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Playboy: The Centrefolds That Changed The World | Preview (Channel 5)

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, became one of the icons of 20th Century pop culture.

When he published the first Playboy magazine in 1953 he acquired photographs of a nude Marilyn Monroe without her permission, thereby establishing the business model for an empire built on women providing – to use the magazine’s tagline – ‘Entertainment for Men’.

Hefner, though, revealed himself to be a visionary, riding the wave of 60s permissiveness to turn Playboy into a global brand. The magazine depicted what Hefner believed to be an aspirational lifestyle for men, its pages filled with nude models (‘Playmates’, as he called them) alongside long articles by America’s most celebrated writers.

He opened a string of nightclub casinos and dressed the waitresses and croupiers as Bunny Girls, creating the most potent commercial image of the sexual revolution. The clubs were highly profitable, particularly the one on London’s Park Lane which was frequented by the biggest celebrities of the day.

Playboy and its bunny logo became synonymous with glamour, sophistication and sexual liberation, and Hefner himself was a superstar - the feted mogul whose legendary parties at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles attracted many on Hollywood’s A List.

Hefner died in 2017, and had arranged to be buried alongside Marilyn Monroe whose image had kickstarted his empire. Since his death, a darker take on what really went on in Hefner’s Playboy has emerged. Much of the glitz was a mirage, the hedonism at the Mansion funded by profits from the London club which dwindled away when its gaming licence was lost.

This film explores how Hefner’s excesses spiralled out of control as the years passed, and how – over time – he came to be regarded by many in his orbit as a sinister, monstrous character. There were revelations of drug use, coercion, abuse and sexual assault in his empire, most of all at the Playboy Mansion itself.

The film features first-person testimony from those that were there at the time, including women who appeared in the magazine as Playmates, and former employees from Hefner’s clubs and the Mansion, who talk in detail about life inside Hugh Hefner’s Playboy.

Airs Monday 8th January on Channel 5.

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