Saturday, 9 February 2013

Fiona (1977)

Interviewer: "You've been quoted as saying that you road test men as other road test cars; isn't that a bit of an unfair comparison?"

Fiona Richmond: "They both have knobs"

With King Of Soho, Michael Winterbottom's biopic of porn baron Paul Raymond on the horizon - a film that going off Winterbottom's previous biographical form (24 Hour Party People) will no doubt be a fun cavalier piece with as much of a 'print the legend' approach to Raymond's life as the latter film had to those at Factory Records lives  - now is as good a time as any to become acquainted with this 1977 movie (known alternatively as Hardcore, Fiona and Frankly Fiona) a similar equally playful and myth orientated approach to the life story of Raymond's one time girlfriend and number one star, Fiona Richmond, ostensibly the Queen Of Soho.

The film was made in 1977 based on Fiona's heavily fictionalised autobiography detailing her life up until that point. Taking the same approach, the central premise is that Fiona (playing herself) arrives in France to meet with her publisher and on/off lover, only to be confronted by  a stranger Anthony Steel who tells her that the man has done a flit and he is there to seize assets. In a rather blase fashion Fiona then recounts her life story to the stranger and a series of flashbacks relate Fiona's wealth of sexual experience from her schooldays, which gives us the chance to see a then 31 or so year old Fiona decked out as a schoolgirl receiving unusual punishment from her teacher (odd to watch in these days of Operation Yew Tree I have to say) through to her days as an airhostess (a lesbian encounter that looks rather a core for both Fiona and her co-star) and ultimately a Soho star and 'writer' for Men Only magazine. 

A 31 year old at school!

A 31 year old at work!
Please note that is not his cucumber. Well it is, but it's not his trouser cucumber ;)

I can never make my mind up about Fiona Richmond. Whilst her place as a legend of British sexploitation is assured, I'm not entirely convinced by how attractive she was. In some lights she is rather gorgeous I must admit,  but in others she all too often resembles an Easter Island statue in a helmet of hair. Stony and emotionless can also be an accurate description of Fiona's acting talents because, in short, she has none. Lines aren't so much delivered as dropped to the floor, making the genuine actors around her (Graham Crowden, Donald Sumpter, Ronald Curram, Percy Herbert and Steel himself to name but a few) really struggle to bring some oomph to dialogue heavy scenes. Of course when she takes her clothes off, it's a different matter; this is Fiona's natural territory and she seems instantly comfortable and at home, which is ironic as it is then that the real actors flounder, naturally enough.

The film licks along its 80 minute running time at a fair old rate as we cover the salient points of Fiona's bonking marathon excuse of a life. We see Ronald Fraser as the Soho impresario who first employs Fiona (she strips off, puts a vase of flowers over his head and socks him in the jaw to get his attention) and later Victor Spinetti as the proprietor of Men Only magazine (who cries like a baby when Fiona inquires how much money she's likely to be paid for her journalism) and both are highly comical interpretations of Paul Raymond. The key here is the film knows exactly what it is, a light frothy piece that really isn't to be taken seriously at all, after all no one involved is taking it seriously. As such it is actually one of the more successful sexploitation features, and benefits greatly from some lovely cinematography and the opportunity to film in the summer of 1976, when Britain enjoyed a record breaking heatwave.

Trivia: In an early scene when Fiona takes home Donald Sumpter for some nookie on the coach, the TV set is playing a film featuring future Doctor Who assistant Lalla Ward. The film is 1974's Got It Made, which was also directed by this film's director James Kenelm Clarke. The film caused a furore when it was later heavily edited -  incorporating sex scenes that the cast including Ward had known nothing about - and reissued as Sweet Virgin. When Club International magazine published photos of the hardcore action alleging Lalla Ward was a participant featured, the actress successfully sued them in the law courts.


  1. Mark, that is a very fair description of both Fiona Richmond and the film. Looked at from this distance one does wonder how she came to be any sort of star, bereft as she seems to be of the relevant qualities; both acting and likeability. Moreover she makes an unlikely sex object and looks, just as you say, like a statue in a bad wig.
    Having said that, there seems little doubt that she did permeate popular culture and I see that there is a suitably breathless and obsessive fan-site in her name although, when it comes to low rent 70’s British sex-bombs, my money is still on Vicki Michelle.


    1. Vicki Michelle eh? Not a bad choice. I've a hankering for Linda Hayden myself. And Penny Irving. And the young Linda Marlowe as Big Zapper. And Jill Damas. And Olivia Munday. And Valerie Leon. And Maddie Smith. And...well the list goes on really.

  2. Did you manage to spot Harry H Corbett in this? His role could pretty much define the saying ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ but he is there, albeit uncharacteristically sporting a beard.

    1. Yes indeed, but I had to look twice! Very blink and you'll miss, you're right