Towards the end of January, 1978, sex starlet Mary Millington was present at Harrogate Odeon at the Yorkshire premiere of her X-rated film Come Play with Me. News footage shows her being mobbed by hundreds of adoring male fans. The scene was repeated across the country.
By August of the following year Millington, aged just 33, would be dead from an overdose. A collection of suicide notes blamed police harassment and a fear of the taxman.
Almost four decades after her death a new documentary, Respectable, chronicles the short life of this mixed-up, attention-seeking, needy, small-town lass – a woman who desired a quiet life as much as she craved stardom.
The film was written and directed by Simon Sheridan, 41, Millington’s biographer and custodian of her archive. And within it are some staggering claims, not least that in 1975 Millington had a one-night liaison with Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Sheridan’s film contains the claim that Millington – on a photo-shoot in Glasgow – and Wilson (addressing the TUC) enjoyed a pre-planned meeting in a hotel.
“During the 1970s there were rumours about Harold Wilson having extra-marital affairs. This is not a revelation. Mary apparently had sex with Wilson in his hotel room.
“This has always been denied, but of course it would have. Rumours are often hidden in plain sight. But Mary writes about it, albeit in a very convoluted way, in her autobiography. She did tell a few people about this liaison.
“Mary slept with a lot of people. Having a liaison with a Prime Minister is not that far removed from anything else. Let’s not forget: she was an escort. She went into great detail with one of her friends [about Wilson], and he’d already heard the rumours. That shocked Mary. I put it in the film because lots of people told me about it.”
In 2007 Wilson’s former private secretary Marcia Williams, now Baroness Falkender, won £75,000 in damages after a BBC docudrama claimed she had had an affair with Wilson.
Millington’s journey to notoriety – she became a target for clean-up campaigner Mary Whitehouse – included making pornographic films on the continent and working as an escort. She revelled in her reputation. But she came unstuck when she opened a sex shop and openly sold illegal products. A series of police raids soon put a stop to that.
“She had a naïve outlook on sex but also a refreshing, pure take on sexuality,” says Sheridan. “In the 1970s in Britain there were not many female voices saying, ‘we really enjoy sex’. That was groundbreaking. I think she was being very honest.
“As her life evolved she was objectified as a sex goddess. That’s a hard image to live up to. That weighed on her shoulders very much. She wanted to make as much money as she possibly could but she was naïve – always just on the wrong side of the law. She was a rarity. She was reckless. She didn’t have an ‘off’ switch and she paid the price for that.”
Respectable: The Mary Millington Story is out now.