Interview with Robert Page, creator and producer of The Lovers Guide Interactive
So how did it all start?
Richard Branson had got into condoms, so to speak, and he started ‘Mates’, and they turned the world upside-down. He wanted me to make a little film of a man putting a condom on, and I went, “Oh no! I can’t do that! I don’t want to do that, I’m heterosexual! I don’t want to film a man’s willy.”
And I was talking to the late, great James Firman[?] – when you went to see a film in those days you had Lord Harlock[?] on one side and James Firman on the other – and I was telling him, and I said, “Jim – Richard wants me to do this film and isn’t there a Florida rule, or a Cornwall rule, or a ‘one foot on the floor’ rule or something?” And he said “no, the only rule is obscenity, that which will deprave or corrupt.” That’s the only rule. So, he said “look, in a post-AIDS era I think there’s nothing obscene about a man putting a condom on; in fact, I think it’s downright sensible, so we can make the film”, and I replied, “Oh but I don’t want to make it! I don’t want to!”
And then, quick as a flash, I went, “you know all these ‘How To’s’ we’ve done? Well, this is one area – you know, careers, languages, driving cars, you name it, cooking, anything – you’re taught that but in this intimate area, you’re not… So could we make [a How To] about this?
And he went: “What would you want to show?”
And I said: “Well, you know, mastur…”
And he went: “Yep”
“And sexual dev…?”
And he went: “Yep.”
And I said: “You wouldn’t let me show oral, would you?”
And he went: “Yep.”
And when we went out of that, we spent, in those days – 1990, for 1991 release; we shot it all on film – we’d spent a quarter of a million pounds making it, and we’d shot it on various locations. And I mean, it’s still, the original one is very, very lush, and good. And that’s how it came about.
And then it sold 1.3 million copies and I was getting arrested for obscenity and, I mean, it was the kind of stuff at the time that Customs and Excise were seizing at the ports. I mean, this was something that was available – not 18R, which could only be sold at sex shops, but 18 – which meant you could sell it anywhere! So that was utterly fantastic, it went ballistic, we had endless front pages, we were on the news across the world, it’s gone into 22 countries, 13 languages; it’s got the biggest website in the world on sexuality which is totally free [www.loversguide.com]. So it’s become a kind of huge… it’s the biggest brand in the world. I mean, it just is.
You must be very open-minded to do what you do. Do you ever find that less liberal people look down on you because of this?
Only the ones who get it wrong; only the ones who say “it’s porn”. And I find that distressing, because I really think, you know, making love is the most wonderful thing humans can do, and it’s what everyone wants. I’m not talking about just having sex, I’m choosing my words carefully and saying ‘making love’. To love someone, is where everyone wants to be unless they’re hermits or weirdos or something. You know, to hold someone you totally care about in your arms and to make love to them, for hours and days, and you should be making love outside of the bedroom, anyway, just, you know, with your clothes on… You know, it’s all a way of relating to other people. For the people who say it’s porn, yeah, they see me as some sort of… You know, I did a clever thing: I pulled the wool over the censors’ eyes and I, you know, stuck this in. And they say that if you turn down the soundtrack and put on sleazy music, it is porn. But it’s not even that, because in most porn, it’s someone kind of ‘acting’ at you out of the screen, whereas this is people relating to each other across the screen, and you’re in the privileged position, like a fly on the wall, of observing and learning from what they do. So, I mean, you know, I’m a fairly open kind of guy: if it had all been a con, sixteen years later I’d say, “Oh yeah, we made a ton of money and it was all a…”
I like to think that, you know, in as far as life – you’ve got one shot at this thing, life, and it’s a very big business… I suppose that the Lovers’ Guide has probably had more impact than even television that was getting millions and millions of viewers, you know… in terms of helping people. We have never had – this is absolutely true – in tens and tens of thousands of letters, only the late Mary Whitehouse objected, and she apparently didn’t get beyond the original, the first title sequence. Out of all of those, lots of them, they all say “fantastic”, you know, they love it. I’ve never had a bad letter about it. A lot of them say “I’ve been in this relationship for X years and we haven’t made love for Y years and we were watching your programme and we were at it on the living room carpet before the programme was finished, and thank you so much!” And the other thing I suppose, you know, some people thought that if you showed people naked and having sex it would be ‘animalistic’. You know, that we’d just look like dogs shagging on the street. And it’s not! I think it’s, people look beautiful, making love. I think it looks great. We’re not cheap! We make expensive films. We get the lighting to look right, the bodies to look good, we try and convey the whole warmth and brilliant feeling of being with your beloved! And to me, in the end as I said, I think that’s what people really, really want.
Do you think people are aroused by The Lovers’ Guide as well as educated?
I think, God help us if people aren’t aroused by naked bodies! I mean, I think they should be! I think what happened in the past have confused that sort of visceral clutch you get, that, “Oh my God, they’re naked” with guilt and shame. And that’s… well actually, it should be, “Ooh, that’s rather a nice little tickly feeling down there in my stomach!” You know, if we didn’t find each other attractive, if men and women didn’t, in general terms, then God help the future of the human race! And I mean, if you believe in God, then he invented this way of us procreating and being together, so you know, even from a Christian point of view, I see making love and naked bodies as absolutely glorious! There should be no shame. If we can get to the point where everybody knows everything, then I’ll be very happily put out of a job.
In terms of marketing, are the DVDs aimed at less sexually knowledgeable people, or do you think the content would also inform people who are already quite educated?
I think that The Lovers’ Guide is really like a recipe book. I mean, I think there are always more things to learn. Who is the perfect lover? Who knows everything? And you’re always finding new dishes, new main courses, new desserts, new sauces… I mean, it’s the same with this; I think there’s always a lot to be learnt. A friend of mine, who I’m told is reasonably good in bed — we have this hand-over-hand technique in there, and he’d never thought of this! So his partner took his finger and used it to arouse herself – and this is just a tip that’s in there – and they’d never come across that. It’s just one tiny little thing but there’s always something new to learn, just like recipe books. Even if you already know how to make a hollandaise sauce, this one will add a touch of white wine vinegar or something, and it gives it that piquancy and you go, “Ooh! That’ll make that sauce better”. I think it goes across the range. We really want people to watch it together without any kind of shame or embarrassment. Just learn to be open and love each other and get on with it and communicate with your bodies as much as you do with your mouths.
Having covered many topics, where do see the franchise going in its next stage and what do the fans have to look forward to?
I’m going to be a bit elusive on this one because, actually, we’ve covered very specific areas. So, we covered sex positions, or we covered foreplay (which we call sexplay because, why can’t you have a great love-making session without penetrative sex?), or we covered orgasms… And in this one, the whole point was to show both points, male and female points of view, which gave us a lot of difficulties with the censors because one of the things you’re not supposed to do is linger… Well, you know, erm, I don’t think the bloke’s going to be looking at ear lobes, elbows, knees, soles of feet! So there was a bit of… But anyway, the main point here was that you can follow one track as the man and get all the instructions, and you can follow another track as the woman and get bespoke instructions, or together, you can watch the general track. But what’s very important to me is that you should also watch the female track if you’re a guy, and the male track [if you’re a girl], because then you’re empathising with what your partner is feeling and how they’re responding. So, to me, this was a big departure.
Thoughts for the future… I want to do a 3D one after Beowulf, but I’m not sure I want people wearing silly glasses! When Beowulf’s spear comes out of the screen, I’m can’t imagine what that might translate to… As they said in Sex in the City, there’s small, medium and ‘don’t bring that thing near me!’
They say that men are more interested by visual stimulants than other mediums, so do you think that The Lovers’ Guide is a better way to educate men, as opposed to a book?
I’m not sure the premise is right. I’m not sure that women aren’t just as aroused as men and in fact, studies have shown that even though women might deny it, they’re actually, for instance, lubricating, and there are tests that show that. So I’m not even sure the premise is right, but the other thing is that, yes, I think men have a lot more to learn than women; I think women are involved much more in their own rhythms because of menstruation and the monthly cycle, and I think women are much more, actually interested. Women are possibly more polite and well mannered… but actually more in-tune with themselves and their bodies. Men have just got to learn to love, really, and not be such… I don’t like these lads’ mags that, you know, say that men are supposed to be like cavemen and drag women by their hair… Oh, no, please! I happen to prefer the company of women to men, because I’m not into sports; I love talking about people, life… that’s, to me, the meaning of life. I don’t want to talk about cars all the time, you know… I couldn’t care less.
According to an old survey we’re 75% bought by women but I’m not sure that the women aren’t buying it to sit the men down and go, “Now watch this and take it seriously”. So even though there’s a big skew towards women – and if we were porn, to go back to porn – porn is, was, 90% bought by men though actually now, women are getting more into it, too. I mean, the great Nancy Prior wrote “Women On Top” and that shocked the world by saying that women actually do have mega sexual fantasies, as men do. And sexual fantasies! You can do all things in your imagination, it doesn’t mean you want to do them in real life. You might imagine being shagged by a hugely well-hung gorilla or something; it doesn’t mean you actually want some massive gorilla… Fantasy is a good thing, too; fantasy is a way of getting your juices flowing and getting your sense of excitement up… Again, there shouldn’t be any guilt to that. But you should recognise the limits of fantasy and not bring them [into reality]. Some women have rape fantasies but it’s always, you know, with an OK guy, it’s always safe… It doesn’t mean… Rape is one of the worst crimes there is. There can be a total division between a fantasy life that is perfectly tremendous, and real life.
Do you think that relaxing attitudes to sex and sexuality have had an impact on the series?
Ah, well, there was the shock value to begin with but I think people are more open now. I think there was sort of… where if you bought a recipe book and people thought you were broadening your culinary horizons, if you bought The Lovers’ Guide people would think maybe you’re lousy in bed or a voyeur… There were negative connotations that I think are beginning now to be dispelled, so that picking up The Lovers’ Guide now is that you want to expand your sexual horizons, just as you might with a
. I think the more relaxed, the more open people can be, the better for the human race and for sales of The Lovers’ Guide! But better for the human race.
Is there anyone in the sexual education industry that you’d like to collaborate with?
Well we’ve worked with an awful lots of sexperts, anyway. The last one we did was with Tracy Cox. We do collaborate massively and we get the best sexual advisors; I mean, not all of them are as famous as Tracy but we use a wide variety of people, there is no one specific person… I did once want to work with Alex Comfort, years ago, who wrote The Joy of Sex. A lovely old guy but Mitchell Beasley, his publicist, felt it was a collision of brands; that actually, it wouldn’t do his book any good. It was very 60’s thinking, even though it was first published in the 1970’s. It had drawings, it didn’t even have still photographs! And So The Lovers’ Guide was a huge, quantum leap in what you could see. There was nothing like it. Maybe there were in deep, dark cinemas in Soho, but you know, you couldn’t see it. It’s shown on encrypted television on Sky Box Office. It still hasn’t been shown on free-to-air TV, in sixteen years! Although there’s been a film called 9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom that has an 18 certificate and shows full-on oral sex, sexual intercourse, he comes across her abdomen, etc… but it’s a bloody boring film. Shame, really.
If you’d never heard of The Lovers’ Guide, would you buy it?
Would I buy it? Of course I’d buy it! Anything that will widen your horizons is a good thing. Life is a huge learning experience and if it ever stopped expanding then you’d be stunted by it… Learn to cook, learn to appreciate art, learn to love music, learn to be a better lover… I mean, all these things are to me… I don’t think you should spend every moment with your young nose in a book or watching Lovers’ Guides, but just to have that overall sense of linking in more and more knowledge and capability with life. It’s a part of growing, becoming a bigger human being…