Well, quite a few of us did know… but David McGillivray’s gloriously grubby, sordid and relentlessly entertaining – not to mention very long-awaited – autobiography is revelatory stuff nevertheless. The story of how the writer of some of Britain’s most interesting and grim 1970s horror films (and, indeed, some of Britain’s most interesting and grim 1970s sex films) became London’s top drug dealer to the stars is a fascinating one (for those of us aware of his career shift at the end of the 1990s, the big question was “just how the hell did that happen?”), but although the book blurb understandably focuses on that part of his life, there’s a lot more here than just the cocaine parties that were his Friday night focus for years.
Although certainly a confessional – and a thoroughly detailed and unrepentant one at that – this is also a life story, and we follow McG’s life from childhood to him effectively stumbling into the British film industry when it was still possible to do so simply by getting a dead end job at a dead end film distributor and then moving up. Before long, he is churning out screenplays like House of Whipcord, Satan’s Slave and Can You Keep It Up for a Week? for a variety of exploitation stalwarts like Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren, while also maintaining a career as a respectable film critic – or at least a film critic for respectable magazines. This seems to have set the pattern for McG’s career since then – on the one hand, the face of sober arts coverage and mainstream acceptability, on the other wallowing in squalid activities that sat either side of illegality and social decency – porn movies, drug dealing, public sex with strange men, writing game shows to promote the National Lottery – he’s done it all, and only seems ashamed of the latter.
The druggy section of the book is awash with pseudonyms – you’ll have fun guessing who they are. I immediately recognised a couple of people, but don’t worry – your secrets are safe with me. This legally required point of discretion is the only part of the book that holds back, if detailed descriptions of drug-crazed celebrities and sex maniacs can be described in that way. For the rest, McG is almost painfully honest, revealing stories that caused even my eyes to widen at times with a candour that is both refreshing and a little worrying. You wonder what the legal statute of limitations is for some of the things he reveals here, and I admire the bravery involved in telling these stories. False names be damned, there is stuff here that might well make a few people very uncomfortable, and it might not even be about them.
Outside the scandal, this is a book with a fascinating, almost classic story arc – there’s a rise, fall, revival and subsequent coming to terms with… well, perhaps not demons, but certainly emotional struggles, not least his youthful denial of his homosexuality that tormented him throughout his teens and twenties – you can indeed see this reflected in his early films if you care to look that deeply into them. The later casual and relentless sex, along with the drug parties, reveals the conflicting image of a man who wants to be continually surrounded by people, but who is essentially a loner – or at least who shuns relationships. McGillivray is a man of contradictions – but then, aren’t we all?
Ultimately, though, this is a story about someone who has had a lifetime fascination with the seamier side of life – which I can fully relate to – and has not been afraid to dive in at the deep end of filth and depravity. As his production of the notorious Trouser Bar (not covered here, regrettably) has shown, he’s not ready to sink into suburban retirement just yet, and while the drug dealing days may well be over, there’s still the sense that McG has not learned his lesson – unless, of course, that lesson is to have fun at any cost, damn respectability and glory in the sort of outrageous bad behaviour that even those who know his work through Frightmare and Julian Clary might still find shocking. More power to him.