THE LIFE AND TIMES OF 1970S BRITISH PORN STAR MARY MILLINGTON

The Life And Times Of 1970s British Porn Star Mary Millington
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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF 1970S BRITISH PORN STAR MARY MILLINGTON



Written by Dan Wilkinson
22 Friday 22nd April 2016

With its blend of extroverted characters, by-the-numbers innuendo and the assurance of nudity, the sex comedy really took off in a place as repressed as England a few decades ago. The genre hit its peak in the seventies and Mary Millington was one of its stars; admittedly, she rarely said much in the films, but with her sheer sex appeal she rarely needed to.

The newly released documentary Respectable: The Mary Millington Story chronicles her life from her humble beginnings to her tragic early death. Starting her career posing in the buff for “photography clubs”, Mary utilised her image as a means to an end: prolonging her mother’s life with treatments to battle terminal cancer. With this rationale in mind, you see just why she was so prolific in her output and strong in ambition. In tandem with the often patronising, sexist nature of the workplace of the time, her options were limited. 

The types of British sex comedies she made make sense when you realise that hardcore pornography was still illegal in Britain during the seventies (and was bizarrely only legalised in 2000). Whilst the U.S. had Deep Throat and Emmanuelle, we relied on the cringeworthy likes of Playbirds or the Confessions Of series. Mary eventually achieves notoriety through her film Come Play with Me, which became one of the longest-running British movies of all time, spending four years in cinemas.

However, due to the nature of working in the sex industry, Mary was never really able to cross over into the mainstream. She'd reached the ceiling of the British adult industry but her ambition was much higher. Unfortunately her spiralling cocaine habit led to patchy acting performances which limited future work in any type of film.

Throughout the documentary, you get the sense that Mary never really liked herself; listening to rare audio interviews, she refers to her face as “ugly” and prefers shots of her body because it “could be anyone else”. Through her film and modeling work she gained a steady career, but it was her sex shop that enabled her to make real money. However, that brought a new set of problems with her daring to import and sell hardcore pornography and faced constant police raids for it. The raids brought dehumanising harassment and a new sense of paranoia to her life. Considering that so many powerful people in the sex industry - pimps, filmmakers, sex shop owners, publishers - were male, perhaps she was singled out for transgressing as a woman.

In the end, Mary died when she was about to face criminal charges for distributing illegal pornography and tax evasion. Feeling like the whole world was against her, she took her own life at only 33, hardly a respectable age. But as a woman facing a sexist workplace culture, shut out of bigger roles due to her previous work, hounded by the police, responsible for her mother's care, perhaps there was truth to her paranoia.

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