One of the more comical near-catastrophes in the history of the outstanding, strange, wonderful and woefully accident-prone British horror film, The Wicker Man (1973), took place in 1977, when the unkempt rock star Rod Stewart embarked on a quest to track down, buy up and destroy every copy.
The reason was Britt Ekland’s bare bottom.
Rod met Britt in 1975, and for the next few years, they were a couple. He had a thing about her seeming innocent and virginal: he even insisted that she always wore white cotton panties.
But her Wicker Man scene wasn’t compatible with that vision: it’s an erotic dance in which the innkeeper’s daughter Willow tries to tempt a visiting policeman (Edward Woodward) away from his ingrained habits of sexual rectitude and chaste continency.
‘Am I not young and fair,’ she sings, tapping beguilingly on the wall, waggling her bottom at the camera and slapping her own haunches, an action which has been misleadingly described as ‘spanking herself’.
Thankfully Rod failed in his objective and The Wicker Man is still around for us to enjoy today, bare bottom dance and all. But what makes the affair especially comical is the fact that there was no need to protect any maidenly modesty, not only because Britt was a veteran of three previous relationships, and had borne a daughter and a son to two different fathers, but also, and more fundamentally, because Willow’s bare bottom isn’t Britt’s.
Over the years, Britt has sometimes been asked to autograph rear-view photos of the dance scene, and she always politely refuses, pointing out that it’s not her. And that has led to decades of speculation about the identity of the young woman hired to be her ‘botty double’.
Some who were there on the day the scene was filmed say the stand-in was 37-year-old Lorraine Peters, who was already around to play one of the villagers and evidently had no objection to doing nude work. Others name 26-year-old housewife Jane Jackson from Castle Douglas, while Britt herself insists that director Robin Hardy went to Glasgow and found a suitable stripper for the task. Some online sources, unwilling to choose between these rival claims, indulge in a kind of pusillanimous Wikipedian bet-hedging, and claim, implausibly, that more than one double was used.
‘Whose botty?’ It doesn’t really matter! The vital point is that Britt declined to do the nude rear shots because, as she put it herself, ‘I’ve never liked my bottom.’ She described it as resembling a ski-slope, though she also said afterwards that the bottom they did show wasn’t as good as her own!
So the key question is whether Britt was right to disparage her own rear aspect. The actor Julian Holloway had a chance to find out when he costarred with her in Mate!, the comedy that pushed Molly out of the West End in 1978:
But it is also something we can judge for ourselves.
Down on her luck in the early Seventies, Britt made several films that capitalized a little more on her physical charms than she would have liked, given the choice. There was this bra and panties scene in Get Carter (1971):
And in 1974, she became a Bond girl in The Man with the Golden Gun, which called for some typically mid-Seventies publicity poses,
some scenes in practical clothing,
and a bikini sequence
in which her bottom plays a vital part in the action,
by accidentally tripping a switch that turns on a laser and is almost the death of Bond:
Britt’s bot continued to attract attention through the decades,
and she seemed happy to encourage that attention:
All this from a girl who dislikes her own bottom?
Her troubles when making The Wicker Man were not confined to the request for, and evasion of, gluteal nudity. She disliked the west of Scotland where the film was shot, and unwisely said so to reporters. The resultant storm in the local press was big enough for the filmmakers to feel obliged to apologise, and Britt’s name was mud in Galloway. One suggestion about how to deal with her came from a Mr McNeil:
‘The best thing would be for her to have her bottom spanked.’
That comes across as rather sleazy, because it’s dishonest: he obviously didn’t want Britt to be spanked because she had insulted his community – he wanted her to be spanked because it was something he’d enjoy seeing. Well, so would I, but I can do without the hypocrisy, thank you.
But as it happens, I can help out Mr McNeil, if he’s still around and still fantasizing about spanking Britt Ekland. And here we go back years before The Wicker Man, to 1964 when, at the age of 20, she wed the tortured comic genius Peter Sellers a fortnight after first meeting him.
Though Sellers’ demons made it a difficult and doomed marriage, he insisted on keeping up the public facade of a happy, romantic couple, and they were often photographed together in mutual adoration.
And that was how they came to pose for the Latvian celebrity photographer Philippe Haisman (1906-79), in a typical romantic pose of the time:
But perhaps Sellers’ body language and facial expression reveals more than he intended!
A golden opportunity squandered?