I can still remember sitting in the kitchen of our house as a teenager and thumbing through the TV Times when I saw a picture of Madeline ‘Maddy’ Smith.
TV Times used to have a photograph of an attractive woman somewhere near the front, surrounded by bits of showbiz news. Despite it not being ‘page 3’ my mother glanced at the picture and said ‘now that is pornographic!’
I knew what she meant. Despite there being no nudity, Madeline Smith looked very sexually provocative. She was wearing a one-piece shiny blue jump-suit, with a zip down the front that was undone till the point where her ample cleavage was showing. Her body was arched and emphasising her curves. Her face was smiling with delight whilst looking away, as if pretending that she didn’t know the effect that the sight of her body would have on men.
In the 70s, TV was the easiest way to see the most attractive women portrayed in all their glory on a regular basis. These were the days when shows often only appeared once, and there was no rewind to check what you had just seen. Madeline Smith had a string of cameo appearances in films and shows (mostly comedy) and provided sexual titillation that would guarantee young men would want to watch.
Teenage boys were getting more chances to watch late night films, which were sometimes more grown up than the ones they were officially allowed to watch at the cinema. One such was Up Pompeii which I believe had been rated ‘AA’ (14 ) in the cinema. After it was shown on TV my school friend Paul Lester suggested it should have been ‘XX’ . There was no such rating – ‘X’/18 was the strictest. In it, Madeline Smith plays ‘Erotica’, the daughter of a Roman senator. She is disturbed in the bath by a Roman centurion searching for a slave (played by Frankie Howerd). When he asks her not to scream she replies: “I won’t…as long as you promise to stay!”
The scene is etched on the psyche of every Madeline Smith fan I know, partly because she very briefly appears topless in the bath (a shot that producer Ned Sherrin told her would not be used).
This persona of the ‘innocent’ young woman, with the shapely body, being excited at the prospect of sex was something that was cultivated in a string of comedy show appearances. She landed a regular high profile TV appearance in the ‘serial’ part of The Two Ronnies called ‘Hampton Wick’. I can’t find any Internet evidence, but I think she was also in a rarely remembered satire show called Up Sunday (that featured the likes of John Wells and William Rushton). As I recall she appeared as a children’s TV presenter with glove puppets, one of which is ‘naughty’ and rips open her blouse.
Her most infamous film appearance is in Vampire Lovers where she plays an innocent girl seduced by Ingrid Pitt’s female vampire, an early mainstream film portrayal of lesbianism that was definitely going to appeal to male fantasies. You Tube also has the shampoo advert she did, as an eager tribal woman preparing herself for the ‘running amok’ of the invading hordes of men. She is also immortalised as Roger Moore’s first ‘Bond-girl’ in Live & Let Die.
More recently, Smith appeared in the BBC2 programme on Crumpet. She does occasional public speaking about her show business experiences, and doesn’t show any regrets about her film and TV roles.
She is still vividly remembered amongst my peers. On a long journey back from a concert, fellow musician Phil Rackley and I discovered a mutual interest in the music of the Shadows and Madeline Smith. We subsequently recorded an instrumental ode to her called ‘Love Maddy’. When I was rehearsing with my band Orson Blake the other day I mentioned that I was writing this piece and two of the three of them (all around my age) grinned and remembered. The girls had their Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. The boys had Madeline Smith.
Echoing male sexual fantasies in her appearances is something that feminists might deplore, but as an admirer I would have to defend the portrayals as showing a liberated woman in charge of her sexuality. Maybe it is much healthier for men to be excited by women manifestly interested in sex, rather than by just the external appearance of a woman. Madeline Smith tapped into male sexual programming to become one of the sexiest sights of the 1970s.
Previously on Geeks of a Certain Age…