Saturday, 30 August 2008

Deeley-licious: The Brief, Tragic but Memorable Career of Heather Deeley

As far as 1975 was concerned sex film actress Heather Deeley was too good to be true, a mixture of cute looks, a good actress and exhibitionist who was openly bisexual and performed in hardcore scenes in most of her films. Heather appeared in five films in that year alone, kitted up in a French maid’s uniform she heated up the screen in the threesome centerpiece to Joe McGrath’s raunchy mini-movie Girls Come First, did sexy bit parts in Secrets of a Superstud and I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight, while her performance as a bi-sexual flirt in Erotic Inferno showed promise as an actress. Capping the year off by graduating to leading lady status with the starring role in Derek Ford’s Sex Express a.k.a. Diversions, Heather proved herself to be the raunchiest of Britain’s Sex Queens by taking on everything that kinky Wife Swappers auteur Derek Ford could throw at her. And she did all this in the space of twelve months.

Heather Deeley was born in 1956 in Suffolk, and educated at Bury St Edmunds Grammar School for Girls and West Suffolk College of Further Education in the early 1970s. A male school friend recalls “She used to sit on my lap in the common room at break times, we laughed a lot together, our relationship never went beyond the occasional kiss though (much to my dismay at the time). My best pal back then was Dave from Haverhill, I introduced her to him and they went out for a while, which upset me of course”. In between her studies Heather regularly attended gigs by the band Status Quo at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge, spending time with the band backstage on several occasions.

Heather was 'discovered' and put into films by the agent and sometimes casting director Alan Selwyn. Curiously right up until his death in 2002 Selwyn maintained that “Heather Deeley” was a stage name, but that she answered to that name in her pre-actress schooldays makes it seem likely that Selwyn was mistaken and that Heather Deeley was indeed her birth name “Heather Deeley was either her real name or she had already changed it at the age of 15 or 16” her school friend remarks “which I very much doubt”. Erotic Inferno would be the first film to really give Heather something to do as an actress, in a sub-plot concerning a pair of lesbian stable girls Heather plays opposite Mary Maxted (shortly before she adopted the name Mary Millington). Deeley’s character is a wild, bi-sexual flirt who catches the lustful eye of most of the film’s male characters, much to the annoyance of her possessive girlfriend (Maxted/Millington) who is being driven up the wall by Deeley’s sexual zig-zagging.

Cornering Deeley in a stable the slimy Martin (played by future Emmerdale actor Chris Chittell) feeds her the immortal chat-up line ‘the smell of horses drives me crazy’ which Heather rebukes with ‘in that case you’re not my type’. After spending the day sleeping around with the men, Deeley runs back to Millington, hops in the shower then emerges proclaiming ‘I want to feel as good as I smell’, which presumably means not smelling of men…or horses. Putting aside the slightly distracting faux pas of both actresses being dubbed, Erotic Inferno offers Heather her biggest exposure at the time while brief appearances from a sour faced Millington shooting dirty looks at her male co-stars are a jarring contrast to her later onscreen persona. For all of Millington’s peeved expressions, scenes of the two women embracing and making love make up virtually all of Erotic Inferno’s genuinely caring and tender moments. A subversive touch for a film that often seems to get as carried away on male dominance kicks as its macho protagonists.

Erotic Inferno also has the dubious honour of being one of the few British sex films to have been viewed by moral reformer Lord Longford, who saw the film and two others to gain “first hand experience” of sex films in order to then morally condemn them. Cinema X magazine praised Deeley’s performance as an "AC/DC minx" in the film as “electric”, sadly Lord Longford’s opinion of her acting is not recorded. Secrets of a Superstud was shot at Twickenham Film Studios, a worker for Kay Labs, which processed the film recalls “up to its theatrical release it was called "Custer's Thirteen." I worked at the lab that processed the release prints -- Kay Labs at Highbury, North London -- at the time, and printed dozens of copies of the film, including the roll of hardcore for the American and (presumably) Scandinavian market. Kay Labs was bought out by MGM sometime in the early 80s -- after I left the company and moved to the United States -- and became Metrocolour. This eventually went out of business."

Diversions/Sex Express gave Heather her most lengthy and notorious role. Heather plays a prisoner traveling by train, accompanied by two guards, a woman (Jacky Rigby) whom she is handcuffed to, and a man (Derek Martin). Bored by staring out of the window at fields and dreary suburbs Heather starts dreaming up a series of wild sexual fantasies, most of which involve her fellow train passengers. In the first one she is being chased around a barn by a poetic longhaired stud, who seems more interested in apples than our heroine. Giving up on Heather’s game of hide and seek he gives a long, utterly ridiculous speech about apples. Before Heather comes out of her hiding place to have sex with him (‘look at me I’m a bloody woman not an apple’), he is even considering making it with a bunch of apples arranged in a female form, what a berk! Afterwards he admits his fruity monologue was just a ruse so she’d fuck him. She responds by throwing a crate of apples over him.

The second fantasy scenario, inspired by one of Heather’s fellow travelers leering at her while reading a ‘Vampirella’ comic is the one that made Diversions infamous. In this Heather plays a wartime nurse is what appears to be Vietnam recreated by a bunch of extras in soldiers uniforms riding down an Essex country lane. Treating an injured patient in the back of a medical truck, Nurse Heather is set upon by a bunch of mean looking soldiers who shoot her patient to death in slow motion then proceed to gang-rape her over a jeep. The experience leaves her totally deranged to the extent that back in London she takes to picking up one night stands and murdering them. Timothy Blackstone (a smirking perennial of 1970’s hardcore loops) and Heather make love on a couch, but the sex only triggers Heather’s memory back to the gang rape. She produces a dagger and stabs Blackstone in the back, Timmy drops to the floor dead. Heather starts masturbating with the murder weapon, then without missing a beat cuts off the now dead Blackstone’s penis and begins licking and sucking it. After having a shower to get rid of all the blood, she buries his body while dressed up in S&M leather gear.

When we next see Deeley she’s driving around London looking for another no good man to put six feet under. (This sequence also allowed Ford the chance to shoot some great night time footage of Piccadilly Circus in its 1970’s heyday). Heather spots a man walking the streets who is dressed like a magician and beckons him into the car. Back at her place Heather repeats her sex/snuff act but this time the dagger just bounces out of the man on top. Heather looks up to discover she’s having sex with a fang toothed vampire who proceeds to bite her on the neck. Proving that you really do meet all sorts in Piccadilly Circus after dark.

The third fantasy scene is a more typical Commuter Husbands era Ford sex farce. Heather’s phone number has been mistakenly printed on a prostitute’s card- a familiar sight to users of London phone-boxes. As a result she keeps getting obscene phone calls from pervs looking for ‘Miss Whiplash’ and ‘Large Chest for Sale’. A man starts knocking on her door and shouting that he’s here about ‘the advert’. Heather’s ready to give him a piece of her mind, but on opening the door the man turns out to be such a good looker she decides to play out the role of a prostitute for the afternoon. Only later laying in bed next to her trick does it dawn on Heather that the advert he was talking about was a flat-for-rent one not a girl-for-rent one. Humiliated she sobs, but the man turns out to be a decent guy after all and suggests the two of them could share the flat together as lovers.

Back onboard the ‘Sex Express’, Heather scans the miserable faces of her fellow passengers in the hope one of them will inspire another fantasy. A ticket collector opening the door of her carriage proves the touch of inspiration she needed and suddenly she is daydreaming he is a Nazi pointing a gun at her head. The sequence then dissolves into a fantasy scene that finds Heather at the mercy of two male Nazis and their female superior during WW2. The Nazis verbally and physically terrorize Heather forcing her to perform oral sex on a rifle then to cap off this degenerate display urinate in her face (a faked scene, that was cut from the American prints, but made it into the German video release). Next Heather is being put into bondage in what looks like a stable. The male Nazis strip her while the silent female superior (who in the ‘real world’ is the woman Heather is handcuffed to on the train) runs a knife over Heather’s body to both victim and victimizer’s evident satisfaction. The two women then make love, while the men just hover around in the background- reduced to voyeurs peeking in. Given the nasty, torture vibe that runs through this sequence, its almost a relief to find it terminates with a consensual bi-sexual threesome.

The next and final fantasy borrows its set up from 1973’s horror opus From Beyond the Grave. Heather buys a vintage camera from a sinister brick-a-brack shop, takes it home, then for a laugh does some nude poses in front of the antique. Later she is awaked by voices then faints when she discovers the ghost of a randy Victorian photographer (Tony Kenyon) developing nude pictures of her in the bathroom. When she regains consciousness Heather finds herself on a couch kitted up in Victorian clothes and Kenyon-complete with that crazy giant moustache he wore in Erotic Inferno-is merrily snapping away with the camera. Deeley and Kenyon get it on, and a ghost parlourmaid joins in the fun tickling Kenyon’s bum with a feather duster. Kenyon in his funniest sex film performance goofs around wriggling his moustache and pulling silent movie like exaggerated faces of pleasure. Throughout the threesome Tone wears an ear to ear grin as may be expected from a man who has found a legitimate way of being the focus of sexual attention from two actresses half his age.
The sound of handcuffs being undone wakes Heather up from her daydreams, the train journey has come to an end. In the film’s big twist Heather is revealed to be a prison guard handcuffed to a prisoner rather than the other way round. While her captive is taken away Heather homes in on a male passenger who she hopes will inspire many more fantasies.

Diversions, or rather “Sex Express” received a minor release in the UK, it was panned by The Monthly Film Bulletin who considered it ‘awesomely silly’ (though in fairness the MFB panned most British sex films), even the generally more sympathetic Cinema Blue were disappointed by what they considered more “mild than wild” filmmaking. If such opinions give the impression Britain’s critics were watching a very different film to the one described above- that is because to a degree they were. Ford made two versions of the film- Diversions the seen overseas only 87 minute version and Sex Express a truncated 50 minute British release version- which omits the Nazi sequence and tones down the vampire segment’s violence. The significant difference between the two variants is that at 50 minutes Sex Express was a softcore film, while Diversions expands the film into hardcore and has Deeley, Blackstone, Kenyon et al acting out all the sex scenes for real. It seems that whereas late 60s Ford films like Groupie Girl had harder material inserted by foreign distributors, by the early seventies Ford had quietly cut out the middle man and began shooting the hardcore himself. It goes without saying that the longer, complete version of the film with all its kinks on show made more of an impact overseas than the watered down domestic version. Smuggled out the country the hardcore version of this and The Sexplorer sold like ‘hot cakes’ at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and Diversions ended up being nominated for ‘Best Foreign Film’ by the Adult Film Association of America. A year later the film had its American premiere at what had been one of New York’s first adult film houses. The cinema in the East Side/Kip’s Bay area was located-bizarrely as it may sound- in the middle of mini-mall type complex. That is where Bill Landis, the writer of the legendary exploitation film zine Sleazoid Express, saw the film and many years later could still recall the audiences’ stunned reaction. Hats off to Derek Ford, it was no easy task to shock an audience in the decadent world of mid-seventies NYC.

At the time Diversions was made it was as if Ford had become one of the publicly respectable but privately thrill-seeking characters from his own film ‘The Wife Swappers’. On the surface Ford was a middle-aged, socially quiet man with a wife, children and a brother who held the position of a London magistrate. Offering sound-bites to magazines like Cinema X, Ford claimed ‘as for the old wrestle between the sheets, the two bare backs writhing in the sheets bit, they’re boring scenes to shoot and I find them extremely boring to watch on the screen’. Ford’s filmmaking exploits weren’t exactly unknown in Maldon Essex where he lived at the time. Locals would occasionally end up as extras in harmless spectacles like Felicity Devonshire playing a woman who gets married in cement for Whats Up Nurse. Any scenes that hinted at the true pornographic nature of Ford’s films were however shot in hush, hush conditions at Ford’s home or at a house he rented in nearby Beeleigh (incidentally Diversions is a ‘Blackwater Film Production’, Blackwater being a river that runs through Beeleigh). The u/c version of Diversions tells you just what was going on behind those closed doors and its contents paint a rather different picture of Ford, with hardcore scenes imaginatively and erotically shot as apposed to the work of someone who finds pornography ‘boring’. Whereas Ford was safe in the knowledge that these hardcore scenes would never be seen in the UK-thus allowing him to maintain his ‘reluctant pornographer’ fa├žade-, the filming and processing of this footage was still a legal question mark as far as the law was concerned. Despite full knowledge of the scandal that could have erupted had he been found out, this didn’t stop Ford from pursuing all manner of taboo avenues with Diversions. It’s as if Ford didn’t know when to stop, finding in Heather Deeley a willing bi-sexual porno extremist ready to play out all the things he had to suppress in his other films. Diversions is actually one of the few mid-seventies Ford films not to touch on Ford’s obsessions with swinging, dare parties and people living double lives, though it could be argued the film itself is the byproduct of all of these.

By the year’s end Heather was being dubbed Britain’s next big sex symbol, on account of her more than competent acting and lack of inhibitions. Heather was also pictured in Page 3 of The Sun, her school friend recalls “Before I left England I remember seeing her on Page 3 of the Sun diving topless into a swimming pool during some heat wave in in England (Headline something like Gorgeous Heather Deeley knows how to cool off"), I can also remember telling my sister, "I used to go out with her" at the time which was somewhat exaggerated”.

“Honesty, I can only be derogatory about the films I’ve made, Sex Express is the one I dislike the most” Heather told Cinema X in November 1975 “now that I’ve gained confidence -due to Derek Ford and Sex Express- I want to find out if I’m capable of advancement as an actress, maybe small TV roles, straight films”, unfortunately Sex Express would prove to be less the end of the beginning of Heather‘s career, and more the beginning of the end. Blame for Heather’s decline would appear to rest heavily on the shoulders of her boyfriend at the time, likely to have been a drug dealer, if not a gangster, Heather’s boyfriend certainly seems to have been fond of using claims to be “connected” to London’s gangland scene as a threatening device. Through him she developed an addiction to cocaine and began to gain a reputation for being unreliable. Next up was a role in Tudor Gates’ 1976 sex comedy Intimate Games, a film with the novelty of casting several big name sex film actresses “together for the first time”. Its telling of Heather’s growing popularity that she receives equal billing to the likes of Suzy Mandel, Anna Bergman and Felicity Devonshire on the films poster, but also maybe evidence of her unreliable reputation that while Suzy, Anna and Felicity get there own story arcs during the film, Heather disappears from the film early on, only later reappearing for the memorable final where the sight of her bosom drives George “Wexford” Baker mad and he has to be carried off foaming at the mouth. In Heather’s final film 1977’s Fiona Richmond vehicle Hardcore she is relegated to a bit part, soon after Heather was penciled in to play Suzy Mandel’s sister, in the US hardcore film Blonde Ambition (filmed in 1977, released 1980), directed by John and Lem Amero. Suzy recalled Heather being cast in the film, but when Suzy arrived on set (after a short vacation in Florida), found the role was being recast. Heather’s role ‘Candy Kane’ would eventually be played by an American actress billed under the name Dory Devon, who boasted a impeccable British accent. It seems that everything had been going smoothly - with Heather successfully auditioning for the role in London and set to fly out to NYC- when John Amero received an abusive phone call from Heather’s boyfriend angrily proclaiming that he wouldn’t allow Heather to do the film and was preventing her from leaving. Amero then spoke to Heather herself, who was clearly upset and at a loss over what to do, claiming her boyfriend had criminal connections. Amero decided it would be best to let her go and recast the role, rather than have Heather cross this man, exit Heather, enter Dory Devon. Amero is of the opinion that Heather’s boyfriend was “a real gangster, underworld character”. While Blonde Ambition was a troubled production, and as a result sat on the shelf for a number of years, the film that emerged is now regarded as a cult classic from the porno chic era and provided Suzy with one of her best, and funniest, film roles. For Heather it was undoubtedly a missed opportunity. According to David McGillivray’s book Doing Rude Things, after her 1977 disappearance from the film world Heather was briefly sighted working in a Soho peep show. (McGillivray elaborated on this recently “somebody who worked with her told me Heather Deeley was in a peep show… and on Charlie”). Apart from that no-one has heard from her in over thirty years and the question, “Whatever happened to Heather Deeley?” remains unanswered to this day. In his book McGillivray dubs her one of the casualties of British sex films: “Heather Deeley had a meteoric career lasting two years, was washed up at the age of 21, and is now completely forgotten.”

Its tempting to leave things on such a dramatic note, but the internet throws up, if not an answer to the “Whatever Happened to” question, an intriguing footnote. A ‘Heather Deeley’ registered an account with a well known website in 2003. Background information given on this site, checks out and suggests this to be “the” Heather Deeley, and is evidence that she is alive and well. Tellingly however, her details on this site contains no references to her career as an actress or her saucy past, perhaps Heather prefers it that way. Like the heroine of Cool It Carol maybe she had a revelatory moment and realized the lifestyle she was leading was not for her and went back home to a life of obscurity, never looking back. Heather Deeley’s story remains something of a jigsaw puzzle, one with many of the pieces still missing, and a dark, disturbing picture emerging from what can be pieced together, we can only endorse her school friends thought “I really hope she managed to sort her life out”.

Unreleased/ Uncompleted Films (or a missing session and Heather’s uncompleted orgasm”)

During her exhaustive workload of 1975, Heather also appeared in a film called Pink Orgasm, which was never completed. In it Heather was cast to play several roles including the wife of a character played by Victor Spinetti and Eve (as in Adam and Eve). The film also starred Julia Bond, Steve Amber and US porn actor Harry Reems. With the exception of Spinetti most of the cast were seasoned hardcore performers, indicating that the film would have been also filmed in a harder version for export. Bob Godfrey was to have provided X-rated cartoon inserts for the film and the film would have also used music by the band Aphrodite’s Child. Ultimately director David Grant lost interest in completing the film, although several minutes of material was shown to the press in 1975 and the film was written up in Cinema X magazine (vol8, no5), which also published several stills from the film.

Recently it has been discovered that two sequences shot for Pink Orgasm were included in a compilation video called 'Who Bears Sins' that Grant put together in 1987.

Synopsis from the 'British Girls Adult Film Database'

“Heather Deeley plays two roles -

* Eve, who tries to persuade Adam to take a bite of an apple. He steadfastly resists until she finally says 'Well, how about a fuck then?' to which he replies 'Now you're talking'.

* The wife of Victor Spinetti, who gets off by him going out to a phone box to make heavy breathing phone calls to her, but on this particular evening they've forgotten they've made an appointment with a life insurance salesman who arrives just after Spinetti has left, but before he has managed to ring up. She invites him in and he sits next to her on the couch. The phone rings and the dirty phone call (actually just a jumble of indistinguishable words in a rough accent) begins. She undoes her top and begins to get turned on. The salesman notices, asks if he can help, she lets him and they end up having sex (simulated here, but they could easily have shot another scene with another bloke without Spinetti knowing). She dresses hurriedly when she hears the sound of hubby returning."

In addition the British Film Institute credits Deeley with appearing in a film called The Session (1974). “The adventures of a harassed photographer, his girlfriend and his two models on a boat trip” the film which also stars Ava Cadell and Andee Cromarty, was previewed in Cinema X magazine (vol 7, no 6) and a photo of Deeley from the film used on the magazine's cover.

Chronologically The Session would appear to have been Heather’s first film and was the brainchild of two photographers Mike Bergman and Tony King, the latter also playing the films male lead. According to Cinema X “both guys are looking to films as an added outlet for their creativity….their futures hang on their movie”. Unfortunately for the duo The Session never saw the light of day. A later issue of Cinema X would claim the film had been banned by the censor “for, apparently, having no story”, the BBFC’s database however shows no listing for The Session, indicting that this mysterious film was neither submitted or banned by them.

Heather Deeley: magazine appearances

* Continental Film Review July. 1975 Vol 22. No 9. "Girls Come First"
* Continental Film Review August 1975 Vol 22. No 10. "Sex Express"
* Cinema X Magazine 1975 Vol 7. No 6. "The Session"
* Cinema X Magazine Sept 1975 Vol 7. No 7. “Lord Longford’s Selection: Erotic Inferno”
* Cinema X Magazine 1975 Vol 7. No 9. "Sex Express/Girls Come First/Birth of a British Sex Star"
* Continental Film Review 1976 Vol 23. No 10. "Intimate Games"
* Cinema X Magazine Dec. 1976 Vol 8. No 4. "Deeley: Britain's top X-girl's Intimate Games"
* The Sun 1976? "“Gorgeous Heather Deeley knows how to cool off"
* Cinema X Magazine Jan 1977 Vol.8 No.5 “Pink Orgasm”
* Mayfair Magazine 1977? Vol.? No.? "Heather Deeley" (photos taken from Hardcore (1977))

Special thanks to Suzy Mandel, David McGillivray and the late Bill Landis for their help with this article, and to Benson Hurst for providing me with John Amero’s insights into Heather and Blonde Ambition.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to read that Longford viewed 'Erotic inferno' as Chris Chittel had appeared in an episode of Doomwatch called 'Sex And Violence', a story based on Whitehouse, Longford & co's campaigning. Chittel's character takes part in a panel that discusses the merits of censorship. In one scene the panel does exactly what Longford did- they view a film to judge its possible effects on the viewer.

gavcrimson said...

By sheer coincidence I’ve just posted a write-up of another Chris Chittell sex film ‘The Intruders’ on the blog.