'Anything Goes': When Your Dad Works in Porn

My dad went from a mild-mannered film writer to a porn reviewer who interviewed adult film stars for a living. Hey, a job's a job.

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Aug 5 2016, 1:00pm

The author with her dad and sister. All photos courtesy of Amber Bryce

It was early afternoon and we had friends over. My sister and I had set up a secret den in the living room, using a nest of tables and blankets and cushions. One of our friends was a boy; I once ate a five-pack of jam donuts in front of him just to seem cool. He was looking through my dad's PlayStation games when he suddenly pulled out a magazine that had been tucked on a shelf beside the TV. On its cover was a blonde woman with huge, pneumatic breasts. She had stars on her nipples.

"EWWW! Your dad reads porn!" He chucked the magazine at me and I clutched it, cheeks burning: "No he doesn't! He just, he just... writes about it!" The boy kept teasing me for the rest of the afternoon. I felt so embarrassed. We were only 11. I was most upset that he thought this was some dirty secret—but it wasn't.

Aside from the Burt Reynolds-style moustache my dad had in the 70s, he isn't the kind of person you'd expect to have worked in the porn industry. He's awkward and nerdy; if an obscure movie was released on VHS decades ago, you can bet he remembers it right down to the slightest detail. He's also clumsy and forgetful, which is how copies of Penthouse end up beside the Playstation.

My father broke into the British adult industry in the late 1970s as a film reviewer. Over a mug of too-sweet coffee at the house I grew up in, he tells me that it was a time when porn was based around "very mild 'top shelf' girlie magazines for men and 'X' certificate movies of the Emmanuelle variety." The nudity wasn't explicit, and any videos that weren't subject to the Obscene Publications Act were cut dramatically to remove anything really rude.

I'd sometimes wander into his office to catch a blur of peach-colored pixels as he quickly closed his laptop.

His initial career as a reviewer began innocently enough. "I had started selling reviews of proper movies to consumer video magazines and the editor of one asked me to review an Electric Blue title [a softcore series from British porn mogul Paul Raymond] because nobody else on his staff felt comfortable doing so," he explained.

Tongue firmly in cheek, he submitted a review in the style of a Carry On, the campy but mildly risque British TV series. "It went down so well that I was asked to do a regular column in a magazine called Video World, and for this I adopted the pseudonym D. Ross, because I felt that most adult movies were dross." (Porn films my dad doesn't think are dross: Deep Throat, Cafe Flesh, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Latex, and in more modern times, big budget films such as Pirates, the XXX version of Pirates of the Caribbean.)

Read more: Talking to My Grandma About Her 12 Abortions

Off the back of D. Ross' success, my dad went on to review more adult movies throughout the 80s. "In these pre-Internet days," he told me, "nobody was writing about adult movies and it was a subject that interested me precisely because of this."

In 1990, the year I was born, he started editing the softcore porn magazine, Video X. My mom, a ballet and tap dance teacher, once posed on its cover. It was a very tasteful—and fully covered—shoot, but nonetheless pretty embarrassing when she showed it to my boyfriend the first time she met him.

By the mid-90s my dad was editing Penthouse and setting up Television X, a subscription service that broadcasts British and amateur porn to UK audiences. He was the guy who bought movies to show on the channel, but he also doubled up as a presenter for an interview show featuring adult movie stars. It meant he interviewed luminaries such as model-turned-porn-actor Sean Michaels and Bill Shipton, a personal friend who ran Splosh, the company that specialized in footage of girls getting covered in custard and baked beans.

I keep trying to think back on a moment when all this hit me, but I don't think there ever was one. My dawning realization of my dad's adult industry career was like that moment you recognize an anonymous face you saw days ago—the features suddenly assembling in perfect order until you realize: "Well, damn, I saw that girl getting double penetrated in one of my dad's DVD review copies."

Despite occasional episodes like the PlayStation incident, my dad was obviously worried about us knowing what he did. I'd sometimes wander into his office to catch a blur of peach-colored pixels as he quickly closed his laptop. He's never been an especially open person; he's kind but supremely uncomfortable around sex—like the time he replied with a panicked "ugggggh, uggggh" when my sister asked him what a period was. So we never really discussed sex or the porn industry—certainly not in a personal context. It was only after I turned 18 that I began taking an interest in the stories surrounding his work—before then, it had felt just too damn weird to ask about it.

The author's parents looking tipsy at the Sex Maniacs Ball in 1987/88.

In 2013 I attended the SHAFTAs (Soft and Hard Adult Film and TV Awards) with my dad, stepmom, boyfriend, and friends. At 23, it was the first time I'd been to any event like this. I went along out of curiosity. I walked through crowds of busty women, saw a man in a tux dancing like a penguin being electrocuted, stood inside a giant fairground carriage ride (the whole night was themed as an XXX amusement park), and held an award shaped like a golden penis.

Some people have asked me if it was awkward being there with my dad. It just felt like a tacky and surreal party, filled with eccentrics who happened to be very well-endowed in the chest or trouser department. I can't explain how that world made sense to me—I'm an insecure introvert who prefers to hide in oversized jumpers and still feels shifty walking past men in the bra aisle of department stores—but somehow, I felt OK in it.

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"I never felt uncomfortable meeting porn stars because these were people who had made a conscious decision to do what they did, and some had suffered greatly in their personal lives because of this," my dad says.

In many aspects, even porn A-Listers were more sedate than most imagine. "I had a most enjoyable interview with Hugh Hefner, in which he and I bonded on a shared love of old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films. He told me that every Friday night at the Playboy mansion was black and white movie night and gave me an open invite!"

The author with her dad, when he was editing Penthouse magazine around 1995.

In a strange way, I feel especially lucky to have gained an insight into the British porn industry that not many have. It's actually tamer than some might realize. I recently used Dad's contacts for an article about rimming, and most of the porn stars I was put in touch with had either never done it or really hated doing it.

"Anything goes in America, but for a porn film to be legally sold here it must have an R-18 certificate, which means that certain imagery involving so-called golden showers, gagging, constriction of breathing, dialogue suggesting underage sex and other kinks are not allowed," my dad explains. "The UK producer will also have to pay for the privilege of this censorship—around £1,000—and he will also only be allowed to sell through licenced sex shops and not even through the post, so it is small wonder that the UK adult industry largely revolves around commissioned satellite shows."

Growing up with a window into the adult industry has allowed for some interesting experiences, but it's also made family life difficult at times too. My parents divorced when I was 15, a large part of which was down to my dad's involvement with porn. While my mum had enjoyed the glamorous party side to it throughout the 80s and 90s, she felt it was wrong for us to have a parent caught up in that once we were born.

But I am thankful for the oddness my dad's career brought to my upbringing. It allowed my sister and I to understand porn for what it really is, rather than stumbling into the unknown via dial-up connection. More importantly, it helped me to be open-minded towards the aspects of life some might label as seedy or strange.

Nowadays my dad focuses on editing and publishing his very own cult horror movie magazine, The Dark Side, along with freelance writing for a variety of other movie publications. Writing is where his true love lies, as evidenced by one of my favorite anecdotes of his.

Read more: My Dad, the Famous Conspiracy Theorist

Several years ago, he met George Harrison Marks, the legendary photographer who started the nudie industry in the 1960s with his 8mm shorts and striptease magazine Kamera. At this time, the renowned alcoholic was publishing a spanking magazine called Kane.

As my dad puts it, Marks' liver was "holding out a white flag" by then. If you didn't get to him by 11 in the morning, you got no sense out of him. He did, however, have a steady stream of schoolmasterly types and women in schoolgirl outfits passing through the editorial offices.

"I don't see anything in it myself," he confided over his fourth brandy. "Bloody perverts if you ask me. Still, pays the rent."

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