film to suggest we are deliberately deceived into thinking of Simone as weak, defenceless and one-dimensional in order to pull the rug from under us right at the very end (the UK and Canadian VHS covers are unfortunately hugely spoilerish in this respect, both drawing on a key image from the final scene in the film).

As double-dealings and plot twists are the name of the game in Double Exposure, we are definitely talking the type of film here where the less you know about the plot going into it, the better. Not that I had much of a choice myself, little having been written about Double Exposure over the years, and the film having an almost invisible presence on the internet. The only passing mention of it I could find on the net being during an overview of Hempel’s career contained within bloodypitofhorror blog’s review of Blacksnake, but even there the reviewer hadn’t managed to see the film and was uncertain whether Double Exposure should be regarded as a horror film or a crime thriller. Having had the benefit of tracking it down, I can confirm Double Exposure to be in the crime thriller camp, albeit with brief, but vicious moments of violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pete Walker film of the period. An opening face slashing and shooting to death of a minor character makes the preceding ‘AA’ BBFC certificate card seem quite lenient, but the one scene guaranteed to linger in the memory here finds two of Townsend’s heavies dressed up as cleaning ladies in order to sneak up on a “double crossing bastard” associate of his, who is summarily thrown off the top of a building!

A subplot that sees Compton enlist the help of Patterson, an ex-government boffin who has moved on into computer espionage, brings about the surprise casting of a pre-fame Hazel O’Connor, in one of her two film appearances prior to Breaking Glass (the other one being David Hamilton Grant’s Girls Come First). Briefly cast as the Moneypenny character to Patterson’s ‘M’, O’Connor first shows up as an ordinary office secretary before being given the gem of a request to “put on a mini-skirt and heavy make-up, we’ve got a special assignment for you”. Said assignment involving O’Connor strutting her stuff up Greek street and posing as a hooker in order to distract the thugs Townsend has had trailing Compton. For a laugh keep your eyes peeled for the pervy looks O’Connor gets from real life passers-by during this scene, who don’t appear to be aware they were being filmed.

Apart from Hazel O’Connor, Patterson’s other trick up his sleeve is a (then) futuristic device that Patterson has created by hooking up a phone to a computer which allows him to connect to other people’s computers and steal information stored on them. In what could now be seen as an early example of the internet and computer hacking, showcased here a good few decades before either would become commonplace. “Computer espionage is the trend of the future” predicts Patterson with allot more spot on accuracy than the filmmakers could have ever dreamed of.

While Double Exposure doesn’t quite make it into the same league as say, Get Carter, Sitting Target and The Squeeze, it leaves a decent enough impression for you to question why the film isn’t better known. It’s certainly on a par with a better than average episode of The Sweeney or The Professionals, to which it shares a certain kinship, due to the presence of actors associated with TV shows of that nature and a shared passion for the funkier side of the era’s library music. Nobody gets to walk around or drive about in Double Exposure for very long before some lively piece of 70s library music starts to overpower the soundtrack.

By rights the film should have acted as a calling card for its director to go on and helm episodes of TV action series, much in the way that ‘Freelance’ did for Francis Megahy, but as far as I can tell the credited director/writer/producer William Webb doesn’t appear to have made anything else. Should that unfortunately be the case, Webb can at least take solace in the fact that the one film he did make fetches high prices these days. According to the bloodypitofhorror’s Blacksnake review a Canadian VHS release of Double Exposure recently sold for $250 on Ebay, an eye-opening amount given we’re not talking about a well-known or much sought after film here. In light of the rumours about Anouska Hempel having bought the rights to Tiffany Jones in order to suppress further screenings of said film, is it wicked of me to wonder out loud whether a person willing to pay that much for a VHS of Double Exposure might also be a person with a burning desire to perform a disappearing trick on their former acting career?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Gunfight at the Tatler Cinema Club

Cabaret Artist Corrinne Long clocking in at the Tatler Cinema Club in her cowgirl outfit.  “live on stage cabaret plus 2 big uncensored feature films” promised the advertising, lets hope Ms. Long was quick on the drawers!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: A Couple of Beauties (1972, Francis Searle)


Coming across like a cash strapped Northern cousin of Dick Emery’s ‘Ooh… You Are Awful’ film, A Couple of Beauties offered a one-shot stab at film stardom to female impersonator Bunny Lewis, and is set right in the heart of the Mancunian club land and variety circuit that Lewis knew well. As with the Emery film, a crime thriller premise is what pushes its hero into a frock and high heels here. Lewis plays Bernie Lewisham, a barman who witnesses his boss being gunned down by gangsters in London, and as a result has to flee to his native Moss Side in Manchester with the bad guys in hot pursuit.

Rather than coming up with an effective way of doing a disappearing act, such as putting out a story that you’ve been garrotted by a contract killer then high-tailing it to a Greek island, Lewisham’s spivvy agent Tim Baxter has the idea that Lewisham should reinvent himself as a drag act under the name ‘Bunny Lewis’. An unorthodox scheme that would not only grant Lewisham much needed incognito but conveniently also keep him on Baxter’s books. Despite Lewisham’s protests “me in drag…no…cobblers…not bloody likely” a drag star is soon born, but while finding fame under a feminised version of his name might temporary keep him off the gangsters’ radar, Baxter’s plan has unforeseen consequences. For not only does Lewisham have to reign in his heterosexual urges around the female entertainers he rubs shoulders with in the clubs, he also finds himself the target of lechery and gets hit upon by a series of men played by the likes of James Beck, plus special guest stars Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. Should Lewisham throw in the towel on the drag act and risk exposing himself to the gangsters, or keep up the pretence of being a woman and risk being exposed to Bernard Manning exposing himself. What is a boy to do?

Both director Francis Searle and co-producer Ronald C. Liles had form making B-level crime thrillers for the likes of Butchers Films in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early scenes in A Couple of Beauties tend to find them caught up in a time warp. The opening murder scene and its nightclub setting being especially ‘Butchers-esque’, a tone that spills on over into the subsequent run around London. Once the setting transfers to Manchester however, Searle and Liles get seduced away from their usual cinematic fare in favour of showcasing the type of variety acts that were doing the rounds in early 1970s Manchester. Namely a toothless toga wearing old goofball pretending to be Mark Antony in a Cleopatra themed turn (with Lewis dragged up as Cleo) and an all-girl pop band whose lack of rhythm and unemotional swaying about on stage is the film’s highpoint in terms of unintentional hilarity. All just evidentially an average night out on the town in Manchester back then, but a history lesson now in what people did for entertainment back in those pre-internet, pre-X Factor days.

As with Cliff Twemlow’s GBH (1983) which treaded similar Manchester nightlife territory, the settings and co-stars offer a window into the times and social circles its star moved in. Lewis’ showbiz connections being confirmed by the presence of James Beck and Pat Coombs –both reportedly close friends of Lewis- there to lend some much needed acting professionalism (Coombs’ take on a Northern accent is far superior to Becks). The songs performed by the girl group were co-written by none other than Kenny Lynch. Filling out the cast is ex-wrestler Tommy Mann, and Manning and Crompton. Mann is of the Milton Reid school of wrestlers turned movie heavies, only with a severe, scene stealing comb-over, and boy do Manning and Crompton look well pissed in this film.

Bunny Lewis: out of and in drag.

Lewis himself is the unlikeliest of leading man, and in truth as out of his depth as an actor as Mann, Crompton and Manning. Diminutive and baby-faced, as a man Lewis has a ‘cheeky cherub’ look to him akin to David Sullivan in the 1970s, but shatters that illusion every time he opens his mouth, revealing a voice that could only come from somebody ‘up North’. Given Lewis’ limited acting ability you get the impression the film can’t wait to get the opening crime flavoured scenes out of the way and push on towards getting Lewis into drag. Make no mistake, rubbish as he was as an actor, Lewis was obviously at the top of his game as a drag act. The ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ nervousness to his performance completely disappears when he gets into women’s clothes.

It is a pity then that A Couple of Beauties’ storyline and its purpose as a vehicle for Lewis’ talents do occasionally butt heads and leave us with a main character whose behaviour is ermm amusingly inconsistent. Early scenes portraying Lewis as a butch, completely straight guy who is intimidated and appalled by the idea of having to camp it up in order to stay alive, only for him to mysteriously lose all these characteristics the moment he hits the stage. His stage act taking in jokes that sell him as a honorary sister to female audience members (“never buy one of these dresses, it’s like trying to walk with two legs down one knicker”), launching into a song that isn’t shy of gay sexual innuendo (“I see that look when I count to ten, while I just measure them for size”) not to mention tarting it up in the costume department. Lewis’ appearance mid-way thought the film, squeezed into a tight dress and mini-skirt and wearing an oversized blonde wig can’t help but make you think that a career side-line as Diana Dors’ stunt double was a missed opportunity. An obvious opportunity for comedy here would have been to have Lewis initially make a dog’s dinner of impersonating a woman- along the lines of say Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Girls- but as the raison d'etre here was to capture Lewis’ act in the best light possible, it is a route the film prevents itself from exploring.

Assuming the film presents a reasonably accurate reproduction of Lewis’ stage act, it is a notably outrageous one. Taking into account it would have been played out in the rough and tough, pre-politically correct atmosphere of the Northern clubs, where the mere indication of male homosexuality was likely to have been met with the furrowed brows of audience members. “I just want to be myself in every way, you do what the man says, okay” is the message of Lewis’ musical number, which also takes in Lewis swooning over the prospect that “this great big world is full of different types of men” and suggestively acknowledging the microphone after delivering that “I just measure them for size” line, just in case anyone missed what was being implied there. Kudos to Lewis it must have taken balls to pull off that routine back then, even if the balls in question had to be kept well concealed.


Manchester Plays Itself.

Exploitation angles were available here but are never fully pursued, the girl band members only strip down to their underwear at their digs and the blue comedians in the cast are on their best behaviour. “No blue gags, we’re very particular here, I wouldn’t allow any bad language from anyone, artists or customers” points out a club owner early on in the film. Spelling out what appears to be the film’s own restrictions upon itself, whilst admittedly setting up one of the best visual gags in the film, when no sooner has the club owner laid down those house rules then who should wander into shot than Bernard Manning, no stranger to blue gags and bad language. In retrospect the film might have been wiser to just have gone for an X certificate. Without the armour of tits n’ asses n’ expletives, A Couple of Beauties had to do battle against the likes of the Carry On series in the arena of risqué, but family friendly comedy and doesn’t really have the funds or material to adequately take on the Carry On goliath. The jokes in the Cleopatra routine (“the other snakes wouldn’t let him hiss in their pit”, “kiss my asp”) sounding suspiciously like they’ve been napped from the script of Carry on Cleo. Moments in the film that do embrace honest to goodness vulgarity (“have I got time to go for a slash” asks Lewis after leaving the stage) and regional specific jokes (“she used to think of herself as Oldham’s answer to Raquel Welch”) could to interpreted as the filmmakers’ admission that their little film was never going to win favour with the knobs and the toffs, and play directly to a Northern club mentality.

A Couple of Beauties also suffered the unfortunate fate of being released in the midst of an unexpected slew of films about female impersonators, including Emery’s Ooh you are Awful, Danny La Rue’s Our Miss Fred and Reg Varney’s comparatively sober take on a drag queen’s lot that is the film adaptation of The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. After A Couple of Beauties, Lewis was rarely troubled by film or television again, instead enjoying success outside of the two mediums by continuing his nightclub act, owning his own club in Manchester and appearing in adult pantomimes like ‘Cinder’s a Fella’ and ‘A Puff in Boots’. It wouldn’t be until the early 1990s that Cliff Twemlow tempted Lewis back to the screen with a small role –not featuring him in drag by the way- in GBH 2: Lethal Impact (1991).

At its heart A Couple of Beauties is a harmless, uncynical end of the pier romp, whose only crime appears to be wanting to entertain everyday people, and maybe sneak a bit of Eady money into its handbag when no one is looking. Not that this nor its utter obscurity –it was unknown to even the most die-hard British film and comedy aficionados till a few years ago- prevented it from being trashed in ‘Truly, Madly, Cheaply’. A 2008 BBC2 documentary on Britain’s B-Movie legacy which predictably became uncomfortable with its subject matter once its focus turned to the more exploitative 1970s. “As you watch this film you can see the life haemorrhaging out of the B-Movie form” sneered the narration as clips illustrating the film’s Northern setting, use of transvestite humour and use of Bernard Manning were waved in front of a BBC2 audience in an attempt to extract a mortified response and sense of cultural shame out of them. Follow on clips of the sexual assault scenes from ‘Take An Easy Ride’, and references to a pair of films called ‘Dreams of 13’ and ‘The Younger, The Better’ (conveniently ignoring the fact that those two aren’t even British films) reeks of a hatchet job designed to give the uninitiated the false impression that 1970s British exploitation cinema was all about titillating rape scenes, jailbait fixations and Bernard Manning. A combo likely to alienate and drive a BBC2 audience behind the sofa, rather than pique their curiosity for the decade’s cinematic underdogs.

Going after A Couple of Beauties in that manner seems such a mean-spirited, cheap shot- the phrase ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind- that you find yourself being pushed towards the more difficult, but decent path of standing up for the past, and coming out metaphorically swinging in its defence. The measure of a man is –after all- how tall he walks. The irony is that since that documentary went out we’ve seen the British public hoist ‘Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie’ to the top of the UK film chart for two weeks. Demonstrating that the public’s love affair with men in drag and so-called ‘low-comedy’ is alive and well in 2014, and not exactly the forgotten footnote to British cinema that Truly, Madly, Cheaply would have you believe. So maybe A Couple of Beauties gets to have the last laugh here after all.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

British Sex Film Obscura: The David Hamilton Grant Affair

For this slice of British sex film obscura we focus on a trio of films made by a man whose fate remains the last great mystery of the British sex film era. The D.B Cooper of British pornography. A pint-sized man who wound up in a giant heap of trouble. They called him David Hamilton Grant. Quite a few characters from the British sex film era have tried to put distance between themselves and their past, but Grant may have gone to greater lengths than most, with the possibility that Grant may well have faked his own death.

Before the films then, a few words about the man himself. Grant was born Willis Andrew Holt in Uxbridge in 1939, first billing himself as ‘David Grant’ when he entered the sex film industry in the late 1960s. By the mid-1970s this name had been elongated to David Hamilton Grant, occasionally causing him to be confused with the French photographer and filmmaker David Hamilton. Officially however he didn’t change his name to David Hamilton Grant by deed poll until 1982, and it wasn’t until 1988 that a tabloid expose dug deep enough to unearth Grant’s birth name. Something he’d kept secret from most in the British sexploitation film world.

David Hamilton Grant on the town and on set.

As Grant wasn’t exactly forthcoming to anyone about his real identity, the autobiographical details Grant gave about himself over the years are best approached with a degree of scepticism. For the record Grant claimed to have had a mathematical background and having worked on the TSR-2 aircraft line, a cold-war era project abandoned by the government in 1965, leaving Grant unemployed. Youngman Holt then tried his hand at journalism and photography. The latter occupation led to his earliest known connections to the film world. As a photographer he was responsible for front of house stills, and masterminding on-set publicity stunts designed to get the films he was working on the maximum amount of press coverage.

Two productions Grant is said to have worked publicity on were Julius Caesar (1970) and The Magic Christian (1969). Grant claimed to have chipped in a few ideas for The Magic Christian’s infamous ‘Slave Ship’ sequence. Preparation for which entailed Grant hiring 100 topless models as extras and inviting members of the press to witness the spectacle. Subsequently earning The Magic Christian over ‘800’ column inches in the press. Very early on in his career Grant learned valuable lessons about the selling power of sex and the importance of publicity.

“Then I tried for the job of illustrating a book called Love Variations” Grant told Punch magazine in 1978 “I didn’t get it but I thought- why not do a film of the book”. With that brainwave a British sex film powerhouse was born. At the height of his career in the mid-1970s, Grant’s empire included ownership of several London sex cinemas, a career as a prolific sex film producer, and being big bossman of ‘Oppidan films’, a film distribution company. Achievements that were enough for Grant to immodesty dub himself ‘The King of Sexploitation’. Grant could have equally worn the crown of ‘The King of Controversy’ too. For Grant annoyed, provoked, prodded and offended the status quo more than most in the British sex film industry.

Noteworthy outrages from the career of David Hamilton Grant include Grant once auditioning a real life policewoman for one of his sex films, in the process antagonising the Metropolitan police force when this story was leaked to the press. In 1977 Grant also made himself an enemy of the religious right by announcing the production of a 1.2 million sex film, scandalously entitled ‘The Sex Life of Jesus’ meant to have included both heterosexual and homosexual acts, and in which “Christ emerges favourably, if gay, from the story”. Amongst the powerful and influential figures vehemently opposed to the film being made were rumoured to have been Mary Whitehouse, The Queen, The Archbishop of Canterbury and the then Prime Minister James Callaghan. These Shepherds of the Nation were likely to have been further enraged when Grant announced that a French prostitute of his acquaintance was to star as Mary Magdalene. “Casting is very important” claimed the publicity department of this never made film.

The same year, the death of Elvis Presley motivated Grant into releasing ‘Pelvis’ –an American sex comedy about an Elvis impersonator- with a poster campaign that could have easily been mistaken for a genuine Elvis tribute film. A move that no doubt offended and insulted any recently bereaved Presley fans who bothered to turn up. The Entebbe hostage situation from a year earlier not only brought Idi Amin to the public’s attention but gave Grant the idea to make ‘Escape to Entebbe’. A six minute short in which a browned-up John Bluthal plays a grovelling Pakistani TV reporter conducting an interview with Amin. Jokes about massage parlours, Indian restaurants, Enoch Powell, firing squads and Amin calling Bluthal a ‘wog’ ensue. Of all the things Grant would be accused of over the years, good taste was never going to be among them.

Grant’s earliest forays into filmmaking give little indication of the chaos their maker would be causing only a few years later. The calm before the storm. Products of the ‘white coater’ period, Love Variations (1969) and Sex, Love and Marriage (1970) wear the mask of sex education in order to sneak onto the big screen sexual positions that hadn’t been attempted there before, if anywhere else for that matter. Both work hard at maintaining a serious front when it comes to sexual matters, still only the most humourless audience member could keep from cracking up when in Love Variations the two leads lose their footing during an attempt at performing the ‘lotus position’.

By the early 70s Grant’s films had thrown aside their white coats, become intentional rather unintentional comedies, and Grant’s real personality had begun to emerge within them. Grant's producing of ‘Secrets of a Door to Door Salesman’ and scriptwriting contributions to ‘Au Pair Girls’ put forward a case for Grant having led the way for much of which was to follow during the British sex comedy era. The first Grant mega-obscurity under the microscope here 1974’s THE OVER AMOROUS ARTIST is another film that with its suburban setting and cast mix of legit comedy names (Bob Todd, John Bluthal, Hilary Pritchard) and nude starlets (Sue Longhurst, Felicity Devonshire, Bobby Sparrow) laid the foundations for the neighbourhood that the Confessions and Adventures films would soon be moving into.

The Over Amorous Artist was based around the concept of house husbandry, a topic regarded as little more than comedy fodder at the time. Alan Street (John Hamill) stays at home attempting a career as an artist whilst his missus Sue (Sue Longhurst) goes out to work and acts as the breadwinner. As the lone man left alone in daytime suburbia Mr. Street is soon viewed as fresh meat by predatory females, and the genre’s favourite representations of women – the hippie chick, the older woman, the bored housewife, the teenage daughter- all appear to be present and correct in The Over Amorous Artist.

The Over Amorous Artist was the first of Grant’s featurette length productions-it runs only 46 minutes- designed to play second fiddle to euro-sex films on double-bills and exploit the Eady Levy situation. In that sense Grant was the heir apparent to E.J Fancey, the 1950s exploitation kingpin whose chronically cheap 40 minute thrillers such as Behind the Headlines and Action Stations likewise existed solely to fill up double-bills and direct Eady money into E.J’s crooked pockets. Appropriately then E.J’s actual children Malcolm and Adrienne Fancey would become closely associated with Grant during the 1970s.

Even though Grant’s career continued on into the video era- with Malcolm Fancey once again in tow- Grant appears to have been indifferent to releasing his sex film featurettes on video. As a result the majority of these have been MIA ever since. An exception to the rule is ‘Girls Come First’, the 1975 sequel to The Over Amorous Artist, which likely saw a video release due to the presence of a pre-fame Hazel O’Connor in the cast. O’Connor’s Breaking Glass film was still in cinemas when Grant issued Girls Come First on video. Two further tit-bits about The Over Amorous Artist in relation to its 1975 sequel:
* in the first film Alan and Sue are a childless, happily married couple, but come the sequel they are unmarried and Sue has had a child with another man, so Christ knows what is meant to have gone on with these characters in-between films.
* When Girls Come First was released in Canada, on a double-bill with Jess Franco’s ‘Celestine: An All Around Maid’, Hilary Pritchard was prominently billed in the Girls Come First cast. A mistake on the part of the Canadian distributor? Or did the Canadian version of Girls Come First incorporate footage from the first film? Yet another British sex film mystery.

Cinema X Plot Synopsis: “David Grant is becoming the most prolific of Britain sex-film makers. His product is as varied as the Sinderella cartoon to Secrets of a Door to Door Salesman; and he has had a hand in various other features he didn’t have time to actually make- Au Pair Girls for one successful example. His latest presents a few familiar faces , and more than one familiar situation, but is carried off with some fresh verve and vivacity and all inside a concise 46 minutes.

Story runs around the idea of commercial artist Alan who swaps roles with his wife (Sue Longhurst). He stays at home, does the chores and then has more time to tackle some serious painting. As his resultant art shows, he’d be best back at work in the commercial mill... but boy he has soon feisty models. They constitute- what else? The local branch of the sex-starved suburban housewives anonymous. As soon as they hear of a new hubby staying home all day in the housing estate plantation (and one who paints nudes) they swarm around like bees after honey.
He starts work with a portrait of Marianne Morris, a women’s libber whose liberation does not exactly expand to nude modelling, except in his fertile mind… and Geoff Glover’s equally imaginative camera. When Marianne sees this vision in oils of her nude, she blows her top. Ah well, you can’t win them all, besides Marianne’s got to run –she’s starring in Vampyres and The Amorous Milkman.

Cuddly blonde Claire Russell as the wife still aflush with erotic memories of her art school days, is much easier game. She brings some of her sketches to show off. Soon, she’s into showing off herself and Alan needs little artistry to get her down on canvas and tickle her palate. Next in line; the kinky underwear type from Hilary Pritchard from ‘All I Want is You and You and You’. Geraldine Hart represents the older woman syndrome , flouncing around in a see-through Indian saris and failing her seduction because of too much booze. Who’s sari now. Not our hero. Geraldine has a daughter. Felicity Devonshire, no less, and more or less repeating the same tease role she had in Stan Long’s Sex and the Other Woman. She strips most prettily, once again, and without revealing an extra ounce of surplus weight attained in the two years between the two movies.

Oh yes, it’s all go on the estate; well summed up by the screenwriters’ team music for the film ‘what a lovely way to die’. As a movie, it’s a short ‘un, but as they say, its not the length that counts but what you can do with it. When the 46 minutes are up, our hero is down, way down. Collapse of stout member. And his wife is complaining, and quite rightly luv, that she has not been getting her jollies for three days. He’s tired, he says, all that housework. Sue Longhurst, however wins our perfect wife award of the month. She provides him with a groovy au pair girl, which, surely, is where David Grant’s script for Val Guest’s Au Pair Girls came in …..”

In contrast to its invisibility today The Over Amorous Artist would have been difficult to avoid by cinemagoers back then. Under a new title ‘Just One More Time’ it played second-feature to the French sex mega-hit ‘Emmanuelle’ in 1975, a popular double bill that was still pulling them in two years later in April 1977.

Emmanuelle and Just One More Time playing in Kirkcaldy, 1975  (photo:cinematreasures/len gazzard)

April 1977

I confess to knowing nothing about the next Grant directed obscurity SENSATIONS, which went out as the support feature to Pussytalk, a double-bill that played three London cinemas (Filmcentra Cinema, The Classic in Praed St and the Trafalgar Square Jacey) in April 1977. The presence of Throbbing Gristle members Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P-orridge, point to Sensations being a filmed performance art piece rather than one of Grant’s usual narrative sex comedies.

The pert buttocks of Heather Deeley were the first thing to greet readers of Cinema X when they picked up the August 1975 issue. The cover image was from a film promoted inside entitled THE SESSION. At the time Cinema X credited The Session as the work of director ‘Ben Bailey’ and producer ‘Mike Bergman’, but a more recent account has it that David Hamilton Grant was the man pulling all the strings here. With its tale of a prolific, oversexed photographer The Session is certainly in keeping with Grant’s habit of bringing autobiographical insights to work with him, Grant himself having once been a shutterbug with a noted appetite for the sexual. Even so, Cinema X readers tantalized by the prospect of the film and the Deeley derrière were in for a let-down, and in their November 1975 Cinema X broke the bad news that The Session had been ‘banned by the censor for, apparently, having no story’.

Cinema X Plot Synopsis: “Ever since David Hemmings and Verushka got into all those coital and almost foetal positions in Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) the hard-on photographer has been a steady standby hero for sexploitation movies. All too rarely though, are such roles played with any technical advice and the shutterbug clicks away in a way that would most likely give him excellent shots of the walls and floor….if he ever took the lens-cap off. Two photographers, however, are concerned with the making of the sessions (tentative title only; perhaps). The producer, Mike Bergman, and the star, Tony King, playing another aspect of the Hemmings-like trendy lens-man behind studio doors marked King Kong is Kweer. Both men are concerned with more than photographic accuracy, however. Their futures hang on their movie. Somewhat bored with their still-lives – the same ennui attacks their models which is why so many try to make it in movies- both guys are looking to films as an outlet for their creativity.

The Session is but a start, strictly commercial sexuality, with all the usual compromises made en route. But a peg, they hope, to hang their future hats on. Next stop, for instance, will be the Mediterranean for a more sunnier, and possibly dramatic movie. Tony King is the under-clothed, under-fed (looking) and overworked photog. Exhausted by models thinking he is a footballer, ‘you know, 90 minutes of action…. I’d need a crane to get it up’.

He plies his trade with bouncy models blonde Samantha Stewart and lovely Andy Cromarty.
Tony: the idea is you’re good friends and you’d like to explore another aspect of the relationship by bathing together.
Samantha: like lesbians.
Andy: lesbians? I ….
Tony: maybe when you grow up you’ll learn to be lesbians. Now, your just good mates.

He then attempts sanctuary aboard his boat on the Thames. No way! Invaded by both girls, plus his latest bedroom peeler (Ava Cadell), striptease on the river and video fun down below. Plus oiling the machinery of newcomer Heather Deeley. It’s light, it’s fun. It’s a trifle naïve here and there. But as both Mike and Tony, and their director Ben Bailey, agree, it’s a start. Even Antonioni had to start somewhere.”

Fortunately the general public would get to see The Session when Grant re-edited it in 1977, adding in a newly shot scene starring Suzy Mandel and giving it a second title OVEREXPOSED. A couple of years ago I was fed bad information- likely on purpose- that Overexposed was never released due to a fault with the negative. Since then this has proved not to be the case, and it turns out Overexposed did get exposed a bit, playing as support to Walerian Borowczyk’s The Streetwalker in August 1977. Evidently having to sit through a David Hamilton Grant featurette was the price that cinemagoers with a taste for Sylvia Kristel had to pay back then.

Despite there being little love for the British sex comedy era at the BFI, a print of Overexposed- said to be in awful shape- exists in the BFI vaults.

Epilogue: “on days like these I wonder what became of him”

The beginning of Grant’s downfall came in February 1984, when at the height of the ‘Video Nasty’ furore, Grant was jailed for distributing the violent horror film Nightmares in a Damaged Brain on video in a version 48 seconds longer than had been seen in cinemas.

By 1987 the British sex film era may have been a distant memory for most, Grant however wasn’t quite ready to sever ties with the past just yet, and the former king of sexploitation gave the genre one more go with the compilation video “Who Bears Sins”. A mishmash of film clips that nevertheless serves as a summing up of Grant’s entire career, a sort of ‘The Best of David Hamilton Grant’ (you assume Grant meant to call the video ‘Who Bares Sins’, as per the video box, but ‘Bears’ is how it is spelt in the video itself and the BBFC submission card).

Clips range from the overly familiar sight of Hazel O’Connor in Girls Come First, to hitherto unseen footage of Heather Deeley, Victor Spinetti and Steve Amber in scenes shot for the abandoned 1975 Grant film ‘Pink Orgasm’. A clip of unknown origin showcases a fabulously afro-ed 1970s black chick stripping to Charles Wrights’ ‘Express Yourself’. Who Bears Sins also made use of ‘Woman’s Best Friend’ a phallic obsessed sex cartoon that the BBFC had rejected in 1975. The dreadful, shot on video segments that pop up in Who Bears Sins apparently originate from an early 80s British hardcore video called ‘Miss Deep Fantasy’. According to those who have seen its original incarnation, Miss Deep Fantasy was basically about a tacky striptease contest in which flashbacks by each of the contestants lead to hardcore incidents. For Who Bears Sins, Grant did away with the connecting sequences plus the hardcore itself, and what is left is as tedious viewing as the prospect of early 80s shot on video hardcore with the hardcore omitted suggests. These sequences are only notable as evidence that Grant’s sex film career may have carried on over into him making cheap hardcore videos, either that or Grant passed off the Miss Deep Fantasy footage as his own work for the purposes of Who Bears Sins. The product of bottom feeders, Who Bears Sins served as a low key swansong to Grant’s film career. Slipping out through Amin Rajabali’s Krypton Force video company in 1987, Who Bears Sins would fall under the radar of virtually everyone until a couple of years ago.

Image: hellochas

Grant’s last production might have attracted little attention, but the same could not be said of the man himself. Bad publicity, something Grant’s career thrived upon during the sex film era, would become a liability to him during the close of the 1980s.

In August 1988, The Sun claimed that Grant had been deported from Cyprus reportedly for striking a love rival over the head with a spade (a recent re-telling of the story states it was a pick-axe handle). Throughout 1988 Grant regularly resurfaced in the British press, with the red tops routinely accusing him of alleged drug smuggling and alleged profiteering from videos and images of ‘young stuff’. The Nightmares in a Damaged Brain court case returned to haunt Grant, with Grant referred to by The Sun as having made ‘a fortune peddling Video Nasties in Soho’. The Slough Observer also reported that Grant owed £30,000 to one Tony Schneider, a London businessman with a heavy reputation. The book Doing Rude Things mentions Grant and Amin Rajabali being due in court around this time, charged with video copyright offences, but states that “in 1990, at the video copyright trial at which Rajabali was found guilty, Grant was said to be ‘languishing in a Turkish jail’”.

DHG in 1988

All leads on Grant go cold at the beginning of the 1990s, by the middle of the decade rumours began circulating amongst former players in the British sex film world that Grant was dead, having fallen victim to a contract killer. A former actress was told this story by one-time Grant associate Alan Selwyn (real name: Alfred Lopez Salzedo) around the time that Doing Rude Things author David McGillivray heard a similar story from Ray Selfe. Accounts vary slightly, but the gist of the death story has Grant being released from prison, possibly in Turkey, and followed from the jail by a contract killer who then caught up with, and garrotted, Grant in a bar.

For a man whose life in the late 1980s was the source of constant scrutiny by the British and Turkish press, Grant’s apparent murder though went curiously unreported. No mention of this headline worthy and very public killing was ever reported in the Turkish press, nor has any evidence of a body or police investigation surfaced. Suspicions that Grant faked his own death have only grown in the years since. An ex-wife of Grant, who had a daughter by him, is reportedly of the belief that he is still in the land of the living. The internet era also casts further doubt as to Grant’s demise. As internet private dicks have pointed out running the names of several companies through reveals a familiar name listed as director of these companies, with the name of a woman romantically linked to Grant in the late 1980s down as co-director. One of these companies was founded in 2001, others appear to continue to be active as of this year.

If still alive, David Hamilton Grant would be in his mid-70s by now. Over at Grant’s Wikipedia page, a man whose doggedly determined pursuit of Grant has now spanned decades and continents remains unconvinced that Grant is truly gone. Recent comments left there by this individual include: “he is now alive and living in Aegina, Greece” and “I have stated he is still alive and where he lives and I (have) photos taken this year”.