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Playboy magazine - here's what Ireland was really missing all those years

It’s 20 years since Playboy first hit Irish shelves. Take a step back in time and have a look at its 1960s heyday.

5227878381_a6f23c3083_o Source: George Presley

TheJournal.ie writer Cianan Brennan recently acquired a stash of 1960s Playboys. Here are his thoughts. 

PLAYBOY MAGAZINE IS an institution like no other, 62 years young in 2015 and still trucking.

But it’s only 20 years since it first hit Irish shelves.

What was the magazine like in its 1960s heyday? And what would the stereotypically repressed Irish males of the time have made of it in all its wantonness?

TheJournal.ie had the opportunity to delve into nine issues of the magazine from 1967 and 1968, offering us a bold step back in time.

And how did we come to get our hands on the magazines? Well, back in the day they were smuggled into Ireland by an American friend of an ‘acquaintance’ shall we say. In storage for the best part of 50 years, they were only stumbled upon quite recently.

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The editions themselves are fantastically charming, though epically tame by today’s standards. To the uninitiated it may come as a surprise as to just what Playboy represented in the 1960s when it was at its peak. It defines a certain kind of WASP-ish, sun-kissed, preppy America. Ireland of the time was everything that that America was not.

The magazines can’t be dismissed as pornographic material.

Everything in the antique issues is focused on the man and the male. Advertising is everywhere (evoking versions of high-class magazines of today such as Vanity Fair or GQ), invariably with a focus on fashion, tobacco, whiskey and cars. Many of the brands no longer exist but a few are still household names (Budweiser, Revlon).

There is a slightly worrying common thread in all these ads actually – one involving a man as a big game hunter and hordes of Amazonian women as the captured game.

The Playboy man was a go-getter who always wanted to know the bottom line and who was earning the top dollar. One edition focuses on executive salaries in 1968 America. How do you stand apart from the mere white-collar worker and become the management-track, high-flyer who really influences things?

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A nation of very loyal catholics

What on earth would 1960s Ireland have made of these editions had they been readily available at the time?

Associate professor of sociology at UCD Tom Inglis tells us that it was a time of “public moral order” in our country.

“There was a shared public view of sex in Ireland in the late 1960s – that is people didn’t talk about it – it was something to be feared, something dangerous, wrapped up in sin,” says Inglis.

The idea of the sexually exciting wasn’t an issue in the 1960s. It was a time of denial and fear and innocence, with women playing the game of trying to find a partner without being labelled a slut.
If you think of a programme like Game of Thrones in that era – it wouldn’t have come near the censor’s door.

3830464834_3711258e05_o Source: Jamie

“Back then men didn’t talk to each other about sex in Ireland. There was a progressive liberalisation starting to hit the western world alright, but Ireland was always a step behind.

“There wasn’t even soft pornography in Ireland until the 1970s, while all Hollywood movies in the cinema were subject to censor.

We were a nation of very dedicated, loyal catholics in Ireland then. There was a scandal once at the Mount Brandon hotel in Killarney sometime in the 60s when a man tried to bring Diana Dors into the hotel and the parish priest and local bishop came together to make sure it didn’t happen – that was the prevailing attitude at the time.

That said, there are prescient moments to be found everywhere in these magazines. Fleming’s James Bond was famously a Playboy Club member. Amongst the endless marketing spots, full-page adverts for ‘007 Fragrance’ can be found. Except here 007 is still Seán Connery, with Daniel Craig but a glint in his parents’ eyes.

what sort

3910689441_086f12a13f_o Source: Jamie

What kind of man reads Playboy?

And of course, there is the quintessential Playboy page, ‘What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy?’

Always an oddity (it survives to this day). The reader in this part of the world wasn’t necessarily the granite-chinned superman the Americans had in mind. In 1968, this man was an impeccably dressed, erudite bachelor with an eye for the perfect female form.

One 1967 issue proclaims that particular year readers of Playboy had ‘purchased nearly 2,000,000 hardcover books in one month’. Advertisers, take note.

Playboy supremo Hugh Hefner was something of an intellectual snob. The ’60s magazine invariably carries multi-thousand word essays by such luminaries as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. Every issue came replete with one enormous interview. Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ralph Nader. And they’re pretty good.

The magazine fancied itself as liberal and anti-establishment, building the world not just living in it.

The American government of the day found itself spoken of in disparaging terms frequently, most especially in ‘Dear Playboy’, the letters to the editor. It must be remembered the Vietnam war was at its zenith. One article titled ‘Where Next In Vietnam?’ from 1968 is especially eye-catching from that point of view.

wrangler2 What did Ron Burgundy say about a good pair of slacks?

One chilling pictorial features pictures of actress Sharon Tate as depicted by her soon-to-be husband Roman Polanski. Two years later in Los Angeles, Tate would fall victim in her spouse’s absence to Charles Manson’s ‘family’, murdered when in the final stages of pregnancy as the killer singularly failed to inflict Helter-Skelter on an unsuspecting American public.

And things didn’t get much better for Polanski as we know.

And then there’s the pictorials themselves.

Playboy styled itself as a magazine for the well-read and affluent, those intelligent enough to appreciate the good things in life and to associate with nothing but the finest females.

It’s misogynistic and corny, and easily the most dated aspect of the old issues.

At the same time, by today’s standards at any rate, the pictures themselves are hopelessly tame and scarce. Aside from the centrefold, bare breasts are thin on the ground in a typical edition.

2015’s teenagers would be crying on their tablets.

Really the most glaring contrast between the Playboy of then and the celebrity culture of now is the girls themselves. They are naturally gorgeous – to an otherworldly extent – and in an era where Photoshop was a place you got your holiday pictures developed there’s something very real, and slightly innocent, about them.

Storm in a teacup

Hefner’s party piece finally hit Irish newsagents in 1995 after a period of sustained lobbying from newsagents and retailers nationwide.

Of the newsagents we contacted most either had little memory of the magazine coming in, or spoke dismissively of it as being a “storm in a teacup”.

19956 Playboy, December 1995 Source: willette_nitz1/Twitter

“There was a fair amount of advance publicity alright,” Vincent Jennings, chief executive with the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association, tells TheJournal.ie.

Jennings ran two separate newsagents in Limerick in 1995.

It went for about £4.90 I think, which was considerably more than it went for in the UK, but for a while the punters didn’t seem to mind.
We fought for it to be polybagged – you can imagine what would have happened if it had been open for perusal – but aside from that it came through with little or no objection.

hefnowthen Then and Now - Hugh Hefner in London in 1966, and in 2012 Source: Press Association

It was overpriced for what it was to be honest.
Some staff had moral objections to handling it, and some retailers refused point-blank to stock it but that was about as extreme as things got.
It coming in was evidence of a changing Ireland more than anything. Censorship was starting to take a back seat really, and we were all a little more open-minded.
And like anything else there was a spurt of initial interest, say six months or so, and then it waned.

These days Playboy magazine itself is something of a side-show, with Internet pornography having taken its toll.

That doesn’t mean it’s not still a money-spinner. The company, Playboy Enterprises Inc., makes most of its money these days via licensing, with the magazine itself more of a proud figure-head.

That might be as well. It really did belong to a different time.

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