Playboy '66? That'll be worth a fortune

Howard Byrom reports on the magical transformation of tacky porn to collectably kitsch erotica
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THESE DAYS pornographic paraphernalia from the Forties and Fifties is as classic and collectable as a pair of 501s; and the work of everyone from full-on fetishists like Elmer Batters and Eric Kroll to Fifties pin- up turned pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager is available from your local high street junk shop. After a century in the closet, erotic ephemera is resurfacing in popular culture - and it's nothing to be ashamed of (Gary Oldman had live strippers and vintage stag movies at his recent 40th birthday bash in LA).

The question is, just how long does it take porn to become art? Boogie Nights made Seventies porn cuddly and innocent, but closer to home Camden's Planet Bazaar shop have taken things one step further and started recycling mucky mags from under the mattress as objets d'art. In this tiny retro furniture shop, pornography has made a dramatic leap from the top shelf to the mantelpiece. Old copies of Carnival and Parade lie pristine and safely cellophane-wrapped besides a reproduction of Dali's "lips" couch, licentious-looking crockery, and great orb-shaped "boob" lamps, all made to suit the tastes of bachelors in the days when Pamela Anderson's figure was still a glint in its creator's scalpel.

"We're not doing raunchy stuff and dirty mags," says proprietor Maureen Silverman, sitting at a desk of titillating artifacts. "We specialise in Sixties and Seventies furniture. It's sex-pop and erotica, but tasteful. People love this kind of stuff - it's very collectable. It isn't really porn, they sell much more explicit stuff than this in newsagents."

Alice, a graphic designer and DJ, has made his flat an homage to titillation. "I love cheese-cake burlesque like Betty Page, and the Victorian stiff upper-lip stuff, but I like hard core too," he says, lying on a heart- shaped bed. Lining the walls of his home is a huge video projection screen and a backdrop emblazoned with a suggestive pair of lips and the words Erotic City - a club he once ran. "I've got old Playboys from the Fifties and Sixties but my favourite is the one with Latoya Jackson. It's so funny - I'm sure it's actually Michael." Josh Collins, director of the bawdy British movie Pervirella, is an avid collector of erotic comics, his favourite being Horny Biker Bitch. "Most people grew up reading Battle Action comic," he says, "but I grew up in France reading Magella, the amorous adventures of a medieval wench. Everybody respects that kind of stuff over there, but here it's really under the counter." Even comic-strip cartoons are subject to Britain's rigorous censorship laws.

So are we likely to see XXX-rated hardcore porn on the coffee tables of the future? "Well, the Victorians were producing explicit sex pornography," says James Maclean of the Erotic Print Review, "but time does lend enchantment, and from a legal viewpoint antique porn is publishable. So yes, the pornography of yesterday probably is the erotica of tomorrow."

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