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 96, September 1986

I suppose we have to accept that during the silly season newspapers will fill their pages with drivel is even more puerile than usual and journalists obviously imagine that the gay community is an easy source for such material. Yes, it’s been another gay old month in the press (and a lesbian old month, too, come to that).

Acres of space were given over to the “lesbian jealousy” court case, ensuring that the words “gay” and “lesbian” appeared repeatedly in a negative context day after day.

The other hot story was the old sex education chestnut—will homosexuality be included in the sex education lessons and if so should parents be able to absent their children from such classes? The Sun brought the two articles neatly together in a sly front-page headline (August 15th) LESBIAN TEACHER HORROR. Just take those three words and conjure with them. Put them together with some of the Ealing Recorder (July 18th) and you have a nasty little case of I-told-you-so.

But we mustn’t run away with the idea that The Sun is anti-gay. Oh no. Didn’t they also carry another front-page splash (August 13th) announcing EASTBENDERS—a reference to the fact that the BBC soap opera EastEnders is to introduce gay characters. Leaving the headline aside, the report was neutral and the editorial comment was “Oh well, that’s life,” —and in the same issue was a report about “Two gay youths who kissed passionately for six seconds in a busy street” and were arrested for it. The Sun helpfully ended their story with a quote from a lawyer who wrote: “It is not an offence for homosexuals to kiss in the street, but any such act could lead to a breach of the peace and even insulting behaviour if it offends passers-by.”


The Sunday Times(August 3rd) revealed that a new virus has been identified “currently named the Delta Agent …which attacks those already infected with hepatitis B causing severe and usually fatal liver damage.” Although this isn’t a major hazard yet, there is already a “reservoir” of the virus waiting to spread in the same alarming way as Aids. Gay men are particularly vulnerable.

So,what far-sighted action is our wonderful Government taking? Well, according to The Guardian (July 31st) “Hospital doctors are being told they must not vaccinate gay men against the incurable liver disease hepatitis B because the NHS can’t afford it.” The Guardian says that as many as half the male homosexual population of Britain has been infected with hepatitis B. It isn’t clear where such a figure came from, but according to Professor Michael Adler, it means that a “£4 million immunisation programme might save £20 million in the cost of treating victims.” That would seem like a sensible course of action—but you have to bear in mind that we are governed by people who allow their prejudices to overcome their common sense.


Still on a medical theme, there was an interesting item in a magazine called GP (July 25th) which is delivered free to all Britain’s family doctors. Written by an anonymous contributor “Week in Surgery” told how “a young man of 32 … came to see me complaining he felt unwell. Except for a few cervical glands on the right of his neck, I could find nothing else amiss.” However, further tests revealed that the man had Aids. “He has been living with his regular boyfriend for 15 years, but admits to having had two or three affairs over the past five years. Three friends of his have died of Aids recently. Apparently both he and his regular boyfriend were screened for HTLV-3 earlier this year and were both negative.”

When this young man came back to hear the result, the doctor had a trainee with him. The trainee rebuked the young man for not revealing that he was in a “high risk category” and had “put several people at risk from a health and safety point of view.” The doctor wrote: “I will obviously have to increase my levels of suspicion when seeing young, single, male patients … I was brought up in the ethos that the sexual activities or deviations of patients was their own concern but this no longer holds true.”

Gay Times reader Paul Bailey, himself a doctor, wrote to the editor of GP saying that he found the “confrontation which took place with the sick man most distasteful, and shows a surprising lack of insight; given that three of the patients’ friends had recently died of Aids, it is quite understandable that the patient himself, consciously or unconsciously, should avoid contemplating that he might suffer similarly. To say ‘he knew jolly well what could be going on’ is crass and insulting …”

Crass and insulting, indeed. For it seems that the medical profession needs to be educated not only in the recognition and diagnosis of Aids and related conditions, but also in the sensitivity with which the people affected need to be handled. The Mail on Sunday (August 17th) reported that “innocent” victims of Aids (mainly haemophiliacs) are going to sue local health authorities for millions of pounds. Apparently, they aren’t just worried about having the disease but also about the “social consequences of being tainted by the so-called ‘gay plague’.” Leaving aside the grossly offensive idea that some people are “innocent” victims of Aids whilst other are, somehow, culpable, we’ll concentrate on the other issue. Surely the wrong people are being sued in this case, because if there are “social consequences” and “taints” then they have been created almost entirely by newspapers like The Sun, The Star and The News of the World. If the lawyers who represent the unfortunate “innocents” want to sue on grounds of “taint” then it is the callous Fleet Street hacks who have made money out of tragedy and suffering who should be in the dock.


We have two new columnists to welcome to the ranks of those already spreading the word. The first is a familiar face who we thought (hoped?) had faded into obscurity when he retired from editorship of Private Eye. Yes, it’s your friend and mine Richard Ingrams. His first effort for The Sunday Telegraph(August 17th) re-iterated a point made by Mary Whitehouse earlier. He says that presentation on television of homosexuality as normal is increasing the spread of Aids. “To put it crudely,” he writes, “many are dead and will die thanks to the modern permissive approach to homosexuality that they (BBC & Channel 4) have helped to promote.”

Mr Ingrams fails to tell us in this piece of propaganda just how much he, personally, hates homosexuals. He has said many times in the past that homosexuality makes him feel sick, so why should we imagine that anything he writes about it is motivated by logic or reason or concern? His real motivation is a strange sickness over which he obviously has no control—it is called homophobia. Mr Ingrams is the one who should fear for his health—his neuroses are showing.

Then, in The Sun, we have a new writer called Dave Banks, who looks like something they’ve just dragged off the football terraces and writes accordingly. “When I was a kid we worried about The Bomb and Red Menace. Forget it. The new apocalyptic nightmare is drugs and the Aids epidemic which are sweeping our decadent society like twin Biblical scourges.” And on and on. When are they going to employ a columnist that has something fresh and, perhaps, a bit less obvious to say?

Another “one of the boys” is Joe Ashton MP, who writes in The Starwith all the phoney working-class bonhomie of a practised politician. In his column (August 11th) he was ranting about how seeing gays outside Heaven nightclub made him feel uncomfortable and how “too much of a gay thing is asking for ridicule.” “No wonder there was such a big fuss about the Royal Wedding,” he says, “I was beginning to think that they were the only people in London under 30 who weren’t kinky. Which is not true. But it is true that the old 1967 joke ‘no need to worry it will not be compulsory’ which was cracked when parliament stopped it being illegal, is beginning not to look so daft.”

And so he goes on, saying how he “has nothing against” etc. etc. and then heaping ridicule upon us. Mr Ashton is a classic example of a white, heterosexual male who is frightened out of his wits at the merest whiff of a challenge to his assumed superiority. He is petrified at the prospect of having to concede ground to those he has been brought up to despise, and so he gets ridiculously aggressive.

I think what we have here is a case of pinch the pig and hear it squeal.


THE August 10th issue of The Sunday People was almost completely devoted to gay issues. Such a restrained and balanced approach, too: “SOCIETY GAY AND DRUG PROBE” was the front-page headline, relating to the death of Vikki de Lambray. This ran over to page 4. Later on, ‘Straight talking’ John Smith regaled us with “Too tough on this sad victim of a dirty old man”—which said that an 18-year old youth who had slashed the face of a 74-year old man because he had “tried to interfere” with the “tipsy teenager” had been unjustly sentenced to eight months youth custody. Mr Smith would have us believe that the youth ‘accidentally’ found himself naked in bed with the older man before the incident happened. I’m not interested in the whys and wherefores of this case, but Mr Smith comes out firmly on the side of the knife-wielder who, if we’re to believe the columnist, was totally innocent and only recently departed from his mother’s knee. “Fred is behind bars while a perverted old poofter … is free to chat up any unsuspecting youngster who catches his lustful eye.”

So, what does Mr Smith advocate—free pardons, perhaps, for those who lead gays on and then, when it comes to the crunch, turn violent? With the increasing acceptance in courts of the “homosexual panic” plea such a concept seems to be well on the way.

But if we don’t like what Mr Smith is saying, we can always turn the page and read the latest from the “lesbian love triangle” case. If that doesn’t suit you, then you can read insinuations that bean-spilling royal valet Stephen Barry (already ‘exposed’ as gay in a previous issue) has Aids. There are horrendous before and after pictures for good measure.

On page 29 we have Larry Grayson telling us about “The Moment I Decided Not to Marry”. Apparently, it was because he had promised his dying father that he would look after his sister. Phew! For a moment I thought he was going to say it was because he was gay, but seemingly he isn’t.

And neither is Hilda Ogden. Actress Jean Alexander told Woman’s Own that she was still a virgin at the age of 60 and this was picked up by most of the tabloids who repeated her words of wisdom. The Mirror (August 11th) reported Jean as saying, “I like men—I’m not funny or anything like that.” She maintains that sex is not dirty but just ‘overrated.’ And I’m not the first one to ask: how on earth would she know?

Whilst we’re on the subject of who isn’t gay, we turn to The Sun (August 15th). “I am not a lesbian says Beryl Reid.” But who suggested she was? Well, nobody except The Sun. So, what was the point of the story? You might as well ask: what’s the point of The Sun.