David Sullivan was 24 when he entered the adult magazine market with Private magazine, the name being ripped off from the Swedish company owned by Berth Milton. From that one magazine, first published in 1973, Sullivan spotted a niche in the market that grew at an unprecedented rate to turn him into one of the richest people in Britain.
With hindsight what David Sullivan saw was so simple that its hard to believe that no one else spotted it first. As a matter of fact even when Sullivan began to roll out his idea his competitors sat back and laughed.
Back in the 1970s the only place to buy porn in the UK was the Soho district of London and the industry was controlled by the Greeks. What David Sullivan realized was that it wasn’t just Londoners who wanted porn every man in every town and city would buy porn if he took it to them. And that idea spawned the Private chain of sex shops.
The problem was that in Soho at the time a large portion of the Obscene Publications Squad was not as white as one would like to imagine and a blind eye was turned to ‘real’ hardcore being sold albeit ‘under the counter’. The guys in Soho knew that to try and run an operation such as theirs on a national scale with provincial police forces not as cosmopolitan as their London counterparts was a recipe for disaster. After all ‘porn’ was illegal so how can you run a national chain of shops?
What Sullivan realized is that the local police forces may well be more parochial but the Law was the same across the country. And plus; who said that a sex shop had to sell hardcore sex? Wasn’t the saying; Sell The Sizzle Not The Steak!
The law back then that Sullivan had to deal with is the same law as it stands today. The Obscene Publications Act. This Act is strange in its operation and by way of example you could ask why is hardcore freely available today in your local newsagents but back then you could be sent to prison. The reason for that is that the Court must take into account the relevant feelings of the general population and today that feeling is relaxed but back in the 70s when ‘real’ porn had only just started being mainstream in Europe, Britain was having non of it and the full weight of the Obscene Publications Act was being used to control this scourge
However, the OPA has a hidden line and understanding this line means the difference between having your stock seized and destroyed or prison. Sullivan understood the line perfectly and because of this other Acts were passed to try and curtail the growth of his sex shops such as the Sex Shops Licensing Act inside the Miscellanious Provisions Act and the Indecent Displays Act.
Through dogged determination and fighting in the courts David Sullivan liberated the country, the Government and the Police backed down and today you have an open adult mainstream market that you know and no doubt love.
By issue 15 of Private, priced at 30p, Whitehouse was given the pre launch blurb in the editorial with the first issue being offered at 50p. The year; 1974. The sales forecast was for 700,000 sales per issue but being as Mayfair, the market leader was selling 472,000 copies it seemed highly unlikely those figures would ever be reached.
By 1975 Park Lane and Playbirds had entered the fray and with Mary Millington as the working mans pornstar, David Sullivan was well on his way. In 1976 with Mary firmly established, Sullivan approached the legendary film director George Harrison Marks to make the film, Come Play With Me which was released in 1977 and the rest they say is history.
To close I want to show you the meteoric rise of the Private empire by referring to adverts for the Private chain of shops. The majority of mail order ads that you saw in a Sullivan publication all belonged to him, only the addresses differed. In issue 15 of Private, the magazine, there’s only 3 or 4 different addresses advertising hardcore, toys and dolls, all based in London
In issue 24 of Whitehouse circa 1976 there is still no mention of the Private chain of shops and at issue 26 of Whitehouse it went from being a monthly magazine to every fortnight.
In issue 43 of Whitehouse, there are 3 shops, issue 50, 16 shops. Five issues later circa early 1977, 29 shops. By issue 76 the Private chain of sex shops has grown to 105 branches including the Sven branches. Now that’s how you become one of the richest men in Britain!