Rachel Royce

My time as a Play­boy bunny

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - Hen I was pre­par­ing to launch

WThe Amorist mag­a­zine this year (strapline: for devo­tees of love and pas­sion), the late Alexan­der Chan­cel­lor said: “Re­mem­ber Play­boy! Make sure you have a strong in­ter­view in ev­ery is­sue!” I protested. My mag­a­zine wasn’t the same sort of beast at all: it was an in­tel­li­gent, ro­man­tic pub­li­ca­tion, aimed at women and cou­ples. But I knew what Chan­cel­lor meant. There will al­ways be peo­ple who feel they can’t read erotic ar­ti­cles or fic­tion un­less they’ve stum­bled across them by mis­take.

Hugh Hefner pretty much in­vented the concept of “per­mis­sion to read”. He al­lowed mil­lions of male read­ers to say to them­selves, “I’ve only picked up this mag, stuffed full of naked women, be­cause it’s got a fas­ci­nat­ing in­ter­view with Mal­colm X and a great short story by Gabriel Gar­cia Márquez!” The for­mula worked for years.

We may mock the concept of any­one long­ing to be a play­boy now – con­jur­ing up, as it does, Austin Pow­ers in a silk dress­ing-gown and Y-fronts – but when Hefner launched Play­boy in 1953 he was ab­so­lutely on trend. The aus­ter­ity years that fol­lowed the Sec­ond World War and un­der­stand­able re­treat to homely, moral val­ues were grad­u­ally su­per­seded by a thirst for glam­our and se­duc­tion. Hefner’s own back­ground was tes­ta­ment to this evo­lu­tion. He de­scribed his par­ents as “Pu­ri­tan Pro­hi­bi­tion­ists” and made it his mis­sion to es­pouse what they es­chewed. It’s in­struc­tive to note 1953 was also the year Ian Flem­ing The news­pa­per ad­vert said “Trainee Bunny Croupiers Re­quired – Turn up at Park Lane with a bikini”. I’d heard about Hugh Hefner and his fa­mous Play­boy man­sion sur­rounded by the beau­ti­ful girls. Hav­ing packed in my French and Span­ish de­gree in the first term, this could be my shot to leave sub­ur­bia for a much more glam­orous scene.

A week later, I and about 100 other hope­fuls were walk­ing in our biki­nis in front of a panel in Park Lane. Then we were set a in­tro­duced 007 – the ul­ti­mate smooth se­ducer – in Casino Royale. It also saw the re­lease of Howard Hawks’s mu­si­cal Gentle­men Pre­fer Blon­des star­ring Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, the cover star of Hefner’s first is­sue.

Mean­while, Frank Si­na­tra, whose ca­reer had stalled after his mid-1940s’ suc­cess, saw his star rise again with an Os­car for his role in From Here to Eter­nity (fea­tur­ing one of the most bunny IQ maths test. By Fe­bru­ary, I was off to Stocks for train­ing. Stocks was Vic­tor Lownes’s house in Tring in Hert­ford­shire. Vic­tor was the boss of Play­boy UK and the bunny train­ing school was held there – a gor­geous country man­sion with sta­bles and horses, ten­nis courts plus the oblig­a­tory Jacuzzi.

We learnt to spin the ball and chip up – where we had renowned and steamy clinches in cin­ema his­tory). Lothar­ios and pneu­matic blon­des were sud­denly all the rage. These cul­tural shifts co­in­cided with a per­cep­ti­ble shift in sex­ual at­ti­tudes; 1953 was the year Al­fred Kin­sey pub­lished Sex­ual Be­hav­iour in the Hu­man Fe­male, ex­am­in­ing pre­vi­ously taboo top­ics, such as or­gasms, sex­ual fantasy and same-sex re­la­tion­ships. At the same time, ad­vances in con­tra­cep­tion cul­mi­nated with the Pill be­ing ap­proved for gen­eral use in 1960, mean­ing sex was widely un­cou­pled from pro­cre­ation, becoming the ul­ti­mate leisure pas­time.

Hefner was plug­ging into the zeit­geist (and in line with Kin­sey) when he said of sex: “We should embrace it. If you don’t en­cour­age healthy sex­ual ex­pres­sion in public you get un­healthy sex­ual ex­pres­sion in pri­vate.” All that was needed to light the touch­pa­per for sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion was a lib­er­tine in the White House and on Nov 8 1960 John FKennedy duly be­came Amer­ica’s pres­i­dent.

By the early years of the 1970s, Play­boy was sell­ing seven mil­lion copies. My old-school fa­ther even had a copy on the bar counter of our country pub – no­body bat­ted an eye­lid to see it sit­ting along­side Punch and Country Life. I told a 20-year-old

‘My old-school fa­ther even had a copy of Play­boy at the bar counter of our country pub’

to make four piles of 20 chips in 20 sec­onds. We mem­o­rised our 17x table to cal­cu­late the odds on a split bet. Ev­ery evening we re­laxed in our own bunny lounge and slept in our bunny bed­rooms. At week­ends we went home – un­less you were asked to stay for Vic­tor’s fa­mous Play­boy par­ties. I never was – per­haps be­cause I was a brunette English Lit stu­dent this re­cently and she couldn’t be­lieve it pos­si­ble. I had to ex­plain how, in the 1970s, ev­ery petrol sta­tion had a Pirelli cal­en­dar with naked models, while peanuts were sold off a dis­play and, as you pulled the packs off, a pic­ture of a top­less wo­man was re­vealed.

Mean­while, Page 3 “stun­nas” made The Sun the best­selling red-top in the country and Benny Hill chas­ing girls was prime-time en­ter­tain­ment. It some­times seems bizarre to me that most of my child­hood was spent watch­ing Bar­bara Wind­sor’s bra ping off in Carry On movies. In this con­text it’s easy to see why Hugh Hefner was viewed as lolling at the as­pi­ra­tional end of the glam­our girl phe­nom­e­non.

The qual­ity of Play­boy con­trib­u­tors and in­ter­vie­wees was a huge fac­tor in al­low­ing read­ers to feel they were part of a so­phis­ti­cated car­tel of ed­u­cated, well-heeled plea­sure-seek­ers. If Al Pa­cino, Mae West, Jimmy Carter, Joseph Heller or An­thony Burgess were on the contents’ page then you couldn’t pos­si­bly be a sleaze-bag. An­other cun­ning way in which Hefner sani­tised his brand was by play­ing host to a number of the world’s lead­ing fem­i­nist writ­ers. Erica Jong and Betty Friedan fea­tured in in­ter­views and both Ur­sula Le Guin and Mar­garet At­wood wrote short sto­ries for the mag­a­zine. Hefner also sup­ported pro­gres­sive so­cial move­ments, back­ing the right for women to have le­gal abor­tions on de­mand, LGBT campaigns and the Civil Rights Move­ment. This was a pretty cool pro­ces­sion of lib­eral box-tick­ing and is the rea­son why men of Alexan­der Chan­cel­lor’s gen­er­a­tion still tend to think of Play­boy with a cer­tain fond­ness.

Of course, in the decades that fol­lowed, im­ages of an in­creas­ingly wiz­ened Hefner, flanked by troops of vast-bo­somed, orange play­mates or C-list celebs came to over­shadow the im­pact of his more lib­eral lit­er­ate cru­sades. Even so, Play­boy’s in­flu­ence is still em­bed­ded through­out West­ern cul­ture. When Renée Zell­weger’s Brid­get Jones goes to a tarts and vic­ars party, she does so in a classic bunny cos­tume. A friend who runs a posh lin­gerie chain with mainly fe­male cus­tomers re­cently told me she was con­sid­er­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing bunny-style corsets and ears, be­cause women adore their vin­tage, vampy ap­peal. She cited Kate Moss on the cover of Play­boy’s 60th An­niver­sary edi­tion, dressed in full bunny re­galia.

Many of my most hon­est male friends ad­mit to a sneak­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for Hefner. They may not de­sire to live the Play­boy dream them­selves, but they re­spect him for stick­ing to his vision of li­cen­tious ex­cess. Even I must re­luc­tantly con­fess The Amorist might not ex­ist with­out Hefner’s pi­o­neer­ing cocktail of lit­er­a­ture and naked flesh, al­though we do not deal in cen­tre­folds and our “icons” are clothed and just as likely to be male as fe­male.

Seek­ing some­one for our launch edi­tion I was lucky enough to en­counter Pamela An­der­son, who is cur­rently Coco de Mer’s global am­bas­sador. An­der­son has been on the cover of Play­boy 14 times, more than any other model. She’s also very smart, very feisty and a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. I felt if I managed to put out a mag­a­zine that in­cluded An­der­son and such stel­lar writ­ers as Howard Ja­cob­son, Sarah Hall and Hanif Kureishi, the mix was pretty per­fect. I just wish I could claim I came up with that for­mula. and Vic­tor liked blon­des. Each bunny out­fit was be­spoke and we put them on by tipping for­ward to po­si­tion our breasts in the cups (stuffed with tis­sue in a se­cret pocket). Ears had to be poised at just the right jaunty an­gle, black stilet­tos had min­i­mum five-inch heels. Each night we’d be in­spected by Bunny Mother who could re­duce bun­nies to tears; “I’ve been told I’m too fat,” wailed one. It was hard work – but we had perks – free cham­pagne and en­try to all London’s top clubs. A year later I got into Manch­ester to study his­tory. There, the girls wore dun­ga­rees and had been to Green­ham com­mon. Be­ing a bunny girl wasn’t seen as ac­cept­able or fun. I later went on to be a news­pa­per jour­nal­ist be­fore mov­ing into tele­vi­sion where I still work for the doc­u­men­tary show In­side Out. I don’t re­gret be­ing a bunny girl – that’s me, left, in red – and I have two grown-up boys who I’ve told about it. But to­day my old out­fit ap­pears old-fashioned and tame.

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