Under the Counter (Book)

Britain’s Trade in Hardcore Pornographic 8mm Films

Tells the undocumented story of Britain’s trade in 8mm hardcore pornography, exploring how entrepreneurs circumvented obscenity laws to produce and distribute hardcore films. Draws on extensive archival research, including the use of legal records, police files, media reportage, and interviews with those who were involved in the business. 75 illus.


Prior to 2000, it was a criminal offence to sell hardcore pornography in Britain. Despite this, there was a thriving alternative economy producing and distributing such material “under the counter” of Soho’s bookshops and via mail-order. British entrepreneurs circumvented obscenity laws to satisfy the demand for uncensored adult films and profit from their enterprise, with the corrupt Obscene Publications Squad permitting them to trade.

By the late 1960s, Britain had developed an international reputation for producing ‘rollers’, short films distributed on 8mm, which were smuggled out of Britain for sale in Western Europe. Following an exposé by Britain’s tabloid press, a crackdown on police corruption and several high-profile obscenity trials, the trade was all but decimated, with pornography smuggled in from Europe dominating the market.

Under the Counter is the first book of its kind to investigate Britain’s trade in illicit pornographic 8mm film.  Drawing on extensive archival research, including the use of legal records, police files, media reportage, and interviews with those who were involved in the business, Under the Counter tells the story of Britain’s trade in 8mm hardcore pornographic films and its regulation, incorporating ideas from cultural studies, political economy, history and criminology.

Under the Counter is a scholarly monograph that will be of interest to researchers across a wide range of disciplines and will be of use to students at undergraduate, Masters level and PhD.

The book will be of particular relevance to students and researchers interested in the study of pornography, sexual cultures, illicit media enterprise and entrepreneurship, but also those with an interest in film production and distribution, particularly within a British context. The theoretical frameworks that underpin the book mean that researchers with an interest in the creative industries will be able to make use of it and the book makes a contribution to media and cultural history.

It is suitable for use on university courses relating to these specific areas, specifically media and communication, film studies, creative industries, and potentially on criminology or socio-legal studies, given the books attention to obscenity law and regulation of illicit practices.

Dr Oliver Carter is a reader in creative economies at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research, Birmingham City University. His research focuses on alternative economies of cultural production; informal forms of industry that are often removed from a formal cultural industries discourse. He is the author of the monograph Making European Cult Cinema: Fan Enterprise in an Alternative Economy (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).

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