Mike Esser, A Tribute
There are few in the industry that genuinely deserve to the word “pioneer” being used it describe them, but if anyone fits the bill, then it’s Mike Esser, who sadly died last week from complications arising from pancreatic cancer.
Esser had worked at major and indie alike, on marketing, production and had also forged close links with retailers. He’d led the field in the gay video sector, developing product across the board, taking in sex education and more straightforward adult titles and managing to both work with and fall foul of the BBFC. Here, with a statement from Revelation Films, where he was a founding director, and more personal reminiscences from Revelation’s Tony Carne and former head of video at Virgin Megastores Mark Oakley, a leading light in London’s LGBT community, we pay tribute to Mike Esser and his work…
It’s is with deep sadness that Revelation Films announce the death of Mike Esser from complications arising from pancreatic cancer.
Mike was a founding partner in the group of companies and although not directly involved for a number of years he had remained a good friend.
His contribution to the industry was significant, helping to broaden the boundaries of video as a pure publishing medium worldwide and pushing back the more repressive elements of the video recording s act here in the UK.
Mike faced his illness with characteristic courage and wit, our thoughts and prayers are with his partner Michael and family at this time.
Statement, Revelation Films
Mike took over my role when I left CBS/Fox although we didn’t know each other at the time, eventually meeting at Richard Larcombe’s wedding a couple of years later.
Once Mike had left Fox in 1990, he brought me a project called “London Knights” which was a male stripper troupe to compete against the Chippendales who were selling well on video at the time.
Despite a few hiccups, not least of all been thrown out of the first filming venue, it was a great success and led to a sex educdation tape to take advantage of the success of the Lovers Guide. Called Essential Guide To Better Sex, Mike acquired footage from the Sinclair Institute, a US company which specialised in sex ed and edited it together for the UK market. This was released in 1991 and again proved a great success, the initial order from WH Smiths was 10,000 units.
While editing EGBS at AVS in Acton, the concept for Gay Man’s Guide to Safer Sex was born and Mike, with true enthusiasm for the subject matter, put together a script and production team and with considerable help from James Ferman at the BBFC plus backing of the Terrence Higgins Trust GMG hit the streets in May 1992. Initially only available mail order, Virgin was the first retailer to back it and was quickly followed by most of the others, with the notable exception of Woolworths.
A true ground breaking title it won praise from the unlikeliest of corners (The Sun and News Of The World) and the phrase “erotic lifesaver” penned by the ceo of THT Nick Partridge was repeated across the media. It went on to be distributed across the world and contributed both educationally and financially to the fight against HIV.
Ironically, shortly after filming Mike himself was diagnosed HIV+ and this led to his retirement from the business in 1995 due to his deteriorating health. Miraculously and due to the relationships he had built up when he filmed GMG, he was one of the first trialists for the triple drug treatment which turned his health around and saw him once again embracing life to the fullest.
He emigrated to Australia in November 2001 after a brief trial run a year or so earlier and started his own film business supplying various distributors around the world including Playboy TV in the UK. Having had success for many years he moved back to the UK with his Australian partner Micheal and married in 2010.
He continued to do what he enjoyed most right up until he lost his fight with cancer. Many years before I’d nicknamed him Lazarus and secretly thought he would do it again, sadly it wasn’t to be the case.
We were not two people you would have put together and I could love him and hate him in the same moment but he was unique and I will truly miss him.
Tony Carne, Revelation Films
I have known Mike Esser since he almost lost his marketing director job in 1989 at Twentieth Century Fox following one of our more infamous video industry trade events on a visit to Paris. Needless to say, we missed our planes and we all then went missing, but had the funniest time… Mike was also one of THE most important directors of gay interest productions, pioneering the challenge to get product out there that people really wanted. I will remember him fondly and with respect as one of our LGBT Community Pioneers and an all-round funny, lovely chap. Rest in peace Mike.
Mark Oakley, formerly at Virgin Megastores, now at The Eagle, Vauxhall.
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