Crisis? What Crisis?

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from Chapter 8: OBSCENITY
'I wanna take dirty pictures of you'

Lord Longford has decided to produce a report on pornography...

The committee of inquiry was, predictably, a farce from beginning to end. Its remit was to discover the ‘means of tackling the problem of pornography’, so no one was much surprised when the membership was packed with Christian cronies of the chairman, and excluded those who didn’t see pornography as a problem in the first instance. And, since a survey in the ’70s revealed that one in five men regularly bought pornographic magazines, it has to be assumed that there were many who didn’t view it in the same negative light.

Amongst those who were included, and who stayed the course, were singer Cliff Richard and Radio One DJ Jimmy Savile, alongside more obvious suspects like Malcolm Muggeridge (he had spoken at VALA’s first convention, declaring that ‘if Till Death Us Do Part is life, I cannot see that there would be anything to do but commit suicide’) and the Rt. Revd Ronald Ralph Williams, the Bishop of Leicester, whose response to a Ken Russell film was truly magnificent in its acceptance of the divine will: ‘I never thought that I should give thanks to God for being blind, but since my wife has told me what she has seen in the film, The Devils, I am genuinely grateful that I at least have been spared that.’

The high point of the exercise was undoubtedly a trip to Denmark to witness some of the famed live sex shows of that country, at one of which ‘a beautiful young woman pressed a whip into Lord Longford’s hand and invited him to beat her’. The Guardian report of the incident added: ‘His Lordship declined.’ As he beat instead a hasty retreat, he told his colleague, the future Tory MP Gyles Brandreth, that he ‘had seen enough for science and more than enough for enjoyment’. In the circumstances, it was perhaps as well that he didn’t recognize that the ‘woman’ was in fact a transvestite.

On the plane over, Longford had been ostentatiously reading the Bible to put himself in the correct frame of mind, though perhaps he would have been better off having had a word with his newly acquired fellow campaigner, Mary Whitehouse. She had visited Denmark the previous year as part of a World in Action programme and had picked up a magazine in her hotel bookshop containing images so ‘pervasive and corrupting’ that she had to pray to ‘ask the Lord to cleanse her’.

When the Longford report emerged in 1972, it was an immediate best-seller, largely because it was marketed as a fat paperback with the single word ‘Pornography’ in huge letters on the cover, and because it retailed at a very competitive 60p. Its contents, however, were disappointing in terms both of intellectual engagement with the subject (Bernard Levin dismissed it as ‘heated amateurism’) and of cheap thrills, though there were those who relished such passages as a lengthy account of sex and sadism in a boys’ boarding school: ‘Sometimes the prefects did a lot of the whipping; at other times they made the third-year boys do it as well, or the second-year boys whip the first years and the first years whip each other.’ The most succinct response to the entire enterprise came when the actor Robert Morley told Longford that ‘if somebody liked to dress up in chamois leather and be stung by wasps, I really couldn’t see why one should stop him’.

Whether anyone did seek such an experience is perhaps doubtful, but had they done so, they would certainly have found a place to parade their penchant. As pornography began to move out from the Soho bookshops into more orthodox retail outlets, Forum magazine – which at this stage eschewed all photographic material in favour of text and journalism – acquired a reputation for the exploration of practices hitherto neglected in mainstream publishing; this was particularly true of its letters pages that were widely believed to have been written by its own journalists, seemingly in the spirit of running fetishes up flagpoles in the hope that the odd reader or two might salute.

A single issue from 1970 included, for example, not only such well-known tastes as rubber but also a predilection for corduroy, as well as the employment during sex of – inter alia – a vacuum cleaner, wild honey and raw steaks (‘which we beat well with garlic and herbs’). It also found room for the tale of eight men who attached the bells from cat collars to their genitalia and gave a performance of ‘Bells Across the Water’ in the men’s toilets at Victoria Station, ‘much to the enjoyment, if not edification, of many onlookers. The applause occasioned by this rendering encouraged us to attempt, with a notable measure of success, Schillenberg’s mediaeval “Aquascutum in Plasticus”.’

published by Aurum Press
© Alwyn W Turner 2008

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