GAY TIMES January 1989

Terry Sanderson’s new autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

After three months travelling the world, I was not looking forward to returning to a daily diet of Britain’s dismal tabloid press. But what do I find? At last the scumbags are getting their come-uppance. They’re being hit where it hurts — right in the bank balance. The pay-outs in libel and damage claims have escalated right up to a record £1 million for Elton John, who also received a grovelling front-page apology from The Sun (12 Dec).

“We are sorry that we were lied to by a teenager living in a fantasy world” was their pathetic excuse for the malicious and prolonged campaign of vilification they conducted against Elton in 1987.

Elton joins a long list of other people, as diverse as Koo Stark, The Queen, Michael Cashman and Richard Harris who have had substantial pay-outs recently. But this list of aggrieved individuals has one thing in common —they could all afford to take the huge financial risk of court action against the lie merchants. And, as was pointed out in The Sunday Times (27 Nov), the current spate of tabloid-bashing is probably just a reflection of “the desire of the average jury to teach newspapers a lesson”. It follows that the libel laws are not the ordinary person’s antidote to newspaper poison.

It is unfair that only the rich and famous can strike back at these loathsome liars, there should be a statutory right to privacy or right of reply available to anyone who feels victimised. And, indeed, another attempt to introduce such legislation is to be made by Labour MP Tony Worthington.

The climate of opinion in this country has definitely turned against arrogant tabloid newspapers. A law to protect innocent people from their rampages is inevitable, although it might still be a couple of years away.

While I was making my way around the globe a new baby, The Post, was born to Eddie Shah — and a sickly child it is, too. Promoting itself as something different in the tabloid market — a pop paper without sleaze — it should be welcome. What the advertising failed to tell us was that the paper had nothing else of interest to fill the space vacated by the absent tits and scandal mongering.

The pre-publication razzmatazz promised that the paper’s editorial line would be independent and its opinions would not be forced down our throats. And yet within days the “NEW voice of Britain” was sounding —as far as gays are concerned — exactly like the old. They used letters from accredited nutcase Denis Nilsen to reveal “The sordid details of undercover homosexual lifestyle inside Britain’s top security prisons” (21 Nov). Then came “Lesbian shocker for BBC” (24 Nov) followed by “£18,000 Gay video storm” (2nd Dec) which could have come from any of the other scuzzy papers (“A storm of protest erupted yesterday over a left-wing council’s plan to recruit gays as foster parents.”)

The Tories were given the lion’s share of the space, of course: “Sick and perverted … Ideas like this undermine the principle of the family unit. Children could be put at risk. They could catch Aids and all sorts of things.” Oh, please!

Rumours abound that The Post is already in serious difficulties. One can only hope that they are true.

Gay public figures who have come out of the closet voluntarily rather than waiting to be dragged out, have a definite advantage. This month there have been several examples in the press of celebrity gays comporting themselves with dignity while at the same time being truthful about their sexuality. In all cases their careers are flourishing.

Ian McKellen leads the field. Having just opened in a new West End play to rave reviews, many of the papers were anxious to interview him. In all the interviews I saw, Ian ensured that everyone knew that gay rights had now assumed a large importance in his life. In The Guardian (22 Nov) he told Lynda Martin that his decision to come out could be compared to something “absolutely fundamental like changing your nationality … I feel wonderfully at peace with myself and energised”. He also said: “I think there was a time when I agreed with my acting colleagues who still won’t say they are gay that somehow my career would be damaged. I was blind and selfish and uncaring about other people’s position. The sort of people I am thinking about are all those lesbian and gay teachers whose jobs would be on the line if they let it be known they had a friend of the same sex, I am thinking about people in the Church who have to lie about their sexuality, I am thinking of anyone in a small community away from the metropolitan area…”

The Independent (29 Nov) told us that Britain’s only out MP, Chris Smith, had taken a career leap by being elected chairman of the Tribune Group of MPs.

In The Sunday Times Magazine (27 Nov) Miriam Margolyes was describing her frantically busy work schedule and, incidentally, told us about “Heather, with whom I have a close relationship and share a house in Italy.”

Julian Clary, aka The Joan Collins Fan Club, was given a four-page profile in The Mail on Sunday magazine (27 Nov). He said that his gayness didn’t give him problems, but his relationships often do. One of the reasons for wanting to be a “personality” in mainstream entertainment (he is about to be co-host on a TV quiz show) was so that he would then have some influence to “speak out about political things like Clause 28.”

Another up-front gay person making it big is Harvey Fierstein, author of Torch Song Trilogy, which has just been made into a film. Interviewed in The Independent (28 Nov) he explained why he had decided to go ahead with a gay project that didn’t mention Aids at a time when the two have become inseparable in the public mind. “I think the media have won an incredible battle against gay people at the moment, and it is important for us to see something about ourselves that is not disease-ridden.”

All these gay men and women have refused to bow to “the siege mentality” as Sheila Johnston called it in The Independent. They have decided to move forward and not retreat. They are an example to all of us.

An interesting insight into the workings of “sleaze newspapers” was provided by Terry Lovell, an ex-People reporter writing in The Observer magazine (13 Nov). Mr Lovell had become a practising Christian and couldn’t reconcile his religion with a career which cast him in the role of Pontius Pilate, crucifying people left, right and centre. “More and more I read (The People’s) stories with a sense of disgust and anger at its brutal treatment of people’s lives, the damage to society of its negative values and attitudes … It started with a series of investigations, all successful: the naming of Harvey Proctor for his rent-boy-beating activities, a high society drugs exposé, and the gay vicars scandal which The People tactically broke on the Sunday prior to the commencement of last year’s General Synod.”

Mr Lovell eventually could take no more and sacrificed his £32,000 a year salary for his conscience. But not to worry, there are plenty of others prepared to do the job. Like Graham Parker, who produced a double dose of turgid gay-orientated melodrama in the News of the World magazine (11th Dec). “I’m still branded a twisted gay blackmailer” was the leading story, about the present life of Norman Scott, who was involved in the Jeremy Thorpe scandal ten years ago. A few pages further on we are treated to “My Love for Gay Prison Officer Saved My Life” about the experiences of a lesbian woman in Holloway prison. Both stories were basically sympathetic to their subjects, but both portrayed the gay people involved as either pathetic inadequates, rampaging sex-abusers or sinister “vice queens”. Where the apparently insatiable appetite for all this depressing low-life comes from mystifies me. Perhaps it is the newspapers themselves that have created it.

I’ve been taken to task for being beastly to Boy George. I still think he shoots from the mouth occasionally, but the revelation in The People (4 Dec) that he has been beaten up and had his life threatened because of his record ‘No Clause 28’ made me angry. We’ve all got our faults, but if push comes to shove, I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with George.

Cliff Richard, who has been celebrating thirty years in show business, still refutes any suggestion that his live-in relationship with Bill Latham is anything but a purely business arrangement (Observer 4 Dec). I can understand his frustration that nobody seems to believe him. I expect these dratted journalists will just go on repeating the question until he gives them a different answer.

The scum who run The People and The News of the World were at it again on 4th and 11th December, with a spate of anti-gay stories. They make model examples of why a right-to-reply law is needed. Two of them were based on revenge —“kiss and tell” being the paper’s own twee expression for the sickening practice of paying rent boys and others to take revenge on clients and lovers.

The People encouraged a young man called Mark Tyler to rat about an affair he had had with former Sea Lord Admiral Sir Derek Empson. Sir Derek had treated Tyler with great kindness —despite a wife, children and reputation to think of. After his wife found out about the gay liaison, Sir Derek told Mark Tyler that the affair would have to end. Tyler’s response was to run to The People and do the dirty. Over three pages every detail of the affair was catalogued. In one of the photographs Tyler is shown confronting the Admiral in the street (for the benefit of People photographers). A truly disgusting image it makes, too.

I can’t imagine a more wretched way to end a love affair than to feed your ex-lover to the hyenas of Fleet Street. Not only has he done a disservice to the man he claims to have once loved, Mark Tyler has also given The People another opportunity to vilify the whole gay community. He should hang his head in shame.

Not to be outdone on the same day, “Royal hatmaker” David Shilling was given ‘the treatment’ by The News of the World who had received a story from Eric Jenkins, a hotel porter, who claimed Shilling had “lured him” into gay sex at a hotel. The whole episode is related in sordid detail by The NoW, including the position in which the supposed sex act took place. The only criticism I have of David Shilling is that —if the story is true — the sex he had wasn’t safe. Now that really is a crime.

Presumably the two squealers were paid by these “newspapers” for the juicy details. And two otherwise innocent men have been pilloried and probably ruined for the sake of a fit of pique and a few lousy quid.

It isn’t clear how The People found out about ”Rugged yachting tycoon David May, father of Prince Edward’s steady girlfriend Georgia”, but find out they did: “He and his gay lover, 18 years his junior, have set up home at a luxury London Dockland flat. Their saucy goings-on will rock the Palace and cast a shadow over any Royal marriage plans.”

Over three whole pages the “amazing double life” routine was trotted out again. Even though both men are quite open about the affair, (“Everyone here knows about Nick and David. We just treat them like a normal couple” says an unscandalised neighbour). The People carried on as though the two had committed some heinous crime instead of simply falling in love.

This whole spectacle of destroying innocent individuals as entertainment for a howling mob resembles the Roman arenas of old. It stinks, but it’s The News of the World and The People that produce the vilest smell.

National Aids Day was greeted, in the main, by yawns from the press. This is probably an accurate reflection of the public’s indifferent response to the disease.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph (4 Dec), Auberon Waugh even managed to turn World Aids Day into a platform for his pro-drinking and pro-smoking arguments. He wrote: “It looks to me as though the Aids industry is seriously worried. The pandemic has not materialised.” And commenting on the British Medical Association’s claim that “alcohol consumption, which ‘loosened sexual inhibitions’ would be responsible for speeding up the spread of Aids,” he said: “We must all wait until next year for the ‘experts’ to announce a possible link with smoking.”

One of the ‘experts’ Mr Waugh was alluding to might be Richard Ingrams — well-known for his rational opinions on homosexuality — who wrote in The Observer about the Government’s press adverts: “If the aim was to combat Aids, they might just as well have poured the money down the drain. There ought to be one major priority in the anti-Aids campaign, namely: identify carriers of the HIV virus both for their own benefit and the benefit of those with whom they might come into close physical contact.”

The information about who has the virus might also be useful to other people, whose motives; for wanting to know are less benign that Mr Ingrams’. But this is a point he seems to have overlooked.

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