The Manufactured Outrage Over Seventies Sex Comedies on Amazon

confessions-from-a-holiday-campFor some, the most pressing concern of 2020 is the fact that you can rent Confessions of a Window Cleaner on Amazon Prime.

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian, though if her name is at all familiar, it probably won’t be for that. Her most newsworthy comedy moment came in 2015 when she managed to briefly convince the press that her show at Goldsmiths College had been cancelled under the threat of protests from pro-porn (or possibly pro-trans, or possibly both) campaigners who opposed her RadFem ideals. As it turns out, the only person who knew about these planned protests was Smurthwaite herself – she was the one who informed the venue about the threat, which the Goldsmith Feminist Society – her alleged opponents – denied having planned. Still, the venue pulled the show – and why not? The day before the show, it had sold just eight tickets. And so Smurthwaite managed to become (to some, at least) a victim of campus silencing, rather than a comedian who no one was interested in seeing.

But despite this lack of interest in her comedy, Smurthwaite is on TV all the time. She’s a BBC News regular, a Question Time panellist and a regular talking head about feminist issues. And certainly, Smurthwaite is a furious anti-porn and anti-sex work RadFem campaigner. Not that long before her outrage about her alleged silencing by protesters, she was part of a vitriolic group protesting outside a London porn awards ceremony that included some protestors who called female performers ‘sluts’ and male attendees ‘rapists’ as they arrived at the venue. But that was virtuous protesting, clearly.


Still, any TV talking head needs to remain relevant, lest they are replaced by someone fresher, angrier, more connected to current concerns. Yesterday’s Daily Mail (of course) reports on her shock at the appearance of 1970s British sex comedies on Amazon Prime. Yes, you read that right – in the middle of the continuing lockdown and Covid-19 threat, the Black Lives Matters protests and other issues gripping the world right now, Smurthwaite is shocked that people can choose to watch Confessions of a Window Cleaner. As the Mail headline would have it:

Feminist writer blasts streaming service for featuring ‘crass’ ‘Confessions of‘ movies that trivialise sexual harassment by presenting it as a ‘hilarious joke’.

Perhaps mistaking crude 1970s comedies about horny but bumbling buffoons as instructional manuals, Smurthwaite comments:

“Media streaming services should take the time to think about what they are putting on their platforms and recommending to their customers. There are lots of great shows to choose from that don’t resort to this sort of cheap crass humour. Seeing these kinds of shows on recommended lists sends a message to young people about appropriate behaviour. It can also be upsetting for women who have survived sexual harassment to see it trivialised.”


Well, humour is subjective of course, and one person’s crass is another’s hilarious – though no one is going to say that these films are the height of sophistication. There’s long been a certain snobbery about these movies that appeal to a working-class audience long held in contempt by the media. That doesn’t, however, make them dangerous, even if they do upset or offend some viewers who, for some baffling reason, have tuned in to a 1976 sex comedy and then been upset that it doesn’t reflect current Woke sensibilities. And I very much doubt that many people are genuinely being triggered by Robin Askwith’s bum any more than they are by Sid James’ leering laugh in the Carry On films (though how long before campaigners are demanding that they are cancelled too?).

Indeed, I wonder how many of these films Smurthwaite has actually seen? I won’t say that these films are entirely sex-pest free, but by and large, the people being sexually harassed in British sex comedies are the hapless male characters, persued by sexually voracious women. And let’s be clear – if you are flicking through Amazon Prime, these films are only going to appear in your recommendations if you have watched/bought similar, and even then it’ll just be the cover. You’ll have to click on it to get a description, and despite the Mail and Smurthwaite’s suggestion, these descriptions are not exactly leering celebrations of sexual harassment. Here’s a typical one, for Au Pair Girls:

The delectable Gabrielle Drake gets naked and naughty in this saucy, sexy tale of four international au pair girls who come to London and find themselves embroiled in nudity, naughtiness and novel sexual situations! The great Val Guest directs and Astrid Frank, Johnny Briggs and Richard O’Sullivan co-star.


“This is not about banning things or censorship”, Says Smurthwaite, but of course that is exactly what it is about. She wants these films removed from Amazon Prime. How is demanding that something you disapprove of is removed from a platform not trying to censor it?

Of course, a cynic might think that there is more to this than mere outrage about boob ‘n’ bums humour. Smurthwaite continues, “if streaming companies can’t find anything else to promote, maybe they should support the comedians who have been devastated by lockdown and commission some new shows that are fit for a post #MeToo world.”

I wonder if the devastated comedians she has in mind for new Amazon-financed shows are called Kate Smurthwaite by chance?


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