Robert Page created the original “Lovers’ Guide” back in 1991. Here he talks about the huge impact of the brand over the last two decades and moving into 3-D and cinemas for the first time with “The Lovers’ Guide 3-D Igniting Desire”, for its 20th anniversary on Valentine’s Day 2011
How did you come up with the Lovers’ Guide originally?
We were already the fore-runners in the “how-to” video industry with Virgin in the 80s – cooking, pet care, home decoration, child-rearing – all the areas of life where people welcomed a little help. In some ways, it was a natural next step to help people with their sex lives! And this was against the background of the first big AIDS epidemic having swept through and it felt like the right time not just to show sex in a positive light and spread the safe sex message; we wanted to make something that would celebrate and, hopefully, enhance people’s intimate lives.
So how did you go about getting something so, well, frank, into ordinary shops?
Well, from the start this was clearly not your regular “adult” movie. It was absolutely not porn. So we were in a new category all of our own – of instructional adult video. We took this concept to the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and its then iconoclastic head, the late James Ferman, said if we found the right experts to front it and the right professional bodies to back it, he would give us an 18 certificate allowing general release. We did, with Dr Andrew Stanway and the FPA – and he did, and gave us the certificate.
But was the BBFC’s approval all you needed back then?
No – but that was one of the many things we had yet to discover on our steep learning curve – there never having been anything like this before. We could still have been prosecuted – and found ourselves under investigation by Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad and by the Manchester Police… I wanted a full-on ‘Lady Chatterley’ trial but they dropped it and I escaped incarceration.
How did the public react?
The day of release was insane – queues around the block at W H Smith and walls of videos at Wal-Mart. But, on the longer view, and once the brouhaha had died down, I think mostly with a huge sigh of relief – sex was fine and one of the last big taboos, of what you could and couldn’t watch, was being brought down. One survey showed that we were 75% bought by women – where porn is over 90% bought by men – so that’s a pleasing statistic. The press, though, went ballistic: “Is this Porn?” I particularly remember one lurid headline emblazoned across the New of the World: “I Didn’t Know She Was a Tart Says Sex Doctor”. We also had the front cover of the video, full-size, full-colour on the front page of Today, the only colour newspaper around at the time. You can’t buy publicity like that.
So how successful was it?
It sold over a million copies and went into 22 countries and 15 languages. It affected the attitudes of tens of millions of people – and from the country that had been known for “no sex, please, we’re British”. Clearly it marked a giant leap forward in the sexual revolution. Since then it has featured in Channel 4’s 100 Sexiest Movie Scenes of All Time and it got me on to the Independent’s ‘Happy List’ as one of the 100 people who have made the UK a happier place to be…
It must have caused some extraordinary experiences..?
Well, we supplied the couple for Dr Desmond Morris’s “The Human Animal”, which showed actual sex on TV for the first time (from the inside) and earned the BBC the title of the British Bonking Corporation. Stanley Kubrick consulted me on how to direct a sex scene for his last film “Eyes Wide Shut” and, more recently, the Sun misquoted me over the Heather Mills McCartney German photo sex manual to say her book was “porn and not an [educational] Lovers’ Guide”.
So how do you handle the casting and find the performers?
Many are genuine couples, some from ordinary walks of life, but, given what they are happy to share on camera, tend to be from the ‘glamour’ industry. The original Lovers’ Guide couple, Tony and Wendy Duffield, at first went on from us to having huge success as sex advisors in their own right. When they split around ten years later that story, again, made front page news.
What has happened to the Lovers’ Guide in the last 20 years? Hasn’t it been overshadowed by the internet?
It’s true that the internet has made a vast range of sexual material a whole lot more available than it was in our day, before it existed. Back then, about the only thing people had access to were the drawings in ‘The Joy of Sex’ book and underwear catalogues… We certainly benefited from a voyeuristic element, but we still have a strong audience who come to us looking to widen their horizons and deepen their relationships. Over these two decades we have made 11 more films, published three books, had two television documentaries made about the brand – with a third one coming out for our anniversary on Valentine’s Day 2011 – and we have built our own internet presence with the biggest sex and relationship website in the world at www.loversguide.com.
Now there’s to be a Lovers’ Guide film in 3-D, isn’t that just a gimmick?
The Lovers’ Guide has always tried to be at the forefront and, if we can get our message across using new approaches, we will. The 3-D aspect really does make you see sex as you have never seen it before. It’s great to be working with my co-producer, William Campbell, from the original film and with Optimum Releasing for our first ever cinema release – as well as going out on DVD and Blu Ray (with two pairs of 3-D glasses in the case). The main aim, as ever, though, is for couples who watch it to re-discover the spark in their own intimate lives. We hope the new film will do just that – and hence the subtitle: ‘Igniting Desire’.