HIM 64, December 1983

There can be no doubt that homosexuality played a part in the life of Dennis Nilsen and in the deaths of his victims. [Note: Dennis Nilsen was a notorious serial killer who murdered at least 12 young gay men between 1978 and 1983 in London].

But, my, oh my, what a squalid picture the papers painted of gay lie in London following Nilsen’s trial.

Those without knowledge of the gay scene would be alarmed and sickened by the images created in the press. The media would have us believe the scene consisted entirely of innocent young boys from the provinces being preyed on by evil men in the capital. “There are middle-aged homosexual sharks, who know that to homeless young lads, seduction might seem a small price to pay for a few nights in a warm bed,” wrote Jeremy Sandford in THE DAILY MAIL.

Nobody is trying to pretend that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. Nilsen has illustrated that it does. But it goes on much less than they imply and the consequences are rarely so horrendous.

And anyway, whose fault is it if there are so many vulnerable young people walking the streets of London with no home, no money and few prospects?

No indication was given in the media that there is another gay scene — vibrant, lively and perfectly innocent — existing in London. The picture that emerged was relentlessly sordid.

And then there was the constant harping on the fact that Nilsen was homosexual/bisexual/ transvestite/necrophiliac (depending on which paper you read). The repeated connection made between homosexuality and dangerous madness (“The homosexual mass-killer” —DAILY EXPRESS; “Gay lovers macabre tale” —SUN) was alarming, if predictable.

As in the Brighton-PIE case, when it was assumed that all gay men are child-molesters, the Nilsen incident implied we were all potential mass killers or pathetic, inadequate drifters inhabiting, a squalid world of “seedy pubs” and doss-houses.

Perhaps the worst example of sensationalism at our expense was in The Daily Star: “Wearing heavy make-up, skirts and high heels, he would prowl the notorious Soho gay bars and clubs,” it leered. Then it went on to make a tenuous connection between Nilsen and David Martin. [Note: David Martin was a notorious criminal who reputedly carried out burglaries dressed in women’s clothes.]

According to The Daily Star Nilsen was ‘in love’ with Martin, even though they met only momentarily whilst on remand and then under the scrutiny of jailers. (“They were never alone, they met under the watchful eyes of prison officers.”) However, the paper manages to suggest that somehow the two men had a sexual relationship.

The ‘posh’ papers resisted the appeal of easy thrills and concentrated mainly on the contradictory psychiatric evidence.

Only the communist Morning Star turned the tables and repeatedly referred to “ex-probationary policeman Nilsen”.

Maybe it would be nearer the truth to suggest that Nilsen’s time in the army and police force did more to prepare him for his callous murders than did his gayness.

Homosexuality is not the culprit in this depressing case any more than heterosexuality was for The Yorkshire Ripper. But did you ever see Peter Sutcliffe referred to as the heterosexual serial killer? No, neither did I.


The usual way for the posh Sunday papers to review gay books is with an irritating tone of world-weary patronisation. How refreshing, therefore, to read Paul Bailey’s crit of ‘Mae West is Dead’ in The Observer.

Not only does he give the book a studied and comprehensive analysis, he also tells us why he is qualified to do so: “Thirty years ago, when I was coming to terms with the fact that I was ‘one of those’ nobody … talked openly about homosexuality.”

Nice one, Paul, I’ll even go out and buy the book.

I will not, however, be bothering with ‘Three Literary Friendships’ reviewed in The Sunday Times. Here the know-it-all-seen-it-all attitude re-surfaces, and as if to reassure us how sophisticated he is, critic Peter Ackroyd wallows in all the negative aspects of the friendships. This is particularly true of the section on the love affair between the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud. Ackroyd says of them: “If their destiny was the gutter that was because the gutter was the place they felt most at ease.”

Makes you want to puke, doesn’t it?


The deaths of two gay actors last month got much media coverage.

The inquest on Peter Arne, murdered by one of his casual pickups, ensured that the lurid details of his private life were dragged up. Poor Peter did not make a dignified final exit, and the papers ensured that everyone knew about it.

Peter Dudley (Bert Tilsley from Coronation Street), on the other hand, was accorded a fond farewell. THE SUN carried several photographs of the funeral, including one of a grief-stricken young man described as ‘a friend’ being comforted by Cheryl Murray (Suzy Birchal in The Street). THE SUN managed to mention Peter’s cottaging conviction only once, which for them must have been quite an effort.


D.B. LINE of Ashford, Kent wrote a letter to The Police Review attacking the idea of gay men as police officers: “May the service be ‘merry’ but not ‘gay’ and remain a service that can be respected by all walks of life. Gone, perhaps, is the Dock Green image of Jack Warner, but please don’t taint our image further.”

I don’t think the police need gay men to taint their image, D.B. Line, they are making a pretty good job of it themselves.


More and more medical staff are refusing to handle the bodies of AIDS victims in case they get “the gay plague” (as several newspapers continue to call it).

The latest horror is the refusal of a pathologist, Professor Keith Simpson, to carry out a post-mortem on Stewart Thompson-Neill who died at Whipps Cross, Hospital, London.

In its coverage of the story, The Daily Mails says starkly, “AIDS is a disease carried by homosexuals.”

If the hysteria persists (and how can it do otherwise when fuelled by such emotive press coverage), how long will it be before AIDS victims are turned away from hospitals altogether?

It’s time for a bit of calm discussion in the media about what is actually known about AIDS. Or is calling for a bit of restraint from our press just asking for too much?

GAY TIMES 95, August 1986

We have another wonderful parade of prejudice, spite and bigotry this month from the pages of our delightful press. So, take a deep breath everyone, get the sick bags to the ready and we begin with that dear but troubled soul, Auberon Waugh. Writing in THE SPECTATOR on the subject of Martina Navratilova, lesbianism and ugly women (one and the same thing according to the egg-headed Bron) he says he has no trouble in explaining why the crowd don’t like Martina. “Perhaps she would have been able to grasp the reason if she had been able to see herself play as himself. He then goes on about lesbianism and mentions an article which appeared in THE TIMES defending attempts at challenging heterosexism in schools, written by Rosalind Stott. “Poor woman,” says Waugh, “one wonders how she came into the world and how she was reared.”

One could ask the same of Auberon Waugh, of course, and justifiably say that whatever mode of family produced an abomination such as he should be stamped out immediately.


Mary Kenny (not ugly at all—not on the outside anyway) does her bit most weeks in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH to reinforce the association in the popular mind between socialism and homosexuality. She tells how she overheard a “group of mums” talking about a deputy head who they perceived to be gay – “a raver: a nancy-boy” said one mum. “Caddie Fan” said a Welsh lady, this being apparently the expression used in Wales to describe an effeminate man.” Ms Kenny tells us that this man taught his pupils to sing the songs of Noel Coward and eschewed the little boys “rough ways and gang games.” She concludes that “Bernie Grant … the black radical who proposes that children should be taught about homosexuality from an early age” will be disappointed that gays won’t always deliver the socialist message he would desire.

In fact, Mary Kenny’s article read like the crudest, most insulting kind of propaganda. She produces no evidence to support her rather convenient anecdote and, for those who have primed themselves to see, it is an obvious attempt to reinforce the idea that socialism and have somehow combined in an unholy alliance to undermine everything that is precious to cosy “groups of mums”, as though they were the only people in the world.

Mrs Thatcher’s personal P.R. couldn’t have done a better job.


First the good news: ghastly old duffer “Sir” John Junor has retired as editor of the obscene SUNDAY EXPRESS. The bad news is that he will continue to write that hate-filled column of his each week. His gratuitous abuse aimed not only at our community but at individuals within it, is familiar to us all and will, no doubt, continue. However, you have to credit him with a spark of originality in his own bigotry for he has many admirers and imitators. One of them popped up in THE WORTHING GUARDIAN using the pseudonym Hawkeye. “Some newspapers have got themselves into a fine lather,” says Hawkeye, “because a disco run by Richard Branson is selling a “sex drug” to heighten sensation. But what bothers me is that the press has not seen fit to comment on the fact that this disco is for homosexuals. It is a pick-up joint where the promiscuous meet each other for unspeakable purposes. But so used have we become to accepting perversion that it doesn’t even rate a comment—even when Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Mr Clean’ is profiting from it.”

This ignores the fact that the paper that broke the “story” in the first place, the MIRROR, made great play of the fact that Heaven is a gay disco. But anyway, Hawkeye was a little late with his tirade as J J had written almost precisely the same thing the previous week but substituting the word “poofter” for homosexual. And hadn’t J J also written of his hatred for Martina Navratilova because she “wears Y-fronts instead of frilly knickers and aftershave instead of perfume”? And hadn’t he also written about Cecil (“sexually as straight as a corkscrew”) Beaton’s portrait of Mick Jagger’s bottom, saying that “no-one but a poofter would want to have it in his drawing room.”?


The OBSERVER tells us that Junor is to offer his services to the Conservative Party to tell them “how to get the message over effectively”. I would think he means his “continuing services”—his whole journalistic career has been spent in the service of the Tories, and it is openly acknowledged that his knighthood was bestowed by Mrs T. for services in this respect. Oh aren’t you just thrilled that we have such a free and impartial press in Britain?


This year’s Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival might well have been wet but the spirits of those who attended weren’t dampened. Coverage in the papers was not entirely absent this year, but it was sparse and very mixed.

The communist MORNING STAR reported the festival sympathetically: “The 8,000 strong Lesbian and Gay Pride parade made its cheerful way noisily from Hyde Park to Kennington Park, their banners telling the story of the width of the gay community.” They also carried a preview of the event explaining the Gay’s the Word triumph. [Note: Gay’s the Word bookshop was taken to court by HM Customs and Excise, charged with importing indecent material. The Court threw the case out and HM Customs dropped the charges after a large-scale campaign of protest.]

But in the mainstream press it was the usual menu of abuse or indifference. With one exception, and you can put this down as a red-letter day. Yes, a national daily newspaper actually said something sympathetic about gays. TODAY carried an opinion piece by Sarah Gibbings headed “Gays deserve better than this.” Ms Gibbings wrote: “They came from all over Britain to show that they refuse to be victims or to be seen as public health threats, and to assert their right to belong to the human race. Most important of all they marched to remind all of us that an appalling disease has been unwittingly brought into our society and to encourage all of us to find a cure.” It. would be carping to tell Ms Gibbings that we weren’t really marching to ask for a place “in the human race” but to tell those bigots who are trying to ostracise us that they ought to try being human themselves, I’m sure they’d find a novel experience.

But we mustn’t get the idea that TODAY is suddenly going to show the other papers a new humanity, for in the very next issue we read: “What is appalling is that classified advertisements in some newspapers and magazines carry ads for new gay partners. As this kind of promiscuous homosexual activity is reported to be largely responsible for the spread of this scourge, surely a ban should be placed on them.”

The LONDON STANDARD gave us their good wishes during Pride Week with a story headlined: “Festival of shame by London gays.” This referred to Hackney council’s contribution to the festivities. The paper’s usual technique of finding the single dissenting voice and giving it major prominence was used. The honours this time go to Councillor Joe Lobenstein, Tory opposition leader in Hackney: “This is the most shameful exercise the council has organised for years,” he ranted. “To highlight the lives of people who live an unnatural and sinful life is to my mind the greatest shame that this borough can embark upon.”

The DAILY MAIL was more than pleased to carry the story the following day, and so was the EXPRESS, embroidering it a little with an earth-shattering revelation that not only was money being given to gays to educate themselves about Aids but that it was ‘proposed’ to give gays priority in the housing queue. It was a proposal that was not part of council policy and never likely to be, but it provided THE EXPRESS with the headline they’d been looking for: “A gay way to jump the housing queue—give them extra points.”

Finally, THE SUN didn’t mention the British Pride march but it managed a paragraph on the American one, telling its (no doubt very amused) readers that the parade was led by a group called “Dykes on Bikes.” Little do they realise that the joke is on them.


Paul Johnson, writing in THE SPECTATOR, wheeled out that corny old point about homosexuals ‘stealing’ the word “gay” and corrupting it. He calls it “a monstrous piece of verbal larceny”. He says that “nothing has done more to turn people against homosexuals than this impudent hijack, and in their own interests they ought to switch to another. Some people, I hear, now call themselves ‘Gaids’, but this is obviously offensive. My solution … is simply to reverse the terms and call them ‘yags’. But what say readers?”

Well, this reader says that Paul Johnson seems to be stuck in some kind of time-warp dated about 1953. I don’t want to think of a new word to describe my sexuality thank you, but I can think of a new word for Paul Johnson. Unfortunately, the libel laws do not allow me to tell you what it is.


The whole of the front page of The Star was taken up by a headline reading “Gay lovers on Royal Yacht—shock as Fergie and Andrew plan honeymoon.” This gave a new twist to those interminable stories about the dreary Royal wedding. It also hounded a man out of his job, but that’s the unfortunate price that gays have to pay in order to provide copy for those great loyalists in Fleet Street. “Navy set to boot out gay Britannia sailor” crooned The Sun, picking the story up when it had reached a satisfactorily tragic conclusion for them.

This is a classic example of pure malice and irresponsibility of the tabloid press when it comes to gay issues. For not only have they managed to ruin this man’s career they have also managed to reinforce the idea that gays should automatically be victimised when they are ‘found out’ by crummy journalists.