If you say the name ‘Charlie Brown’ nowadays, depending on your age, you’ll either immediately think of the hapless boy hero in Charles M Schultz’ long-running newspaper strip, Peanuts, or a 2012 hit record by British band Coldplay. But during the 1960s and 1970s, ‘Charlie Brown’ had a very different meaning to the sex shop proprietors of London’s West End. According to investigative reporters David Hebditch and Nick Anning, ‘Charlie Brown’ was the pseudonym of a man possibly called Walter Bartkowski, a Polish-born German, who was a prisoner of war during the Second World War. Upon his release in the late-1940s he settled in the East End of London, dealing primarily in goods smuggled into the capital from mainland Europe. Cross-channel car ferries had been running between England and France since the 1930s, with the first ‘drive on’ ferries being introduced in 1953. For many years Brown worked as a steward on these passenger ships, which ran from Folkestone and Dover to Calais, but behind the polite serving of drinks, Brown was running a far more lucrative trade: smuggling explicit porn photos, magazines and 8mm reels in and out of the UK.
Brown liked to spin a yarn that he was actually the chief steward on RMS Queen Elizabeth, but, in reality, roll-on-roll-off ferries were actually more his style. For 15 years he ran one of the most extensive porn smuggling operations in Europe, until he fell foul of the authorities and was briefly sent to jail. He moved back to West Germany in the late-1960s, setting up business in Frankfurt and establishing his own film production company called Tabu. Over the next few decades the ‘Tabu’ and ‘Charlie Brown’ brands became two of the most successful names in European porn. By the mid-1970s his company was churning out over one million feet of 8mm porn per month on several different labels, including ‘Tabu DeLuxe’, ‘Diamont’, ‘Fortuna’, ‘Lolita’ and his signature ‘Charlie Brown Special Collection’.
Although based in Germany, Brown was well known for favouring British performers and directors for his movies. He gave the London-based George Harrison Marks and Scotsman John Lindsay work, as well as hiring UK models like Lisa Taylor, Kathy Meadows, Clyda Rosen, Big John English and, of course, Mary Millington for his X-rated films. One British exploitation director told recently me about his first meeting with Brown, circa 1975. “We took a trip to Frankfurt to Charlie Brown’s offices,” he recalls. “There were big posters of naked girls and men with their cocks hanging out; this was totally new industry to me. We went to lunch, and Charlie told me he wanted British filmmakers and British girls because they had a ‘fresh feel’, totally different from the girls in Germany. He gave me £3,000 on the table, which I accepted. So I came back to London and found actresses. I wrote three scripts and churned out the goods and then returned to Frankfurt and did a little edit. It was that easy.”
Mary first met Brown in 1970, the year she starred in Miss Bohrloch, one of Tabu’s all-time best-sellers, filmed on location in Frankfurt with Lindsay behind the camera. Miss Bohrloch went on to win the ‘Golden Phallus’ for best film at the Amsterdam Wet Dream Festival, and subsequently sold over 300,000 copies, an unprecedented amount for a porn film. Mary worked with Lindsay and Brown again, but she had a particularly soft spot for her dapper Germanic friend. He was certainly an eccentric fellow, well-remembered for usually wearing his trademark leather cap, and a monocle, which often accidentally sprung from his eye, to great comic effect.
In 1976 Mary met up with Brown again at the Frankfurt Sex Fair. Their reunion was reported in issue #8 of Lovebirds magazine, where Mary posed with the ‘lovely man’ and later stripped off completely for waiting photographers. Two years later, Mary recalled Charlie’s undimmed enthusiasm for Miss Bohrloch: “Charlie paid me a very nice compliment. He said that if there was such a thing as an Oscar for blue films then I should get it for my performance in that film. I could just imagine it. The Oscar ceremony in Hollywood, Steve McQueen or Paul Newman standing on the stage. The lights flashing, the spotlights blasting down, and the crowds cheering. Steve introducing a clip from my film then presenting me with the Oscar for the years best oral sex performances. Well, I can dream, can’t I!”
All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2014