A short history of British Gay media

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Help Gay Activist: We would like to list all the gay publications that have appeared in the UK. Please help us by telling us about the ones that are missing from the list. Were you involved in setting up or running a gay publication? We would be pleased to hear from you. If you have a copy of an historic gay newspaper or magazine, could you help us by scanning it and sending us a file? We would like to make .pdf files of some of the old publications available.

You can get in touch with Gay Activist easily, by just leaving a comment, and we will get back to you.

A vibrant and sustainable press and other media helps gay, lesbian and bisexual people to find out about themselves, meet others, take part in activities, form friendships and contacts, and live a fuller life. The lack of such press and media has the opposite effect.

Before law reform in 1967, it was difficult to publish openly gay magazines and news. There were some publications, but they were poorly distributed, and often were not available to many of the community. Most gay people only found out about an event of interest when it was reported in their local evening paper, or they saw an advertisement, which might have used code words to indicate to knowing gay readers that the event was a gay one.

As there was no gay media, gay men and lesbians had to communicate through straight media, which meant that communications were in “codes” that only other gay men and lesbians would recognise.

Gay people trying to find other gay people or trying to find out more about their sexuality had a particularly difficult time. There was no “gay” section on the shelves of the local library, although the adventurous library user might explore the Dewey card index system and discover a heading for “homosexuality” and a small number of books which were usually indicated with an “R” (for Restricted to over-21s). Some gay men had jobs as librarians and would slip a few titles into the library system. Naughty, naughty! There were no “gay” bookshops (although there were some scruffy inner city bookshops who were discreet). (If you did hear of an interesting gay book you could ask the library to order it for you and often it would arrive.)

There were however some occasional documentaries on television, particularly those presented by Dan Farson or on BBC2, which explored issues of homosexuality, which provided gay men and lesbians with some basic information, if they were able to watch them; that might not always have been possible in a one-television household in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

A degree of subtle subversion was in wide use. There being no ‘gay guide’, news of gay pubs and meeting places was spread by word of mouth. You found gay venues by stumbling on them, or by following your gaydar, or reading the local press of police raids on bars, and so on. There was also an unwritten rule that you might find gay bars near or associated with hospitals and theatres.

BBC radio was subverted. Gay parties were advertised as “Ruby wedding parties” on Housewive’s Choice, for instance, usually with the record “I enjoy being a girl” by Doris Day being the requested record. The use of a male and female name by gay couples of the time assisted the deception. “Bill and Doris are celebrating their Ruby Wedding in Grimsby Road, Dagenham on Saturday”. (Whether the BBC was aware that their programme had been hijacked for such purposes is not known.) The gay scene was there but ignored, and you usually had to stumble on it by accident to find it.

Local newspapers were also subverted. The Letters to the Editor page was often used to spread information and reach people who may be isolated. The playwright Joe Orton used a pseudonym, “Edna Wellthorpe (Mrs)”, to publicise his plays but also to spread information (and misinformation!) and generate debate over gay issues. Since Orton died, over the years a number of letters have appeared from the redoubtable Mrs Wellthorpe in many local newspapers. Sometimes the editorial staff are aware of the significance of the name Edna Wellthorpe but often they are not.

The term “media” includes events where people gather. Gay men and lesbians would often gather for special events, where they might make new contacts, exchange addresses and phone numbers, and socialise. The Judy Garland tour of the UK in the early 1960s was a typical example of an event which was widely supported by the gay community although not advertised as a gay event. Most of the people who went to see Judy perform, were gay, and used the event for networking as well as enjoyment.

There were a limited number of gay organisations in the 1950s to the mid 1960s but they tended to be fairly respectable and quiet organisations, hoping to keep out of the papers and persuade politicians to reform the law over a game of golf or a gin and tonic.

In the early 1960s the development of home tape recording generated a number of “tapesponding clubs” and once gay men discovered that (a) you could buy a tape recorder for about £20 and (b) for five bob join a club and get “contact lists” of other members, these clubs became a reliable, safe and private way to get to know friends in different parts of the country. One particular club’s contact lists heavily featured “single men”. The operator of the club was well aware that many of its members were gay men.

In the mid 1960s the hippy generation espoused radical politics and radical art, and the hippy newspaper “International Times” became the first publication in the UK to openly print gay contact advertisements, as well as regular features of interest to gay men and lesbians. Ink and Oz also published gay material. The International times was prosecuted for their innovation; in 1972 the Law Lords found them guilty of ‘conspiracy to corrupt public morals’ for publishing gay contact advertisements. Now, most local and regional newspapers include such advertisements.

Then in Autumn 1967 homosexuality between men over 21 in private was legalised, and it became possible to have openly gay media.

At the same time, more radical gay groups such as the Gay Liberation Front – often with the support of some religious groups – began to form and campaign, but especially, form organisations and services for the gay community. Out of that radicalism and from the experience of the GLF and CHE came the first national Gay Newspaper, Gay News. Gay News also carried personal advertisements, illegally, for some time.

Although nominally service organisations, local gay switchboards and other groups and organisations could also be regarded as media because they imparted information about the gay scene and gay life to callers and clients.

The Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) organised itself into local groups, usually in areas with developed gay communities. The local groups started their own newsletters which were usually mailed out to members, or handed out at events. These local CHE group newsletters became the gay community’s first local press. Then the national CHE organised a national newsletter called Out.

Some of the local CHE group convenors found themselves locked into long and protracted negotiations with local councillors trying to get their local public library to stock Gay News.

You would not find them in W H Smiths, but local independent book shops and especially bookshops in university towns, which had been stocking radical publications, started stocking Gay News and other gay magazines which were being launched – Him, Bona, Jeremy and others. Gay publications occasionally found their way into record shop chains. In London many street magazine stands had a few copies of Him tucked away.

Political activist groups and collectives started producing their own newsletters, such as Gay Noise, and lesbian publications also started to emerge.

Regional publications started to appear, such as Scotsgay, All Points North, and Gay East Midlands, which supported other publications such as The Pink Paper and Capital Gay. Many of these were available on subscription as well as being given away free in gay pubs and other venues such as gay cafés and the growing number of ‘gay centres’. Largely supported by advertising, and often small circulation, they provided a local or regional news service, gay guide, events listing and contact advertisements.

The Gay News newspaper folded and mutated by merging with Him to become Gay Times, a glossy magazine. Your Activist often found it difficult to reach up to the top shelf, though, so on one occasion asked two Policemen who happened to be in the shop if they would kindly reach it for him. They did – with broad smiles.

Larger media companies started to investigate the gay and lesbian market, hoping to cash in on the ‘pink pound’ and started to launch glossy magazines for gay men and lesbians. These stylish productions were more froth than radicalism but they did seem acceptable to newsagent chains and supermarkets. The market was not big enough to support more than one or two of them and most folded fairly quickly.

Producing magazines and newsletters on paper costs money and the producers of early gay news media had very little. They were reliant on the generosity of printing houses, trade unions, community centres and kind individuals who often produced the print matter for a reduced charge or even “forgot to send the bill” on a regular basis. The gay community owe a debt to these kind individuals, companies and organisations who so kindly supported our media.

Since the introduction of the internet, all has changed in the print world. Many titles are finding sustainability a challenge in the face of declining advertising revenue and declining printed copy sales. This has hit gay publications as hard as straight publications and many gay magazines have now folded. Gay news websites have not found it easy to sustain themselves. GayStarNews and PinkNews are currently available free on the internet. The internet also enables you to visit the sites of local, regional and national gay media in other countries, where they are available, and through the work of bloggers in different countries, to inform yourself and communicate on an international basis. Gay Activist receives visits from people in more than 90 countries.

Please help Gay Activist add further titles and information to this list.

gaynews

Gay News | 14321

Probably one of the best known historical UK gay titles, Gay News was formed by Denis Lemon, Martin Corbett, David Seligman, a founder member of the London Gay Switchboard collective, Ian Dunn of the Scottish Minorities Group, Glenys Parry (national chair of CHE), Suki J. Pitcher, and Doug Pollard, in June 1972. It achieved a fortnightly circulation of 19,000 copies. The paper appeared in court a number of times over personal advertisements, photographs which were claimed to be pornographic, and over a poem which was ruled as blasphemous. Gay News appears in the Who film of “Tommy”. Gay News Ltd ceased trading on 15 April 1983.

Out

Out was started by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1979. It was distributed to members and supporters and was included in the membership fee. The publication ceased. CHE now publish a quarterly newsletter for members.

scotsgayjohnneed

Scotsgay | 14322

Scotsgay was founded in December 1994 by John Hein as a bi-monthly magazine for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community in Scotland. It is still being published.

Diva

Diva was launched in 1994, is a leading lesbian magazine, and is still being published.

Attitude

The first issue of attitude appeared in May 1994. A separate Thai edition has been published since March 2011. The ownership of the magazine has changed over the years. The magazine is still being published.

Gay East Midlands | 14323

Gay East Midlands or GEM was published during the 1980s and was founded by Colin Clews. It is no longer published.

AXM

AXM was originally called Axiom and first appeared in 1996. It was initially a free giveaway magazine. The magazine is still published online but is no longer available in print.

bona1975

Bona | 14324

Bona magazine was a soft porn magazine published in the 1970s. There is a current South African magazine under the same name.

Bent

Bent started life as All Points North (APN) and was first published in the 1980s. It is a free monthly magazine handed out at hundreds of gay bars and other gay premises.

Boyz

Boyz magazine is a free newspaper which was launched in the 1980s. It is still being published.

followup

Follow-Up | 14325

A 1970s gay magazine. No details known.

himruckus

Him | 14326

Him (Him Exclusive) was a gay magazine founded in the early 1970s. It was merged with Gay News to form Gay Times magazine, which is still being published. There is also another magazine with the same name currently being published in Hong Kong, which is not connected.

Jeremy

Jeremy was founded in 1967 by Peter Marriot and his partner Victor Wilson just after law reform and was the first openly gay British magazine to be founded. It sold itself as “the magazine for modern young men”. In an early issue was a landmark interview with David Bowie. Jeremy was regarded as somewhat old fashioned by publications such as Gay News who followed it, and were more left wing. Jeremy folded in 1972. Peter Burton was an early editor and contributor to the magazine. One of the reasons the magazine folded was financial: gay men ordering items from the magazine would send cash rather than cheques (in the early 1970s Britain was still a largely cash economy) and it is thought that money received had been taken from the till. It is no longer published.

Jeffrey

Jeffrey was a reincarnation of Jeremy in 1972 and lasted for a short while. It is no longer published.

Upstart

Upstart was a magazine published in Belfast during the 1980s. It was founded by Seán McGouran.

Gay Star

Gay Star was published by the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, which was formed in 1975. Some issues do not go away over time: one of NIGRA’s current campaigns is “Access to Material In Libraries for the Gay Community”.

The Gay Journal

The Gay Journal was founded in 1978. It is no longer published. It was a more “learned” magazine with the emphasis on essay writing.

Gay Noise

Gay Noise was established in 1980 in South London as a radical gay fortnightly newspaper. The Radical Fairies were involved in the creation of the paper. A paid-for title, it was not economically viable and ceased publication the same year.

The Pink Paper

The Pink Paper was founded in 1987 as a newspaper, it switched to internet-only publication in June 2009 before finally closing in September 2012.

Outrage header

Outrage | 14327

Outrage was launched in 1983 published every other month. The title is no longer published.

Gay Scotland

Gay Scotland was launched in 1982 by the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (which became Outright Scotland). It is believed to be dormant.

Out

This incarnation of Out was a free sheet launched in 1984. The title is no longer published.

London area

Capital Gay.

Capital Gay was founded by Michael Mason and Graham McKerrow in June 1981. It was a weekly publication and was handed out free of charge. During the controversy over Section 28 in December 1987, the paper’s offices were targeted in an arson attack. The paper is thought to have been the first to feature the term “HIV”. Its last edition appeared on June 30, 1995. The circulation reached 20,000.

Other resources:

Gay in the 80s – Demise of Gay News

Gay in the 80s – Capital Gay

Time Out

Gay Activist would like to thank Colin and Seán for their help in writing this article. We note that vintage gay magazines are sometimes traded on EBay.

This page was updated on 3 August 2014 to add additional titles; and to delete code referencing photographs which are no longer available. The page was updated on 5 August with additional photographs.

Page updated 5 August 2014

Picture credits:

The first issue of Gay East Midlands: Colin/Gay in the 80s | Outrage: Collection of Colin Clews | Scotsgay: John Need | Him Exclusive: Ruckus | Follow Up: A Gender Difference | Remainder: Public domain


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4 thoughts on “A short history of British Gay media

  1. I’m so glad you’ve put up Gay Noise – a great pity it didn’t run and run… But it had ‘national’ pretensions – it was certainly on sale in Belfast’s ‘alternative’ bookshop Just Books. (I based upstart on it. upstart, despite the name, was never really as Bolshie as Gay Noise. (Well, we couldn’t take the same glib attitude to Paisley, for example, he wasn’t the one getting in the way of getting the ’67 Act extended to NornIrl. That was… well… the whole effin’ Brit Establishment…

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  2. I loved the part about Ruby wedding anniversary parties! Although not gay there were quite a lot of gay personal adverts put in the 1950s/60s magazine Films and Filming, and many of the photos in that magazine were homoerotic. And I recall in the 1980s that Record Mirror was also a popular place to respond to gay personals.

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