It is, depending on your viewpoint, either filth for the middle classes or the nation's only genuinely intelligent journal of eroticism. It has been out of the limelight for a while, but now The Erotic Review is back, aiming to push back the boundaries of censorship.
In its heyday the review attracted some of the world's finest writers, including Sarah Waters, DBC Pierre, Helen Walsh, Auberon Waugh, Helen Cross, Kathy Lette and Miranda Seymour.
Now, Kate Copstick, the review's new owner, is promising that fine writing will once again underpin sex and sensuality: "The Erotic Review has to be about two things – great writing, which is witty, funny, intelligent, knowledgeable – and sex."
The magazine relaunches this month – its 100th edition. It celebrates a coup in that having previously always been a subscription-only title, it will now go on sale in Borders bookshops, soon to be followed by the Waterstone's chain, as well as in Harmony sex shops.
Copstick, a 48-year-old former journalist, is determined that the relaunched magazine will be unequivocal. It will be about: "Sex. Not love, not relationships. It's for people who have a genuine, visceral appreciation of sex qua sex." She added that it will be devoted to "sex for the connoisseur, and more about really good writing than anything".
The Erotic Review first emerged in 1995 as the newsletter of the Erotic Print Society, run by Jamie Maclean and Tim Hobart. Two years later Rowan Pelling, a former IoS columnist, became editor and transformed it from a 16-page club quarterly to a glossy monthly with a circulation of more than 30,000.
In 2001 the society went through financial difficulties and Pelling bought the magazine for just £1. Three years later she sold it on to the publisher Felix Dennis, who moved it to Surrey. It was sold again but by this time Pelling and her writers had gone and the magazine had changed from an erotic literary journal to a lads' magazine, and circulation had dropped to a few hundred. It foundered after only four issues. In 2007 the title was offered back to Maclean.
Copstick, having previously written for the ER, felt it deserved to live: "It needed an injection of funds, I had some put by, and so I bought it for £10,000. Jamie was muttering about having a female editor again because of the publicity, but The Erotic Review almost drowned in oestrogen once and I'm not going to let that happen." She claimed women seldom write well about sex because "they have an agenda, they complicate sex, they make layers, it's conditional. And they lie as well." Nevertheless, there will be women writing in the relaunch edition, including Pelling and Copstick.
The publisher/proprietor is almost uniquely well qualified to be the publisher of the new ER. Born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, she studied jurisprudence at Glasgow University, though she has never practised law. Instead she has been an actress, stand-up comedian, journalist, children's TV presenter – "you should see what went on, off-camera, on Playschool: very educational" – television producer and newspaper columnist.
At last year's Edinburgh Fringe she volunteered to appear on stage with Devon, a dancer who paints pictures by squirting paint from her bottom. Copstick ended up with a face full of blue paint, to wild applause and incredulous headlines. "It wasn't pornographic," she said. "It wasn't even sexy, it was... vaudeville."
As if this were not enough, she is also the announcement voice at Fort William railway station. She is joyously bisexual and the author of several instructional books about sex.
Philanthropy brought her to 11 Downing Street and a reception for Waverley, the HIV charity of which she is a patron. She is also vice-chair of CWAC, the Children With Aids Charity, and today she is in Kenya where Aids/HIV is rife. There, Copstick has taken her brief beyond CWAC's, which was to teach women about contraception.
"The traditional form of contraception there seems to be death of the mother from exhaustion," she says. She is now using her own resources to help prostitutes make a living in other ways. Next month her website Mama Biashara (Business Mother) goes online, selling craftwork made by HIV-infected women whom she has set up in business. She makes half a dozen visits there a year, laden with contraceptives donated by Durex.
What she sees there, she says, is the ugly side of sex, the result of local ignorance and international indifference, where sex has become a matter of life and death. Here, she hopes to enlighten people about sex in terms a world away from The Erotic Review.
"It's juvenile, pathetic, the way we treat sex," she said. "The head of commissioning at Virgin Media wrote to me [she'd pitched on behalf of her Bobby's Girl Productions for a documentary about porn holidays] that 'we are no longer commissioning any s** themed programmes – we can't even write the word'. What I want is for people to have a bit of intelligent respect for sex. That's all."
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