Whenever the subject of Sex and Censorship raises its pixilated head, I immediately go back to 1997, when I was still chiseling a living at the coalface of Grot and grabbing any freelance work that was going.
Back in those pre-DVD, just-before-everyone-knew-what-an-Internet-was days, the latest wheeze to get Women You Will Never Be Able To Shag and Someone's Wife's Minge a-tumbling off the shelves was to give away a covermounted video. It fully achieved its goal; the magazines were so fucking bulky that old dears reaching for Womens Realm would regularly be clobbered by an avalanche of Asian Girls Have Fannies Too whenever a lorry passed the newsagents. More importantly, they needed someone to edit the videos. Enter me, with a few weeks' experience in video editing at university and a strong desire to earn as much cash as possible to spunk on trainers and Playstation games.
The deal was simple; the company had recently acquired the rights to a full set of brand-name grot videos. Gentlemen of a certain age will shiver at the name of said brand; Electric Blue. Back in the 80s, entire playgrounds would shudder to a halt if you mentioned that your Dad had a 'Leccy Blue hidden under the video cabinet. And I was being paid to look at the entire set. While the terms of the deal were being laid out (half-hour vids, three different women a vid, blah blah blah), my inner 14 year-old was doing that snappy thing with one hand, whilst blowing on and polishing the fingernails of the other on the lapel of his school blazer.
And then came the difficult bit.
As we all know, censorship in the UK is weird. But what you might not be aware of is that when it comes to wank mags, it's even more complicated. Yes, there's the Obscene Publications Act (which was last updated in 1964, for fuck's sake), but back in '97 the real censors were WH Smiths and John Menzies, both of whom were originally deeply religious family concerns, both of whom remarkably strait-laced (the original WH Smith's son became a Tory MP known as 'Old Morality') , and between them had an absolute stranglehold on the magazine industry. If Smiths or Menzies refused to stock an issue of your mag for whatever reason, your mag was fucked.
(oh, and by the way; remember when WH Smith made a big fuss about taking wank mags off their top shelves and replacing them with sandwiches? The real reason they did it wasn't because they were taking a stand against filth or that they weren't selling; it was an attempt to keep teenage shoplifters out of the shops)
So anyway, it dawned on me very quickly that the job wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. Then the terms were laid out by my gaffer;
"First off, no pips or batwings, and no pink whatsoever"
Trans: "No arseholes, distended labia, or close-up internal shots"
Fair enough. As far as soft-porn in the 80s went, women didn't have arseholes. And due to the fact that all porn women of that era had fannies like monkey's faces, it would have been impossible to see anything without the use of a heat-sensitive camera.
"They can hold dildos, but they can't use them. Not even to suck"
Ooer. This was starting to get complicated.
"And no simulated masturbation whatsoever"
"So they can't touch their fannies, then?"
"Not only that, but they can't even look as if they are. If their hand moves across their crotch - even if it's a foot away - cut it."
Cut to an editing suite in the Docklands, at 3am. Your humble filth-monger has been there since 6pm the previous evening, having rolled up with a bag full of cans and a quarter of weed. And he's not finished one fucking covermounted video. For starters, he forgot in his teenage reverie how fucking awful the Electric Blue series actually was. The tapes, in the long-standing tradition of BritGrot, are absolutely rammed with filler; EB1 starts with a montage of clips of car crashes at the Indianapolis 500, and then wastes five whole minutes on a film starring Diddy fucking David Hamilton, for fuck's sake, before interviewing various women on the streets.
Now this is bad enough if you actually bought this shit for £60 in 1980, slapped it into your breeze block-sized VHS with the analogue clock on the side, and watched with a rapidly deflating hard-on. But it's an absolute pain in the arse when you realise that your formerly piece-of-piss job is transforming before your eyes into an archaeological dig.
When I actually find something vaguely worthy, it turns out to be so shit that I daren't use in in fear of sparking a firebombing campaign of newsagents by irate punters. In one clip, a woman in a garage dips a paintbrush into a tin of white emulsion and plasters her naked body with it, presses herself against the wall, and steps back to admire her handiwork. In another, assorted models with party hats, kazoos and 80s hair'styles' that resemble wicker lampshades take turns weigh their enormous baps on a set of kitchen scales. Why? Don't ask me, I've only spent the last 11 years trying to work it out. One of them looks alarmingly like Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz. When I notice this, the spliff falls out of my mouth, scattering ash all over my crotch.
(Oh, and let's not even mention the music; the bloke who did it really wanted to be Chris De Burgh. Enough said. Me and the other poor sod who was working nights in the editing would pass by each other in the street and sing "Live out your fantasies! Lose your mess over birds like these! Bloo! Bloo! ELECTRIC BLOOO!" at each other)
When I finally, finally, finally get to something acceptible, I start to relax. A woman. Sat on a bed. Getting 'em off. Thank Christ for that. I start converting the clip to the master tape, and go for a piss. When I get back, she's got a dildo in her hand. Bollocks. I rewind, and cut out five precious minutes of filler. Then, after I've got about 30 seconds of footage, her hand creeps downwards.
"NO! STOP IT! GET YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR FANNY, YOU STUPID COW! YOU'RE RUINING EVERYTHING! NOOOOOOO!"
In the end, the poor bastard who actually shells out for his free video gets a shitload of footage of women snaking their hands down their bodies, which cross-fades into close-ups of that facial expression porn models do that looks a bit like a dead horse. Over and over and over again. I doubt that anyone looked at them for more than five minutes before chewing up a mouthful of toilet paper and shoving it into the tabhole of the video so they could tape an episode of The Fast Show over it.
The point I'm taking a shitload of reminiscing in order to try and make, dear reader, is that although there appears to be a load of regulated bodies in operation when it comes to censorship - and more than enough newspapers and pressure groups with an opinion on the subject - no-one actually appears to know what the fuck they're doing. How come something that was pretty tame even by 1980s standards suddenly become illegal in the 1990s, and then become something tamer than something a 12 year-old could see on the portable in their bedroom after 9pm in 2008? Because someone kicked up a fuss, which made someone else kick up a fuss, until the two cancelled each other out.
Another thing you need to know; with a few rare exceptions, the censors are actually quite reasonable sorts. A few years later, when we'd moved to CD-ROM discs and DVDs, my mate (who was editor of Mayfair), got in touch with the BBFC and had a go at their 'distended labia' ruling, claiming that they were unfairly discriminating against women who had such appendages. They came back to him with a letter that said, in so many words, "Er, actually we'd never thought about that. Fair enough."
The fact is, people out there worried about the amount of cock-and-ball torture jpegs on their hard drives, when it comes to censorship in grot the goalposts move all the time, invariably when someone in the papers Thinks About The Children. They get uprooted and moved in one direction, until someone on the other side pipes up and says "Well, hang on a minute, you have to take this into consideration". Then they get moved back. And even if they're not, there are always enough loopholes in legislation to get round it. And then something else pops up - a new furore over something else, or a different media format - and it gets forgotten about. And even if it doesn't, the consumer carries on watching whatever they want to watch, in any case. And nothing actually changes.
Think of it this way; round about the time I was grappling with the Dirty 80s Women, Gary Glitter was taking his laptop round to PC World, unwittingly kicking off 11 years of revised legislation and media furore against online child porn. And, whilst definitely not seeking to draw comparisons between that and whatever the BDSM community are into, virtually every police force in the world has poured in huge amounts of time and money towards stopping that bastard, and there's still a frightening amount of people still making and watching it. And if they can't stop that, how can they stop you watching something that involves consenting adults?