The Fact of Fiction: ‘Come Play with Me’ in Print

From the autumn of 1976 onwards producer David Sullivan took delight in relentless publicising his forthcoming début movie, Come Play with Me. In explicit photo-sets, flowery editorials and often-misleading adverts he promoted the movie as ‘Britain’s first porno feature film!’ and ‘the hottest British movie ever – sexier than anything from Denmark, Sweden or Germany!’ Of course, no ardent Mary Millington fan was ever likely to see the hardcore version of Come Play with Me playing down at their provincial Odeon, but that mattered little. The movie went on to become the most profitable low-budget British movie of all-time. Virtually all of Sullivan’s magazines – from Whitehouse, Playbirds and Private – covered the making, release and controversy surrounding the release of Come Play with Me. Pictorials of Mary’s energetic lesbian scene with Penny Chisholm or Suzette Sangalo Bond’s kinky S&M-themed romp with hardcore performer David Ashmore, were endlessly reproduced on the page, tantalising readers with scenes that the British film censor would, ironically, never actually allow them to see.

Playbirds Erotic Film Guide #1

In March 1977 David Sullivan went one-step further by publishing a 68-page magazine wholly devoted to the release of Come Play with Me. The Playbirds Erotic Film Guide featured Mary on the cover posing provocatively by a four-poster bed on location at the Weston Manor Hotel in Oxfordshire. Inside, the publication reproduced rather innocuous photos of ‘straight’ actors  Irene Handl and Ronnie Fraser being directed by filmmaker George Harrison Marks, alongside multiple  pages of game-for-anything Derek Aylward shagging Lisa Taylor and anachronistic photos of models who didn’t even appear in the finished film (including those of Tim Blackstone and an anonymous blonde having sex in a Croydon health club). Interspersed was a text story which claimed to mirror the on-screen activities of the film’s performers, including Suzy Mandel’s character giving a blow-job to Tommy Godfrey (mercifully, a scene never realised on screen). Sex stories based on the bawdy activities at Come Play with Me’s fictional location, Bovington Manor Health Farm, continued in Lovebirds magazine (issues #7 to #12). Some of these, and other associated stories, were written by David Sullivan’s chief hack Harry Knights, and eventually by Alastair Campbell (eventually to become PM Tony Blair’s legendary spin doctor).  

As if that weren’t enough, Come Play with Me was also adapted into a full paperback novelisation, featuring eleven chapters bursting full of incredibly explicit prose. The novel is about as far removed from the original movie as you could possibly get – initially centring on the activities at the ‘Purple Pussy’ striptease club in Soho, before moving onto Bovington Manor Heath Farm and documenting the sex life of Irene Handl’s character (implausibly described here as “still only 39 and a ripe woman to be sure”). The novel sold well enough to be republished in a new edition, but inexplicably removed Mary’s face from the cover, replacing her with a photo of blonde model Marilyn Phillips, who had originally graced the front of Playbirds #7 in 1976.

Come Play with Me novels

By the summer of 1977 Come Play with Me-mania was seemingly sweeping the country, and a paperback sequel to the movie was hastily released, entitled Come Play with Me Again – 153 pages of unadulterated filth focussing in on the sexploits of Suzy Mandel’s character, Rena. The novelisation’s cover featured pictures of hardcore performers Suzette Sangalo Bond and Roger Carr, photographed by George Harrison Marks, but that is where any similarities to the original movie ended. Certainly un-filmable for a British ‘X’-certificate, Come Play with Me Again was never adapted for the big screen, although two in-name-only Swiss-made sequels to the film (released in 1980 and 1982) did successfully play UK cinemas.  David Sullivan did confess to me once that, with hindsight, he wished he’d made a proper follow-up to his most famous movie. “I think I’d have called it Come Play with Me, Once More” he mused.

All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2015

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