King, Queen, Knave…

One of my very favourite photo-spreads of Mary appears in Volume 6, Number 3 of Knave magazine, dating from March 1974. Originally launched in 1968, Knave was the brainchild of photographer Russell Gay, who marketed it as the slightly classier sister to his own Fiesta magazine, which had premiered two years earlier. Whilst Fiesta had invented the revolutionary concept of ‘Readers’ Wives’ to a British audience (even today the magazine still uses the strap-line: ‘The Home of Readers’ Wives’), Knave used upmarket models, photographed in luxurious surroundings to appeal to the ‘truly sophisticated man’.

Mary was first introduced to Gay in 1973, and he was so impressed with his new blonde model that he rapidly promoted her (in name only) to ‘editor-in-chief’ of his latest venture, Response, a new digest-size magazine launched in 1974. Under the name ‘Samantha’, Mary was introduced as the “kind of girl you might see walking down Regent Street…” She appeared on the front cover of issues 1, 3 and 4 of Response, but was totally absent by issue 5. The magazine falsely reported that she’d “run away with one of the male models”. In reality, Mary had signed a deal with David Sullivan to appear exclusively in his stable of titles, including Whitehouse, and the soon-to-be launched Playbirds. Sadly, Mary never really looked quite as good again on paper as she did in the pages of Knave; that was partly due to being immortalised by British photographer Ed Alexander, one of London’s most celebrated, and prolific, snappers. Alexander photographed all the top models of the time; coincidentally in Knave‘s preceding issue – Volume 6, Number 3 – he immortalised Mary’s future co-star Anna Bergman over nine pages, and front cover, at the very same location he used for Mary’s shoot.

Mary Millington Knave

Alexander started off his career as a fashion photographer after WWII, but moved into glamour working initially in the US for Cavalier and then in Britain for Mayfair, Men Only and King. In Alexander’s Knave shoot, Mary is correctly credited by her married name, but the accompanying poetic prose explains that her home is ‘a Californian beach…’ Over ten colour pages (including the centrefold and front cover) Mary looks absolutely stunning, and Alexander’s photography makes her positively glow. However, Mary was still dissatisfied with the way she looked – this shoot, of course, taking place prior to her nose job.

Although everything changed after she met, and fell in love with, David Sullivan, Mary did grace the pages of a Russell Gay publication one more time – for Volume 8, Number 6 of Fiesta (June 1974), in photo-shoot by Colin Ramsay, daringly taken on the London Underground in 1973. As for Ed Alexander, he died in October 2014, aged 85. In his retirement he had been living just off the Edgware Road in London with his companion, former model Monica Hahn. He leaves behind a legacy of beautiful photographs, and a peerless reputation. As one of his fellow photographers told me recently: “Ed was the king of glamour. Nobody came close.”

All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2015. Image © Galaxy Publications 2015

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