In 1977, the prolific British glamour photographer George Harrison Marks saw the release of a film that he had scripted and directed. Written back in 1969, the script sat untouched until 1976 when David Sullivan, owner of top-shelf publications Park Lane, Whitehouse and Playbirds, agreed to fund its shooting. The film was Come Play With Me, which went on to become the most successful British made film of 1977.
Marks was the publisher and photographer of popular glamour magazine Kamera. In 1958, to supplement his income, he started shooting 8mm home movies of his models undressing and posing. During the 1960s he continued to make films until his 1969 release The Nine Ages of Nakedness. The following year he was declared bankrupt and faced an obscenity trail in 1971 for sending pornographic material through the post. During this period his drinking also increased. To make money he sold transparencies to Sullivan for use in his own publications. Sullivan had realised early on that sex sold and published his first pornographic magazine in 1973. A millionaire at twenty-five, by the mid 1970s he controlled half of the adult magazine market in Britain. It was inevitable that Sullivan would eventually move into film.
The film concerns two forgers, Cornelius Clapworthy and Mr Kelly, who have been flooding the UK with counterfeit bank notes. Chasing after them are a government official and some gangsters who own a strip club called Burlesque. To escape them, the forgers head to the Scottish Highlands, staying at a B&B called Bovington Manor, run by the Lady Bovington. Here they pose as musicians, playing music to hide the sounds of the printing press that makes the fake bank notes. Lady Bovington’s nephew eventually arrives with a group of dancing-girls to find that business has been pretty non existent. The girls turn business around by re-opening the Manor as a brothel in the disguise of a health farm. It isn’t long before Clapworthy and Kelly get found out…
Come Play With Me was more fun than I had anticipated. Like other sex films, it has a silly plot within which the sexual scenes can be slot into and justified but at times it proved to be a little bit fun. Marks himself plays Clapworth who looks like he has a wire scourer for hair and false teeth he can barely talk through. Alfie Bass playing Kelly doesn’t fare much better in looks, wandering around in a hideous onesie or pyjamas complaining about the lack of food… On top of the brothel-come-health farm is the camp, cross dressing government official who goes on a complete wild goose chase thanks to a psychic in Brighton. Add to that a random musical number and a chorus of buxom beauties and you have one of the best and most successful British sex comedies ever made.
The real star of the film is Mary Millington. Millington was dating Sullivan, who saw the film as a perfect vehicle to turn his girlfriend from model and cover girl to actress. She was given top billing and yet barely features in the film. However, Sullivan knew how to promote the film and its star making both very popular. For months leading up to the film’s release, Come Play With Me was publicised in Sullivan’s magazines, promising readers that it would be ‘the British Deep Throat’ when it reality it was nothing more than a softcore romp. Stills were published in magazines that Sullivan claimed were from the film. These were just shy of being hardcore shots but proved to not be in the final cinematic product; they were extra shots done outside of the film and falsely advertised. Sullivan’s next release The Playbirds (1978) would feature Mary in a far more prominent role. The following year, Millington was found dead after committing suicide.