The Under the Counter archive is the result of academic Oliver Carter’s 10 years of research into Britain’s hidden economy of hardcore 8mm films, which resulted in the book Under the Counter, published in 2023 by Intellect. Between the years 1960-1979, over 1000 hardcore short adult films were produced and distributed on 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm formats.

While carrying out the research, author Oliver Carter found that no archive in the UK housed these films, with only the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, USA having a significant holding. While poorly digitised captures of some rollers could be found online, it became apparent that physical copies were more significant because their material properties – the packaging, the film stock and its condition – were as equally, if not more, revealing than the actual films, offering us clues about their clandestine origins. Carter began to amass a private collection, seeking to obtain at least one title from each of the 38 labels, and an assortment of the unbranded releases from the early 1960s. Along the way, other private collectors kindly donated rollers to add to Carter’s growing archive. Many of these were digitally scanned, it being safer to scan these fragile films than project them.

Hosted by London’s Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives, The Under the Counter archive currently contains 450 titles, including 245 physical copies. It also holds 70 above-the-counter softcore films, 138 glamour films, seven European hardcore films and an assortment of other related ephemera that would have been available in the backrooms of Soho bookshops, such as hand-illustrated erotic stories. The archive provides a unique window into a forgotten and largely undocumented culture of production and is a valuable resource for researchers interested in film cultures, gender and sexuality and social history. The Under the Counter collection is a living archive and welcomes donations from others.

The Archive is currently being catalogued and digitised but is available on request.