In September of 1976 aspiring photographer Martin Elliot convinced, his then girlfriend, Fiona Butler to pose for a series of cheeky pictures in hopes of creating the next big pinup poster. He took a couple of shots and sold this image to publishing giant Athena. The poster went on to sell 2 million copies. In response to famous British film and television critic George Melly calling the poster a “schoolboy joke” Martin Elliot replied, “that’s just what it was.”
Taking the photo
In 1976 Martin Elliot was dating 18-year-old Fiona Butler. Anxious to help out her photographer boyfriend she agreed to pose for some photos at the Birmingham University’s tennis courts in Edgbaston, central England. Fiona didn’t actually play tennis and had to borrow the tennis racket and Eliot had their tailor friend, Carol Knotts, design and create a sexy tennis dress. In a 2007 interview Fiona recalled that she:
can remember the day quite clearly, When the picture got so popular I was quite amused that something taken that afternoon could get so big. It became one of those pictures that everyone knows and everyone’s seen. It gave me quite a buzz because I could secretly smile and say ‘no you’re wrong’, every time someone guessed.
I remember going to a party with my husband and people were saying ‘is that the girl in the photograph?’. They looked me up and down and said ‘I don’t think so’ I’ve got no objections to it whatsoever. My children have never been upset about it. It’s really nothing that anyone could be offended by. It’s just a bit of fun. I think it was banned in a couple of countries but really I don’t think there was anything to get upset about.
The poster has become such a cultural icon that when Fiona went on to marry, millionaire Ian Walker, and have kids her son’s headmaster confided in her that he had the poster on his wall while in University.
Publishing giant Athena bought the rights for the poster and released the first print in a calendar for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The calender was released the same year Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon singles title. Due to the popularity of the calender Athena published a poster and these combined factors pushed the poster into mass production and it eventually went on to sell over 2 million copies.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the photo the tennis outfit and racket were sold on Internet auction site ebay on June 16, 2006. Some of the proceeds of the sale went to the Dan Maskell Tennis Trust, a disabled children charity. The remaining went to the dress designer Carol Knotts’ attempt to take part in the Global Challenge round-the-world yacht race in 2008.
For British male comedians it’s almost like a right of passage to imitate this image with celebs like Alan Carr, Frank Skinner and Ricky Gervais exposing their backsides. I’ll spare you their pictures but I’ll include this one of singer, and all around super star, Kylie Minogue.
Originally from Oldbury, Martin Elliot was in the Birmingham School of Photography program and after graduating had a successful career with a studio in Birmingham’s Jewelry Quarter; living in Stourbridge and Portishead. In later life when doing interviews he would remember that he took the shot during “an afternoon in September at the end of the long hot summer. It was over very quickly. I only took one roll of film, which is pretty feeble for a photographer and I just hoped I’d got the shot.”
In 1999 he retired and lived in Cornwall before losing a 10 year battle to cancer in April 2010.