The world of British sixties sexploitation is explored in a double-bill of early slap & tickle ‘classics’ from the production partnership of Tony Tensor and Michael Klinger, now released by Odeon Entertainment in the UK as part of their Best of British line.
The production company Compton-Tekli and its successor Tigon Pictures are today associated with some important and much-revered British genre films of the 1960s, such as Roman Polanski’s masterpiece of psychological terror “Repulsion”, Michael Reeves’s historical western “The Witchfinder General” and Piers Haggard’s folk horror classic “Blood on Satan’s Claw”. But Tigon supremo Tony Tensor and his then-partner, the Soho strip club magnate Michael Klinger, actually began their film production career with a small-time faux documentary ‘nudie’ flick called “Naked - as Nature Intended” -- part of a curious sub-genre of tame British exploitation films that briefly had their chance to flourish from the late-‘50s to the early-‘60s, when nudity was strictly prohibited in mainstream British cinema, but could, nevertheless, be smuggled on to screens by canny producers, in the guise of ‘educational’ public interest films about the nudist movement.
The story of how “Naked - as Nature Intended” came to kick-start the film careers of these two ambitious denizens of the seedy backstreets of ‘50s Soho goes right back to the origins of the Compton Group itself, as a private members cinema club which the Tensor-Klinger partnership started up on the premises of 60-62, Old Compton Street, previously the site of a vacant office block which happened to have a basement area large enough to be converted into a 200-seat viewing auditorium.
After cutting his teeth in the industry managing theatres for the ABC cinema chain, Tony Tensor had flourished as a publicist for a small distribution company called Miracle Films, where he rapidly became an old hand in the art of marketing -- allegedly coining the term ‘sex kitten’ in a campaign to promote the films of the contemporary French starlet Brigitte Bardot. He first met up with Michael Klinger in Soho, while on the look-out for models to appear in one of his frequent promotional schemes. Klinger at that time was running several strip clubs, including the Gargoyle Club, but was all the while constantly looking for opportunities to break into the film business. In those ultra-censorious days, the industry-appointed censorship body, the BBFC, routinely effectively banned many films simply by refusing them a certificate, not just for containing sex or violence, but for a host of social reasons grounded in religion or politics. But a quirk in the rules governing the public exhibition of movies meant that a private members club like the Compton -- not open to the general public, but accessible to a limited clientele through subscription only -- was not bound by the BBFC’s strictures, and could therefore get away with showing whatever films it liked. These films included not only racy continental fare that could never hope to see a general release otherwise, but even mainstream films such as Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” (1953), which had previously been banned outright. By showing such films, the club was able to foster a good reputation among cineastes, and not just because of the more salacious material it exhibited, and even boasted among its membership the chief secretary of the BBFC himself, John Trevelyan!
The Compton Club represented the lowliest of starts for the pair, but they soon branched out in their never-ending search for more racy material with which to satisfy and entertain their select clientele, operating on the edge of respectability with titles such as “Europe in the Raw” and Wild Gals of the West”. As John Hamilton details in his career overview of Tony Tensor, “Beasts in the Cellar”, the partnership’s problem became that Tensor’s own past successes in promoting the risqué work of stars such as Bardot had created a demand for such films which had resulted in an increasingly competitive market: the independent distributors like Tensor’s old company Miracle Films couldn’t compete with the majors – the Rank Organisation and the ABC chain -- in acquiring popular mainstream product, and so, increasingly, they turned towards the distribution of popular foreign language imports to supplement their bread-and-butter of low-budget British films and American action movies.
The solution was for Compton to now move into distribution, showing uncensored imported films in their own club first of all and then, after the necessary cuts had been made to please the BBFC, distributing them to cinemas around the country. Aiming their product at the independent chains, the duo became adept at marketing their subtitled imports in such a way as to make them sound a great deal racier than they often were. Anita Ekberg vehicles such as “The Call Girls” and alluring sounding French films such as “Pavements of Paris” and “A Taste of Love” -- all of which required cuts from the BBFC before they could be shown outside of the London-based Compton club -- formed the major strand of their business. With the success of this strategy, moving into actual film production was the next logical step since it was not long before Tensor and Klinger were once again struggling to find enough new product to fulfil demand.
Although nudity had become increasingly prominent in continental films, and formed a profitable element of Compton’s distribution business, these films were often considered more sophisticated and artistic than home-grown product, where all hint of nudity was banned outright by the censorship body. As has been mentioned, the exception belonged to the genre of nudist films: these were documentaries about the naturist movement, or films which at least imitated the documentary form in order to get away with showing boobs and bums on British cinema screens. For the fledgling Compton Productions and its independent distributor Cameo Films (Compton-Cameo), the nudie film was the obvious first port of call in Tensor and Klinger’s drive to succeed in the cutthroat world of film production. They planned once again to show the film in their own private cinema on Old Compton street and then market it around the country in a special BBFC approved form.
This amusingly disingenuous genre was also the perfect route into a minor form of ‘respectability’ for sexploitation producers -- who were otherwise confined to the 8mm mail order stag film market -- and was instrumental in the beginnings of the British porn industry, while also providing an outlet for budding filmmakers and directors such as the young Michael Winner, for instance. One of these men was someone who would go on to play a significant later role in Britain’s porn industry: George Harrison Marks.
A former stand-up comedian turned photographer, Marks started his professional career taking cute pictures of cats, then moved into glamour photography and soon began publishing his own photography journals specializing in artistic pictures of naked models – a softer than soft-core porn, in other words. Eventually, Marks moved into the 8mm mail order stag film business, and, ever anxious to push his career further along, was only to keen to expand into general film production when approached by Compton to direct the Company’s first ever film. Michael Klinger knew Marks from his strip club days as manager of the Gargoyle Club, when he’d employed the photographer, whose studio was just around the corner from what later became the Compton Club, to take pictures of the girls who worked there. With Compton’s John Brayson employed as production manager to keep an eye on proceedings for Tensor and Klinger, Marks set off for Cornwall with his twenty-man crew and a compliment of hand-picked nude models, to make the travelogue cum celebration of the lifestyle of the naturist movement that is “Naked – As Nature Intended”.
The film is now a period curio that is more interesting today for its inadvertently having capturing some evocative images of England at the turn of the sixties, thanks to Marks’s and Compton’s proto guerrilla film-making methods, than it is for its display of bouncing breasts and jiggling bottoms, which are in any case confined to the last twenty minutes of the hour-long running time.
The film begins with a lengthy shot of an empty beach with crashing waves and jagged rock formations. The single shot is held for what seems like an age, but gradually a distant figure, merely a dot at first, emerges through the waves and walks slowly closer to the camera as orchestral music swells on the soundtrack. Eventually, the topless figure of Pamela Green emerges into frame, before the scene fades to a title sequence in which George Harrison Marks gets to appear on-screen alongside his director/writer credit as though he were a star filmmaker. This first scene sees Marks indulging himself with a reference to “Lawrence of Arabia” in the very opening seconds of the movie, so he was clearly taking the whole thing seriously as a career opportunity. In reality, Marks had only a rough shooting script when he and his crew set off on the location shoot around Southern England; most of the film was made up as they went along. To keep costs down, the locations were all either free tourist attractions or remote areas that could be filmed in without disturbance and, more importantly, without requiring payment to anybody. The dialogue was recorded using a rough guide track, but later abandoned altogether in favour of a gushing American voice-over artist who, over the course of the movie, describes the action, cracks bad jokes, supplies interesting historical titbits about the locations visited along the way, and pays verbose tribute to the joys of naturism.
Marks’s three main models are introduced to us as normal, everyday girls -- three friends first seen going about their everyday lives. Petrina (Petrina Forsythe) works as a secretarial clerk in a stuffy-looking town office with an antiquated wooden filing cabinet in the corner opposite a’ stuffed-shirt’ of a colleague who looks like a character from the Edwardian age (in fact its Stuart Samuels, a friend of Marks’s who plays a variety of comedy cameo roles throughout the movie that sum up the film’s saucy picture postcard aesthetic). Next we meet Jackie (Jackie Salt), who works in a dull provincial shoe shop (actually a rudimentary studio set consisting of two shelves of boxes and a chair). Last but not least, our trio also includes Pamela (Pamela Green) as an exotic dancer, a former Windmill Girl described in the voiceover narration as ‘a woman of the world’. Pamela Green, a former student artist, took up nude modelling in order to supplement her income, moved on to dancing at a version of the Folies Bergere, before becoming the partner of George Harrison Marks, appearing in a number of his magazines and 8mm films. She famously briefly appeared in Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” as a model posing for serial killer Mark Lewis’s camera, in nude shots taken in an upstairs flat above a newsagent -- a scene which echoes the beginnings of her own career.
The narration continues by informing us that none of these girls had ever considered going nude before; they’re then seen setting off in a huge, gleaming American Buick (actually Harrison Marks’s own car) for a holiday together in Cornwall. The rest of the film, we are told, will explain how, over the course of their trip, they all became conformed nudists!
Two other buxom young girls are also off on a walking holiday, heading in the same direction towards Cornwall. These two are Angela (Angela Jones) and Bridget (Bridget Leonard) -- both of them ‘ardent exponents of nudism’. As both sets of friends make their way separately towards the picturesque beaches of Bedruthan, their itinerary takes them past a number of scenic stop-offs and famous tourist attractions. The vast majority of the film’s running time is taken up with this extended journey, the film playing like a holiday film in which scenic shots of Stonehenge, windy cliff-tops and picturesque little villages around Cornwall forms much of the content. This is clearly all padding, but is actually now fascinating viewing from an historical point of view, capturing the England of 1960 as it was then – still looking like the early ‘50s in the character of the hairstyles and clothes of the inhabitants of the environs of Cornwall at that period. There are various inept attempts at picture postcard humour and slapstick comedy involving Samuels playing various up-tight authority figures (an officious tour-guide at Stonehenge; a waiter at the hotel, whom the girls knock into a swimming pool) while Angela and Bridget are seen clambering over various hand-built countryside stone walls and wandering among cow fields to the accompaniment of folk-tinged, Vaughn Williams-style pastoral pieces of classical music, as well as being pictured sleeping in haystacks beneath the stars to demonstrate their at-oneness with nature.
Eventually both sets of girls arrive at what is clearly an extremely cloudy, windswept beach. The locations had been scouted in the summer season when they looked sun-soaked, gorgeous and picturesque. But in the winter off season, although the beaches were now completely empty so that the nude scenes could be filmed without disturbance, they also now looked miserable and depressing. Thus, Compton were later forced to shoot some extra studio beach scenes which, with their harsh, glaring light and fake blue sky backdrop, look absurdly mismatched to the location footage. The flimsy narrative explains how Pamela, Jackie and Petrina accidentally stumble into the nudist section of the beach where they meet Angela and Bridget and become fast friends, playing nude volleyball with a beach ball and generally frolicking about on the sands in a playful manner with their new naked acquaintances, always careful to avoid exposure of too much public hair (apart from the occasional brief flash in long shot). After ten minutes of this, the trio are taken to visit the local Sun Club where they encounter some real-life inhabitants, who, as is usually the case at these establishments, turn out to be middle-aged or elderly and not particularly appetising to look at. Nevertheless, Compton had to include sequences filmed at this Hertfordshire naturist colony – with its glum-looking chalets and threadbare tennis courts – at the insistence of the BBFC, who required the film to at least make some pretence at extolling the virtues of such locations so that the film could receive its endorsement by the nudist movement.
Despite its crudely shot nature, and the fact that some scripted scenes were removed by the BBFC (including one of Pamela Green emerging nude from the shower in sight of Petrina Forsythe) for apparently suggesting lesbianism; and even though some scenes in the shooting script were not filmed at all because of bad weather conditions and technical difficulties, the film was a big success for Compton-Cameo. Over the next few years, the Company went from strength to strength, pushing the the boundaries of the censorship laws as the permissive age of the sixties began to kick in, and giving breaks to new directors such as Robert Hartford-Davis and Gerry O’Hara, as well as financing the second and third films of Roman Polanski, by which time the company had gone mainstream and rebranded itself Compton-Tekli.
Stanley Long and Arnold Louis Miller were another duo of filmmakers who started out, like George Harrison Marks, making 8mm softcore flicks in the late ‘50s, and then graduated to the shooting of a string of lucrative nudie flicks. One of their earliest films had been an innovative faux documentary exposé of the seedy underbelly of the capital, featuring prostitution and examining the lives of foreign au pair girls living and working in London; it was entitled “West End Jungle”. When the Italian pseudo-documentary “Mondo Cane” became a big success for a rival distributor, Tensor and Klinger knew exactly who they should turn to in order to cash-in with their own home-grown take on the format. The resulting film was “London in the Raw,” and it followed a similar recipe of voyeurism posing as moralistic exposé as their previous film, wallowing in images of London gambling dens, prostitution and smoky strip clubs, while cynically providing a distancing and disapproving voice-over narration.
The last film Long and Miller shot for Compton came about as a result of the company briefly acquiring the legendary Windmill Theatre in the West End of London, just off Shaftsbury Avenue.
This venue had been operating continuously since 1910, when it was originally a small cinema called the Palais de Lux. After being acquired in 1932 by the female entrepreneur Vivian van Damm, initially with the intention of staging standard variety acts on a daily basis, it soon became far more famous for its provocative semi-nude revues – known as Revudeville – in which static nude models were added to the song and dance routines; the Lord Chamberlin’s stage censorship rules required them to remain always stock still, while audiences were prohibited from bringing binoculars into the venue! By the time of van Damm’s death in 1960, the venue was looking decidedly old-fashioned in the light of Soho’s teeming strip club trade. Klinger and Tensor acquired the theatre and turned it back into a 2000 seat cinema (although they soon sold it when the film industry when into another of its regular periodic declines). This of course meant that the famous Windmill Girls, with their coy nude dances, which made such copious use of strategically placed veils and giant ostrich feathers, would dance no more; but before closing down the venue (which had famously continued running throughout the Blitz of London), Tensor and Klinger employed the documentary skills of Stanley Long and Arnold Miller to record for posterity the very final few shows, along with some backstage footage and some of the stage rehearsals, although they had no idea what to do with any of it and the footage simply sat on a shelf for a further two years.
Tensor and Klinger were never ones to waste material though, and it eventually found its way into what is, in the final analysis, another tarted up nudie film that delivers far less than it promises. “Secrets of a Windmill Girl” is stripped of the seaside postcard peek-a-boo sauciness of the naturist camp movies from a few years previously, and is instead steeped in the exaggerated realism of the semi-documentary exposé niche, in which swinging London’s seedy underbelly, then being capitalised on in Long and Miller’s series of “Mondo Cane” type “London in the Raw” exploitation flicks, is luridly depicted. A fictional narrative is woven around the core of documentary footage already derived from the Windmill shoot, that tells of the sad fate of Pauline Collins (then only twenty-five-years old and starring in her first role), who plays an ex-Windmill Girl who’s vanity sees her fall into a drug-addicted world of seedy strip joints, low rent orgies and producer’s casting couches.
A single shot of one of the saucier but still rather tame routines from one of the original shows recorded at the theatre a few years prior to the release of the film, becomes the backdrop for the opening titles, accompanied by a mournful little tune crooned by Valerie Mitchell: “The Windmill Girls, they were so gay. But now it’s over. They’ve gone away”, she sings, in lyrics that seem to bemoan the loss of a more innocent age, although it’s a loss precipitated by Tensor and Klinger themselves, since they were the ones who closed down the theatre in the first place!
In no time at all, we cut to Pauline Collins falling drunk out of a club and zooming off in car with her equally drunk boyfriend, whereupon they promptly crash at high speed into a brick wall. Cut to co-star April Wilding, a nightclub singer called Linda Grey, who is informed backstage by an Inspector Thomas from West Central (Derek Bond) of her best friend Pat Lord’s (Collins) sudden demise. She’s forced to call round at the morgue to identify the body and Thomas pays a visit to Grey’s flat the next day to get some background on Pat’s life. Childhood friends from their earliest days, we first see the infant Pat and Linda (played by school uniformed child actors) bunking off school: already Pat is being touted as the rebellious, unruly one of the pair. A few years later, in hilarious footage in which Collins and Wilding attempt to pass themselves off as overgrown schoolgirls, the duo dump their school text books in the bin and set off for the London dance clubs where Pat is quick to exploit her sexuality: “oh the boys … they were like bees round a honey pot,” coos Linda in the voice-over. The two friends promptly end up working in a shoe shop, where Pat has to fend off the libidinous advances of the elderly manager, who wastes little time in sacking both her and Linda when Pat refuses his offer to set her up in her own flat where he can come and visit her whenever he likes.
Pat wants to fulfil her ambition to be a professional dancer, and persuades Linda to come along with her for an audition at the prestigious Windmill Theatre in the West End. After a dodgy audition in which Linda is initially rejected during the selection process but Pat gets through, the girls’ friendship prevails when Pat protests the decision and the kindly stage manager (played by Martin Jarvis in a roll neck sweater), taking a sudden fancy to Linda, offers her a place in the cast list purely on Pat’s recommendation.
The girls now throw themselves into the training. And the film throws in as much footage of rehearsals and backstage preparation capturing the real Windmill girls on film as possible; meanwhile, Pat drags Linda along to a series of raucous coffee bars and louche parties where the experience-hungry youngster is willing to snog all comers for free and flirts with cross-dressing lesbians in dim corners of seedy flats (the one shown here looks disturbingly like a fem Peter Cushing!). Linda’s increasingly tangential voice-over narrative goes wandering all over the place, detailing the humdrum personal lives of just about every employee on and off the stage at the Windmill. In the meantime, the typically sensationalist plot about her sex-mad strumpet pal goes AWOL, taking a backseat while all that footage Long and Miller shot several years previously gets unceremoniously offloaded in one long and tedious middle section in which we get to see not just endless footage of the dancers getting ready backstage, cramming themselves into fishnets and Basques etc., but lengthy on-stage footage, such as the real Windmill Girls’ tasteful erotic dance sequences (Collins and Wilding themselves are never actually seen on-stage), and some hopelessly old-fashioned (even by 1966’s standards) variety acts, with joke-cracking card magicians, comedy folk singers and corny tap dancing acts.
This is where the film starts to get incomparably tedious for a time, but hang in there and the viewer is rewarded with a seedy end section in which Pauline Collins actually gets to act her socks off (and here top – although we don’t see anything, the camera shyly panning away) as Pat gets ideas above her station and imagines herself as a top West End star, taking up with an elderly producer who promise her great things on the West End stage but is merely exploiting her body. She’s right back in the same position that threatened to consume her when she worked in that shoe shop with the lecherous manager, except that this time she doesn’t realise it, being so overcome by ambition for West End stardom that she’ll go along with anything. The mustachioed bounder responsible is called – amusingly – Richard Curtis, in the script!
When the Windmill finally closes down and the sleazy world of Soho strip clubs takes over, the modest unassuming Linda manages to get herself into a respectable revue show. But the unfortunate Pat flounders miserably in a vortex of vice and despondency. Things get off to a poor start for the girl when she ends up at an alcohol and dope-fuelled flat party full of masked revelers, which finishes with her being dragged in a back room and gang raped by a bunch of blokes with stockings over their heads to the sound of frantic bongo drumming, while arty red gel lighting effects heighten the inherent seediness of the spectacle. From there she ends up doing the rounds of strip clubs and seedy stag parties, being interviewed by fat sweaty managers who demand to see what she’s got to offer (“most of the punters prefer something with a bit more meat on them!”). The final sequence sees a dead-eyed, increasingly defiant Pat (‘a burned-out husk verging on a mental breakdown’ Linda’s narration helpfully informs us) stripping on stage but stopping at her bra and knickers to shout at the braying audiences, “I don’t have to do this y’know! … I’m an actress!” Sacked from job after job, she ends up in a run-down central bar, standing on the counter in her underwear, mascara streaming down her face, screaming “I don’t wanna do this! … You dirty bastards!!” while the punters continue to shout “get ‘em off!” at her.
Once again, for the most part, this, Like George Harrison Marks’s film before it, is flatly shot and unexciting, until the last ten minutes when the orgy and rape scene is shot with some degree of flair. Here and right up to the end, Pauline Collins gives an honest-to-goodness proper performance that transcends the flimsy exploitation material, thinly written dialogue and hackneyed characterisation, to become unexpectedly affecting and emotional.
Odeon Entertainment have released both of these films on a singe disc as a double bill. The initial menu option allows you to select which one you want to watch and then takes you to a sub-menu that includes the scene selection for that particular film. “Naked – As Nature Intended” is riven by lines down the screen and frequent crackles and skips on the soundtrack throughout. It’s clearly not been restored in any way, but the colour and visual clarity is perfectly adequate otherwise. “Secrets of a Windmill Girl” meanwhile, fares much better and sometimes even looks quite vibrant. Both films are in colour and shot in 1.33:1, which seems to be the correct ratio in both cases. There are no other extras but the disc contains a lengthy selection of trailers for other films in the Slap & Tickle/Best of British range. The DVD also comes with some quality sleeve notes written by Simon Sheridan, author of Keeping the British End Up: four decades of saucy cinema.