THE LOG BOOKS
Bonus LIVE Episode 1
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
AS: Welcome to the Finsbury library in Islington, in London. The borough that has housed Switchboard since volunteers began taking phone calls in 1974. I’m Adam Smith - one of the hosts and producers of the Log Books. Tash and Shivani and I am bringing you this bonus episode recorded live on February 5th in the library, here in Islington. So, you can hear some noises outside of us I think there is a church nearby that is going to bing bong in a little bit. We’ve funded that with £200,000.
It's taking place during LGBT history month. We are at an event organised also with Islington’s Pride. Seán is going to tell you a little bit about Islington’s Pride in a minute and we wanted to share this event with our subscribers and listeners. So, if you are listening as a podcast that’s you – hello, welcome! We’ve got some fresh voices tonight and some familiar ones. And of course, we are led by the handwritten notes made by volunteers into Switchboard log books from 1974 until 1982. Although some memories you hear tonight will stretch beyond those years. So, I am going to hand over to Seán McGovern from Islington’s Pride who is going to introduce himself and the panel and tell us how tonight is going to work.
SM: Thank you very much for this, Adam, for that introduction. I’m Seán McGovern. I’m the project manager of Islington’s Pride. Islington’s Pride is a project that’s funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in conjunction with Islington Council. We are documenting, collecting, preserving and celebrating the LGBT+ history of this borough. And as Adam mention Switchboard is a vital and monumental part of our shared history. I’ll be chairing the discussion tonight and I’m joined by four panellists. To my right I have …
TW: And I’m Tash Walker one of the other hosts and the producer of the podcast and co-chair of Switchboard.
SM: So, Adam over to you for the first reading of the night.
This is a log book entry from June 2nd 1975.
Gay women’s pub in Bethnal Green. Run by two women. Carpenter’s Arms.
This is a log book entry from May 27th 1975.
Caller rang to say there is a pub called the Arabian Arms in Mare Street, Bethnal Green, E.8. Not to be confused with pub of same name in Cambridge Heath Road, E.2. Apparently, it is much more lively than the Cambridge Heath Road one. Drag at the bar- especially good on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Mixed but mainly gay. Also reported that the Exhibition pub in Edmonton Green is no good. Caller claims that the only gay people were himself and the barman.
SM: Now part of this project is to document some spaces that may have disappeared in this borough and - of course- throughout London. But I believe, Tash, is a little bit of more information about this particular lesbian bar.
TW: Yes, so we just heard about the Carpenter’s Arms in Bethnal Green which I have actually been to, now. It’s on Cheshire Street, just off Brick Lane but I think I was the only gay person in there when I went. So, we did a bit of digging around and looked into the history of the Carpenter’s Arms and like any good East End pub it has a lot of rich history. It was originally bought by the Kray brothers in ‘67 and was at one point known as the most notorious pub in London. But when we were looking into this - it was on an article on a Spitalfields’s history - we found a comment underneath that was written by someone which said: ‘I am 100% my auntie Jean owned the Carpenter’s Arms with her friend Estie.’ And a bit later on the one and only artist and gay campaigner Stuart Feather wrote just last year ‘I am one of the drag queen’s who lived at Bethnal Rouge - a Gay Liberation Front book shop and social centre at 248 Bethnal Green Road. We loved the Carpenter’s Arms and the lesbian couple Jean and Estie who ran it when we were there in 73/74.’ He then goes on to say how he looked into the Carpenter’s recently and how it is unrecognisable. The piano is gone, the songs, and the community spirit of the past have gone but that is gentrification for you. So, a bit of context on the Carpenter’s Arm. Do either of you two frequent the Carpenter’s Arms?
JH: Of course, being part of the Bethnal Green Collective for a little while, yes. It was Jean and Esme, and Esme was Canadian, Jean was from the East End. And it was the tiniest pub in the world. It didn’t originally … it didn’t even have a spirit licence … and it had an outside loo and a whole bunch of reprobates and ne’er-do-wells as well as locals used to be around there virtually every night. I spent many a long night propping up the bar there.
FO: Those are my separatists days. I did pop my head round the door once but in general my consciousness raising group- the feminists we didn’t frequent mixed places, so we just popped in just the once.
JH: That means you only had the Gateways on a Sunday.
FO: That’s about it in the early days. I’m afraid.
TW: The other pub that was mentioned in the second of the log book entries which was called the Arabian Arms, on Mere Street. Bethnal Green. That is actually now Metropolis for anyone who is aware of the more modern venues. It was a gentlemen’s club - I don’t know if it is still, but it is also where Savage Disco was happening which is a drag night … a big amazing gay disco night run by Sink the Pink. So, its really cool to look back at that log book entry and see how it talks about there being a fantastic drag at the bar and that is sort of a big circle where we are right back there again. And I really like that reflection.
SM: And Femi you were a volunteer with Switchboard, and I imagine that people obviously called with an awful lot of things they wanted to talk about, but I guess in many situations people were calling about where to go out. So how often would you get phone calls of people just saying, ‘What club is good on a Tuesday night?’
FO: I think we got those all the time. We’d get dozens of an evening. And they wouldn’t just say where’s good to go out. They’d go: ‘I am standing here in this place what is the nearest club?’ And we used to have this massive map on the wall and my geography was shite, so I was always saying ‘Here? What’s that near? What city are you in?’ Because of course this could come from anywhere in the country at all and then you would be looking at maps and trying to find a pin and then flicking through files. But yeah, you had to work out how they were, what they were looking for, where they were and if then there was anything that would fit the bill. And some places it was just the one disco in the whole city, and you would just send everyone there.
JH: Of course, you needed to add to that because a lot of times people were saying - well I got here but I am really frightened about going through the door because there might be other people in there that know me. So, you had to say to them – yes and the reason they are there is…. So, you had to do all the hand holding as well.
FO: And then if it was awful, they would ring you on the way out as well….
TW: Is like Trip adviser!
How do you, Marlin, from an archivist perspective …point of view - what it been like documenting Islington history through night life? Is there much in the records aside from things like the log books?
MK: Within Islington we do have log book from another helpline - specifically women’s. But in general, we don’t have a huge amount on nightlife within the Islington’s Pride ones specifically. We have a lot more on social activity, social groups, social organisations that were going on. What you get is kind of snippets that you put together and you work out what else was going along. So, if anyone knows Central Station - it’s the one pub that kind of made it through with all the closures and everything else that’s going down. I can see a lot of heads nodding which I am just putting that out for the podcast – people do know what I am talking about! That Central Station has the Underground and that was their club night and we’ve got their archives and some of that is their newsletters, and you can kind of work out the different nights that were going on, the different themes, the different activities what was hip at the time. And what people were interested in.
JH: And then the 70s of course it was called the Prince Albert that is effectively what it was and it had the Gay Activist Alliance disco in a room upstairs - that every time people danced too much the record turntable used to bounce up and down.
FO: And your glasses slipped of the table.
JH: And the glasses slipped off the table.
SM: Do we have any contributions from anyone in the audience. If you want to raise your hand and just wait for the mic.
Just talking of Central Station. Yes, it was the Prince Albert and indeed Switchboard used to do their interviews there for volunteers. When I first joined Switchboard in the late 70s, mid 70s …that’s where I was first interviewed.
AS: Shall we wait for the bongs. Unless you have to read the news ….
[indistinct talking, and church bells ringing]
Just about the Carpenter’s Arms which was originally once owned by Violet Kray the Kray twin’s mother. It was actually saved by gentrification because it was going to be demolished and they were going to build unaffordable apartments there so the guys that own it now saved it and made it into the sort of pub that it is now which is pretty bland, but gentrification actually saved it in that case.
TW: Does anyone else have anything they would like to share on nightlife? Oh yes, a reluctant hand…
My name is Paul Thurlow. I am one of the volunteers at the Islington’s Pride so one of the things I’ve been doing is going through the material in the archive. And now and then I come across a reference to some particular Thursday night at … blah, blah, blah, venue … so and there’s lots of these for Islington. And one in particular is the - intrigues me - is the Crown & Woolpack which is actually just up the road here on St Johns Street. And I found a reference to it in Lisa Power’s book - oral history on Switchboard and it talks about it as being the first the first lesbian pub … sort of disco in back in I think it was ‘72 or something like that so would be quite interested to find somebody who actually remembers going there.
AS: Well -this is the voice of Adam again, hello! I mean if anyone is listening to the podcast who could respond to that that would be great and we can obviously put them in touch, and I should also say to Paul -thank you for that contribution I have seen your name in the log books so I know you are former volunteer!
Obviously for LGBT people- night life is very important to us for finding our sense of community but many of the calls would have been about being gay or lesbian or trans at home. And Adam, I believe has some … log entries about home life.
This is a log book entry from October 27th 1975.
A girl rang up saying she’d just moved into London into a large flat- Kennington? She and her friend go to Laurie’s, Rods etc which they enjoy but with the net effect that they know more gay men than women. They are thinking of holding parties for girls -of their age- around 20 who want to avoid the butch/femme scene.
This is a log book entry from January 7th 1982.
Guy from Staines phoned. Wife had told that she had fallen for a woman. They have been married for 21 years -kids, etc. He was being very supportive but was clearly upset and under considerable stress. He’s been a publican to a pub with some gay clientele. We chatted for some length.
SM: This entry is quite interesting because it is a heterosexual partner who is calling in. Femi, I imagine that predominantly you got a lot of LGBT people calling - but how often it was the case that someone straight would call up and ask you to explain things?
FO: Quite a lot. I used to get people calling … the thing I remember was women calling because their friend had come out as a lesbian and then they were really worried. About whether they’d only been their friend because they actually truly fancied them and then that was going to happen. Whether they were might become lesbians just by having a lesbian friend. Maybe they had always been a lesbian which is why they picked this lesbian to be their friend. So, our job was to say - yes to all of those things! No, we didn’t! But it was basically yeah to try and makes sure that the friendship survived, and the other thing was parents I suppose. We got lots of parents who were concerned about their young people. Oh, anyone rang Switchboard. It was open 24/7 in the days when very few things were. So, anyone who was connected to the community used it as a resource. Was that what you found Julian?
JH: No, absolutely. And I think … you know it’s a testament to Switchboard that so many … the callers said things and we responded. And so many off shoots of Switchboard - like the befriending group, like Icebreakers, which was around, which Parents Enquiry run by the wonderful Rose down in Catford. All these other – the Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Group. To a certain extent they were either very closely aligned to Switchboard or grew out of Switchboard in the 70s in response to callers needs. Because of course we didn’t meet callers, but we identified need and little groups of Switchboard volunteers went off and set up a community to service people.
FO: And I think that is where the accommodation service came from as well because well lots of you know homelessness among LGBT people is just so much higher than the rest of the population - often connected to our gender identity or sexual orientation. So, Switchboard was the place that you called. So, in the end we ended up with the biggest free accommodation service in Europe directly as a result of trying to respond to the needs of our own community.
TW: That is really interesting to hear you both talking about all those things and going back to that log book entry that we’ve looked at. What struck me from that is this could be a call that we take today. We still get people calling us coming out and its that classic thing that coming out isn’t just about younger people it could be someone coming out in their… after being married for 21 years to a heterosexual person. But again, we have people contacting us who are in their 70s and 80s where their heterosexual partner has died, and they feel that now is a point where they can address those feelings that they have inside. And I think this is something that has always really jumped out at me when looking through the log books is that we have these different societal changes and changes in legislation but the themes of these calls -themes of support and isolation or hear concern from a loved one, an ally, they stay true and they still echo now in the calls that we take today.
Switchboard is for the LGBT+ community but it is also for those beyond the community who need support as well. The other log book entry - this was also really interesting to me because especially what the caller talks about this butch/femme identity. And that’s a theme that’s really rung true - especially in this time people we are looking at -74 to 82 where lots of people we have spoken to and log book entries -and Femi I am sure you can help me out here- they talk about this real binary dynamic of butch and femme. And people felt like they had to be one or the other or you were sort of excluded from within that. And it’s interesting and reflecting on today where there is reclamation of butch and you’ve got night likes Butch Please coming out and people are saying - I am all about my butch identity -this is who I am. But yeah, but what did it feel like back then?
FO: Yes, I remember there was sort of different types of clubs where you could go, and you would know that there would be some lesbians who would be in butch/femme. What ostensibly looked like butch/femme relationships in that one dressed this way and the other one dressed the other way. Some of that was actually it made life a bit easier -I mean I know that when I used to go out with my girlfriend I used to say ‘Do you want to be butch tonight?’ because it otherwise… if you both dressed the same you both looked but you might get beaten up but if you both looked like women you might get some bloke coming up ‘and what are you two girls doing here all by yourself’ But if one of you looked very clearly butch and one looked femme it gave a really good signal - so that made life easy. There was also sometimes a bit of a tension between those women who thought it was a bit …tacky … to do the butch/femme thing as well and I think that is coming around again. But it was very very present, and it was a lot of fun!
JH: It still is!
TW: I was going to say - Julian could you speak to like…
JH: I would say there is a whole sort of thing emancipation supposedly or decriminalization in 67 and by 72 people were crawling out of the closet during the 70s. And there was that whole sort of thing of some people believed that gay meant - good as you - as good as heterosexuals. And actually, we still had to portray ourselves as being pseudo heterosexuals. So, the queens - as usual- where the people who went - you are letting the side down! To quite some extent it was that sort of thing of - well now we’ve got liberation, now we are getting towards equality … you don’t have to dress up … you don’t have to be fabulous. The only place for that to happen is in a drag bar - thank you very much. So, there was that gender role stereotyping that was about - well we don’t need to be like that any more which is … thankfully perhaps that is changing but I don’t know so much.
FO: It was a bit irritating this. It is almost as though you either had politics or you could have fun, but you couldn’t do both. So, if you … the lesbian feminist largely didn’t indulge in the butch/femme kind of identity thing that was seen as aping heterosexuality. So, you had to choose very carefully where you were going and therefore what you could wear. Because you wouldn’t really want to be just butch/femme and then go off to one of the places where all the feminists were you would be sitting on your own not talking to any of the others. It was quite stratified, I think, the night life community in that way.
SM: So, it’s really interesting that, Femi, you were talking about internal politics within the community but of course … that time period and … even to this day to some extent the decisions that we get to make in our lives are very often shaped by the political climate that we exist in. And something we’ve documented quite well during Islington’s Pride is the effects of Section 28. And we’ve actually got quite an archive about that - and is only growing with more ephemera that comes in. But we also had some people making calls about their own political affiliations or how … to kind … of square their political choices in a LGBT capacity and I think Adam has something to say about that …
This is a log book entry from September 18th 1976.
A guy phoned to ask if we had any information on how he could get in touch with his local National Front branch. Talked to him for a bit - he was gay and serious about wanting to join the National Front. Told him about fascism being violently anti gay, gays in concentrations camps under Hitler and told him I couldn’t give him the info he wanted as we don’t have it. Afraid I was polite but extremely cool as I am only too aware of the potential threat to gay activists and gay organisations in general should the NF or similar organisations ever come into power.
This is a log book entry from the book that is dated November 1975 to March 1976 - I don’t have a precise date.
Has anybody heard details about a gay conservative group which is being formed? Surely it is a contradiction in terms bit like a RAC pedestrians group!
SM: Where to start there. I think Julian do you have any memories of these kind of calls?
JH: Yes well, I think that’s… yes, and yes, I have memories of that sort of call that sort of call, and I also have memories of us thinking … to what extent are we going to give people information? Yes, there was gay conservative groups yes there were gay liberal groups and actually they did a great job in looking for law reform. And looking for those other things so … and I think Switchboard was a broad enough church to have all those - both in terms of the people who were sitting answering the phones on Switchboard and our callers all the way through. I mean to say for me community during then… was still involved with the … was involved the breakup of GLF and there were GLF groups of various persuasions in the SWP and there were Gay Liberation Front groups in East London still, in South London still, in other places and other cities so I think we were very much a broad church. But as … one person who did say … well but people actually ought to look at their consciousness raising and do something because there are certain gay men who if the Nazis came into the Salisbury – that famous gay pub on St Martin’s Lane today – they just go ‘Oh very pretty costumes, darling. Let’s have another gin and tonic!’
FO: Yes, I think that is true - we really did span the political spectrum. But there was a kind of underlying thing about tolerance and acceptance and that what’s allowed it to happen. Sometimes we’d get a bit carried away. I remember being thoroughly caught out by because I picked up the phone and I heard this person with a South African accent saying - they wanted to go somewhere where they could meet Black South African people, so they were obviously calling from South Africa. And you can’t hear that I’m black … from when I am on the phone and this person was saying ‘Yes, yes, I’ve got a real weakness for the Blacks and I really want to meet Black people. Can you tell me?’ And I was getting all irrated about this and I said, ‘No we don’t have any information and we don’t give out information in South Africa because of apartheid, no!’ And I put the phone down and I was very upset and very flummoxed and one my colleagues - we took care of each other on the phone- and one of my colleagues leaned over and said ‘Are you alright, dear?’ and I said ‘Yes – person on the asking to meet Black men … some kind of South African person.’ and he said ‘Oh was the person Black or White?’ and I thought – oh, that never occurred to me. I just assumed it was a white person and I’d got all uppity about it. And that was the thing - sometimes we got so carried away with our own individual political persuasions that I still to do this day I don’t know whether I did that person a miss service.
SM: One of the things about Islington that we are very proud of is that there was a lot of firsts - here we had the first openly elected gay mayor - Bob Crossman. And, of course, Chris Smith who was the first openly gay MP. And I was just wondering if any of the local politics of the time crossed over with you guys at any point. How often did you bump into any local labour counsellors at the bar?
FO: Well, we hung out with Bob Crossman. That wasn’t hard - he was everywhere. So yeah, I mean … I think …I certainly remember … seeing various counsellors but I don’t think we thought very much of it really, they were just there and part of the community and that was what was nice about Islington. It felt like home.
JH: Yeah, I know Bob Crossman - of course – as Sister Kiss My Arse Goodbye because he was also a member of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence. But I do remember - and this is take us outside the timescale slightly - when we had the first ILGA conference which also happened in Islington in 1991 at the Roseberry Halls of Residence down the road. Bob as an ex-mayor got us a reception at Islington Town Hall and when we got to Islington Town Hall with these 300 people from all over … lesbians, gay men etc… from all over Europe Bob was absolutely incensed that the quality of the refreshments that were laid on for us were not as much as would have happened for any other special interest group. And he slated the current mayor, and he slated the council, and he slated absolutely everybody. And eventually they found the scotch and they found the vodka. It was too late for more vol au vents - but there you go.
FO: There was a lot of hummus there as I remember ….
JH: A lot of hummus, darling…
AS: What were the snacks - I am really curious -do you remember?
JH: Very few …
FO: Very few!
JH: As he said - if this was in celebration of Nelson Mandela, they would have got more bloody stuff out I tell you! Because it is a bunch of poofs and lesbians - even though I am the mayor -they haven’t done very well by you!
FO: It was a very DIY thing because I remember two gay men - one of them was Neal Cavalier -Smith, I think, who started Prowler Press. And I remember that we had to press gang them from being publishers into actually spreading hummus onto the pita. And he wasn’t wielding that knife with any skill at all. But he was willing!
TW: I don’t really know where to go from there… but I guess reflecting back on the log book entry - when I would find these entries in the log books I was really shocked that people were calling up and asking those sorts of questions. And initially I though this was some kind of hoax as well - and I wondered if that was something going through your minds as volunteers when you are answering the call? But looking at how we train volunteers and how volunteers have been trained for the last coming up to 46 years - you have to be prepared for whatever the caller is going to say. You have no idea when the phones ringing or now when the instant messaging or email comes in and you need to be as open minded as possible and then when you pick up that phone - it’s about informing that person and allowing them space. They could come onto the phone shouting and being abusive at you. I am sure you had so many of those sorts of calls but what is the reason behind that and delving into that further.
JH: Well there is always that call of someone phones up and … the kid who phones up with their friends and remember we are talking before mobiles here, darlings! When they are outside the telephone, and they are phoning up and they are saying ‘You fucking queers!’ and they you can hear a load of giggling and is a bunch of schoolkids. And they are asking all these questions about gay sex, and you answer and eventually you have to turn round and say ‘Well I have given you five minutes of my time. We are very busy here, but I know one of you there has actually phoned because you are thinking about things and actually you might be gay, and you are too frightened to make the call by yourself. Well, you’ve heard us. Phone us back when your mates aren’t around!’ And I am sure we got quite a lot of repeat custom and that actually happened. So, you know it’s a difficult thing how you turn abuse into something where you are outlining the information and allowing somebody to vent and eventually actually there is some underlying need that their phoning for, but they can’t articulate it. Because of course we live in a fucking, patriarch, homophobic society. And people haven’t got the courage to actually talk about they really feel.
SM: Do we have any reflections from the audience, or comments, or questions?
So, it is very interesting, Julian, to hear you say that because only last week I had a call from some teenagers calling Switchboard talking about whether pansexuals like to have sex with pans. And I use the exact line that has obviously trickled through the training, and I said exactly what you said -one of you is obviously having some thoughts about this sort of topic so please ring back. So is really amazing to hear you say that because I said it last week
JH: Yes some things doesn’t change and I think that deserves a round of applause that is really …. you know …
Sadly, I was one of those teenagers in 1976 who with their mates phoned up and did exactly the same thing. And I think that two days later I phoned up to apologise coz therefore I could actually speak to the person and have a reason to call. And I went away with a long list of pubs that were in my area and what to do next. So, you are right somehow behind all that is there somebody will now someone has made the connection I will phone up in my own time because I feel comfortable about speaking to somebody.
SM: Is he forgiven?
JH: My darling, of course!
TW: Any time!
SM: Anybody else?
Yeah, I used to do Nightline at university - which is kind of a student help line and obviously going through the training of that there were … it was sort of peer lead but there were sort of procedures and the way of doing it. And I wonder when especially when it was started up -was it set up by people who had experience of doing that already? Did you just of find out …work things out as you went along? How did that because certainly your experience of ‘oh I made a mistake with that’ and obviously still feel in a minor way – it’s still there yet. How do you deal with that kind of process of making sure that procedures are in place or those policies?
FO: I was quite struck at how rapidly we found those structures. We found levels of skills and experience amongst the volunteer group and then the volunteers quite quickly organised themselves - we had a little training group and training group would put on in-service training sessions on specific topics. And you could highlight something where you felt you weren’t very confident and if you popped that into the log book there would usually be somebody who would respond and say - I will do a session or I will work with you on that. So, there was the support there and in the end, it got almost regimented – you must do your basic in-service training on this issue and that issue. There was … oh well the pub crawls that was alright… compulsory pub crawls … used to get dragged – you used to drag me round Soho – I’m pointing at Julian – pointing out all the little drinking clubs that there was no way as a lesbian I was ever going know about or get into on my own. A couple of times I was disguised in tight leather outfits I once down into Subway someone popped me into a leather waistcoat and snuck me into Subway. It was quite nice! There was training around the resources that were available, there was training around the issues that we had to face, and there was training around the skills that you needed to be able to answer the phone. We were actually shit hot on that.
JH: And you took me to the Gateways -the lesbian club- on one day that men were allowed in on the Sunday afternoon. So, I could see how the lesbians lived.
SM: So, I guess the fourth and final topic we are going to talk about night is kind of at the heart of everything that we are trying to do here, and that Switchboard has been doing for the last 46 years - which is community. And that sense of community and finding your community and Adam has a few interesting little - quite different little titbits to tell us now.
This is a log book entry from July 4th 1978. At this time Switchboard was based in the same building as Housmans Socialist book shop near Kings Cross.
The log book entry reads:
Housmans bookshop was firebombed this morning. More details will follow.
And there is a reply the day later.
Housmans just rang re: the bomb. It was not addressed to any group in particular -we are all in it together so take care.
This is a log book entry from January 10th 1976.
At 1.35 am a guy came to the door downstairs and I answered it. He had just seen our notice on the door and wanted to know what gay means. I told him. And he went away apparently quite happy - how nice!
SM: So, my next question is for Marlin. And one thing that we found throughout this project is the amount of community organisations that were existing in this borough -for either a long time or a short time. But I guess for as long as they felt they needed to be. So could you tell us all a little bit about some of the groups that you have come across in thumbing through the archives.
MK: I just want to make a quick comment! I just really love that within these log books you get a lot of comments by the volunteers about what they thought and communicating with each other and getting their thoughts across about - oh I didn’t like that one, or that was quite nice, oh that was fun. And I thought I really like that when I read through the archives and when I read through some of the log book entries as well just to get a sense of the person answering the phone as well as the query that was coming in.
But going back to Seán’s question about the different organisations and groups that popped up. There’s the number of groups - the ideas that come through you just can’t believe that they come up with a group there was a one for gay skin heads, one for gay bridge club … there was the uniforms groups, some people who liked to dress up in denim and then you’ve got the just sports clubs - people who like meet up and play tennis together, or football or rugby, or … organisations span in terms of support groups so you’ve got London Friend which has been here since the 1980s - it’s the longest running LGBT charity in the UK. And then we’ve got places like Switchboard which is still going today. We’ve got places that have closed down that …
SM: The London Lesbian & Gay Centre was in Islington …
MK: Within that you had places like Pace which was a group for counselling support for LGBT people by LGBT people. You had a group called TV/TS which was a support group for trans people again run by trans people as support group for them. So, the amount that were coming up in Islington was immense and it’s really sad that we’ve lost so many of these groups as well.
TW: It is so interesting you listing those now I can just see them all in the log books that I’ve looked over – ‘74 to 2003. And its is amazing how many of them are here in Islington and just going back to those log book entries that Adam read the one specifically about Housmans. Now this is a fantastic place it’s called Peace House. It’s celebrating its 60th anniversary and its housed so many organisations of course Switchboard, of course Housmans bookshop but … I think it was this entry is 1978 when its talking about these bombings and it was only four years earlier which is the same time that we were there, but we’ve just started in 1974 that the IRA bombed a pillar box outside, I think. And it’s just been a point of … a target for so many organisations and I just think for that to stand so strong today is fantastic. I know as well there were other LGBT organisations that went through Housmans?
FO: Well certainly we nurtured the Black Lesbian and Gay helpline - starting off with an evening a week and then they kind of fledged and went off and became all sorts of things including Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project.
JH: And of course, Housmans were the people – the only people- who were able to give the Gay Liberation Front its office. And that in the basement and that is actually the Gay Liberation Font Information Service is in effectively what turned into - after the collapse of GLF- turned into Switchboard.
TW: I heard rumours that it was the Gay Liberation Front and also Gay News that there were starting to get too bothered from all these people ringing them and asking -where they could go and actually could they help them work out whether they were gay or bi or whatever? And so out of this mild irritation - post partial decriminalisation -Switchboard was born as a solution.
FO: Oh, it is like a grain of sand becoming the pearl, isn’t it?
JH: Absolutely and you can say I am sure it is time for a podcast and if you look, we move into the ‘80s and we see HIV epidemic. And you look at all the early responses - they all have their germ in Switchboard whether it is Terrance Higgins Trust, Gay Men Fighting Aids, the National Aids Helpline. But that is a story for a different time …
AS: Season two of The Log Books we hope!
SM: Isn’t it also home to the Gay Teenage Group and if anyone round next week we are having them here as part of LGBT history month but that is a live event, so you have to come and see that happen. Do we have any comments, questions from the audience on this section? Or do we have any comments about anything at this point? So, if anyone has any thoughts, they would like to contribute please just raise your hand.
I am kind of interested in how the role of Switchboard has changed over the years - now we have the internet so if people are looking for venues or affinity groups and so on there is a lot more information sources that people can go to. What does that mean in the profile of calls that Switchboard are taking now compared to in the 7’0s?
TW: Yeah, I think it is a really good question and it is a question that comes up a lot - why is a helpline needed now? In this modern internet - seemingly connected age -that we live in and are we really an information service? So the answer is twofold - Switchboard started predominately as an information service and then became an information and support service as time has evolved like you say the internet has happened so no one really rings us to ask when Metropolis is open for example and is Savage Disco still on? But the themes for support are still the same - we still get people calling about family issues, relationship issues, coming out … more notable as the decades have moved on, we get more questions around faith and sexuality. We’ve got more questions around gender identity - these calls have always been there, but we didn’t have the language to really talk about that in the way that we do now especially to do with gender non-conforming or gender identity as a topic in itself. But one thing that’s always stood out to me from looking through all the log books, from being on Switchboard for the last eight years as well is that the themes of the support calls -they don’t change. I found a call from 1975 I think, 1988, and 2003, all in the log books which could have been a call that I take today and they were all about some one ringing up feeling isolated and feeling alone and feeling like they had no one to turn to. And you look at is what’s happening with the rise in reported hate crime, the levels of isolation and loneliness going up. We have an issue, and this is exactly why Switchboard is still here and why our calls – and when I say calls, I mean phone, instant message, email – they are going up which in part is not a great thing but brilliant that we can be there to take them.
JH: I would like to add to that because I think one of the real reasons perhaps why I am not on Switchboard today even though I don’t live in this country very often is that … one of things that about it being in that pre internet age is that we could actually create community via the phone - Grindr is not a community! A bar … when I used to work in Heaven it was let’s put more salt in the chips, we don’t want people talking to each other. So, there is that whole sort of thing that we have missed out of being able to turn round and actually impart a community message around what’s solidarity is, about what issues might be about and actually… have the twenty-year-old talking to the eighty-year-old and vice versa. And actually, a community since … Margaret Thatcher, the internet age, and all the rest of it has actually become the capitalist age of where we are assimilated rather than building a community and actually doing something which could be more radical in a lot of ways for an awful lot of people. But that’s just …I am just a bitter old queen maybe.
SM: But why I do not actually disagree entirely with Julian I do think the ones of the main focuses on the project that Marlin and I am overseeing is that their community kind of comes and goes but it really goes when you forget about it or when you lose it or the people who were there aren’t around anymore. So I just want to commend everyone involved in the Log Books both the … and Switchboard but … for creating this podcast because you are documenting histories while they are still present and that is one thing we are trying to do at Islington’s Pride which is why if anyone who is listening to this at home and if you ever cross the border of Camden or the city or Harringay into Islington you might have something in a drawer somewhere collecting dust -give it to us because that is heritage and that is what we are trying to preserve.
MM: What I find really interesting about the whole community aspect and how it comes into what we do with the archives is that I go to events and I talk to people and its kind of like -no no, no, I don’t remember much nothing was going on - oh yeah Switchboard I remember calling them once, I remember volunteering with them and it turns out they’ve got these huge stories and huge ways of connecting with each other. And that community was such a strong thing for them and then when you really get them to talk about it they can go on about it for hours which is partially how I feel about the podcast - you have opened up this book – literally- and the amount of conversations you’ve bought up from it just by trying to connect back with that community and the past and that is a huge part of what we are doing in terms of collecting heritage and trying to pull it forward and trying to relate to future generations and keep it relevant.
FO: I think Switchboard was a beautiful choice - the log books was a really choice for that because Switchboard was actually like a microcosm of our community. We gravitated to Switchboard from different age groups, from different ethnic groups, and of course across our political spectrum. And we took … we nurtured each other and in turn we nurtured those different communities, and we spawned all the different things that you were talking about. So, I think it is lovely that we are now able to contribute to this project. Is fantastic.
SM: I think that’s a moment for applause there.
[Clapping from audience]
So, before we wind up, I just want to turn over to Tash who has some final remarks.
TW: Ok, and so some final words for those listening to the podcast. Thank you this live episode is a bit of a trial and we can find the funding we’ve love to do more like this in other parts of the country - so please let us know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, if you would like to share your story with us for future seasons of the Log Books all our details can be find via our website thelogbooks.org But for now we’d like to say a huge thank you to Seán, Malin, Julian and Femi and everyone else who helped out tonight and also to all of your – our lovely audience for joining us at Finsbury Library. So, from Shivani, Adam and I thank you again and good night.
[Clapping from audience]
AS: Special thanks to everyone who helped with the event on February 5th and this bonus podcast episode – Louise and Scott Flashheart of the hilarious Probably True podcast who lent us some kit. Helen McKenzie also for the kit, XXX andca Elliot Smith.
AS: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Smith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to email@example.com
AS: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute.
AS: The folks at Acast,
TW: Gareth Mitchell at Imperial College London,
AS: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard.
TW: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
45 years on Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.