Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"I'm Fiona ... Fly Me!"


Based on her 1976 book Fiona, HARDCORE charts the rise of Fiona Richmond, the "frankly sensational adventures of a liberated lady."

MAKE no illusions, there is no hardcore in James Kenelm Clarke's fictionalised sex odyssey of Fiona Richmond. A mockumentary before the term was coined, the model/non-actress turned writer - portrayed by Richmond herself - recounts her carnal exploits to an acquaintance at her publisher's South of France whitewashed villa in 80 tidy minutes. These encounters include her chemistry teacher (who pockets her panties), becoming a member of the mile high club, and frollicking at the back of a moving mixed vegetables delivery van with John Hamill. With its above average production values and beautiful cinematography by Mike Molloy, HARDCORE is the Rolls Royce of British sex comedies, and actually achieves some laugh-out-loud moments. With the opportunity to film in the heatwave of 1976, even the British locations have a welcoming sheen.

Particularly unsettling when viewed today is the scene at the chemistry lab, where the then 31-year-old in school uniform receives her "punishment." Throughout, Richmond plays herself with a wilful abandon that attempts to hide her stilted style, and thankfully she has a parade of seasoned performers for support: Ronald Fraser as the Soho impresario who first employs Fiona (she strips off, puts a vase of flowers over his head and punches him to get his attention) and Victor Spinetti as the proprietor of Men Only (both characters interpretations of Richmond's lover Paul Raymond). On the peripheral, Harry H. Corbett manages to be hilarious in his split-second cameo as Art, and for trivia hounds, an early scene shows Kenelm Clarke's 1974 movie GOT IT MADE playing on television, which featured future DOCTOR WHO Romana Lalla Ward. The picture caused a furore as it was later edited - incorporating sex scenes that the cast had no knowledge - and reissued as SWEET VIRGIN. When Raymond's Club International published photos of the hardcore action alleging Ward was a participant featured, the actress successfully sued.

Richmond with Paul Raymond, the uncredited financier of the picture. Raymond ensures that his businesses are on show, such as his Revuebar, the Windmill and Whitehall theatres, and the Men Only offices.

Released in the United States as FIONA, the only facts the project brings to the table is that Richmond is indeed the daughter of an vicar, was once an air stewardess, and that she earned her stripes as a columnist for Men Only. The rest is cloaked in her persona as a free-spirited 70s sex goddess, who was regularly seen along the streets of Soho in her yellow E-type Jaguar (a gift from Raymond). Alongside her writing "career," Richmond was the headliner in a succession of Raymond-sponsored West End stage shows and revues before screen roles beckoned, and when the cinematic sex market tired at the end of the 70s, Fiona achieved some kind of respectability on TV game shows such as CELEBRITY SQUARES and BLANKETY BLANK. Although Richmond's popularity pre-dated Mary Millington, the draw of Fiona waned upon the arrival of the fresh, sexual liberation qualities of Millington. The tall brunette became overshadowed by the short blonde, with punters preferring Mary's girl-next-door demeanour to Fiona's more remote sophistication.