Mark quickly established a connection with influential fetish magazine Skin Two, and when Torture Garden launched in 1990, he became its first official photographer, going on to document every TG event for many years to follow, writes TONY MITCHELL.
But fetish was only one of a multitude of topics to which he applied his high-functioning nerurodivergent mind over the ensuing decades. To provide an exhaustive list of them here would be nigh on impossible.
He was fascinated — in fact obsessed — with any kind of technology that was just over the horizon or allegedly ancient but lost to modern knowledge, and launched his own magazine, Black Ice, to explore such topics.
Mark authored or was interviewed for many mainstream articles and participated in numerous TV programmes. After appearing in 2012 documentary film The Truth Is Out There, he was engaged to co-present its two sequels with Dean Haglun from The X-Files.
Since Mark appeared to many people to be the living embodiment of X-Files character Fox Mulder, this seemed an entirely appropriate role for him to win.
Sadly, about five years ago his health began to decline and he suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes. He also developed chronic kidney disease, for which he began to receive dialysis.
However, he remained extremely active on social media, posting on Facebook numerous times every day even when in hospital — where he was often at loggerheads with staff over the correct treatment for his ailments.
His Facebook posts also revealed growing susceptibility to some of the wilder conspiracy theories circulating on social media during the Trump era.
Perhaps his failing body was simply forcing his famously hyperactive mind to become over-reliant on unfiltered input from the internet.
Most of the personal tributes to Mark Bennett featured in these pages are by people who met him through London’s fetish scene.
Those people include Torture Garden’s MD Charlotte TG; erstwhile Skin Two team-members Michelle Olley and Francesca Malan; and cybersex pioneer Trudy Barber, Mark’s collaborator on a 1993 VR suit project that demonstrated one potentially exciting application of new tech in fetish culture.
There are contributions from key members of Mark’s ‘English family’ in Brighton: Jules Foreman, his bestie for 25-plus years and a fellow ‘aspie’; and counter-culture writer/ ’90s coffee-drinking buddy Jack Sargeant.
A Canadian pal of Mark’s, John Jordan, has contributed his poem — first published in the Mark Bennett Memorial Group on Facebook — Some Sort Of Spy From The Future, which has provided the title for this article.
Sammm Agnew is one of several old pals echoing Jordan’s ‘spy from the future’ idea. And two different visual angles on one of Mark’s favourite fascinations are provided by Ray Leaning and Jonathan Swain.
All of these contributors knew Mark as an adult — but what of Mark’s earlier life in and around Montreal? For this, we are indebted to his sister, Robin Arenburg, who collected her own memories and those of other family members in Canada into the loving origin story that launches our tributes below.
For anyone who first encountered Mark Bennett as a grown-up, this story of his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood provides fascinating insights into the development of the unique character he became in later life.
THE YEAR WAS 1965; a cool fall day: September 6. A sweet baby boy was born and surrendered by his birth mother to the foster care system in Montreal, Quebec.
Six months later, he was adopted by Neil and Sally Bennett, who would become his new parents, foster his love of photography, expose him to the world and its many offerings, and help him to develop a keen sense of independence.
D’Arcy Mark Bennett (1965-2021) was known to all simply as Mark Bennett. And what follows is a loving tribute from Mark’s surviving family in Canada: his mother Sally, me (his sister Robin) and his nephew’s family.
Our sincere hope is this testimonial to Mark will ignite insight into the brilliant human being he became — someone who would be admired by the ‘fringe’ of life and beyond.
As a little tyke, Mark was never outwardly affectionate. However, he craved affection and praise from those around him. As a baby, Mark did not like to be cuddled — always happiest perched on Mom or Dad’s lap listening to them talk.
Even at such an early age he was like a sponge, taking in everything around him. As he grew older, he was not impressed by frivolous conversation and even less by being the centre of attention at his birthday parties.
His friends would come to celebrate his childhood birthdays, but when it came time to sing happy birthday and bring in the cake (always homemade and crafted into a popular character) he would cover his ears with his hands and scowl at anyone who sang.
At times, you might even see a tear on his cheek. Such reactions were later interpreted as some of the earliest indications of his neurodivergent personality.
Mark’s adoptive parents were high school teachers: Neil, who taught chemistry, physics and maths, and Sally, two years younger, a home economics teacher. They were viewed by their peers as the romance of the century.
Known to Mark’s friends as his ‘hippy parents’, they were ahead of their time when it came to environmental matters, and his friends all thought they were pretty cool!
For years they had tried unsuccessfully to have children of their own, so they felt blessed the day the phone call came to say there was a baby boy waiting for them to take home and raise as their own.
Living in a second-floor walkup apartment in Laval Quebec (within Montreal), they busied themselves in disbelief and pure excitement, readying a nursery that would house the boy they called their gift.
They referred to him thereafter as ‘the chosen one’. They never kept the manner of Mark’s arrival a secret, instilling in him that he was chosen, and telling him he was adopted even before he understood what it meant.
In the fall of 1967, two years after his own birth, another phone call came that meant Mark was going to be joined by a sister. This little girl, also surrendered by her birth parents, was me — Robin.
Within months, Neil and Sally made the decision to move their family from the city to a small village called Hudson Heights off the West Island of Montreal.
The day came when the moving truck arrived and Mark, now aged three, his little sister and our grey toy poodle Bally, were packed into the family’s Buick station wagon.
The family moved an hour away to what would become our suburban childhood home: a traditional family house on the Lake of Two Mountains, where our new lives would begin.
Hudson Heights was a small but progressive town. Populated by French Catholics and English Protestants at the time, it featured little diversity compared with what Mark would later grow accustomed to.
Throughout his childhood years, our family would spend summers at the local yacht club and golf course, and there was always a two-week camping trip in and around the Maritimes of Canada and the United States.
During the winter, you could find Mark curling or skating at the rink; or at the YMCA, camera in hand, documenting events on film or video.
He would go cross-country skiing with the family through the Whitlock trails, and even went tobogganing down the four tier hills at the golf course.
One of Mark’s favourite winter activities was building massive snow forts — complete with connecting tunnels and secret entrances — using the mountains of snow in the library parking lot located behind the house.
He and his friends would spend hours digging and building, and holding secret meetings where they talked about the wonders of the universe.
Our mother would even pack them picnics, giving them carpet remnants to provide seating in these forts, and emergency candles to light their way through the snow tunnels.
In the summer months, he and his friends would build rafts down at the lake. One summer, he met the wrath of Poison Oak and spent several days following smothered in calamine lotion.
He would go fishing with his friends, but Mom says he always used a safety pin instead of a hook, as he didn’t want to hurt the fish. Mark had such a soft spot for animals.
In fact, during one of his more recent visits to Canada, we spotted a raccoon on the side of the road that had been hit by a car. Mark told me to stop because he saw its wee babies alone beside the road.
They had lost their mom, and so Mark rigged up a box and picked up all the babies so they wouldn’t be in further danger. He was so sweet and caring for these little ones who were abandoned and cuddled and cared for them as if they were his own.
After many phone calls and research, we ended up taking them to a shelter that saw to it they were sent off to a wildlife veterinarian where they would be taken care of.
One day in kindergarten, Mark and his classmates were each given a picture of a pumpkin. They were told to colour the pumpkin orange with a green stem, and to stay within the lines.
Late that afternoon, his teacher called home, complaining that Mark had gone against her directions, colouring the pumpkin green, using purple for the stem, and even colouring outside the lines.
It wasn’t a surprise when our mother Sally, a tiny woman with a mighty personality, announced that he could express himself with whatever colour he wanted.
To keep him inside a box by dictating what colour something should be would, she asserted, surely impact his ability to be creative and express himself in the manner he chose.
She stood up for Mark, stating that his intention was not to be disrespectful to the teacher, but that he was most certainly a bright and intelligent child who could make those decisions for himself. The teacher never called again.
In those early years, parents and teachers suspected Mark had some type of speech impediment, and for a couple of years, he would have regular meetings with a speech pathologist.
Later in life, Mark would be diagnosed with high functioning autism. The absence of an earlier diagnosis was due to the lack of understanding or even knowledge of neurodivergence at that time.
Following the adoption of Mark and myself, Sally had given up her job teaching and started a home-based business weaving with local sheep’s wool that she dyed using wild plants and lichens.
Having a mother with a teaching degree with a major in textiles, it is not surprising that Mark soaked up the world of talent, creativity and art that surrounded him.
She would take us to local farms where she bought the wool straight off the sheep. We would go picking marigolds and lichens and various plants that, when boiled, would create brilliant colours for the wool she would use to weave her fashions.
Three or four times a year, she and her business partner would pack up the station wagon and head off to renowned craft shows, where they sold their creations and met a variety of craftspeople and artists.
Many of these would become lifelong family friends and spark Mark’s interest in the arts.
For example, one artist who had an impact on Mark’s life, a close friend of our parents, had designed the Kraft Peanut Butter bears. There were jewellers, painters, sculptors, birch bark biters, glass blowers and so many more.
Long before the LGBTQ community was openly accepted, our parents welcomed, without judging, those with different lifestyles.
During any holiday, you could find Jacques and Drink, a gay couple, sharing dinner at our dining room table. We referred to them as our Honorary Uncles.
We grew up in a home where, at the forefront, was not religion but the fostering of an environment where race, creed, religion and sexual preference were personal choices not to be judged, with all people from all walks of life considered equal.
Not surprising that Mark developed his own love of people and saw everyone for what and who they were, always without judgment.READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 4