You might not want your wife and servants to watch them, but a jury at Southwark Crown Court has just decided that DVDs showing fisting and other hard core male-on-male sex action are not obscene under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
The failed prosecution arose in part because the act still relies on the now archaic test that obscene materials must be shown to ‘deprave and corrupt’ those who read, watch or listen to them.
Some members of the jury may have felt uncomfortable, others revolted and still others titillated by them.
But they were unanimous in their verdict on 6 January 2012 that they had not been depraved and corrupted by the DVDs. A chacun son gout, the jury appears to have decided.
This latest in a long line of failed prosecutions should persuade the government that the 1959 act is in desperate need of a review, not least because the words ‘deprave’ and ‘corrupt’ have shifted in meaning since Cliff Richard’s Living Doll topped the charts.
Search the internet, and ‘depraved appetite’ refers mostly to the strange eating habits of dogs and pigs with worms.
And when we talk of ‘corrupt’, we are usually referring to politicians and other public figures on the take - and not to, in some people’s eyes, deviant sexual practices.
But let’s go back to the introduction of the act in 1959. It went further than just condemning materials that could ‘deprave and corrupt’. It actually said that any materials considered obscene by some, but that can be shown to have ‘redeeming social merit’ by others, can still be published.
This prompted publishers Penguin to print and store 200,000 copies of the long banned sexually explicit novel by DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Penguin sent 12 copies to the Director of Public Prosecutions and challenged him to prosecute - which he duly did.
There ensured a six-day trial at the Old Bailey beginning on 27 October 1960. Bishops and literary figures all testified for the defence, while at one point prosecution counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones showed just how out of touch he was with society by asking a bemused jury: ‘Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?’
Penguin won the right to publish the book and bookshops sold their entire stock within minutes of opening their doors.
The case of the subversive magazine Oz in 1971 was another failed prosecution, although the defendants did spend a weekend in jail before being released by the Court of Appeal.
‘It (Oz) deals with homosexuality,’ the prosecutor told the jury. ‘It deals with lesbianism - on the front cover! It deals with sadism; it deals with perverted sexual practices; and, finally, it deals with drug taking. You will, having read the magazine through, ask yourself: "Does such a magazine in fact tend to deprave and corrupt a person in whom those sort of practices are latent?"’
It was during this trial that Justice Argyle famously inquired of one witness, jazz musician George Melly: ‘For those of us who don't have the benefit of a classical education, what do you mean by the word "cunnilinctus"?’
The litany of failed prosecutions continues through Last Exit to Brooklyn (1968) and Inside Linda Lovelace (1977) to Girls (Scream) Aloud (2009). This latter was a 12-page blog that the author described as ‘an adult celebrity parody’ in which the all-women pop group was kidnapped and murdered - and their body parts sold on e-bay.
A chacun son gout…
This is all good fun for those iconoclasts among us who like to mock the establishment, but it is also an obscene waste of public money. Is it not time the Obscene Publications Act was revisited?