It’s easy to forget that aside from the girlie magazines churned out by the ‘big three’ – David Sullivan (Whitehouse, Playbirds, Park Lane, Lovebirds etc), Paul Raymond (Mayfair, Club International, Escort etc) and Russell Gay (Knave, Response, Fiesta etc) – there was a host of lesser-known publications cluttering up the shelves of Soho sex shops and provincial newsagents during the seventies. One such title was Vamp – a short-lived ‘sex and lifestyle’ magazine, launched at the end of 1976. On the face of it, Vamp shared little lineage with most of its top-shelf contemporaries; it was aimed squarely at couples, swingers, gay men and single women and featured articles on topics as varied as cross-dressing, kinky underwear, Oxford Circus flashers, bisexuality and ‘flamboyant fatties’. The magazine also broke new ground by being one of the first British publications to print photo-spreads of solo, full-frontal male nudes. One reader wrote to the magazine’s letters page to enthrall: ‘I really don’t understand what Vamp is about! What a conglomeration of oddities, and how exciting to find all this in one mag. Keep up the good work!’
In some respects Vamp was to its competitors what the highbrow Films & Filming was to the decidedly downmarket Continental Film Review, but the magazine’s secret parentage is even more surprising. Vamp was published by the rather anonymous-sounding Favcrest, based in Stockwell, South London, and distributed by a certain David Gold. In 1977 Favcrest was superseded by Figcrest, the publishing company which was behind many of David Sullivan’s magazines. Throughout the 1970s Gold was an associate of Sullivan, and it is a close friendship which endures to this day; in fact, since 2010, the two multimillionaires have been 50% stakeholders in West Ham football club. Gold is also the father of Jacqueline Gold, the chief executive of the successful Ann Summers sex shop and lingerie chain.
It’s hardly surprising that David Sullivan wanted to keep the unconventional Vamp well away from the likes of his flagship titles like Playbirds, especially since his ‘unisex’ 1974 title, Private Girl, had flopped in 1974. However, there were occasionally none-too-subtle crossovers between Vamp and Playbirds. The third issue of Vamp boasts a saucy cover photograph of actress Suzy Mandel with Cockney character actor Tommy Godfrey, taken on the Oxfordshire location of Come Play with Me, in October 1976. Inside the magazine there are a further four pages dedicated to the film – featuring publicity stills of actor Derek Aylward with porn starlet Lisa Taylor and Mary herself, again posing with the grinning, pin-stripe-suited Godfrey.
60-year-old Godfrey was a veteran of many celebrated British movies including Passport to Pimlico (1949) and numerous TV sitcoms, but he needed little encouragement to pose for semi-explicit shots with Suzy and Mary. With Mary, in particular, he really went to town – peeling off her panties, spanking her bum and letting her sit nude – and spread-legged – on his lap, all whilst stills photographer George Richardson happily snapped away. It’s ironic that when the story broke in the News of the World that Come Play with Me had been shot with ‘added hardcore porn scenes’, a sweaty-palmed Godfrey was the first on the phone to his agent. “There was nothing objectionable in the scenes I’m in,” he told the paper on 14 November 1976. “I wouldn’t like to be implicated in anything like that, as I sometimes appear in children’s TV programmes!”
As Mary once noted: ‘hypocrisy and pornography go hand-in-hand…’
All words © Simon Sheridan 2013-2015