Obituary: Harrison Marks

Tony Sloman
Wednesday 09 July 1997 23:02

Harrison Marks was a byword for the softest kind of soft pornography, a smut pedlar who became a self-perpetuating legend. He was twice bankrupt, twice arrested and four times married, a vaudevillian at heart who pioneered porn in Britain and lived all his life in the same house where he was born.

To say that Marks's work has any lasting merit would be to extend to it, and to him, a dignity that was most notably lacking. Yet his name was synonymous with an instantly identifiable product throughout three decades: it symbolised airbrushed genitalia and semi-nude nudity, and was ultimately enshrined in a film title that epitomises his whole life and career, The Naked World of Harrison Marks (1965).

His reputation began as a photographer of a very specific type of nude, airbrushed beyond curiosity. His photographs, first widely distributed in his own publication, Kamera, in 1957, were of voluptuous and sometimes not-so- voluptuous girls in contrived settings, in studios not much bigger then the average-sized kitchen; indeed on many occasions, the studio was Marks's own kitchen.

These magazines, fondly remembered from many a schoolboy's locker room, together with naturist publications like Health and Efficiency and the "men's" magazines Men Only and Lilliput (Marks supplied photographs to both publications) were, in a bygone age, the only official sighting of naked women allowed to be published in Britain, and were much appreciated, and indeed cherished, in those sweet, naive post-war days. From still photography it was but a simple step to "glamour" and Marks became a supplier of 8mm films, readily available over the counter of camera shops, but easily supplied discreetly by post.

Marks was not a trained photographer at all, but a former stand-up comedian, half of an act called Harrison and Stuart, a teenage duo that had appeared in variety halls towards the end of the music hall in the late Forties and early Fifties. The act collapsed, in Hull, in 1951, when Marks pulled out.

He had begun to take photographs of fellow music-hall performers, among them the young Norman Wisdom. Wisdom later starred at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, in a 1952 revue called Paris to Piccadilly, the latest of a long line of shows purporting to bring Folies Bergere naughtiness to an austere post-war London. Bragging about his connection to Wisdom, Marks managed to secure a job snapping the showgirls, one of whom was to change his life for ever.

Pamela Green was a former art student turned nude model and showgirl. Her influence on Marks was formidable: his muse and lover, she also, more importantly, informed every aspect of his glamour photography from buying the props and clothes to dressing the sets. Furthermore, since she was a professional photographer and print finisher, she would airbrush out her own pudenda in Marks's glamour photographs to allow them to be reproduced throughout Britain (abroad pubic hair was quite acceptable, even necessary). Influenced by nude photograhers like Alan Duncan, Walter Bird, and John Everard, Marks and Green invariably dressed in lingerie by Weiss of Shaftesbury Avenue and became, if not exactly a household duo, certainly an under- the-table one.

In 1959 a shrewd film distributor, Nat Miller, had imported the American naturist movie Garden of Eden into England, to find it passed by local authorities with a "U" certificate. With the naked floodgates open, as it were, Miller produced his own home-grown nude movie, Naked Paradise, and made a small fortune tapping into an obvious British cinematic need. It was logical for Marks to gravitate upwards from 8mm to 35mm and in 1961 he produced Naked as Nature Intended, a nudist romp starring Pamela Green; its title has passed into the vernacular.

Arguably the most famous British nudist film of all, Naked as Nature Intended ran for an astounding two years in the West End, and recently surfaced on video. Of its 58 minutes' running time, much is spent in travelogue as five girls, Green included, take aeons to reach Land's End. Once there, at the once-famous Spielplatz Naturism Club, clothes and inhibitions are doffed. Filmed as Cornish Holiday, this witless, scriptless farrago co- starred Marks's old vaudeville partner Stuart Samuels, in a variety of guises, as every man the girls meet.

Marks fully intended to shoot a nudist feature, but took the precaution of meeting John Trevelyan, secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, before shooting commenced. He proffered no script (there wasn't one) and Trevelyan duly acknowledged the film's respectability when the founder of the British Naturism Movement (and also the owner of the Spielplatz Sun Camp) sanctioned the film. Although the resulting opus was utterly sexless, Trevelyan insisted on cutting the opening sequence, claiming that the lounging girls could be mistaken for lesbians.

Virtually before it had finished its first run, the film was an anachronism. Under Trevelyan, film censorship was easing considerably, and many French imports were playing circuit houses, purveying a form of naughtiness indelibly identified with the Continent. Undeterred, in 1965 Marks produced and directed The Naked World of Harrison Marks, and re- edited it with additional sequences in 1969 as The Nine Ages of Nakedness. He also then made an immensely successful sex-and-horror film, Pattern of Evil, never shown in the UK.

Green, meanwhile, had achieved her apotheosis by featuring in Michael Powell's essay in sadism Peeping Tom (1960), whilst Marks delighted in casting himself in his own films in random characterisations revealing a noticeable lack of subtlety, talent or acting ability. With his profits, he cast himself and his old music-hall partner in an unsuccessful 45-minute- long featurette, The Chimney Sweeps, and also made comedy shorts for both children's television and charity.

Green left Marks in 1961: he had become a personal disaster, an alcoholic who was spending money as though it was going out of style. In 1971 he was tried at the Old Bailey for dealing in pornography by post, and his empire of smut came tumbling down.

He was rescued by the sex tsar David Sullivan, who financed Come Play With Me (1977), a typical Marks project sold as a sex romp starring Mary Millington, but actually sub-Carry On-style, featuring Marks's beloved variety performers, including Alfie Bass delivering a comic song and dance.

The film made money, but the abolition of the Eady Levy on film and the arrival of the home video-cassette recorder signalled the end of the British sex movie, at least for cinemas. Marks's drinking became heavier and his appearance and speech more eccentric. He made sadomasochistic films and videotapes for European distribution, and produced a spanking magazine, Kane.

George Harrison Marks, film-maker: born London 6 August 1926; four times married (one daughter); died London 27 June 1997.

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