Mary Millington…..not a name that I grew up with in the 1970s. Not surprising that since she was a porn star and I was still watching Rainbow at the height of her fame. I like to learn about things I truly had no idea about before, and so I was delighted to be at the premiere of a brand new film all about her which is written, produced and directed by Gloucestershire based Simon Sheridan called Respectable – The Mary Millington Story.
The premise is this: Mary was the suburban porn queen who scandalised 1970s’ Britain; the girl-next-door who slept with a serving Prime Minister and was the arch-nemesis of ‘anti-filth’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse. Stop reading now if your British sensibilities are rocked in any way, shape or form.
Yes, Mary Millington was Britain’s first ever household-name porn star (not my household though!), and not only has a film been made about her life, she has also been commemorated with a blue heritage plaque in Great Windmill Street, London and it is the first of its kind in the world.
‘She remains this country’s only genuine sex superstar,’ says her biographer Simon Sheridan. ‘Nowadays porn is ubiquitous, but 40 years ago there was only Mary. She unquestionably holds a unique place in British social history.’
Mary had carved a lucrative career from illegally-made pornography, high-class prostitution and modelling, and along the way she became the most successful pin-up of the 1970s – whose racy reputation could shift a million glamour magazines a month.
Tragically, Mary died at the height of her fame, aged just 33, in 1979.
Mary’s most famous ‘X’-rated movie was ‘Come Play with Me’ which made its debut in April 1977 and was still playing at the famous Moulin Cinema, in London’s West End, four years later. It still holds the record for the longest-running British movie of all-time.
To mark what would’ve been Mary’s 70th anniversary, the blue heritage plaque commemorating Mary’s career, and her most famous film, was unveiled at 42-44 Great Windmill Street in the heart of London’s Soho.
Mary, who didn’t have any children, is still fondly remembered by her family. ‘She was a big star back in the 1970s and was a pioneer in pornography,’ says her cousin, Susan Quilter. ’We are still immensely proud of her, and thrilled she is getting a blue plaque in London’s West End.’ The plaque was unveiled by David Sullivan, Mary’s ex-boyfriend, and now the co-owner of West Ham United FC. In attendance were the surviving cast and crew from Come Play with Me, alongside Mary’s friends and family.
Immediately after the unveiling, the new feature-length documentary ‘Respectable – The Mary Millington Story’ had its world premiere at London’s Regent Street Cinema. Simon says: ‘I think my film will come as a surprise to a lot of people. Mary was quite a controversial figure, but she had contacts right at the heart of the British Establishment.’
This is a controversial, yet enlightening, movie celebrating the golden age of British porn. Mary was a pretty English girl-next-door who truly personified the word ‘glamour’. Her rise to the top was meteoric, controversial and scandalous. This 4’11” blonde, discovered by a local photographer, carved a lucrative career from illegally-shot pornography, high-class prostitution, modelling and movies. She became the most famous naked pin-up of the decade and her racy reputation could sell one of the biggest box office films of all-time.
Mary was pretty much Britain’s only genuine sex superstar and the film outlines how she fought vigorously against the Establishment, anti-porn campaigner Mary Whitehouse and the Metropolitan police – all for the right to express herself in the way that she wanted.
In a few short years Mary had attained the status of ‘Britain’s Queen of Sex’. She had an affair with the most powerful man in British publishing and slept with the famous and not-so-famous; men and women; celebrities, actors, sportsmen and even serving Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
But Mary’s sexual bravado hid a darker side. She fought crippling insecurity and struggled to find her voice in a tumultuous decade of social change. Persecuted by the authorities and threatened with a spell in prison, Mary found herself addicted to drugs. Tortured by self-doubt, she died at the height of her fame in August 1979. She was just 33.
Simon Sheridan’s enthralling documentary Respectable – The Mary Millington Story reveals the truth behind a British icon and speaks to those who knew her best, including her family, former lovers and co-stars.
Actor Dexter Fletcher narrates a story stranger than any fiction – of lost innocence, sex, fame, fortune and tragedy. This is the shocking, untold, true story of 1970s’ rebellion, painted against a backdrop of disco, politics and porn, where a beautiful blonde girl sacrificed herself for her beliefs.
Simon Sheridan says:
|“Mary has fascinated me all my life and I’m hugely proud to have the opportunity to bring her incredible story to a brand new audience. It still astonishes me how one glamour model single-handedly challenged British society’s archaic attitudes towards pornography.”|
Simon Sheridan has put together an incredibly moving, touching and funny documentary that sheds light on the effervescent Mary Millington. This is so much more than a documentary on porn; it is an insight into how one woman showcased her own feminist movement, albeit in way that rocked the establishment, and how she celebrated her unconventional job and how she loved her body. Mary was natural, smart, and way before her time.
Respectable highlights a time in the 20th century when we Brits were conflicted with our culture, but most of it all it explores the beauty and vulnerability of Mary, who was in a way, Britain’s own Marilyn Monroe.
Mary sparkles on the screen and Simon Sheridan has cleverly captured the essence of Mary through footage and interviews with her family. Watch this and learn something. Compelling, tragic, thoughtful, wonderful. This is the best thing I have watched in 2016.
Respectable – The Mary Millington Story is now available on Netflix and will also be playing at the Guildhall in Gloucester from 14 May. It is rated 18, naturally.
Simon Sheridan is a writer and broadcaster who has worked extensively for the BBC, Sky, Channel 4 and Five, as well as channels in Canada and the USA. He has written seven books on popular culture including Come Play with Me – The Life and Films of Mary Millington (1999) and Keeping the British End Up – Four Decades of Saucy Cinema (2011). Respectable – The Mary Millington Story is his début film.