From Portsmouth to Playboy for Marilyn

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Lively Lady amid the  welcome-home flotilla of 400 small vessels off Southsea.'All pictures: Graham Stevens

NOSTALGIA: Home to Portsmouth and a hero’s welcome

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Marilyn Cole went from being a humble hotel worker in Portsmouth to Playmate of the Year in Playboy magazine. Here she tells the fascinating story of how she became a famous Bunny Girl.

Why is 2012 the appropriate year to tell my story? Well, not only is it the bicentenary of one of our greatest authors, Portsmouth-born Charles Dickens, but it’s also the year that marks the 40th anniversary of my appearance as Miss January 1972 in Playboy magazine.

Marilyn Cole as a 16-year-old when she began working at the Co-Op in Portsmouth

Marilyn Cole as a 16-year-old when she began working at the Co-Op in Portsmouth

This was the first full-frontal nude in Playboy and made me the first and, to date, the only Brit to be honoured as Playmate of the Year.

The day I became the first full-frontal Playboy centrefold, my life changed in the most peculiar ways. Some nice man with a driving school offered me a free course of lessons in advanced driving. I was constantly invited to visit the flight deck on transatlantic flights and then there was the chap in Hawaii who sent me a couple of dozen shining red lilies every week for the following year.

That issue of Playboy sold over seven million copies — and I got $5,000 for just one shot. I could afford to install a phone in my mum and dad’s house in Portsmouth.

I’d been working as a waitress at the Arundel Hotel along Southsea seafront when a friend suggested I go to London for an interview for a job as a Bunny Girl at the famous Playboy Club in Park Lane.

I became a trainee Bunny Girl on January 4, 1971. After two weeks (at £35 per week), we were ready to go to work. But after a couple of weeks I’d had enough.

I had trouble remembering the difference between a Zombie and a Singapore Sling and, above all, my feet were killing me from eight-hour shifts schlepping drinks, wearing stiletto heels!!

I was ready to throw in the tail.

But I stuck at it and soon encountered Victor Lownes, the chairman and managing director. He had just bought a new camera and decided it would be fun to try it out on the new trainee Bunnies.

He said I should test for Playmate. But back in Portsmouth, at our house in Kassassin Street, Eastney, nudity simply did not exist. So when I first posed for test shots completely naked it was not something that came naturally to me.

When Victor took the tests shots of me back to Chicago, they must have been well received. I was invited to fly out to Chicago to have more shots done.

I rushed home to Portsmouth to grab my passport. I was in a daze by the time the limo pulled up outside 1340 North State Parkway and the ornate steel and glass doors of the Playboy Mansion opened for me.

It took 11 days to shoot my centrefold, but Hugh Hefner was delighted and I went back to England, straight home to Portsmouth. Now for the tough part.

‘Oh, here is a Polaroid of my centrefold’, I said, casually, to my parents.

My mum, bless her, chose to ignore the fact that I was starkers and piped up ‘ooh, doesn’t your hair look nice!’ Dad, a man who always marched to his own drummer, declared ‘it’s similar to a Rubens’ and dashed off to the pub, the Eastney Tavern, to show his mates. Never mind the seven million men who would eventually see it – my dad’s approval was the only one that mattered to me.

Back working in London, I fell in love with Victor. Then in 1973 I was chosen as Playmate of the Year and toured the US giving interviews and making appearances.

I was photographed for the cover of Roxy Music album Stranded and the Wonder Bra advertisements, plus various famous swimwear campaigns.

In 1984, I married Victor and we now divide our time between London and New York. What could have been a perilous journey I embarked on when I took that train turned out to be exhilarating, liberating and lucky.