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’.
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.