On 19th August 1979, Mary Millington’s lifeless body was discovered by her husband, at her home in Walton-on-the-Hill in Surrey; she had taken an overdose of paracetamol, washed down with a large amount of vodka, a slow and agonising way to die. Four suicide notes were found at the scene, each one documenting their author’s troubled state of mind and explained how she felt that death was her only option.
As the most recognisable adult star in Britain, for the past decade Mary had devoted herself to a tireless campaign for more liberal pornography laws, and for a freer debate on the expression of female sexuality. Even as she lay dying she wrote, ‘I do hope so much porn is legal one day, they called me obscene names for being in possession of it – I can’t go through anymore.’ The prospect of spending time in jail was one that haunted Mary in her final years, and the two London adult shops she owned and often worked in, had been subjected to countless raids. At the time of her death, she was due to appear before the Old Bailey on a recent obscenity charge, and feeling that she was being deliberately persecuted by the authorities, she confessed in one of the notes found beside her, ‘The police have framed me yet again. They frighten me so much. I can’t face the thought of prison.’
Born Mary Ruth Quilter in Kenton, Middlesex on 30th November 1945, Mary shared her birthday with Winston Churchill, something she often remarked upon. Mary’s mother, Joan Quilter, worked for the Foreign Office and her father was the opera critic, John W. Klein; the relationship was a casual one and dissolved soon after Mary was born, with Klein eventually losing contact altogether with both Quilter and his young daughter. A lifelong animal lover, Mary had ambitions to become a veterinary nurse, but was let down by her inability to pass the required exams. Nevertheless, she became an ardent supporter of several animal charities, including the PDSA, and was devoted to her own dogs.
At the age of eighteen, Mary met and married a butcher, Bob Maxted, and moved to Dorking, but was unhappy over her lack of a career. Taking a job as the manager of a fashionable boutique, she also began modelling part-time and in 1970, she met the notorious pornographer John Lindsay. By now separated from her husband, Lindsay managed to persuade to appear in several short pornographic films, known as ‘loops,’ the first of which was Miss Bohrloch. Extremely confident in her body, Mary would feature in around twenty loops in total, bringing her to the attention of pornographers across Europe and winning her unapologetic sexuality a legion of admirers. As Mary freely admitted, ‘From being a kid I have always been something of an exhibitionist, point a camera at me and I was posing madly…with my clothes on of course, it was later when I started to take them off.’
Soon after starring in the 1974 Harrison Marks production, Sex Is My Business, Mary was introduced to David Sullivan, one of the most prolific adult magazine publishers in the country and the two quickly began a relationship. As a marketing ploy for his new protégé Sullivan encouraged Mary to adopt the name Millington in order to claim she was the sister of Whitehouse editor Doreen Millington. Her risqué shoots and uninhibited style meant that Mary soon became a firm favourite with readers of Sullivan’s publications, which included Whitehouse, Playbirds, Ladybirds and Private.
Early on in her career, Mary began working as an escort, which she chose to continue after she had become well-known, even boasting that her high-profile lovers included the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, as well as the Shah of Iran and actress Diana Dors.
In 1977, Mary featured in the softcore comedy Come Play With Me, produced by her lover Sullivan which saw her acting alongside several famous faces of the British screen, including Alfie Bass and Irene Handl. To garner publicity for the film, Mary and some of her co-stars stood outside 10 Downing Street to pose with a policeman when, in an impromptu move, Mary pulled down her top to reveal her breasts. Although Mary’s role was significantly reduced in the final cut, the film was a huge success and ran at the Moulin Cinema in London from 1977 until 1981. Actress Suzy Mandel later spoke of how she remembered Mary as an outgoing and cheerful girl, who loved listening to the Bee Gees and drinking Campari and lemonade on the film’s set.
The following year, Mary was cast in Sullivan’s next film The Playbirds, about a group of WPCs, ironic given that Mary would come to distrust and dislike the police whom she believed relentlessly hounded her for her lifestyle. Mary’s subsequent adult films like 1979’s Queen of the Blues, proved to be far less popular with viewers, leading Mary to worry that her star and her looks were starting to wane. Her final cinematic appearance was a brief cameo in the Sex Pistols film, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, released in March 1980.
Above: Clip from The Playbirds (1978)
Fear of aging and losing her fame started to eat away at Mary’s earlier confidence. Initially only a casual drug user, she began to rely heavily on cocaine and Mary’s habit spiralled out of control, leaving her finances in disarray and resulting in demands over unpaid taxes. The death of her mother Joan from cancer in 1976 had caused Mary to succumb to bouts of deep depression, which she found increasingly difficult to escape. As a way of coping, Mary turned to shoplifting, often stealing cheap and pointless objects; she was arrested numerous times, the last only days before her suicide.
Calling her publicist John M. East on 18th August 1979, Mary had asked him to sing to her a song she liked, that ended with the word ‘tomorrow.’ East did as she asked, only to have her reply, ‘there will be no tomorrow John,’ before hanging up. For Mary her prediction came true; she was buried alongside her mother at the St Mary Magdalene Church in South Holmwood, Surrey.
In 1980 Sullivan released the film Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions – a move that was seen by many as a cheap and exploitative stunt. As the new decade progressed, plenty of upcoming young stars had been willing to take Mary’s place and she faded from public memory for all but a small number of dedicated fans. However, books such as Simon Sheridan’s 1999 biography Come Play With Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington, and the 1996 Channel 4 documentary Sex and Fame: The Mary Millington Story, have brought her to the attention of more modern audiences. With the legalisation of hardcore pornography in Britain in 2000, it would seem that Mary finally got her wish, albeit twenty years too late for her. In our progressively sexualised society, with an abundance of extremely graphic pornographic images readily available online, Mary’s photographs and films appear relatively tame; current as ever though, is her unfaltering belief that ‘The old slogan “Make love not war” was a very good one.’
Come Play With Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington – Simon Sheridan (1999)