Sex leaves the smut behind

John Walsh meets Erotic Review founder Jamie Maclean, whose new publication Sex is about to make a splash in the somewhat bare market of magazines aimed at those who take erotica a touch more seriously

It's hard to know what to make of modern sex magazines. Once it was simple. Smut was on the top shelf of the newsagents. The magazines were unlike any others around, and their Unique Selling Proposition was clear. They were called Mayfair and Men Only and Knave and Fiesta, their pages were full of disrobed women, in wildly varying degrees of loveliness, showing off their intimate regions, and they were, to be blunt about it, masturbation aids for the lonely, single male. If you aspired to suavity and well-read sophistication, you could buy Playboy or Penthouse, wherein you could also read golf articles by John Updike or short stories by Truman Capote, once you'd finished what the Americans called "self-dating" with the help of the centrefold.

Today, the old onanists' gazettes have mostly disappeared. The internet has become the favourite picture gallery of the furtive peeping tom, seated at his laptop with his left-handed mouse. The lower shelves of your high street newsagent are ablaze with the utterly predictable orthodoxy of lads' magazines: an interchangeable roster of girls called Kelly or Jennifer or Charlotte, clad in swimwear or their knickers or (daring variant) with their hands strategically concealing their nipples. The more expensively produced (GQ, Maxim) may feature famous actresses, like Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie, pouting in their smalls. The more blokeish magazines, such as FHM or Front, deal in the D-list glamour models. The rock-bottom, weekly chav duo of Zoo and Nuts (which can be found, at railway station newsagents, on sale just beside the till) cram the covers with a multiplicity of breasts. In a, possibly unconscious, recognition of how low the collective brows of its editors and readers can be, Zoo recently published over 100 pictures of its readers' girlfriends' breasts - glossy acres of disembodied tits. To anyone brought up on the guilty excitement of Mayfair and its stable mates, these "men's lifestyle" magazines seem rather pathetic, with their teenage drooling over girls in bikinis.

It was into this throbbing market that the Erotic Review tried to introduce its lovely body a few years ago. For a while, it was a breath of fresh air - or at least a hefty whiff of essence de boudoir - in the sex-mag world. Under its second editor, Rowan Pelling, it flirted for eight years with a readership of mostly middle-aged arty and literary chaps, many of whom became its scribes. Its prevailing tone was light-hearted, red-blooded, public-school-confessional, and dedicated to the proposition that everyone would benefit from a jolly good rogering. It featured rude line-drawings, sweat-inducing illustrations and funny comic strips. Its themed features (cars, hotels, schooldays, food and drink) were imaginative, and the fantasies which were its stock in trade were Updike-lite. It closed down in January 2005. And now the man who started it all, Jamie Maclean, is back with a new erotica project. It's called Sex.

After the high-gloss quality of the Erotic Review, it's a bit disappointing: a small (A5), 24-page collection of sober and reflective essays - on the Government's proposals for the legalising of brothels, the demise of top-shelf magazines, the re-branding of sex and politics - along with some melancholy smut from John Gibb and a splendidly obscene comic strip called The Young Governess by Paula Russell. Little of it would raise a laugh, let alone anything else, although the zippy style of "Tilly Johnson" (the magazine's supposedly up-for-it secretary) is very promising.

"Just give us a chance," says Maclean, "we're only starting out." Who is the target audience? "We're aiming at a broadsheet audience of 35 to 65, in the middle ground between Zoo and Prospect." Who on Earth would they be? "People who feel slightly appalled by the continuing hypocrisy about sex in this country, how it's taken seriously in all the wrong ways and none of the right ones." Wrong in what sense? "We still treat sex with a snigger. The English are incapable of treating sex as anything other than a dirty joke."

Or as something wholly confined to the chest region, according to the lads' magazines? "I have no problem with Zoo and Nuts," says Maclean, "I just think they're for a limited age-group. They represent the 'Phwoar!' reaction to sex, which is fine in its way. But as people get more mature, their attitude to sex should mature, and I think there's room for a magazine or journal which concentrates on that." His voice purrs along in a patrician growl. With his rubicund features and exophthalmic gaze, he is the very model of the modern sex connoisseur. His interest in the female form may derive from his father, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, the soldier, spy and adventurer whom Ian Fleming took as an inspiration for James Bond.

He has run the Erotic Print Society for 12 years. It evolved out of a straightforward art dealership. "I had a gallery for six years, right behind Sotheby's, and we put on lots of exhibitions. In 1985, I opened one called Forbidden Images, the first exhibition of themed erotic art in this country. It was a big success."

With Tim Hobart, an art-dealing colleague, he started the Erotic Print Society. From publishing one or two books a year they now do 20. The audience were the same 35-65 demographic that he's now chasing with Sex magazine - "mainly men, but quite a lot of couples. Counting couples, there's probably a 10-15-per-cent-female readership, something we feel needs addressing." The EPS's bestsellers were "a bit depressingly, the more obvious photographic ones. People also love retro-porn - that top-shelf stuff which has all but gone now. Anthologies of material from the Paul Raymond era have been enormously successful. And books on bottoms are always very popular with the British."

In Christmas 1995, everything changed. The office manager, a starchy matron who'd seen one too many pictures of posteriors, left and Rowan Pelling took over, initially to take calls. Entranced by the Donald McGill humour of the office, she stayed, adopting the persona of a flirtatious saucebox when speaking to society members on the phone. Soon she was running the EPS Newsletter - and in winter 1997, the Erotic Review was launched. Jamie Maclean was its founder and first editor, before handing over to Ms Pelling in 1999, and selling the title to her in 2002. It flourished. Her networking skills were phenomenal. Subscriptions went up to 30,000 copies a month. Contributors were paid little, but basked in Pelling's approval. They also enjoyed visits to the ER offices, where the staff disported themselves in basques, corsets and Agent Provocateur suspenders. But the magazine's debts had mounted up alarmingly, and Pelling sold the title to Felix Dennis, the magazine mogul behind Maxim. The Review came down in size, upped the glossy photographs and lost its unique spirit of innocent rumpy-pumpy. Within a year, Dennis had sold it to the publishers of Penthouse, Pelling and her staff promptly resigned, and the magazine was declared officially dead.

"Beauty is best maintained under a regime of poverty," says Stephen Bayley, the design maestro and a contributor to the new Sex. " Rowan Pelling helped make it all into a cheerful adventure, with flirtatious commissions and an exhilarating air of middle-class talking-dirty larkiness. As soon as the Erotic Review fell into clammier hands, the formula became more calculating, it reverted to type: like an illustrated full-colour catalogue of a cheap nude package holiday."

Now Jamie Maclean is back where he started in 1995. His new editor, Chris Peachment, is a seasoned ex-Time Out journalist, former Editor-at-large at the Erotic Review and the author of the endearingly titled The Diary of a Sex Fiend. "Unlike most magazine launches, which start off spending millions, we're starting small. But for the second issue, we're going to 36 pages, with more pictures from Jamie's vast back catalogue, and probably a bigger page-size. We have got a stable of writers from the Review who we'll be using. Unlike Rowan, I can't flash my cleavage and get people to write for nothing. And whereas she was keen on young women flirting with older men, we'll be aiming to be more, um, head-on."

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit