THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 2 “Huddled together in a corner”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from April 19th 1975:
Volunteer, Estelle: Chagueramas reported not gay at all. Straights have been making comments when gays dance together. Gays have been huddled together in a corner so they will feel ill at ease. So, what is going on?
March 9th 1976:
Woman caller rang about a club for women in Westbourne Grove called Nicky’s – does it exist or is it a hoax?
TW: I grew up in Devon which was pretty isolated, and I think had one gay pub and one gay club in the entire county. I spent most of my teens – until I left for university -driving around South West England in search of gay - gay nights - and then sleeping in my car.
AS: I remember a night that I went out on in 2015 when I was like pretty newly out to basically a great party and just feeling like a part of it … that was … it was amazing and that feeling - I think is something that LGBT people look for today when they are going out.
You’re listening to the Log Books – stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AS: In partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith.
TW: I’m Tash Walker.
AS: And in this episode we are looking through all of the log book entries from Switchboard that are to do with night life. And there is a bloody lot of them!
TW: Episode 2 “Huddled together in a corner”
All these gay bars and lesbian clubs with that you’ve got the building of a community you’ve got people working there, people meeting people to have sex, romance, but also so much came out of that which had big implications for the political movements of the time.
AS: I bet quite a few of the early meetings of Switchboard were probably held in the pub as well …
TW: No doubt about that!
AS: In this episode stories kind of start with that log book entry that we heard at the beginning about Chagueramas which was club in Neal Street in London’s West End and that changed from – I looked this up – a disco place to a punk place … around about the late 70s and even though is now a speedo shop – so you can buy your budgie smugglers in there. I’'s an interesting case study in how the night life scene changed and how that reflected what was going on for gay men and lesbians at the time as well … as Jeremy explains.
The big game changer in the 70s was punk when punk started. My name is Jeremy Adams. And I am 60 years old. And I’ve lived through many things. Suddenly all the Donna Summers records and the disco sort of disappeared but the thing that punk bought with it - was anything went. It suddenly sexuality barriers were down you would go to sort of clubs … where whoever the XXX were performing and you would see men and men women and women and suddenly started to become a much more accepting -who cares - kind of world so that was a big game changer. Everybody was sort of emerging into something new I think that was what punk was - it just started a whole kind of new, more accepting, you could be more who you wanted to be - you didn’t have to hide any more. Whereas prior to that like -as I said before- with the gay clubs you were dress up but you would run into the club and then you could be yourself in the club but now it was like bleeding into the streets but a sort of grudging acceptance as well.
Here's a log book entry it was from 17th December 1975 and the call was taking by John. A woman caller asked if there was anywhere for women to go after 11pm. As far as I can see there isn’t - is this really so? Any suggestions?
I think there were probably gay male clubs but nothing for lesbians or mixed - so actually we used to do our own club. We used to hire church halls and venues whatever and we’d bought disco equipment and we used to run our own discos for lesbians.
Coventry actually was … their had quite a lot of stuff going on musically a lot of clubs there at that time. There was Poly Styrene and a lot of the punk bands and some women’s bands started there- Pauline Black and the Two Tone bands.
My name is James
Gay bars in London were - there were quite a number of them. I came down the Kings Road and I wandered into a pub and I remember just glancing in looking across and there were two young men sitting by the bar and I thought ‘Good lord -they are gay’ and I looked round the pub and ‘Heavens. It’s gay’
The first thing I remember in London was the Salisbury pub in St Martins Lane which was known as the actors pub. And it wasn’t a gay pub as such but … some of the acting gentlemen are …. Gay ... and eyes would meet across a crowded bar. I liked going there because of the woman in charge of the food counter thought I looked terribly thin and wasted and would give me double portions of everything. I was in those days. And it was great fun, and one would … eyes would catch, and you would go out and you would suddenly become very interested in a book shop windows and somebody else would catch you up and that is how it worked. The great institution of the 1960s I think James knows this is the Rockingham club. You had to be proposed and seconded you had to wear a collar and tie at all times. Holding hands - let alone kissing was not on.
And oh, you passed a commissionaire to go in. Then a secretary and you had to sign in. It was all beautifully furnished with antiques -and the chaps had white coats and bought you your drinks sitting in a nice armchair. Tt was all lovely but you see you knew .. and am not going to name some of the people I saw there …quite famous people went there. Because they knew they were safe.
TW: The hardest part was often finding out where to even go in the first place - or who to ask. And that was exactly why Switchboard was born to be a first point of contact so many people who had so many questions where was open what was the right place for them where were any gay bars where they lived?
Here is former volunteer Femi.
A really large proportion of our calls was about people who were looking for somewhere to go. We had massive great maps with pins in. A big one of London and then a bigger one of the UK. The pins were different colours - if the map had club, it might be a red pin and if it was a social group it was a yellow pin. So you could stand up take the phone receiver with you and give this information out quite quickly and it was supported by files as well. We really needed to be quite quick with those people would ring and say -I’ve only got Xp to put into the phone box. What’s open tonight in such and such a place? You had to leap up. Your geography .. my geography had to get really good with that. ‘You are in where? Oh ok. Weston Super Mare. No sorry. There is nothing there’ and then it was off the nearest one to you is here and phone down and off again.
They were easy they were fun they were good for those people who knew that we were a reliable resource and they were good for us I think as volunteers as well - we learned a lot.
If you wanted to know what pubs and clubs, there were in a town you would either have to buy a copy of Gay News - which printed a directory every fortnight - or you would have to call Switchboard so we got lots and lots of those kinds of – Where’s the gay pub in Leicester - kind of calls.
Feb 18 1976: John writes does anyone know what’s happened to the Catacombs? What hours etc??
Also, Valentino’s - someone told me that it closed down a week ago?
AS: Even when you could find out where to go it wasn’t easy - stepping into a queer venue is always a bit like coming out and showing the world who you are.
The first gay bar I decided to go to was the William IV …was it … in Hampstead? I’m Nick Partridge. I’m 63 years old. And I remember walking past three times before picking up the courage to walk in and I think that is a very common memory for so many: what’s it going to be like inside there? Where do I go from here?
I came down to London in ’77 and we would go some times to some very small club nights -I mean literary above the pub and the pub that is now Central Station - had a different name at that time - and we would go there and there were dancers upstairs very early on when I was in London. But the late 70s got very exciting because first of all we had Bolts which appeared on Green Lanes -which was amazing once a week. And then we would have Bang in central London which was very lively. We would go down there on a Monday night and that was the perennial joke on Switchboard all the men who would call ‘is Bangs open?’
Its Monday it’s open.
TW: There was such a big scene at this time each venue catering for a slightly different crowd one place that pops up time and time again is the Coleherne.
It was a splendid Victorian pub. The splendid lady who played the piano - a grand piano, mark you! She was large and plump and heavily made up and would beam and smile at everybody particularly if you bought her a drink. It was always very very busy. At closing time -eleven o clock or ten thirty on Sundays - people would congregate outside sometimes for ages.
When you went in one side of the bar was leather and biker gear and the other side was cigarette holders and angora sweaters. And so many people used to adopt the very stratified attitudes that were reflected in heterosexual society. Which also impinged on class.
Hello, I’m Ted Brown. I’m 69 years old. I used to like the leather side mainly because to me it seemed slightly less artificial. And also, I couldn’t afford the expensive clothing that the angora sweater people were wearing. I used to wear a leather jacket and leather jeans. And that was partly for practical reasons because in fact I did have a motorbike myself and was much more comfortable in a more masculine environment at the time. Although I’ve learned over time to not worry so much about maintaining a masculine aura myself
That was one scene where there were absolutely no class barriers whatever. Doesn’t matter whether you were … better not say a royal prince but not much under … that I could tell a few stories here, but I might get into trouble if I did. Even though most of them are dead now. It was a curious thing I don’t quite know how I got into it - so to speak. I was very careful at first and we all though there were a whole load of sadomasochists, and we didn’t want anything to do with that! But they weren’t. They just liked going out dressed in leather - that was all was all- very harmless as someone said once said to me in that group you often hear some of the best criticisms of what is on at the opera house.
There was the MSC wasn’t there – the Motor Sports Club – of which I think you were a member weren’t you?
I do remember they had weekends away and a friend of ours used to go and be their cook - as much as anything - he had the biggest collection of opera programs I’ve ever seen. I mean that was his whole joy in life was mixture of cooking for the MSC and going to the opera.
AS: And many gay pubs and clubs are explicitly political -it’s the 70s and the act of going into a gay pub was seen as political and if you wore a badge too …
This is from August 23 1975
York lesbian group looking for new meeting place as landlord has become oppressive - he is also refusing to serve people wearing gay badges.
In the 70s it was very difficult to be gay …to be out and gay … you get a lot of hostility on the street, and we used to wear lesbian badges and that felt like quite a risky thing to do -because you could be identified as a lesbian. And several times one or other of us did get beaten up. And so, it was quite frightening actually going into a pub as a group of lesbians -dressed and having like cropped hair and dressed as a lesbian, wearing a lesbian badge like a huge fluorescent badge that says, ‘Lesbian’s Ignite.’
That tea house was a venue for gay people, but we had to keep quiet and stay in the corner and all the rest of it. And we went in at one stage and we said we don’t want to be subdued any more. The police were called, and they turned up they started being very difficult and I whipped out my camera and they calmed down a bit - because they were getting photographed.
This is from the log book at Switchboard in June 1976: Phoned in to say that someone had been thrown out of a pub in Forest Hill for wearing a gay badge. That’s the Bricklayers Arms. The landlord said “It is in the best interest of customers that Paul should permanently banned” So those going to be a demonstration at Thursday at 8pm in the lounge bar with everyone wearing gay badges.[Laughing]
It was still really controversial and to a degree seen as confrontational just to wear a gay badge - which many people if you wore them down the street would not have known their significance.
TW: But despite how terrifying just going to a pub would be or even such a risk -it’s worth it. Here’s a story of two women – Elaine and Lyn- their separate lives. Elaine’s in Leytonstone in London and Lyn’s in Derbyshire were on such on different paths…
Switchboard took calls asking for which pubs to go too - their lives were beginning to change for ever.
And it was a Sunday afternoon I remember as if it was yesterday.
My friends had fixed me up with a date with this guy and he came, and he picked me up and he drove me to the seaside. And there was just nothing. I was driving back in the car and I thought - I can’t do this I’m not being true to myself.
And I got out of the car. I went straight in I found the number for Gay Switchboard, and I rang. My name is Lyn. I’m 70 years old. And it’s taken me all these years to be comfortable about my sexuality and to be able to talk openly and freely about it.
I spoke to a volunteer called Val. And I was crying, and she really helped me a lot. She told me of a place to go and it was in Green Lanes. And I went actually - the next morning, the Monday morning. I went into work early and I made sure everything was done and then I hopped on a train. But I remember I was really - oh gosh - apprehensive and scared. And I went upstairs and there was a bar and music and I suppose it must have been about 9 o’clock at night at that time. I got a drink, and I sat down and just took in the atmosphere. And I remember ... I looked at the side of the bar and there were two women, and they were stood together -drinking and they were looking at each other face to face and it was as if they were the only women in that room. And I thought - I want that!
I’m Elaine. I’m 74 years old. My brother was … is gay but he left home at 17 until probably he came back in the 70s. Life was beginning to be a bit different -I would say- because there was a gay club in Leytonstone High Road, which was the first ever in our experience and so I did start going with him in those years and I think I did start to see another sort of lifestyle. It was right opposite the fire station in Leytonstone High Road and it was in one of the little cafe type places -it sort of was a bit secret going in. I think it was a club you had to sign in and once you are inside there was lots of different lovely cocktails and drinks. It was quite smoky at the time - because obviously we were allowed to smoke where we like and I think we all did smoke in those days.
If I think of what the area was like- I think people were quite intimidated by the sort of people that were outside of the club … you know … there were a few local gay men - not so much women - I can’t even remember women being very much in that sort of lifestyle. I think they felt more closeted really. A few months after I broke up with my husband, I phoned Gay Switchboard - and that would have been probably in early ’82 and I spoke to a woman called Val, who was really helpful to me. We talked a lot about life and how difficult it was, but she said that there was somebody called Lyn up in Derbyshire- in a tiny little village and she asked if I would like to meet her?
So I met Elaine and she asked what I wanted to do would I like to go anywhere specially that evening and I said ‘I’d like to go to Gateways’ and she’d never been. And so, she said ‘ok’ she thought she knew where it was - down the Kings Road. And so we got dressed up and in those days I think I had a fur jacket and a handbag a large handbag and so it was really when I think about it now anyway. We got in the taxi and we didn’t want to ask for Gateways so we said ‘Could you take us down the Kings Road?’
When we went into Gateways they were playing Joan Armatrading - Willow - so we had a dance that.
That was later. Remember? There were fast dances and then the music changed. But …
I looked around and you looked at me - and we had … we danced to Willow.
We did. We did.
I must have said Lyn had a ginormous handbook - because she obviously she didn’t realise… that gay women didn’t carry great big handbags.
I had a fur jacket as well. Didn’t I?
I blocked that out, I think!
The bouncer woman took my handbag - I had to leave it at the desk.
But basically, we looked around and we just had this magical feeling - it felt like a homecoming. I know it sounds a bit corny, but it really did didn’t it?
That one or two calls probably had a profound affect both because I met Lyn and we are still together and 38 years later …
And also, because it inspired me to … I left the health service and I went to work at National Children’s Home managing their helpline.
TW: That’s such a heart-warming story to hear elaine and Lyn talking about how they first met through Switchboard. Of course not something that we do today - but I think that was something that was often needed, in the 70s especially when people were looking into finding other people who were also LGBTQ+
AS: And it wound like they had a great night out in Gateways - which is no longer there on the King’s Road unfortunately.
TW: Listening to those stories I can’t help but feel so full of emotion hearing those experiences of walking into gay spaces for the first time. It’s something I always remember feeling myself - albeit not so underground but I was just so desperate to talk to someone and see people who were like me - become part of this very special club which I was born into with a pass but no clues as to how to get in or get the badge.
AS: Queer spaces are just like so important because of all that - that’s why we spoke to the folks behind Aphrodyki one of London’s hottest nights today.
Aphrodyki is a club night for all queer women, trans, and non-binary babes, and their friends. It’s London’s only Ancient Greek themed lesbian night and we only play Rhianna basically.
Hi, I’m Flo I co run Aphrodyki with some of my friends. Aphrodyki has been going for 4 years now. It’s the club night we wanted to go to and that wasn’t available at the time
And we were like how hard can it be to find lesbians who want to play pop music? Four and a half years later its actually extremely difficult …Basically if it’s not techno they are not interested but there has been enough of an audience for us to keep going for four years
My name is Hannah I help co run Aphrodyki and I mostly do the emails and the pictures of butts that we put on the posters.
We started in Dalston’s only ungentrified pub and there were like men playing snooker upstairs and then it was like a basement full of lesbian’s downstairs. At one point … the worst moment when we were like – we have to leave this venue - was a fluorescence light tube fell from the ceiling during when everyone was dancing, and I saw a guy raving with like it was a glo stick and I was like ... I took it outside … like it was my child and laid it on a pavement and it exploded, and I was like - oh we have to leave this place someone is going to die in a horrible fire!
We like to be able to identify ourselves to our customers and our guests who are coming. Now we have little badges that say ‘official worshipper’ They are quite useful because they can go on everyone who is a promoter - if we’ve got the badges people just know we are like here to help and essential we will be friendly and we will come with them if they want to report stuff to the venue or if they want to report something to security or if they want something just to tell us anything really - just to be like - oh this could change or can you tell me where this is? Or how does stuff work here? … that sort of thing or where can I find single ladies?
And there’s usually a corner at one of the previous ones we had a trans guy who had taken his top off and who security staff they’d perceived them in a certain way and in a way that they were not necessarily comfortable with and they were a bit worried that their bosses wouldn’t be happy about that - and so that person came and got me and so did security and everything went fine and we all had a conversation about how we would like that to continue. And then eventually we got two duct tape and it was fine and then the duct tape flew away and then it was fine and I was just like ‘woah woah’ to the security and it was all fine and now people can do basically whatever they like - apart from the extra naught stuff.
Officially we frown about that!
The scene is more nights based - and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Because it stops being you homogeneous it stops you going to the same tired venue over and over. And it does give more competition to the actual gay venues and the impetus should be for them to change so the ones that are opening in the last couple of years like The Glory, like The Chateau - they have a much more progressive attitude to their nights - they might let you have a Saturday if you can fill both floors … you just have to prove that you can …good luck getting 10,000 followers on Instagram! But they are a bit more open to it and we’ll see what happens to Aphrodyki where it moves on to somewhere else.
We don’t have a venue -we don’t own anything apart from our likes and followers.
It’s like - it’s all -we actually have - is 2000 Facebook likes.
We are just an idea really so it’s … that’s a big problem for us.
And that’s quite scary - because if Facebook suddenly disappears, Instagram suddenly disappears – Twitter …. we are nothing. Then how will we tell people where we are?
We are trying to move more to direct marketing because it’s really difficult for our FB adverts to even get approved sort of -in the last 2 years our reach has divided itself by ten. If you are not doing a paid for advert - and then the adverts have to meet a very specific set of guidelines. You can’t have any nudity, or any sort of allusion to the female body in any of your posters or any of your picture - doesn’t matter how far back it is from the actual event and actual advert. You can’t have any references to gender, sex or sexuality. You can’t have any swearing you can’t have anything -even if you like target it specially to the people who’ve liked it or specially at LGBT women over 18. Its really difficult to get it approved and actually this is my favourite thing to slag off – is that when your picture is deemed ‘not appropriate’ you go onto the guidelines and you scroll through and you see what is appropriate and they’ve got a little tick next to the statue of David naked but they won’t let a semi naked Aphrodyki -even though it’s a painting and even though I’ve emailed them three times about it. And so that’s a scary thing.
The measure of success for Aphrodyki for us is -as selfish as it is - is that we still enjoy it. And I think that is quite a healthy thing a healthy way to view it. If you are tied up in your night too much say you want to break it as an international DJ or start your own label or start your own fashion line -using a club night - it may become hollow for you because it’s very difficult to run and very difficult to get validation from if you only have that perimeter. So, you might not be invited to go to Glastonbury to be at one of the smaller tents - you might not be flown out to Berlin to a fellow queer night these. Things may not happen you might just get one print out in Time Out that you can send to your mum and that ought to be enough as long as you are still having fun with it.
AS: So, what is coming up in the next episode?
TW: Well, we’ve been on a night out now, so the next obvious thing is to talk about sex.
AS: Let’s do it!
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s names.
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.