If a single picture ever conveyed the sexual liberation, permissive society and hostility towards norms and authorities of the 1970s, it would be the iconic poster of “The Tennis Girl”. Taken at the end of the long hot summer in September 1976, the photo was not an accidental shot. Martin Elliot, then a photography student in Birmingham, asked his then girlfriend, 18-year old Fiona Butler to borrow a tennis dress, a racket and balls and to pose for him.
Martin’s photo of Fiona lifting her dress and revealing that she was not wearing underwear is perhaps tame by today’s standards, but when he sold it to poster chain Athena, which published as part of the calendar for the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, it caused a sensation. Critics dismissed it a “schoolboy’s fantasy”, while Elliott himself said, “it is not a picture I would buy”, for it had only the appeal of a voyeuristic postcard. But it didn’t deter hundreds of thousands of schoolboys to grace their bedroom walls with it. It sold 2 million copies.
It was parodied in advertisements, served as the background of Spitting Image and various celebrities (including Alan Carr and Kylie Minogue) reenacted it. Martin Elliott who died last week at the age of 63 made a fortune out of the poster, but it hindered his career: no one would commission him as they feared he would be too expensive. Fiona Butler was never paid a penny, she eventually married a millionaire and said that she was not embarrassed about posing nor bitter that she didn’t receive any royalties from the photo.