Stanley Long: Film director who was described by 'The Sun' as 'The King of Sexploitation'
His 'Adventures of a Taxi Driver' made more money in the UK in 1976 than 'Taxi Driver'
Monday 17 September 2012
Stanley Long was best known as the enterprising British film-maker behind a string of hugely successful low-budget X-certificate movies. For 25 years, from 1958 to 1983, he worked, variously, as cinematographer, writer, producer and director on "adults only" films like Take Off Your Clothes and Live (1963), Naughty! (1971) and Eskimo Nell (1974). His energetic productions mixed slapstick humour, big-name comedy stars and full-frontal nudity and made him a millionaire by the age of 36.
Described as "The King of Sexploitation" by The Sun, Long was, arguably, one of the most commercially successful independent British film-makers of the 1960s and '70s. However, he remained relatively anonymous and was scornful of critics who were critical of his work. "It wasn't easy making an exploitation movie," he stressed. "It needed a fresh script, careful planning and a lot of skill."
Long's knack was to give the public something they couldn't see on television – topical, sexy and controversial material. His tongue-in-cheek 1969 movie The Wife Swappers was based on an article Long had read in the News of the World. The film ran for 26 weeks in London and broke box office records. "I genuinely believe that the British love sex more than any other nation on earth," he once said, "and the historical suppression of pornography by the Establishment has made us want it all the more."
Long's movies were distributed throughout the world and he enjoyed his greatest personal triumph with 1976's Adventures of a Taxi Driver, a romp about a randy London cabbie (played by Barry Evans). Incredibly, it made more money in Great Britain than Martin Scorsese's own Taxi Driver, released the same year.
Born in 1933 and raised in South London, Long started out as a press photographer. After a stint in the RAF he took a job snapping nudes for a glamour magazine, Photo Studio. He shot his first striptease movie on a 16mm cine-camera bought for £25. By the late 1950s, Long's company, Stag Films, had made over 150 shorts with titles like Tantalising Tessa, sold under-the-counter at Dixons.
With his business partner Arnold Louis Miller Long progressed to more ambitious productions. Shot on location at Spielplatz nudist camp in Hertfordshire, Nudist Memories (1959) marked the beginning of his mischievous relationship with the chief film censor, John Trevelyan, who regularly told the young film-maker, "Stanley, you are capable of far better things."
Other nudist films followed, but it was 1960's West End Jungle which brought Long his first taste of controversy. Made as a response to the 1959 New Street Offences Act, which had driven prostitution underground, the film presented candid vignettes showing London's "Cinderellas of the Streets" plying their trade. The film was banned after Lord Morrison of Lambeth claimed it portrayed London in "an appalling light." West End Jungle's notoriety caused a sensation in the press and after public pressure it was eventually screened to MPs in the Parliament. The film didn't receive a certificate until 2008, which greatly amused its maker.
Long knew exactly how to get headlines. When The Wife Swappers opened at London's Cinephone cinema, opposite Selfridges, it was greeted with phenomenal queues stretching down Oxford Street. The famed movie critic, Peter Noble, bumped into Long and exclaimed, "Stanley, The Wife Swappers really has to be the greatest title since Gone with the Wind. You must be sitting on a pot of gold!" Long's low-budget epic eventually grossed over £1 million in the UK alone.
Mary Whitehouse was no admirer of Long's work. In a heated exchange at a public meeting at the Royal Festival Hall, Long accused her of being "depraved and perverted", owing to the amount of hardcore pornography she had viewed on a recent fact-finding mission to Denmark. Whitehouse was not amused.
In 1976, in partnership with his younger brother Peter, Long set up Alpha Film Distribution, for the purpose of releasing his next comedy, Adventures of a Taxi Driver. His new venture was far more popular than he could ever have imagined. The film broke box office records around the UK and Screen International declared it the 8th biggest money-spinner of 1976, some achievement for a film which cost £30,000.
It spawned two sequels, starring Diana Dors, Harry H Corbett and a bevy of naked models. Alpha, too, went from strength to strength, with the Long brothers acquiring the rights to several American films; by 1979 the company was the biggest independent distributor in Britain. Long won a Rank Cinema award for his ground-breaking trailer for Cronenberg's 1979 picture The Brood, by filming, in infra-red, a screaming cinema audience watching the movie.
In the early 1980s Long directed a trilogy of short horror pictures under the pseudonym of Al Beresford. Working with his long-time collaborator Michael Armstrong, he made Dreamhouse (1981), That's the Way to Do It! and Do You Believe in Fairies? (both 1982). Long retired from film-making in the late 1980s and he channelled his energies into his company, Salon (a conflagration of his full name, Stanley Alfred Long), making it one of the most successful post-production facilities in Europe. Long's company worked on blockbusters like Saving Private Ryan, Batman Begins and several of the James Bond pictures.
In 2008 he wrote his colourful autobiography, X-Rated – Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker. The book provided a unique insight into low-budget British film-making. Finding himself almost fashionable again, Long was delighted by retrospective screenings at the BFI Southbank, but was characteristically modest about his own achievements. "I've always lived on the sidelines of movie-making," he said, "quietly beavering away and getting on with it. I never wanted to be in the limelight, because that was never a priority for me. The reason I wanted to make movies was because I wanted to entertain people. I wanted the public to come back for more."
Stanley Alfred Long, cinematographer, writer, director, producer and distributor: born 26 November 1933; married Julie Williams; died 10 September 2012.
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