Part 6: Saucy Chaucer: The Canterbury Tails

Once they've left, though, Campden reverts to its carefully preserved beauty.

In the late afternoon, the high street seems to glow in the setting sun, and if you try hard enough, you can just about imagine what the medieval market town must have looked like centuries ago.

Failing that, you can always rent an X-rated video.

The tourist office doesn't like to brag about it (I can't imagine why), but Campden served as a film location for an adult version of The Canterbury Tales, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1971.

The choice of Campden was a neat coincidence. The oldest house on the high street was built by William Grevel, a wool merchant roughly the same age as Geoffrey Chaucer. Indeed, the two men probably knew each other from their dealings in London.

Both were important players in the wool trade (albeit on opposite sides of the law), with Chaucer the customs official in charge of Wools, Skins and Hides, while Grevel was a wheeler-dealer and moneylender to Richard II, a factor that no doubt helped him win a pardon "for all unjust and excessive weighings and purchases of wool".

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer satirised Grevel's type as the archetypal Merchant, a spiv who brags about profits even though he's secretly in debt.

How times change…

Nearly six centuries later, Pasolini axed all of Chaucer's religious stories to focus on the bawdy ones in what is best described as Saucy Chaucer: The Canterbury Tails, a tacky spaghetti-sex flick featuring a mostly English cast dubbed in Italian.

In other words, you can read the actors' lips (along with the subtitles), but what you hear is Italian.

"Pasolini wasn't too bothered about the acting," a bit player recalled. "When one actor forgot his lines, he was told to just count to ten and it would be dubbed into Italian later."

The X-rated film's "stars", such as they were, included Oscar-winner Hugh Griffith (best supporting actor in Ben-Hur) and Charlie Chaplin's daughter, Josephine, in "The Merchant's Tale" episode; sex farce stalwart Robin Askwith as a hooligan who urinates on a crowd before being killed (something that never happened in the Confessions series, unfortunately); Tom Baker and his, um, sonic screwdriver three years before he took over as Dr. Who; and finally, Pasolini as Chaucer, four years before his murder at the hands of a rent-boy.

At the risk of making it sound more interesting than it actually is, the movie features bare bottoms and bodily functions galore; full male and female nudity; assorted straight, gay and three-in-a-bed sex; adultery and prostitution; fellatio, sodomy, masturbation, voyeurism, flagellation and torture; as well as surreal shots of a friar in bed with a watermelon and some chickens, horned demons buggering humans in Hell, and close-up shots of Satan's anus as he defecates sinful monks in a bout of friar-rhoea.

The whole shebang ends with a fart and a hymn.

For the scenes in Campden, the crew transformed it into a medieval market town, complete with dirt and straw covering the high street, serfs and geese gambolling around, and an apothecary selling his potions in the market hall.

Hay bales acted as fig leaves for the indecencies of 20th century development.

Even so, eagle-eyed viewers claim you can spot rogue TV antennas in Campden's high street.

What with all the naked flesh on display during the rest of the film, though, these nitpickers were clearly missing the bigger picture.

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©J.R. Daeschner

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