Keep It Hard Downstairs

In the 1960s and 1970s it was common practice for many British sex films to be shot in an ‘overseas version’. In other words, additional scenes – usually hardcore (but not exclusively) – were slotted into the narrative to make the film more commercial in territories where explicit pornography was de rigueur. Sometimes naughtier scenes were added in without the consent of the filmmaker – such as The Sex Thief (1973), where hardcore action was filmed by a completely different crew (sometimes not even in the same country) and then edited into the British narrative. Even the Continental version of Stanley Long’s relatively innocuous Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1965) features showgirls masturbating with sex toys, in new scenes directed by another (unknown) filmmaker. In other cases, British directors like Derek Ford and David Grant took full responsibility themselves, filming all the hardcore sex scenes for their own movies, including Commuter Husbands (1972), Keep It Up Jack! (1973), Sex Express (1975) and Under the Bed (1977).

Keep It Up Downstairs script 01

Sometimes referred by the filmmakers as ‘Japanese version’ or ‘German version’, the practice culminated – very publicly – with the making of Mary’s 1977 movie, Come Play with Me, where four additional scenes (three heterosexual and one lesbian) were filmed by director George Harrison Marks. That porn footage never actually made it to the Moulin cinema in Soho, where the film enjoyed a mighty four-year residency, but the ensuing hardcore scandal provided ample column inches for the News of the World when the ‘legit’ performers such as Irene Handl and Ronnie Fraser bitterly complained to Equity, the actors’ union, about pornographic scenes being shot without their knowledge.

The ‘insert reel’ industry all but died-out with David Sullivan’s 1981 movie Emmanuelle in Soho, but I’m still endlessly fascinated by the concept of home-grown films existing in different versions. Of course, Come Play with Me wasn’t the only one of Mary’s movies to be shot with additional scenes. 1978’s The Playbirds also had extra sequences filmed, as did Keep It Up Downstairs, shot on location at Knebworth House, Hertfordshire. The latter film, a sumptuous period piece set in 1904, cast Mary as scullery maid Polly, and marked her first meeting with director Robert Young. ‘We auditioned a few girls for the film,’ recalled Robert, when I interviewed him in 2013. ‘Mary came in and she was incredibly sweet and just took off all her clothes, but she didn’t look like she’d say boo to a goose. She was quite demure really. I said to [producer] Hazel Adair, “Are you sure she’s right for the part?” and Hazel, who knew more than she was letting on, just said, “Oh yes, she’s exactly what we need!” It was quite funny. She’d walk around the set without a stitch on, like she was fully clothed. There was absolutely nothing coy about her whatsoever.’

Keep It Up Downstairs script 02

In my archive I have an original copy of Keep It Up Downstairs’ ‘export script’, printed in London in 1976, which includes several additional scenes. Today Robert has absolutely no qualms talking about the hardcore version of the film (‘I think it’s quite amusing, actually!’ he said) and cheerfully revealed to me who really directed these added sequences (all filmed mute, with grunts and groans dubbed-on in post-production). The hardcore version of Keep It Up Downstairs is missing, presumed lost, although it played successfully across Scandinavia and mainland Europe, but was never screened in the UK.

Although Neil Hallett, one of Keep It Downstairs’ leading actors, was well-versed in appearing in films with added hardcore sex – and actively recruited young actresses for stronger scenes – not all of the film’s performers were so enamoured. Former child star Jack Wild (the original big screen ‘Artful Dodger’ in Oliver!) appears in Keep It Up Downstairs as the awkward, stuttering aristocrat Peregrine Cockshute, but his one-time publicist confessed to me that Wild was appalled when he became aware of the porn content being shot for the movie. After he became a born-again Christian in the 1980s he refused even to acknowledge the film. In contrast, female members of the cast, including Sue Longhurst, Sally Harrison and Francoise Pascal, now only have happy memories of the movie. Director Robert Young claims it was one of the highlights of his career, for one reason in particular – the magnetic charm of Mary Millington. ‘I loved making Keep It Up Downstairs,’ he recalled. ‘I really enjoyed it, and meeting Mary was simply divine. She had a huge impact on my life.’

All words, research and original photos strictly © Simon Sheridan 2015

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