Saucy 70s! A British Sex Comedy Threesome

❉ Lee Realgone reviews a titillating trio from Tigon, available on Blu-ray for the first time.

For years, British sex comedies were seen as little more than grubby, semi-exploitative pieces of cinema. At best, a guilty pleasure for the audience; at worst, badly-scripted junk best forgotten. These films never seemed like the sort of thing that would have a resurgence, but with Network giving Keep It Up Downstairs and Percy’s Progress hi-definition releases, Come Play With Me propping up the contents of Screenbound’s lavish Mary Millington box set, and Stanley Long’s Adventures series getting a lovingly curated release from the people at Indicator/Powerhouse Films, they’ve had a new lease of life in the Blu-ray era.

Released by 88 Films at the end of 2022, The Saucy 70s box set presents a trio of low-brow features from the Tigon stable that aren’t necessarily the oeuvre’s most celebrated. However, for the keen sexploitation fan, with the help of some famous faces and nudity galore, there’s a certain degree of entertainment to be found when revisiting these sex comedy relics.

Zeta One

An early vehicle for the saucy film movement, 1969’s Zeta One is disliked by most comedy fans, and it’s honestly very easy to see why. A ridiculous plot involving space women kidnapping Earth women to boost their population is farcical even by the era’s usual standard, and in terms of actual comedy, any amusement is relegated to just two scenes. The first of these, featuring a typecast Charles Hawtrey bickering on a bus with Rita Webb in full Peggy Mount mode, brings out the best in both actors, and the second, featuring a futuristic, talking lift with an attitude problem is straight from the galaxy of Douglas Adams. If you’re coming to Zeta One for comedy – and let’s face it, few people are – that’s obviously not enough.

The film’s lead actor, Robin Hawdon, is fairly casual in his role of a cheap James Bond knock-off, and having him tell most of the story in a flashback – whilst in bed with a naked Yutte Stensgaard (Lust For A Vampire) – derails any momentum the film should have had. On the plus side, James Robertson Justice adds a fair amount of gravitas in a typically gruff role as the film’s villain. His presence, along with Hawtrey, goes a long way to making Zeta One bizarrely watchable on first viewing, although why they signed up for this when the Carry On and Doctor franchises were both still going concerns is anyone’s guess.

Despite running to just 85 minutes, there’s a lot of playing for time. A fifteen-minute scene with Hawdon and Stensgaard playing strip poker could have made its point far quicker, and there are moments with characters standing around talking that serve no dramatic purpose. At the other end of the scale, a big climax involving half naked women with guns in their fingers (yes, really) is so thrown together that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. There’s very little of interest between these two extremes. Scenes of scantily dressed women on a spaceship are obviously intended to be the big draw here, but any titillation is fleeting, and the set is so flimsy it makes mid 70s Doctor Who look like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So, what does the film offer beyond that? A lot of boobs and go-go boots, some brightly coloured visuals that scream late 60s like very little else, and a brilliantly busy musical score from the legendary Johnny Hawksworth, whose distinctive work is just about the best thing about Zeta One all round. It’s strange but considering this is a film that’s so badly assembled that it shouldn’t work at all, its mixture of terrible plot and very “of its time” attitudes actually amounts to a piece of cult British cinema that’s oddly diverting. Even if it ultimately fails to amuse in the long term, it results in the kind of celluloid fever dream that genre fans might be glad to have experienced.

The Sex Thief

Credited to Ocarina Films, 1973’s The Sex Thief is a genuine curio. One of the lesser seen “sex comedies”, it concerns a hairy cat burglar (David Warbeck, Twins of Evil) who sleeps with the women he robs. Obviously, this plays heavily on the old trope that housewives are all gagging for it.

The film’s first act sets up a reasonable crime caper, where Michael Armstrong (Eskimo Nell) and Christopher Neil (Adventures of A Private Eye) get a lot of screen time as porn-obsessed policemen, and the general mood comes across like an episode of The Sweeney with sexual inserts. In many ways, the sex and nudity get in the way of any actual dramatic interest.

The second act switches the mood for broad comedy with the introduction of actress Jezebel (Deirdre Costello, complete with terrible American accent) who makes up a tall tale about being burgled and raped by the film’s protagonist. It’s all in very poor taste. There are various scenes with Costello and Warbeck romping in the bedroom at high speed, Clockwork Orange style, intercut with the policemen getting drunk and going to a strip club. It’s easy to imagine that 70s audiences would have loved this, but it’s very much at odds with the film’s first half hour. Eventually, a more serious tone returns for the third act, and Diane Keen’s performance as an insurance agent with top notch martial arts skills provides the best performance.

To call The Sex Thief tonally uneven would be an understatement; the script’s casual attitude to home invasion and rape is unpleasant, and almost certainly one of the reasons why it has been largely relegated to the past, while the broad slapstick seems particularly jarring when seen between the more dramatic elements. It’s far from a perfect movie, but in common with Willy Roe’s The Playbirds, there’s a better film that’s desperate to fight its way through the crassness and smut, and it’s great to see a lot of period footage of London along the way.

Au Pair Girls

Described as “awful” by actor John Standing, 1972’s Au Pair Girls is arguably this box set’s best known film. Boasting an impressive cast including Gabrielle Drake (UFO, Crossroads), Richard O’Sullivan (Dick Turpin, Robin’s Nest), Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle) and the ever-reliable John Le Mesurier, its basic premise seems to be little more than “foreign birds take their clothes off”. Despite this, it’s an early 70s romp that plays reasonably well, assuming you can get past some outdated attitudes. An extension of the Stanley Long universe, its episodic nature keeps any plot and action relatively fast moving, and although light on gags, the pace and editing makes the bulk of the film feel more like an old-fashioned comedy than anything else.

The film is stolen by Drake – the very pinnacle of early seventies attractiveness – but Lyn Yeldham, appearing in her only film role, is also enjoyable as Carole, a groovy 1960s teen who seems a few years out of date at the time of filming. In terms of set pieces, the film is best known for O’Sullivan being “Man About The Barn” with Drake, but scenes shared by Astrid Frank and Johnny “Mike Baldwin” Briggs at a casino convey a very retro charm, and Bayldon’s bathroom bemusement very much pre-empts Brian Wilde in Adventures of A Taxi Driver.

Aside from a posh family living in Oakley Court who seem to want household hired help and some company for their repressed son, it isn’t really clear why most of the people involved actually need au pairs, but that’s being picky. It’s best to switch off your head and just go with it. At least, that is, until the final third, when any 70s lechery seems to spill over into softcore moods and an unpleasant scene where a rock star and his minder clearly abuse their positions. For those who love many of the cheeky Britcoms of the early 70s, though, Au Pair Girls will almost certainly be a welcome arrival on Blu-ray.

In addition to the three features, this box set includes a well curated selection of extras. The commentary on Zeta One adds a huge amount of interest. The ever-knowledgable Kim Newman is joined by Barry Forshaw, and their chat uncovers a lot of detail about the actors involved, whilst confirming that the plot is an absolute dog’s dinner. Forshaw admits there’s not actually any narrative through line, and Kim points out that the heroine in the early part of the film seems to disappear midway, and that the actress we’re supposedly rooting for during the climax is someone who’s almost inconsequential. They explain so much about the film’s shortcomings, but the biggest revelation comes from the fact that a third of it was created by Vernon Sewell after principal filming had wrapped, since Michael Cort’s submitted cut came in at only an hour. At least that explains the torturously long poker game padding out the narrative…

The pair return for The Sex Thief, and although the film is less fun, Newman manages to lift the whole experience in his typically enthusiastic way and, among other things, the excellent commentary features lots of discussion of how a lot of actors associated with mainstream British television also appeared in adult comedy films and of how the sex scenes were possibly less co-ordinated than a more modern era might allow, along with a lot of information about the careers of Michael Armstrong and the film’s director Martin Campbell. There’s also a massive tangent where they discuss other directors and whether they were allowed complete artistic freedom. In terms of a well-rounded listening experience, it’s fantastic – another element that makes this box set a keeper.

A selection of alternate scenes for an export version of Au Pair Girls are included, most of which involve extra nudity. Although there’s nothing that would trouble the UK censor at the time of this release, it’s easy to see why the BBFC’s Stephen Murphy wouldn’t have passed an extended sex scene at the time, although James Ferman had no issue with similar material in Come Play With Me five years later. The discs are also home to several short interviews with cast and crew members, conducted by James McCabe and Simon Sheridan.

Various people associated with Zeta One confirm the original script was a mess, and Robin Hawdon is amazed that there’s been any renewed interest in the film at all. Second Assistant Editor Tariq Anwar seems slightly irked by his involvement with Au Pair Girls, but ultimately admits that it “doesn’t matter”, while Michael Armstrong is far more enthusiastic about The Sex Thief, and the film’s stunt arranger Paul Weston is on hand with a couple genuinely interesting stories. The interviews are definitely nice to have (particularly so in the case of The Sex Thief) since they provide an ideal opportunity for some of the featured talent to talk about their experiences making these cult films, presumably for the last time.

In terms of packaging, The Saucy 70s looks absolutely beautiful. 88 Films’ choice of colouring and typeface captures a retro feel very effectively, and the hardbound box is a perfect companion to Indicator’s Adventures… set. An accompanying 80 page booklet with extensive notes supplied by Mary Millington expert Simon Sheridan is perfectly presented with a bounty of pictures, and overall, the physical presentation here helps to make some low grade cinematic offerings feel genuinely deluxe.

The prints used for the three films look gorgeous, and the original mono audio sounds suitably bright for both Zeta One and The Sex Thief. There’s a lot of obvious distortion during the musical elements of Au Pair Girls, unfortunately, but this is likely the fault of the source materials rather than of 88 Films, since the clean-up job on the source material elsewhere is otherwise terrific. It’s unlikely that a better version of Au Pair Girls will ever appear.

As is often the case with things from this genre, the historical value here outweighs any actual comedic worth, but seeing a few favourite actors from yesteryear in lesser appreciated roles makes these films more enjoyable, and the bonus materials – although not as in depth as Indicator or Arrow might have applied – provide more than enough substance. Kim Newman’s army of supporters will certainly want this for their collections, and the chance to revisit Au Pair Girls in a higher definition also makes it worth the price of admission. This box set won’t be taken to heart by everyone, obviously, but for those able to abandon their politically correct stance for a couple of hours and apply more of a critical and historical eye, The Saucy 70s will provide another interesting glimpse of a very British past.


❉ ‘Saucy 70s! – A British Sex Comedy Threesome’ Deluxe Collectors Edition (Cat. No. 88FB511) is available from 88 Films, RRP £34.99. Click this Amazon Affiliate link to order.

❉ Lee Realgone has been a keen viewer of cult cinema for decades. He spends a lot of time watching Blu-rays from Indicator and Arrow. At other times, he does pretty much everything at the music website Real Gone.

❉ Find REAL GONE on Twitter at @realgonerocks. Like REAL GONE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/realgonerocks 

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