If I told you to list some of the staples of motion pictures what would you include: stars, a good script. Would you mention sex? Whether explicit or implied, the act of making love is always portrayed on-screen (even when the Code removed it from film there were still ways to imply that people were getting down). With that, I’ve always found books about the history of sex on film to be fascinating, so I had a lot of fun with author Simon Sheridan’s Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. I wouldn’t have guessed that some of the more explicit sexual acts were being film across the pond. The exploitation cinema in Britain throughout the fifties and into the seventies is detailed in this coffee table book that’s not for the prudish.
The best way to describe Keeping the British End up is cheeky. Since the cinema detailed skirted line between hilarity and sexuality, it makes sense that Sheridan recounts the history and movies with his tongue firmly in cheek. While the book is meant to titillate, particularly with its images of naked people who litter almost every page, it also seeks to educate those who actually want to learn about the history it describes. The British film industry has commonly been considered “classy,” with its reliance on period dramas. Sheridan dispels all of that by focusing on the exploitation market that cropped up and started to claim the box-office and entered popular culture via Benny Hill and the Carry On films. I have little knowledge about the British film industry, outside of their classy productions, so I was learning everything fresh.
Divided into sections with naughty chapter titles like “Comings,” and “Doings,” Keeping the British End Up is part history and part encyclopedia. The first half sets up a chronology of the industry, starting from its origins in the fifties and culminating in changes and its eventual fall in the late seventies. The British censors were a far cry from American censors, and would allow nudity, but only if it was considered necessary (and educational) to the story. Thus, the first British sex films were exposes on things like nudist camps, or sexual education films that ended up frustrating audiences expecting to see unadulterated nudity. Despite all the excessive T&A placed on-screen, producers and directors found it easier to get away with things if it was under the guise of humor: the British sex film was born. The bulk of Sheridan’s text is in presenting an encyclopedia of every British sex film made. The mini-reviews discuss the plot, the acting, trivia, and possible information on shooting. While a few are worth reading, it is really for those who want a comprehensive knowledge of every film made. I did appreciate Sheridan defusing a touchy subject with humor, connecting back to the era of time he’s focusing on. Some of the plot summaries are filled with funny jokes that made me chuckle. However, I found myself reading the ones that had the sauciest titles, and wishing there was more history.
On its own, Keeping the British End Up is a beautifully put-together coffee table book, if you don’t have children. The cover, sans book jacket, has lovely painted pictures of the various women of the films, and if you want to display the book I’d do so like this (it’s less risqué than the dust jacket itself). Inside there are several photos of bare-breasted women although that is it. It’s a niche market, but if you’re looking for a unique historical critique on British film, with a wry sense of humor, look no further than Keeping the British End Up.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.