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Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

Pop CultureNovember 23, 2023

Remember when Sky 1 was the hottest channel on TV?

Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, countless New Zealand teenagers performed a secret ritual: staying up late, one hand hovering nervously over the remote in case of footsteps, waiting to catch a rare glimpse of nudity on TV. This is their story.

This article was originally published in 2017.

In the years before broadband internet and personal devices, New Zealand teenagers had severely limited access to pornography. Sourcing and keeping physical media like magazines and videotapes was fraught with risk and humiliation; prohibitively loud dial-up tones meant using the family PC to access material was mostly out of the question.

Fortunately, there was another way to catch elusive glimpses of nudity and sex, and all it required was a Sky subscription and the willpower to stay awake past midnight. In a rapidly changing world, it was one thing that could always be relied upon: when the clock struck 12, Sky 1 would be showing softcore pornography.

This is the story of that pornography – and a generation’s hidden infatuation with it.

All quotes in this article were crowdsourced via a custom survey of over 40 anonymous former Sky 1 porn watchers.

1. Discovery

From the late-1990s to the mid-2000s almost every New Zealand teenager was aware of the existence of Sky 1 porn. This knowledge was spread through a variety of different channels. For some, it was a fortuitous discovery amid the weekly TV listings.

“I was a big Skywatch reader, always panning the listings for gold. ‘Adult Programming (R)’ was the biggest nugget I ever found.”

“I remember peeping the ‘R18 S’ and thinking ‘hmmm’.”

“I would assess every TV show or Sky movie in the listings for prospects of nudity. These were a nice easy win.”

“I think I looked at the TV listings and noted titles like ‘The Erotic Adventures of the Three Musketeers’ and thought ‘I need to get in on this’.”

Others stumbled upon the erotic scenes by accident during late-night channel surfing sessions.

“Pretty sure it was by mistake, channel surfing during some kind of frustrated teenage party with not enough alcohol.”

“I was at a sleepover at my friend’s house – her parents were out of town – and got bored with whatever the others were doing. I started channel surfing and hit the jack(off)pot.”

“If you didn’t have Sky the channel would come through scrambled into snow, but the audio would be untouched. As the sound was the same as porno parodies I assumed, then had confirmed by word of mouth, that’s what was going on.”

Word of mouth – be it from schoolmates or older siblings – played a big part in spreading the gospel of Sky 1 porn.

“My mate who knew heaps about boners and nicknames for boners alerted me to it at a sleepover when I was 11 or so.”

“One of the rich kids at school had videotaped a few episodes of WCW Nitro and left the recorder going. They got passed around school.”

“I remember hearing my older sisters reference it as the butt of jokes: ‘That sicko must watch the porno on Sky 1 after midnight’ etc. I would laugh along but the seed was planted. There was porno on TV.”

Romance scene from Emmanuelle in Space (Source: YouTube)

2. Porno on TV

Sky 1 – then called Orange – was first broadcast into New Zealand living rooms in 1994. But even before then Sky had established a late-night pornographic element, inspired by US networks like HBO and Cinemax. In 1993 a Sky screening of Playboy Late Night was the subject of a furious Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint (not upheld):

“It contained several items, including a story about a former dancer who had had breast implants, a hidden camera feature of reaction to a prolonged passionate embrace, the career of a former Playboy centrefold as a potter, a ribald short story in a medieval setting, mud sculpting of nude women, topless driving, a mock advertisement and an item which featured a former Playboy centrefold and included a fantasy strip-dance sequence in a car workshop, a nude outdoor scene with other women and a provocative sequence in which the model undressed and assumed a variety of poses.” – Smits and Sky Network Television Services Ltd – 1994-062

Orange was renamed Sky 1 in 1998. This marked the beginning of the golden age of Sky 1 porn.

“Playboy Late Night was often disappointing. Emmanuelle always delivered, even though some of the episodes looked like they were 20 years old.”

Emmanuelle is by far the most well-remembered Sky 1 porn title. Throughout the 80s and 90s, French-American filmmaker Alain Siritzky produced over 80 TV and video sequels to the original 1974 French erotica classic.

“It was that tasteful porn where you only saw boobs and nothing much else.”

“Emmanuelle always left her underwear on.”

“Great cinematography.”

Later 90s iterations of Emmanuelle would include series like Emmanuelle Through Time, Emmanuelle In Space and Emmanuelle 2000. “Alain was always interested in science fiction and cutting-edge science fact,” prolific director Rolfe Kanefsky told Daily Grindhouse in 2015. “He had a dinner once with Dr Brian Green and talked about String Theory.”

“There were lots of Emmanuelles – often in space.”

“I liked Emmanuelle. Emmanuelle in Space I didn’t like.”

“Emanuelle 2000 is the only one I remember. Was always based in random time settings (future or past). Only white actresses zzzzzz.”

“The only title I remember is Emmanuelle Pie. I wondered why it was called that until last year, when I realised it was a play on the American Pie movies because it was loosely related to high school graduation.”

Other series associated with the golden age of Sky 1 porn include The Click and Butterscotch (both loosely based on comic books drawn by Italian artist Milo Manara), Justine and The Sex Files. These were all produced by the same man who produced the Emmanuelle movies: the godfather of Sky 1 soft porn, Alain Siritzky.

Alain Siritzky (1942-2014), the godfather of Sky 1 porn (Source: Getty Images)

“The remote control one [The Click] was an absolute favourite.”

“The Click was a favourite with the remote control as it had some of the cheesiest lines. I especially remember the James Bond knockoff [Secret Agent Rod Steele 0014].

“The invisible fella [Butterscotch].”

“The invisible guy was good stuff.”

“I don’t remember many specific titles, but the obvious favourite was the invisible man who had sex with women e.g. the nurse who was tending to his invisibility. I seem to remember a magic carpet also being involved somehow. When there would be a different show, where the men weren’t invisible and you occasionally saw their buttocks, it was confusing for me. How I wished to return to the simplicity of the invisible man.”

Most Sky 1 porn watchers’ memories are hazy when it comes to specific details, but for some, the images have been seared into their brains forever.

“There was opening credits of a woman walking the streets of New York, and then getting to her hotel room. A man was there waiting for her and after 20 seconds max of foreplay it cut to them in reverse cowgirl on the edge of the bed, the camera angle hiding her actual genitals. But that was plenty for my 13-year-old self. I did not have to watch the rest of the film.”

“It was a very 80s movie about a guy who was a masseuse and wanted to start his own masseuse business – there were a lot of very oily ladies getting happy endings. I was quite buzzed out by it because my mum is a massage therapist.”

“I don’t remember specific films except possibly one Egyptian-themed one where two people had sex on a stone bench. I think I remember that because my friend’s dad caught us watching it.”

Have you seen this man? (Source: YouTube)

3. Late Night Rituals

A profound fear of being caught in the act by a parent or caregiver was at the heart of the Sky 1 porn watching experience. While some were unabashed in their enjoyment of the blue movies, most viewers went to great lengths to avoid detection. These viewing rituals would often involve elaborately prepared excuses and contingency plans in case of emergency.

“The anxiety was way too much for me. I only ever watched it on mute and was still certain my parents would hear.”

Unless they were living the dream (Sky decoder in bedroom), most Sky 1 devotees would first need to devise an excuse for staying up so late.

“I’d say I was ‘watching sport’ and then strangely turn the volume down. Must’ve been the most obvious giveaway.”

“I would always stay up to watch the 9.30pm rugby game and casually start the change-over during the second half.”

“My brother and I used to use whatever obscure sport was on as our excuse for staying up. ‘Just really hanging out for this NHL preseason match mum, starts at 12.15am’.”

“Often I would stay up watching music channels or late movies to create a backstory. Or go to bed early with the TV volume turned down. Lie in bed listening to Rage Against the Machine on a Discman, then rise and silently return to the lounge.”

Once the hour crept past midnight, pretending to be asleep proved a common plan in case of emergency.

“The homeowner would be responsible for remote activity. Typically the plan would involve a channel change and turn off while the rest of the friends would feign sleep. Invariably the parent or sibling would know that we had been watching TV, but not exactly what. The old adage of ‘take a little hit for a big score’.”

“Lounge door closed, cushions blocking the bottom so parents can’t see the light from the TV. Watch while lying in bed; if someone walks in pretend to sleep straight away. If we get woken up, act tired and surprised and then say we all fell asleep watching wrestling which was on earlier on the same channel.”

Likewise, many contingencies involved an almost Jedi-like mastery of the Sky remote.

The most important button.

“I always made sure that the last channel I watched was Cartoon Network so I could press the return button. Much faster than pushing in an actual channel number. Also at the end of the night I’d click through heaps of cartoon, movie, and sport channels so that Sky 1 was lost in the maze of previous channels viewed.”

“I would go to a channel playing music videos before switching to Sky 1 so I could use the back button. Then every single time our Lockwood home creaked I would instantly smash that button and be back on the music channel.”

“I made sure to put in a lot of backstory work re: what was on at the same time (UK Super League followed by F1 practice session).”

“We always had the PS1 turned on so we could alt-tab back to it.”

Meanwhile, others took it to more advanced levels with the use of VCR technology.

“The ultimate trick was to tape WCW/WWF wrestling on a long play tape and then change the channel it was recording later that night. If you didn’t do this, congrats. You played yourself.”

“I would record it about an hour into an old VHS with TV recordings of The Crocodile Hunter. 59 minutes in would be all Steve Irwin. Then, one hour all Emmanuelle…”

“When I was about 19 and staying at my girlfriend’s place I snuck into the living room to record the one with Pam Anderson, only to find it was already set to record! Her dad, no doubt.”

Not everybody was this innovative or meticulous in their planning. Somehow, though, even the most laissez-faire Sky 1 porn watchers rarely seemed to get busted.

“We were shockingly loose with our security measures. It was basically a matter of listening for the sound of footsteps and changing the channel if necessary. We did get caught once as I mentioned, and my friend’s dad seemed very relaxed about the discovery, obviously recognising something of his younger self in us.”

“I was caught staying up ‘watching music channels’ by older siblings. They even joked that I was staying up to watch Sky 1. I pretended I’d lost track of time and aborted the mission. I also had a copy of American Pie on tape that I had paused at the good bit for easy access.”

“Horrified in hindsight by how openly I watched it, knowing there was about a 10% chance my dad would reappear at some point any given night. But the only place to watch it was in the lounge, so what could you do?”

Romance scene from The Click (Source: YouTube)

4. Together > Alone

These days most people see pornography as an activity to be undertaken alone or with a loved one. But watching Sky 1 porn was often a communal experience, a special treat to be indulged in at sleepovers or parties. Indeed, for those who didn’t have Sky in their own households, watching with a friend or as part of a group was the only way.

“I nearly always watched with a friend who had Sky on his downstairs TV. Because the TV was out of view, we could secretly stay up late so long as we didn’t make any sound. A lot of hours were spent silently watching the Sky 1 pornos.”

“I only ever watched it at sleepovers with friends where we all slept in the lounge taking turns with Crash Bandicoot or Jonah Lomu Rugby. The more confident among us had no social anxiety about suggesting Sky 1. But even when it was the shyest of us, the channel would still make its way to Sky 1 and we would all be complicit.”

“As a viewing experience, I definitely enjoyed it more at a friend’s house. The constant vigilance required to be in charge of remotes or the shame of being caught by your own parents was definitely a deterrent – although not a complete bonerkill.”

“A key part of watching as a group became spotting the flaccid penises. This was one of the hallmarks of Sky 1 soft porn – there was never any actual penetration, it was all just implied and simulated. Often the sloppy camerawork would reveal clearly unaroused penises flailing about the place.”

“First year in the halls in Dunedin it would pack out the TV room on the big screen.”

“At uni we all got drunk on cheap beer and watched a really long episode that involved the president of the US being hypnotised into having soft core sex. Halfway through someone ordered a boner check, but results were inconclusive.”

“I remember once making a joke about having an erection, which was met with grim silence by my friend. It’s still one of my most humiliating memories.”

It was feast or famine. For some, the opportunity to engage with Sky 1 porn only knocked once. For others, it never arrived.

“I really really really really really wanted to see more Sky 1 pornos. Sadly never got the chance at any future sleepovers.”

“My whole peer group was certain that the true image would come through the scattered UHF signal if you concentrated, like a Magic Eye poster.”

This is called VideoCrypt (Source: YouTube)

5. End of the Golden Weather

By 2003 broadband internet and personal laptops were becoming more commonplace, ushering in the modern age of internet pornography. This coincided with Sky 1 phasing out the classic Alain Siritzky-produced titles in favour of the ultra-softcore David Duchovny vehicle Red Shoe Diaries. It was the end of the golden era of Sky 1 porn.

“I wish I could remember more about the porn itself, but besides a rogue boob or two, nothing really comes to mind. It was definitely one of the most exciting things in my life, though, and probably a much nicer way to be introduced to on-screen sex than being plunged directly into the heart of a porn site at age 8 like most kids likely are today.”

The years 1998-2003 were the twilight before a new technological dawn. It was in this half-light that Sky 1 porn flourished. The idea of staying up all night just to catch a glimpse of soft focus nudity is now unthinkable, but for that brief period in time, it was a near-universal ritual, secretly and not-so-secretly enjoyed by countless New Zealand youths.

“Unless there was something I had to do, I would be watching TV. Mainly sport, drifting into comedy and softcore porn later at night.”

“It was way more exciting than it should have been – probably better than regular old internet porn due to the exclusivity and the thrill.”

“It was good porno.”

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