Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The David Hamilton Grant Affair

For this post 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.

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.



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’”.




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”.






In response to this post, David McGillivray wrote “As a matter of interest I met someone last weekend who confirmed that Grant is alive and intends to make a documentary about him. I still have the script of The Sex Life of Jesus, which Grant wanted me to re-write.”

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