After months of internet rumour and gossip, the BBC finally revealed in October that nine hitherto presumed ‘lost’ episodes of Doctor Who had been re-discovered, gathering dust in a storeroom at a TV station in Nigeria. The two Patrick Troughton stories – The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear – had been unseen for 45 years, but within hours of the restored episodes being released commercially they had leapt to #1 in the iTunes chart around the world. And Doctor Who fans across the globe are being teased that more is yet to come.
Obviously an announcement of ‘new’ Mary Millington footage isn’t going to set the world alight like the Doctor Who treasures but, for me personally, seeing any previously-thought-lost archive of Mary in action is a thrilling prospect. I know there is unseen material still out there, including scenes Mary shot for an unfinished 1977 sex comedy made by a rather famous producer (which I will blog about after Christmas), plus there’s footage of Mary as a kinky ringmaster shot for the 1978 movie Erotic Fantasies, filmed by my late-friend Ray Selfe; there’s also one final hardcore 8mm film still waiting in the wings. In the past few months I’ve made two major Mary discoveries – the first of which I’m going to exclusively write about here. What’s more, I didn’t have to travel as far as Nigeria to retrieve it. I only had to go to Leeds.
Because of the nature of Mary’s career, and archaic attitudes surrounding pornography in the 1970s, Britain’s #1 porn star was never going to be invited as a guest on Parkinson – more’s the pity. The British media’s irrational ‘fear’ of Mary, and what she represented, also meant that she only did a handful of radio and press interviews. However, there is one solitary instance when Mary did appear on tea-time telly, presented to a ‘family audience’. Few outside of the north of England have heard of Calendar, a regional magazine show broadcast from Leeds since 1968. Calendar was originally produced by Yorkshire Television (now ITV Yorkshire) and first brought viewers to the attention of the late Richard Whiteley, who presented the show until 1995.
Calendar attained international infamy in 1977 when Whiteley was attacked – live on air – by a ferret, which resolutely refused to unhinge its razor-sharp teeth from his hand; the clip has been syndicated to TV stations around the world ever since. That same year, Mary’s film Come Play with Me had been playing to capacity crowds in London and was finally being released onto the cinema circuit throughout Britain. Nearly 10 months after its big screen debut at Soho’s Moulin cinema, Come Play with Me finally found its way to Harrogate, the exclusive spa town in Yorkshire’s West Riding. The manager of the local Odeon invited Mary to attend the film’s ‘Yorkshire premiere’, and on Sunday 29 January 1978, she visited the cinema much to the delight of her particularly loyal northern fanbase.
Several hundred men braved the freezing cold weather to see their porn idol, and Mary, dressed in her trademark fur coat, politely posed for photographs and signed copies of her 1978 fold-out calendar poster. Photographs of the event appeared in the local press and several pictures found their way into David Sullivan’s magazines, often erroneously credited as having been taken outside the Moulin in Soho. A couple of these pictures also appeared in colour after her death, most notably in issue #47 of Park Lane (under the title ‘Our Last Tribute’) and in several posthumous ‘tribute’ magazines. But it wasn’t just press photographers who were present that day; a local TV crew was also in attendance.
I’ve known for several years that there was film footage of Mary in Harrogate knocking about somewhere. Unbelievably, her visit to the town was screened as part of a news report in Calendar on Monday 30 January 1978, with Richard Whiteley explaining to viewers that a ‘film star’ was inundated with fans from across the region. It wasn’t until August this year, that I negotiated a deal with ITV to try and track down this video tape, and in an astoundingly short period of time it was recovered, sitting on a shelf in their archive in Leeds.
It felt quite odd knowing I was one of the first people to view this footage for over 35 years. The film was in very good condition – in raw and unedited form – prior to its appearance on Calendar. Mary is shown outside the front of the Harrogate Odeon with her friend, and one-time cinema manager, Tom Hayes accompanying her. Alongside a poster of Mary, the cinema is displaying its other big screen attractions – namely a double-bill of The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Ironically, Mary didn’t know it at the time, but within just six months she would be sleeping with the star of those movies, at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
In the news footage, Mary signs copies of her calendar, poses for photographs with a motley collection of long-haired, over-excitable fans and braves the biting Yorkshire wind. In one particularly awkward moment, Mary signs her autograph on a magazine for a fan who then exits stage left with Mary attempting, and failing, to hand his pen back to him. Throughout it all, Mary looks happy and relaxed, whilst Tom Hayes stands grinning beside her. (Note: two years later, Hayes, now sporting a beard – looks considerably less comfortable talking about Mary in the 1980 ‘tribute’ film Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions).
The discovery of this ‘new’ Mary footage is hugely significant, since it shows Mary in real life, fully-clothed, and not playing up to her sex queen image. Instead, we see a somewhat shy, and accidental, movie star, modestly interacting with her adoring fans. Obviously, it’s not in the same league as rediscovered Doctor Who, but to me, it’s simply priceless. And I’m very pleased to say that you’ll all be able to watch it in 2015… just you wait and see…
All words and screen grabs © Simon Sheridan 2013-2016