The Godfather of Bondage: John Willie

by Erica Niven about a month ago in vintage

"It's time you were taught a lesson"

The Godfather of Bondage: John Willie

"'Bizarre.' The magazine for pleasant optimists who frown on convention. The magazine of fashions and fantasies fantastic! 'Bizarre' is for those who have the courage of their own convictions." John Alexander Scott Coutts, AKA. John Willie

If you have even the smallest interest in bondage, you'll recognize John Willie's photographs and cartoons, even if you don't know the creator's name. His images have seared their way into BDSM's consciousness, and Willie's legacy - like that of his contemporary, Irving Klaw - is monumental.

Although his flag-ship publication, 'Bizarre' was - in his own life-time - largely distributed underground, its influence still resonates today. You can rarely watch any modern bondage-themed video, or look at any BDSM-related photograph, and not see his fingerprints.

If we are still looking at, and being thrilled by pictures of stocking-clad women being gagged and bound by other women (also normally stocking-clad), it's in very large part due to the template Willie himself originated.

Willie's life-story is an interesting one.

John Alexander Scott Coutts was born in 1902 to British parents living in Singapore. One year later, they returned to England where Coutts proceeded to have a distinctly middle-class upbringing. So middle-class that he eventually trod the same path so many other relatively-affluent, and intelligent young men took: The British Army.

After graduating from the world-renown Royal Military College, at Sandhurst, Coutts was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Scots. However, his time in the army was short-lived, and he was forced to resign his commission when he wed a night-club hostess without the permission of his commanding officer. Him and his wife then migrated to Australia.

However much like his time in the Royal Scots, there was no happy ending, and the couple soon divorced.

But, whilst in Australia, Coutts became a member of a local High Heel Club. It's unclear whether or not his fondness for fetishism was already in place, but the club certainly fostered it. Coutts started to produce his own illustrations and photography, which he distributed to the other members of the High Heel Club.

A second wife soon followed. For a short time, she became his muse, and even modeled for him...

... but - again - there was no fairy-tale ending; in 1945, he moved to North America to establish a company that produced exotic footwear: His wife remained in Brisbane.

It was whilst Coutts was temporarily stranded in Canada, due to an immigration snafu, that he (now using his pen-name of John Willie), started the magazine 'Bizarre.'

It was to be one part of his enduring legacy.

The magazine was a mixture of photographs, illustrations, and letters from readers. Bondage was evident on every page. Despite the content of the magazine, and despite many of his contemporaries - such as Klaw - being charged with obscenity, Willie avoided such issues by staying clear of "nudity, homosexuality, overt violence." Although the powers-that-be often tried to cease circulation, Willie successfully managed to out-maneuver them.

'Bizarre' ran - intermittently - for 13 years, before, in 1959, Willie sold it. After only six more editions following his departure, the magazine folded for good.

Willie was by now living in Hollywood, but, in 1961, he developed a brain tumor. He last meaningful act in exile was to destroy his archives, before, finally, returning home to England, where - peacefully - he died in his sleep in 1962.

However, despite destroying his archives, 'Bizarre' has lived on.

Yes - a lot of that is because it's never less than fun to watch two scantily-dressed woman bind, and gag, each other.

But it's also because of the element of earthiness, of realism.

A lot of this is due to relatively-primitive equipment Willie used. 'Bizarre' first appeared in 1945, a life-time before PhotoShop, and DSLR cameras that can adjust to any lighting limitations. Although obviously staged, the lack of 'polish' adds an touch of realism; the photographs look as if they've taken by a talented amateur, not churned out by a faceless producer of smut in a high-end photographic studio.

The events they depict could be happening next door - near us, close to us... it could even be us in them.

This is only accentuated by the models Willie used. Once more, there's an element of realism - although attractive, his 'actresses' were not pneumatic, enhanced professionals. They 'look' like real women. They could be people we know.

They could be us.

It may all be fantasy, but it's a fantasy we can easily imagine being part of.

But, there was another element to Willie's legacy: Sweet Gwendoline.

She first appeared in 'Wink' magazine in 1947. And she's another reason why Willie's work lives on.

Gwendoline is a nave, blonde, damsel in distress, who finds herself tied up over and over again. It's typical damsel-in-distress stuff; she stumbles across some sort of nefarious scheme, and is then captured by the villains...

... one of whom will always be a glamorous, sadistic woman.

She's invariably then rescued by U69, a dark-haired dominatrix. Who, more than often than not, ties Gwendoline up again, though - this time - for benevolent reasons.

It's pure escapist, fantasy - we know Gwendoline is always going to be rescued, but the brief peril makes it exciting. There's no real risk - Gwendoline is never going to be harmed, but, for a very short time, she is - gloriously - trapped in bondage.

And, reading it, we wished we could be the same.

It's this mix that makes Willie's legacy so enduring. It's the everyday, earthiness of the photographs, and the sheer fantasy of the comic strips. Few people have captured the contrasting worlds of bondage so clearly, and so thrillingly.

And, for as long as any of us get a kick out of either being bound and gagged, or watching others being deliciously caught in bondage, the spirit of Willie will hover over all of it.

He may have destroyed his own archives, but his work will live on for as long as humans are tying each up in the pursuit of sexual enjoyment.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you've liked what you've read, please check out my other stories on Vocal.

If you've really, really liked what you've read, a small tip would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

vintage
Erica Niven
Erica Niven
Read next: Titty Tote Time
Erica Niven

If you like what you read, please share with your friends or on your social media.

If you really, really liked what you read, then a small tip would be very appreciated.

Thank you

See all posts by Erica Niven