The rise and fall of Britain’s first high-profile blue movie mogul.
John Lindsay was, during the 1970s, Britain’s best-known pornographer. At a time when hardcore porn was supposedly illegal in the UK (if widely available in Soho thanks to police corruption), Lindsay not only shot hardcore movies that were sold on 8mm film but did so openly and shamelessly. In fact, Lindsay pretty much courted publicity, unlike most of his rivals (the only other British porn director with a public profile was Mike Freeman, but he only began chasing publicity with his early 1980s video productions) – he turned up in softcore documentaries like Naughty! and the more explicit The Porn Brokers, openly discussing his work.
Lindsay started his career as a glamour photographer, working for the likes of Mayfair and Men Only, but a meeting with Dutch publisher Joop Wilhelmus would change the direction of his career. Wilhelmus published Chick, an increasingly explicit magazine which was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Dutch authorities and so helped effectively legalise pornography in the Netherlands. Lindsay was hired to shoot explicit photo sets for the magazine, and it inspired him to start his own hardcore porn cottage industry back in London. Wilhelmus would, within a few years, reveal himself as the worst sort of monster – he launched infamous child porn magazine Lolita in the mid-Seventies, when such things were briefly made legal under abolished porn laws that effectively swept away all legal restraints, and he later became a vocal child sex advocate before his magazine was finally shut down by the authorities in 1987 and he was imprisoned a few years later for raping his twelve-year-old daughter.
This, however, was all in the future; Lindsay’s work was strictly involving consenting adults, even if some of his later film titles (Girl Guide Rape, Jolly Hockey Sticks) would now raise more eyebrows than the actual contents. He began shooting porn movies around 1969, and at the time it must have seemed inevitable that Britain would follow the rest of the world in legalising porn. After all, the last decade had gone from seeing bare breasts as obscene to films and magazines that featured full male and female nudity and simulated sex; it seemed as though this liberalisation would continue, rather than grind to a halt. And in a way, it did – while the authorities maintained that hardcore was illegal right up until the end of the 1990s, successful obscenity prosecutions, even for the kinkiest of porn, became ever rarer. But films would continue to be banned, shops and publishers carried on being raided and the myth continued.
Lindsay proved to be a prolific filmmaker, chruning out titles for both himself and as a hired hand for European distributors, effectively shooting to demand. As such, it’s hard to say precisely how many films he made – there are at least eighty titles, probably more. Lindsay’s films were efficient, technically solid, porn. Sometimes using the name Karl Ordinez, Lindsay instinctively knew what the audience wanted and had the production skills to deliver it, but there was little ambition involved. The fact that they were made in England, with English performers made them stand out, but with the exception of the legendary Miss Borloch, which starred Mary Millington – who Lindsay had discovered walking down the street – and won an award at the Wet Dreams festival in Amsterdam in 1970, few differed very much from the glut of 8mm loops being made at the time. While Lindsay would produce softcore feature films like The Love Pill and I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight (his name was pulled from the latter after his arrest), he seemed to show no ambition to move into hardcore feature production, even as the adult movie went from strength to strength around the world. His work was aimed solely at the home viewing audience, and who could blame him? In 1975, a 200ft (around fifteen minutes) colour sound hardcore film sold for £22 – that would be over £185 today!
Lindsay was arrested in 1974, when nationwide raids scooped up thirty of his movies. Somewhat disingenuously, he claimed to be surprised as the films were made for export only – but he was clearly supplying them to UK sex shops. Lindsay and eight other people were taken before Birmingham Crown Court in what was seen by most people as a test case about what was or wasn’t obscene. Everyone else invloved – performers, crew and retailers – pleaded guilty to reduce their sentence. Lindsay was having none of it. He pled Not Guilty, and after two trials, the juries agreed with him. This was despite the fact that at least one film showed anal sex, then a criminal act between a man and a woman in the UK, and an offence that theoretically carried a life sentence – as the outraged Judge had pointed out to the jury.
Lindsay wasted no time in taking advantage of this result. His films were immediately prefaced by a statement pointing out that the movies had been found not to be obscene in Crown Court, which of course should’ve ensured that they would not be prosecuted again; but in the UK, while conviction seems to set a precedent, acquittal means nothing, and the same publications could – and would – be dragged through court again and again. He also opened the Taboo Cinema Club in London, taking advantage of the laws that allowed private cinema clubs to essentially show anything to members – for him, and others at the same time, this gave carte-blanche to show hardcore movies as long as everyone had bought a membership half an hour or so earlier. Apparently, the pub across the road did a roaring trade with people waiting the allotted time for their membership to be confirmed.
Invariably, the police and the authorities disagreed with Lindsay’s interpretation of the law, and the club was raided again and again – sometimes a few times a day. Lindsay was again acquitted whenever he went to court, but the raids – seizing films that had been found not to be obscene just months earlier. The raids became so regular that punters were told to stay seated until the raid was over, at which point replacement films were collected and the show continued. It was, essentially, a game, showing that the police were enforcing the law (even though there was no such law) while everything carried on anyway.
In 1976, the book Sexplay was published by Roydock Books. Well, I say ‘book’… this was a 68-page A5 magazine that purported to be a novel by ‘Marvin Diamond’ that Lindsay had bought the film rights to, and was about to shoot as his latest porn film. A cynic might question why a 10 – 20 minute porn film sold on 8mm needed a literary basis, and why the book already had 48 photos from a film yet to be made. Notably, while the book assures us that the film will be every bit as explicit as Lindsay’s other work, the photos are all softcore. The novel is standard porn-mag fiction about a pop star and his groupies, and to no one’s surprise, no film version ever emerged. The book does, however, give a handy summary of Lindsay’s career and includes a lot of press clippings about the trail.
Oddly, his triumph against the authorities came as Lindsay stopped making films. His last movies were seemingly shot around 1976 – after that, he concentrated on selling his back catalogue rather than shooting anything new. This would prove to be an issue in the home video era, when he quickly ran out of content; by the time that his Taboo Films label folded, he had started to release American hardcore features like Amanda By Night, having no fresh content of his own – and, just as tellingly, no features to satisfy the home video market where vintage loops suddenly looked very crude and dated.
As the 1970s ended, things looked as though the tide might be turning in favour of the porn barons. Upstart new publishers like David Sullivan were pushing at the edges of what could be published; the Williams Committee, set up by the government to investigate porn, had recommended essentially legalising consensual, non-violent adult material; and the explosion in home video, which was entirely unregulated, saw hardcore movies flooding the country in ways that were unthinkable a few years earlier. Lindsay jumped on that, and mainstream video magazines carried full-page ads for his 8mm films and video compilations – no more pretence that these were for export only. But the porn industry had seriously misjudged the mood of the country, which was about to enter one of its regular bouts of moral righteousness. Margaret Thatcher had been elected in 1979, and her free-market ideals did not expand to sexual freedom. The Williams Committee report was quickly swept under the carpet, with only the recommended restrictions – and none of the accompanying liberalisations – acted on. The press, politicians and pressure groups began to agitate against the pornification of Soho, which was now dominated by sex shops and sex cinemas, often with extremely lurid signage and window displays. The availability of porn had increasingly spread across the country, causing disquiet amongst more conservative communities. Something, it was declared, had to be done.
In fact, several things were done. A series of laws came into force that were designed to decimate the sex industry. the Indecent Displays Act immediately cleaned up the public-facing side of the business (if you’ve ever wondered why nipples disappeared from the front covers of magazines and books, this law is the reason); sex shops and cinemas were required to be licenced, which allowed local authorities to refuse to allow any if they so desired (and many did). The licensing of sex shops and cinemas did not allow them to legally sell hardcore, of course; the restrictions on what was considered obscene remained unchanged. The Video Recordings Act required that all video releases be approved by the BBFC, who were not going to allow hardcore under any circumstances, even though the R18 certificate was introduced specifically for material that could only be sold in sex shops – until 1998, those films remained heavily censored to remove any actual sex from them. And obscenity prosecutions were persued with more vigour and success.
Lindsay fell foul of this when his cinema was again raided and films showing gay torture and extreme acts were discovered. Quite why Lindsay would be showing these was never explained – they were not what his punters would be interested in, and as he famously said, “I’d have convicted me for those films.” the suspicion is that the films were planted by the police as a way of finally bringing the biggest thorn in their side down. Lindsay initially fled the country, but returned feeling homesick and was sentenced to twelve months. On release, Lindsay – once the most vocal supporter of porn and opponent of obscenity laws – decided that he’d had enough. Prison can do that, I imagine. He retired to the Kent coast, though perhaps didn’t entirely leave porn behind immediately. In the mid-1980s, I received (after answering an ad in Video World magazine) a catalogue of porn VHS titles from a ‘J. Lindsay’, which included all the Taboo titles. Coincidence, perhaps. Or perhaps not. in any case, by the 1990s, Lindsay seemed happy to slip into obscurity, reluctantly talking to David McGillivray for his book Doing Rude Things and later turning up on a Mary Millington TV documentary, but generally keeping his head down. Today, his films have mostly vanished into obscurity – a few pop up on XHamster and other sites, but there has been no effort to rehabilitate them for the cult movie audience beyond some edited – and therefore worthless – versions collected on the recent Mary Millington box set.
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