Tell us about video nasties and your part in them.
It was never really to do with video nasties for me, it was all to do with smut. I got arrested twice. The first time I was coming back from Amsterdam where I’d been on holiday. I’d been staying with a filmmaker and brought a couple of his films back and was stopped by customs, arrested, and thrown into a cell for hours. I appealed it and we had six months of legal arguments where I didn’t want to admit I’d done anything wrong because I didn’t think I had, and the police didn’t want to let go of me.
And the second time?
A few years later I had a raid from Manchester Police, which was much more serious. They took away everything from my house, and it dragged on for about six months. Basically they said thought I was selling stuff, which I wasn’t. Then they tried to do me for conspiracy to produce offensive material which was based on me talking about film culture with a guy even though all the correspondence said ‘this is not for UK distribution, or if it is it has to go through the BBFC’. It was long winded but I had really good lawyers. I got all my stuff back in the end but at the time it was quite scary – also quite funny. When the guy from the police brought all my stuff back, we went to the car and he’d left this box full of porn tapes on the pavement with all these kids running about playing football. I was like, “who’s corrupting people now?”
Your fanzine, Sheer Filth, was seminal. Did you set out to change the world of fanzines?
I set out to change the world of British fanzines because they were all just very video nasties/horror film-based. I thought if I was going to start off a movement, there was no point going out and doing the same thing that everyone else was doing. That would be boring. I wanted to write about other stuff, the more obscure, the weirder, the more oddball and more outrageous.
Were you sticking two fingers up at the government?
I guess everyone was, in a way. You felt like you were under all sorts of threats all the time, everything you believed in or were interested in was being taken away from you and we were fighting back, rebelling. There was definitely a little bit of sticking fingers up at the government but it was also just wanting to discuss the things you were into and not feel like an outcast for doing it.
So what did you think of Mary Whitehouse?
I’d like to think that I thought she was insane, but that’s actually quite harsh. She was very knowing, very cunning and calculating. She put on this image of being this folksy housewife but she knew what she was doing and that she could run rings around more sophisticated discussions simply because she would appeal to that common sense thing. You could have given her all the facts in the world “but common sense says that it must affect people.”
Do you think we’re heading the same way again, with this government?
It feels like the past couple of years have been parallel to the early eighties. We have this strange little coalition of the right wing and the left wing both trying to censor all sorts of things for different reasons but working together, so you get radical feminist groups working with extreme homophobic groups. It’s in their interests. Exactly the same arguments are being made now as in 1984, nothing’s changed. People forget what the past is like and so they just repeat it.
Had you always wanted to write or was it a knee jerk reaction to the government?
I’d wanted to write, wanted to publish, since I was eight, and it seemed like one of those things that you couldn’t do. I’d look at these magazines and think, “that’s glossy, these guys obviously have contacts.” I started seeing some of the stuff in the post-punk era, music and film ‘zines that were just photocopied, churned out and then given away. I looked at them and thought, “I’ve got a typewriter, a pair of scissors and some glue, I can do that.”
What kind of typewriter did you have?
Just an old manual typewriter at first. Then I progressed to an electric typewriter, an Amstrad PWC. It was great, it was a step up and you could lay things out a little more clearly. I was still printing things out and sticking a picture next to it, but it looked a bit nicer. The last couple of issues did actually look a bit like a magazine. They were even printed rather than photocopied. If I’d have carried on with the same layout every issue I would have been depressed.
Would staying with the same format have lost you readers?
I don’t know. Some people just ground out the same stuff for years and people were quite happy with it. People were buying these things for the content not for the looks.
How does it feel to be revisiting Sheer Filth in a book form?
It’s really weird. The ‘zine was so long ago that I can look at it objectively and see what’s good and what’s not so good. Normally I do something, look at it a few years later and it’s kind of embarrassing. It was a long time ago, none of us knew what we were doing, so that’s why I’ve left old mistakes in there. We did correct the typos and change the grammar a little bit, just to tidy the whole thing up, but things like spelling Bettie Page with a ‘y’, we’ve left that in.
How was the recent launch, which was coupled with the launch of the Video Nasties: Draconian Days documentary?
It was great fun - we all had a great time and got really drunk. The film was interesting too, it’s telling a story that people don’t know so much. There was someone who decided to publicly dress as a woman for the first time at the launch. I thought that was really great, stuff like that, you can’t ask for anything more.
What was your favourite fanzine?
The one that I based stuff on when I started was an American ‘zine called Subhuman!, which covered a lot of old fifties films and very weird stuff. Sheer Filth was in the same format as that, had the same page count – you could tell I was very influenced by them.
Did you have contributors?
My big thing was that I wanted to get other people involved straight away. A lot of ‘zines, certainly the American ones, were based on one person’s point of view, which wasn’t what I wanted. I’d have gotten really bored just hearing my own voice all the time.
How did your website, Strange Things are Happening, come about?
It’s a way of keeping myself busy. If you stop writing in this particular scene then you’re forgotten really quickly. Whatever you’ve done in the past doesn’t count for anything, you just disappear. So I started doing film reviews again. Sometimes I think I’m the Kate Bush of weirdiana, nothing for years and suddenly there’s Sheer Filth and Strange Things.
How would you define ‘weirdiana’?
When I was working for Divinity magazine, a guy there called Adrian Maddox (Sal Volatile) came up with the whole transgressive culture thing and ‘weirdiana’ was one of his terms. I suppose it’s oddball stuff that you just can’t put your finger on, anything from taxidermy squirrels to oddball collectables. The strange things...
What was Divinity about?
Divinity wasn’t so much film-based, it was more counter-culture stuff, going down to clubs like Torture Garden and Submission down in London quite a lot. They were my people and were very important at that point in my life, that was my scene. Some of those guys came up every month to Nottingham because there was a fetish club up here too.
Are there still a fetish clubs in Nottingham?
No. We’re all thinkers, not doers. We need a doer! I tried to get various nights set up in Nottingham but finding the venue is exhausting. We just need someone to go out there and say, “yeah, I’ll find it for you.”
Has that been the highlight of your career so far?
I did a book in 2000 with Harvey Fenton called Ten Years of Terror - I’m really proud of it.
That’s worth about £300 on Amazon now, and there have been calls to republish it. Is that something that’s in the pipeline?
I’m not sure I can say anything about the reprinting.
Speaking of career highlights, didn’t somebody once offer to worship your penis?
Yeah… I got some great reader’s letters through Sheer Filth. Some guy called ‘Swill Master G’ wrote in “I’m sure you have a big cock” and then an entire description of what he’d like to do it, but only on the basis that ‘zine was worth wanking to. He’d sent me his two dollars, so I sent him the ‘zine and I never heard from him again, so it obviously wasn’t worth fapping to. I was disappointed. I mean, I would have felt obliged otherwise, if he’d come all that way.
Who’s had the biggest influence on you?
I don’t really have heroes in that sense. I suppose watching Hammer films on TV as a kid, and the guy who ran my local video store probably influenced me because of the stuff he had available. There are lots of little things that push you in a specific way. I mean, if you see a porn film in 1981 then you see it when it was at its artistic peak; it’s all shot on 35mm film, heavily scripted, well acted, well produced.
The eighties were the best time for porn then?
It would have been the late seventies when it was made, before everyone moved to video and people used to just grind stuff out. If I’d have seen it in the late eighties/nineties then I probably wouldn’t have taken porn seriously as a genre because it would have been shot on video and pretty crap. When I was writing a book on porn, I did the opposite to what everyone else does, I was fast forwarding through the sex scenes so I could get to the dialogue. A sex scene is just that, it’s the rest of the film that counts.
What do you think to the pro-feminist movement, seeing as quite a few of the films you review are pretty exploitative…
I don’t know, I suppose it’s not really for me to say how I fit in with it. Someone once said I was the most feminist person they knew. I’m the old school meaning of a libertarian. I don’t think anything that I do or that I like is particularly un-feminist because I absolutely stand against oppression and anything that people have been made to do against their will. Equally I stand very firmly besides anyone doing something that they’ve chosen to do and I don’t see that because they’ve made that choice they’re wrong or that they’re being manipulated; that doesn’t really sit with me.
Who’s making things happen on the scene at the moment?
I could be totally sycophantic and say the Mayhem guys [Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil], which is true. In terms of video labels, Arrow are really great. Second Sight are a label that don’t get the respect they deserve; they have some amazing stuff – everything from Re-Animator to the Basket Case films but also Betty Blue and Heaven’s Gate. And the BFI too. They probably don’t get the credit that they deserve because they’re not necessarily a ‘cool’ label.