David Waterfield 1943-2024

On Sunday night I was informed that David Waterfield had died. Waterfield’s ex-wife Patricia Clark told me that he had passed on the Sunday morning in Thailand, his home since 1996. Very much a pioneer in Britain’s adult entertainment business, I made several attempts to engage with Waterfield over the years, but he sadly never responded to my letters. A missed opportunity. Fortunately, I was able to piece together Waterfield’s story via Clark, other interviewees and archival material, such as court records and newspaper/magazine articles, one of which I reproduce below in his memory.

I tell Waterfield’s story in chapter five of Under the Counter and a journal article title Satisfaction Guaranteed, which can be read here. His story deserves an entire book, but here’s a short summary. Waterfield was born 9 August 1943. He first flirted with the adult entertainment business in the mid-1960s, working as a stage manager for a Soho strip club. Later, Waterfield joined the Merchant Navy as a commis waiter, serving first-class passengers on trips from Southampton to New York. It was in New York that he noticed the large queues for the film Deep Throat. The entrepreneurially minded Waterfield, sensed a business opportunity and managed to obtain a small-gauge print of the film and smuggled in back to the UK.

Advert for Waterfield’s Exxon Cinema.

On his return, Waterfield opened two London-based cinema clubs in 1971 – the Exxon and Archibald’s – which both screened hardcore films. As the Cinematograph Act 1952 did not apply to all film shows, Waterfield was able to use the cinema club model to show porn. Additionally, as club members were agreeing to view the content they subscribed to, Waterfield believed they could not be depraved or corrupted, as according to the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Newspaper exposé of Waterfield’s Archibald’s club

Waterfield was quickly successful making up to £700 per week. He donated some of his profits to fund community ventures, such as the Community Levy for Alternative Projects and the radical publication Up Against the Law, a magazine that offered legal advice to counter cultural groups. Waterfield’s radicalism likely stirred the police into action, leading to him being charged under the Disorderly Houses Act 1751 and Outrage to Public Decency. He also imported pornographic goods from Denmark for showing and selling at his clubs. The police seized these items, resulting in further charges under the Customs and Excise Act 1952.

Facing two trials, Waterfield defended himself, proclaiming that he was taking a stand against censorship. He won. However, in the second, the court found Waterfield guilty for importing indecent articles, resulting in a £7000 fine and three-year sentence that, after appeal, was reduced to 18 months.

Waterfield and his then partner (a former roller performer who later became the wife of a well-known pop star and close friend of a prime minister’s wife) started an ethical bean bag manufacturing company; Waterfield found the business unsatisfying. He re-opened the Exxon in Southampton, a short-lived enterprise that fell foul of 1977’s amendment to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 that now extended to cover all film exhibitions. Waterfield’s club was used a test case for this change to the law. As he was a silent-partner, Waterfield escaped prosecution.

After a few years away from the porn business, in 1987, Waterfield and his wife Clark had the idea to start Your Choice, a business hosted in the Netherlands that dispatched pornographic video tapes to UK customers. Rather than risk customs seizure, they employed ‘agents’ across the UK who copies video tape masters that had been smuggled into the country. Fed up of seeing customers fleeced by others claiming to sell hardcore, Waterfield followed the principles of Napoleon Hill, an American who authored a popular self-help book titled Think and Grow Rich, particularly running a business that benefited all it affected. Waterfield offered a money back guarantee, as he did with his cinema clubs, an approach uncommon in Britain’s illicit porn trade. His aim was to make non-violent pornography accessible to all British adults.

Your Choice was a success. Clark and Waterfield moved to Amsterdam, registering the business. They licensed titles from American and European studios, who were eager to enter the British market. Openly advertising in video and adult magazines, Your Choice caught the attention of the police who launched Operation Dare (named after Waterfield’s distinctive signature), where a number of agents were raided and arrested. Waterfield wrote to the police and offered to take the place of the arrested agents, who refused. He paid the agents’ legal fees and managed to get the business up and running.

Your Choice Adverts

The investigation changed Waterfield, and he left Your Choice. After attempting to start a similar operation in the UK, he left for Thailand in 1996 and lived a quiet life. Your Choice continued, moving into production to keep the company growing. It initially weathered the disruption of the World Wide Web, until declaring bankruptcy in 2019, ending 32 years of business.

Below is an interview with Waterfield taken from volume 4, number three of the British adult magazine Experience. I assume that the interview was conducted in 1973, after Waterfield made a brief appearance on David Frost’s The Frost Report. Conducted by ‘Jenny Love’, a likely pseudonym, the article offers an insight into Waterfield’s motivations. Rest in peace, David.

David Waterfield, 1973.

Where to go if you’re feeling blue

David Waterfield, owner of the Exxon cinema club interviewed by Jenny Love

If adults want to see a really explicit sex film, why shouldn’t they have the freedom to do so? That’s a point of view held by most liberal-minded people. But David Waterfield goes much

further than paying lip service to the idea of freedom. He runs the Exxon cinema club in London – which is the only place in Britain where you can see genuinely blue movies.

Under existing censorship laws, no public cinema in this country would show the kind of films which are regularly screened to members of the Exxon club. Instead of coyly fading out when love scenes grow too steamy, the Exxon movies go all the way. And the success of the club has proved that there’s a sizeable public demand for this kind of material. When I talked to him recently, David Waterfield had this to say about his competitors: “If you’ve visited one of the other cinema-clubs in London – such as the Compton, Dilly, Cineclub 24 or the chain of clubs run by the Tatler Group – expecting to see real sex on the screen, you’ve [sic.] certainly be disappointed. In spite of their advertisements, none of these clubs to show fully uncensored films. Heavy petting and the occasional glimpse of the limp cock is as far as they go. If the original version contains stronger scenes, the film is cut by the management.

“At the Exxon, everything is shown”.

Ideally, David would like to open a cinema club in the West-End. At present, his “true blue” club operates at 42 Danbury Street, near the Angel, Islington.

But although the Exxon is a bit off the beaten track, there are packed audiences at most of the performances.

“We change the programme once a week and we’ve built up a regular clientele – people who know that they are not going to be conned or cheated, but will get value for money”.

Often, he gets phone calls from people who can’t believe that they’re really going to see blue movies.

“But it’s our policy to tell everyone who phoned or calls at the club, that our film show [sic.] tthe complete sex act: erections, open vagina, come shots – everything. This isn’t simply because we want to encourage people to become members. I also think it’s important to warn anyone who might be offended that there are no half measures in our films.

“So far we haven’t had a single complaint…”

Because the blue movie business has gained the reputation of being run by gangsters or racketeers, David is concerned about the fears of possible patrons that they might be threatened or harassed at the Exxon.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he told me. “See for yourself, there are no hostesses, no bars selling high-price drinks, no ‘extra charges’ to pay. If someone misbehaved by annoying the other patrons or tried to commit some indecent offence in the club, we’d ask him to leave. But that hasn’t happened yet. Everyone seems to appreciate that we’re running a quiet, respectable cinema club”.

You may remember the David Frost programme on pornography a few months ago. David Waterfield appeared on this show and was asked if he thought that seeing blue movies had a good or a bad effect on his customers.

He replied: “They certainly come out a lot happier than when they go in”.

And he enlarged on this in his interview with me. “Sex does make you happy – whether you’re taking part yourself or watching attractive people making love. It’s time we all agreed that the old line ‘sex is dirty’ should be rejected once and for all.”

I asked David if there was any type of film he wouldn’t show at his cinema.

“Yes, I draw the line a sex movies which involve children. That’s corruption and exploitation. The animal films they’re making in Denmark – with girls being fucked by Alsatians and pigs – are also pretty sick. And although I know some people get turned on by violence and act out their fantasies by watching torture scenes, I don’t like it myself and I wouldn’t show really sadistic sex films.

“But sex – all kinds of sex- between men and women … I’m still waiting to hear a convincing argument on how this can possibly ‘deprave and corrupt’. If it is corrupting, then every human being on the planet is twisted and evil.

“We all run sex films in our minds, don’t we? Everyone has a erotic fantasy at some time in their life. So how can it be wrong to put those fantasies on celluloid and share them with other people?”

Freedom is a word which punctuates David Waterfield’s conversation. But to him it’s more than just a word. He is doing his best to make this word freedom a reality – not just for himself, but for everyone.

To some people it may sound naive but I believed him when he declared that he would show his films for only a few pence if the economics of the business would allow this.

“Unfortunately, the present legal system means that to keep open we have to charge much more than I’d like. But when censorship finally disappears, I believe it must, then the prices will come down – just as they have in Denmark. And nobody will be more pleased about it than me.”

Due to the legal situation, membership of the Exxon is at present limited to males over the age of 21. This seems very unfair, especially when you consider that there are a growing number of females who wouldn’t be shocked at the sight of a genuinely blue movie.

But apparently the risk of offending a member of the “fairer sex” is too great at the present time.

As a pioneer in running the blue cinema club in Britain, David Waterfield has already come under attack from the authorities. But to prove that he is far removed from the back-street pornographers who plead guilty to obscenity charges and meekly pay a fine, David says he will continue to fight in the courts to keep the Exxon open. If you live in London or plan to visit the capital and are curious to see a really uncensored sex film, I’d recommend a visit.

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