The Sex O’clock News

Contrary to what many might think, David Sullivan’s first foray into the world of British newspapers wasn’t the launch of his infamous Sunday Sport in September 1986. 10 years earlier Sullivan published a precursor to his tabloid adventures, namely National News (originally called Private National News for its first two issues). This was a men’s magazine featuring gratuitous reporting of sex crimes from regional Crown Courts, punctuated by model exposés (Page 3 girl Ava Cadell was ‘outed’ as the star of 8mm porn) National News Issue 1and salacious articles on prostitutes (“Hotel Whores – the Menace Grows!”), swingers, pimps and lesbians. It wasn’t a wholly successful experiment, and, over time, National News dropped its dubious ‘news’ coverage and morphed into just another glamour magazine, virtually indistinguishable from the likes of Cockade or Weekend Sex.

Five years after National News first hit sex shop shelves, Sullivan tried once again to combine the worlds of softcore porn and gutter journalism. Tabloid-sized, monochrome (apart from its red masthead), and gleefully presented on newsprint paper, the Whitehouse Adult Newspaper was launched at the end of September 1981 (first issue dated 6 October), priced 60p. Edited by Bill Edwards who, at the time, also helmed the monthly Whitehouse magazine, the paper was a pretty ramshackle affair, full of spelling and grammatical errors and repetitious news stories. It delivered the usual diet of ‘unique’ features which David Sullivan magazines had traded on for the past decade. Issue one featured a four-page exposé on the sex scene in Hamburg (written by the co-author of Mary’s 1978 autobiography, David Weldon, now promoted to ‘travel editor’); a ‘UK Whoring Survey’ on London prostitutes; brunette model Mandy Miller starting a British ‘shagging tour’ in Brighton; an enormous contact ad section, plus amateur readers’ wives and some illuminating tittle-tattle on stripper-turned-porn-star-turned-actor ‘Gypsy’ Dave Cooper (who had recently starred in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London). The only truly original feature was a ‘problem page’ presided over by a mature topless blonde named ‘Aunt Edith’. “My wife won’t have anal sex with me,” wrote an exasperated Mr G.F. of Sheffield. “Forget it,” reprimanded a stern Aunt Edith. “It isn’t legal in this country.” Lest we forget, this was 1981.

Whitehouse Adult News Mary Millington

The biggest draw in the premiere issue of the Whitehouse Adult Newspaper, however, was David Sullivan’s biggest star – now dead for over two years – Mary Millington. Adoring the front cover, Mary’s life story was told by Sullivan himself, in characteristically candid manner. This was ‘the real truth’ about a woman ‘killed by a jet-set lifestyle of drugs and kinky sex’. In many ways, the News of the World couldn’t have bettered it. Of course, fans learnt nothing particularly new about Britain’s most famous pin-up, except that Mary liked to call porn producer Charlie Brown (the producer of Miss Bohrloch) the “German David Sullivan” and that by 1981 Come Play with Me had grossed somewhere in the region of £750,000 in London alone. Even in death, Mary cast an indelible shadow over David Sullivan’s publications; there was no getting away from the fact that nobody could ever hope to take her place. This was demonstrated by the Whitehouse Adult Newspaper starting a rather tasteless ‘Mary Millington Look-a-Like Competition’; a ridiculous endeavour from the outset.

From its second issue the paper was subtly rechristened Whitehouse Adult News, continuing its reporting of Mary’s life story, and featuring Bernie Winters on the front cover being ‘debagged’ on the raucous set of quasi-documentary Mary Millington’s World Striptease Extravaganza. Ultimately, the porn-loving British public just didn’t warm to a fortnightly 32-page newspaper, heavy on words and sparsely adorned with (relatively tame) black and white photographs. For just 80 pence more punters could treat themselves to a glossy colour copy of “spread-legged” Whitehouse or Playbirds. Additionally, newsagents and corner shops wouldn’t stock Whitehouse Adult News on the lower shelves alongside the Daily Mirror or the Sun, and sex shops struggled to shift copies displayed beside far more explicit material. And so, after just a handful of issues, Whitehouse Adult News folded, eventually merging – rather ironically – with Sullivan’s own National News magazine in early 1982.

Whitehouse Adult News Daily Sport

Today, Whitehouse Adult News has all been forgotten. Copies are still very rare to find, but, by 1986, Sullivan’s previous tabloid misstep was just a dim memory. The newly-launched Sunday Sport, and later the Daily Sport, created a sensation in an otherwise complacent – and stagnating – British marketplace. But it’s no surprise that, again, Mary was called upon to help sell Sullivan’s newspapers. In June 1987 the Sunday Sport ran a series of lascivious stories purporting to be taken from the pages of Mary’s ‘secret diary’, found hidden behind a water purifier at Mary’s villa on the Costa del Sol. The diary was fictitious, naturally, although the Sunday Sport stories were based on truth – Mary’s assignations with the Shah of Persia and Peter Sellers and the drug-taking parties at Diana Dors’ Sunningdale home. The late-1980s were definitely the Sunday Sport’s ‘glory days’ when its circulation hit the 280,000 mark. It appeared that even eight years after her death, Mary’s fascinating life story still continued to sell newspapers. As rival Sunday Mirror journalist Colin Wills once told me: “You must remember, Mary Millington was a gift to the tabloids…”

All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2015-2016

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