Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Trials & Tribulations of the Obscenity Laws

Laws have been passed for centuries dealing with articles, drawings, pamphlets & books on that great subject that has been the lifeblood of Sunday newspapers for decades; sex.  But over the years, certain books had attracted some notoriety.  Going back to 1885, and "My Secret Life" was thought to have been the autobiography about a man and his very active sex life.  The author was anonymous, and it caused quite a stir at the time.  I once saw a paperback reprint in a second hand bookshop in Chester.  But we Brits did have a man whose works did spark outrage, and that was D.H.Lawrence.  His novel, "The Rainbow" was brought before Bow Street Magistrates in 1915, with a destruction application.  The publishers simply apologised for printing it, but it was his work "Lady Chatterley`s Lover" that made the real headlines, decades later in 1960, in a famous trial.  The prosecuting counsel Mervyn Griffiths-Jones made the infamous remark as to whether the jurors would allow their servants to read it!  Showing just how much out of touch he was with real life.  The book was cleared and enjoyed huge sales.

    One woman was to write a book, autobiographical, that did result in an obscenity trial in 1928, and this was "The Well of Loneliness" by well known lesbian Radclyffe Hall.  It was essentially a plea for tolerance towards lesbians, referred to as "Inverts" by the newspapers and the authorities.  Her long lasting relationship was with Lady Una Trowbridge, former wife of a high ranking naval officer, Admiral Sir Ernest Trowbridge.  The campaign was led by the editor of the Sunday Express, expressing outrage that young boys and ladies could read this filth.  Hall had renowned barrister Sir Norman Birkett in her corner, but he made a couple of errors in his defence work and was dismissed.  Hall lost the case  His partner, J.B. Melville took over for the appeal, but here, he lost as well.  It was more than twenty years before it was printed again in the UK.

    James Hadley Chase came to grief with two of his books.  The first one, and his most famous was "No Orchids For Miss Blandish" written in 1938 and made into two films, "No Orchids...." in the UK in 1948, and "The Grissom Gang" in 1971.  A gangster story dealing with the kidnap of an heiress, and her rape and subjection to drugs by the evil character Slim Grissom was such a magnet that it sold extremely well, and was a favourite reading material for troops in WW2.   Chase then released in 1942 "Miss Callaghan Comes to Grief" another gangster story that made "No Orchids..." pale in comparison.  Some offending parts featured "negroes" (shock horror).  The publishers pleaded guilty in London.

    In the 60`s "Fanny Hill" was deemed to be a corrupter of morals, ONLY when it appeared as a paperback, being cheap enough for young boys & girls to purchase.  It was after arguments between the DPP & the publishers, that Fanny Hill faced an order for destruction.  The publishers wanted a charge of obscenity and therefore have a jury trial.  But no doing, it was to be pulped.  Then came "Last Exit To Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby and "Naked Lunch" by William Burroughs.  In the film version of "Last Exit..." what I found utterly distasteful was the mass rape scene at the end.  

    With the changing of attitudes starting from the 60`s, many years back, I came across some details about an underground book entitled "The Man Who Raped San Francisco", written around 1967, about a man with a very large penis, attacking women in the city.  If any of my US readers know anything about this book, please contact me.  What about "The Story of O" by Pauline Reage?  Does the basic storyline about bondage and other sexual practices sound a bit familiar with a book that was the rage last year?  Yes, I`m talking about "50 Shades of Grey".  Amazingly, people do not see that it reads like a porno version of Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon.  That is my opinion.