About this Archive
Martin Cole was born on 4 October 1931 in London, the son of a Bank of England official. He attended Enfield Grammar School, 1943-1950, and later the University of Southampton where he was awarded first class honors in botany in 1953 and a PhD in genetics in 1956. After graduating, he worked for the government of the Republic of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) until 1959 improving the yield of the caster oil plant. He then lectured in genetics at Ibadan University, Nigeria before returning to the UK in 1961. There, Cole secured a position as lecturer in Genetics and Reproductive Biology at Aston University, Birmingham.
Cole's career as a sexual rights campaigner began in the mid-sixties. Shortly after arriving in Birmingham he joined the Abortion Law Reform Association and was active at both national and local level, chairing the Birmingham group in 1962. After the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, Cole worked continuously to make the law a reality for women in the UK. In the early 1970s he told a newspaper reporter how he had been shocked by the 'intransigence and arrogance of Birmingham gynecologists and their reluctance to perform NHS abortions".
In reaction to this Cole, with the help of Professor Francois Lafitte and Tony Brierley, established a referral agency, the Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service (later the British Pregnancy Advisory Service). The Service had humble beginnings in 1968, operating from Cole’s living room and referring patients to London for operations. It was clear that to adequately provide safe, legal abortions Cole would need to circumnavigate the NHS for the time being and establish a licensed clinic in Birmingham. This aim was achieved in December 1969 when the Calthorpe Nursing Home in Edgbaston (originally a care home for the elderly), was converted into a private abortion clinic, employing surgeons and staff directly.
As well as his support for legal abortion, Cole place a huge amount of importance on the availability of contraception and the use of comprehensive sex education. Cole stated at the Calthorpe Conference, 2007 that “it is only by the wider use of contraception can the number of abortions be reduced. I cannot believe that abstinence is a realistic alternative… it is the hearts and minds of young people which need to be targeted so that they understand that unprotected sex means babies”. Cole battled concerted opposition to co-found the Birmingham Brook Advisory Clinic (for Family Planning) in 1964. Its remit was to equip women with the information they needed to prevent a pregnancy, and it was the first service of its kind outside London. In 1969 he established and took the Directorship of the Institute for Sex Education and Research. From the clinic in his home in Moseley, Cole worked as a sex and marital therapist dealing primarily with sexual dysfunction. He pioneer a form of treatment where ‘sex surrogates’ were used to help male and female patients overcome psychological and physical barriers to sexual intercourse.
Despite his other achievements, Cole was perhaps most famous for his work in the field of sex education. In 1969 he wrote and directed the controversial film ‘Growing Up’. Released in 1971, the film was the first of its kind to depict real couples engaged in sexual intercourse and masturbation. Outrage in the press followed. An article in the Daily Mirror (13 January 1971) described it as "the most explicit and frank film ever made for use in schools". High profile figures such as Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford spoke out against the film. The tabloid press dubbed Cole, ‘Sex King Cole’ and continued to write vivid accounts of his work. Favored stories were those about the use of female sex surrogates to treat erectile dysfunction at the Institute for Sex Education and Research. Also in 1971 ‘The Fundamentals of Sex’, co-authored with Dr P Cauthery, was published and again caused controversy. In an article called "Dr Cole's Sex Book Shocker" (1 June 1971), the Daily Mirror complained about the use of naked models in the book.
Scope and content
- Papers of the Institute of Sex Education and Research, Calthorpe Nursing Home, Abortion Law Reform Association, and Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service and Brook Advisory Service.
- Correspondence with organisations, colleagues, patients, sex surrogates, and those opposed to Cole's work.
- Press cuttings regarding sex in society, sex research and related topics.
- Papers regarding sex education including the 1971 film 'Growing Up', the publication 'Fundamentals of Sex' and other works.
- Photographs, slides, negatives, VHS and film reels.
43 boxes, 2 oversized items, 6 film reels.