THE LOG BOOKS
Season 2 Episode 5 - “Expect extra calls”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Femi Otitoju, Alison Hennegan, Terry Sanderson, Neal Cavalier Smith, Matthew Hodson, Catherine Lee, Lisa Power, Simon McCallum.
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
AZ: This episode contains stories about murder and child sex abuse
[Telephone dial tone, music]
Log Book Reader 1: This is a log book entry from November 3rd 1983. Tonight on Channel 4 News, 7 to 8pm, there will be another item about young homeless people in London, including an interview with Switchboard volunteer and displaying prominently Switchboard’s phone number, we hope. There could be extra calls. Log Book Reader 2: This is a log book entry Tuesday 20th March 1984. BBC 2 are going to re-run The Horizon programme on AIDS, ‘Panic in the Village’, with updated figures on Monday 2nd April. Last time this programme went out it produced a 300 percent surge in medical calls over the next week, so it’s going to be very important for us to get up-to-date on the various sources of myth and anxiety.
AZ: You get a sense from these kinds of log book entries of volunteers feeling like there’s this oncoming tidal wave of calls, when the number is going to be featured in the media or when an issue like HIV/AIDS is going to be featured in the media and these documentaries. It’s just interesting to see the volunteers organise themselves to get ready for that.
TW: Yeah I think there’s a definite shift from the first period we covered in Season One. And now there is so much media coverage, and there is so much negative media coverage. AZ: There’s another log book entry on this theme in particular that’s from November the 8th 1982. It’s really short all it says is: Radio Four, You and Yours, goes out at 12 Noon today. Expect extra calls. TW: Actually what I really like in this Logbook entry is the section underneath. Which is: Why wasn’t the rota secretary warned to get extra staff on the phones? Annoyed. Rota secretary. AZ: And then someone else has put: Cus I’m into panic scenes. TW: It’s the person that wrote the original entry. AZ: Yeah, yeah yeah. [Music]
TW: You’re listening to the log books, stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history, and conversations about being queer today.
AZ: In partnership with Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Zmith.
TW: And I’m Tash Walker. In this season, we’re reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1983 and 1991.
AZ: This is episode five, ‘Expect extra calls’. TW: And the theme is the media.
AZ: The people that we’ve spoken to in this episode include, some people behind some of the major TV programmes covering gay and lesbian life in the 80’s. Someone who fought the homophobic press with pink paint and the Switchboard volunteers of course, who gave out the most up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS which was more than you got from the news at the time.
Switchboard Volunteer 1: Whenever one of these programmes was on television, positive or negative we’d make sure that all of the phones were staffed. Because come hell or high water, people would be ringing us in their droves afterwards. Log Book Reader 3: This is a log book entry from February 18th 1984. On Tuesday 21st of February Eastern Isle on Channel 4 is running an item about asian gays in Leciester, at the end of the programme they will show our number in place for info/advice etc. So brush up on your relevant info and if you remember, log any calls from asian gays, or to do with their programme in the special surveys bit of the logsheet. And then three days later, another log book entry. Only nine calls resulting from Switchboard’s number being flashed on Channel 4 yesterday. And finally another volunteer writes. What? Nine viewers on channel 4? Unbelievable! MT: On the TV and in the media in the 80’s and 90’s. What I didn’t see was me. And by that, I didn’t see men that looked like me, I didn’t see our stories I didn’t hear our narratives. I was obsessed with representation from way back then and you know we mentioned Out on Tuesday - I’d call them up and put a complaint about lack of representation and they asked me to come on, and I shit myself. I was like nah I can’t do that I live in Brixton, and again so I didn’t come out. And that’s the narrative right? That we want it, but there are systems in place which means we can’t fully partake in that. So I could have come out about my HIV a lot earlier, but there was no way, the stuff that I would have faced was madness. I’m Marc Thompson, I’m 51, and I came out in the summer of 1985. TW: Of course, Marc is talking about TV there, and the lack of representation of people like him, as a black man on TV. But we know that gay media had existed in print much, you know, long before TV. Gay news for example, started in 1972, within a very, very underground inner circle of out lesbian and gay people. But TV was a sort of new and emerging area where we were sort of starting to see more representation of LGBTQ+ people. AZ: There was this new programme that came out in the early 80’s and it was called Gay Life. And it was on regular mainstream TV and it was made by a bunch of people that said that they wanted to make TV programmes for gays and lesbians and by gays and lesbians, because they knew that to represent the full LGBTQ+ spectrum on TV, or at least make an attempt at that. [TV dialogue, original audio] Presenter: This is South London. Different parts of London like this have their own gay scenes. Although it’s only a small part of the total picture, it’s worth looking at some of them. Because they tell us a great deal about the way gay men have been changing over the last decade. Voice 2: Thank you very much thank you for a nice big hand on my opening! [TV dialogue ends]
AH: This was the first ever current-affairs programme about gay matters by gay people. It was the end of interpreting gay people, or the end of having them explained to themselves by somebody who wasn’t, as it were.
AZ: That’s Alison Hennegan. She was a presenter and producer on Gay Life. [TV dialogue, original audio] Voice 3: It’s all material, no matter what way we wear. Voice 4: The drag scene within the gays is fun in pubs, as entertainment in TV, anywhere you like, but as far as scenes go between different guys, we find that the drag queens are the ones that give the rest of us a bad name. We’re not into drag queens or camp or effeminate. Voice 5: I think that if people want to wear leather, they’ve got a right to wear it because it’s the uniform they choose. I choose my own uniform and so does Marilyn. Voice 6: I think it’s really pathetic, like all these really camp queens like, dress up in leather and think they’re really butch but they are not. They are trying to hide their gayness. [TV dialogue ends] AH: And they tried as much as they could to get the whole production team gay. So the researchers of course were gay, though the head of cinematography though not gay, was female, and that was quite important, for the day, it was unusual at that point. But she was a very well regarded cinematographer. I think those programmes came into being because of some quite serious ideas, one of which is about the capacity of television to educate another of which is about the responsibility of television to try to tell things truthfully. The responsibility of television to acknowledge that it has a very diverse potential viewership perhaps the best things happen, then rather just narrowly targeting and doing niche work, where 98% of the population will just decide they are not even going to watch. You try to do something which keeps open the possibility that people will, even if not gay, or not either mad voyeurs, will say, ‘Well I don’t know much about that but I’m quite interested’, or, ‘I do know a bit about that cus uncle Bob or cousin Ted or my brother or whatever, so I’d like to watch those things’. I can’t remember why, I at one stage did a massive flounce and nearly left, with little understanding the fact that if I had immediately left, I would immediately have found myself in big financial trouble because I would have signed contracts you know? So it must have been a line being taken in one of the programmes. And saying I won’t do this anymore. Mike followed me out afterwards and we ended up sitting on a bench somewhere on the side of the bank I think, and Michael said ‘please please don’t, please stay on board’ and we talked it through and indeed I did. [TV dialogue, original audio] AH Presenting: The current Oxford Dictionary defines a lesbian like this ‘A female homosexual. A woman characterised by sexual interest in other women’. According to that definition, feeling sexually attracted to other women makes lesbians into a distinct species, a whole separate category of women. It probably comes as a surprise to many people to realise that that way of thinking of lesbians, as a breed apart, is comparatively very recent, it’s not very much more than a hundred years old. So today in Gay Life, we’ll be seeing how that attitude came into being, what it’s effects have been, and how some lesbians today are challenging it. [TV dialogue ends] [Music plays] TW: To have a TV programme made by lesbian and gay people is groundbreaking really, is what it really is. But you have to be careful to navigate that when you’ve been a super maligned community.
AZ: And we’ve got some Switchboard log book entries about how Switchboard handled this issue about where it wanted to appear as a charity, right? TW: This is a log book entry from the 8th December 1988. ‘Geoff’ of Pilot, which was a Christian anti-gay group, is once again advertising his counselling for the homosexually inclined in the music magazine NME. (Next to our ads?) and elsewhere. You can ring him on the number advertised to check out his services, it’s a pretty depressing experience. Basically the NME will withdraw his ad if they receive letters, not phone calls, complaining that it is misleading. The ad gives a sympathetic impression, please can volunteers especially NME regular readers write and complain. ‘Geoff’ pops up at regular intervals and is funded by right-wing family and morality groups. AZ: So that log book entry was from ‘88 and a couple of years earlier from that, Switchboard volunteers were like really enthusiastic about advertising in the NME. This is a log book entry from May 8th 1984. The NME has a very positive article on gays this week about Bronski Beat, the band. Which are also featured on the front cover. It’d be stupid not to advertise these in the publication as a follow-up to this sort of article. So it’s interesting to think about these two log book entries, with a couple of years between them, like this ongoing debate about do we advertise in this publication or that publication, what do we get out of it and what’s right to put Switchboard alongside in publications basically.
TS: I think yeah, deciding where to advertise in printed media is a really important thing. This is a period of time where a TV programme will air and then that’s it, if you miss it, you miss it. Something goes out in a magazine in a newspaper, it’s there. You know these are things that we still talk about today, I think printed media is still a really important way to communicate out to people who might need Switchboard’s help. I think it’s really interesting as well in that first entry that I read, about the conversion therapy effectively, and how, this is something in 2020 as we’re recording this now, that has still not been banned in the UK. As with all of these things throughout the log books, as we look back, we have to look today and we have to look forward. And I think that is really shocking. [Music plays] AZ: By far and away, I think the biggest thing that caused the biggest problems in this time, in terms of the media, was the printed tabloid press and their like, continued linguistic attacks and persecution of LGBT life. TS: Not only were they talking about gay issues, they became almost obsessed with it. Every day it was gay this, gay that, but it was getting increasingly aggressive. They used the gay issue to attack what they called the ‘loony left’, you know ‘the loony left is giving half the rate precept to gay youthclubs and lesbian this and all that’, you know it was a pack of lies from beginning to end. Somebody had to contradict it, so that was my job. Hello my name is Terry Sanderson and I first started writing the Mediawatch Column for the Gay Press during the ‘80s. You know, I’d been writing regularly for them, all different kinds of stuff, one month the editor came and said ‘the press is getting a little bit aggressive, would you like to explore that in an article?’ so I did, and he said ‘oh that went down very well, let’s have another one next month and make it regular for a while’. So, that went on for 25 years. By the end of the week I had a stack of newspapers a mile high, that had to be gone through to look for stories, there were no press agencies or no Google to do it for you. I had to actually physically go through it by hand and cut out the relevant bits. They all had to go in the dustbin, there was no recycling at that stage [laughter]. It was bad, and if I went on holiday for a fortnight, I’d come back and the newsagent had kept all these newspapers for me and his shop would be piled high with all this stuff. I had to go and collect, sometimes two car loads at a time, politicising gay rights was very annoying. Because you know that papers like The Sun were making it up. They would make up stories about how Labour controlled local authorities spending, as I say, half their rate precept on gay rights. They’d give them you now 20 quid to the local gay youth group and it would be splashed across the papers as though they were squandering money left right and centre. And when the London Lesbian and Gay centre opened in London, Ken Livingstone, of course was a great supporter of gay rights, he helped to get that open. And of course, the papers had an absolute field day with that. But also, when they tried to introduce marriage equality it was the worst, the end of the world as we know it, as we heterosexuals know it, that is to say. When Ken Livingstone started the registration programme, where you could register your partnership at City Hall in London, it didn’t mean anything, it was just symbolic, but the papers went crazy again. So of course, when the parliamentary debates came along about the age of consent, gays and the military, gay adoption and fostering, and gay marriage, you can imagine, they were not sympathetic. TW: Listening to Terry talk about that time, all of this reverberating around the TV, you know the television programmes, radio print. AZ: It feels like it’s just the kind of period where everyone is arguing with each other and everyone is jostling for power and for attention and a newspaper columnist knows that they can get attention simply by saying the most outrageous things about lesbians - or something like that. Politicians also can capitalise on that, because they know that if that’s what’s selling the newspaper then that’s “popular opinion” and its just like, oh my god, so much tension and it doesn’t feel that much different from now.
NCS: One of the random cries for the hatred was a very harmless little book covered by Gay Mens Press which later became The Publisher, which was called ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’. And the book just showed a little girl called Jenny who lived with her two gay dads, next door to I think her mother, but the point was that she lived with two men who were happily gay. My name is Neal Cavalier-Smith. I was a volunteer at Switchboard in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was just intended to make it easier for kids who lived in less traditional relationships, to understand the context of how they fitted into the world and that their life could be absolutely normal. And for people and classmates that had less traditional families to understand that, yes, sometimes they would come up against prejudice or difficulty, but that doesn’t mean that that is right and what they are doing is wrong, that’s just how we live. It unfortunately had a typical Scandinavian image of the whole family rolling around in the duvet, without pyjamas on, I mean one can’t see whether they were wearing bottoms but they certainly weren’t wearing pyjama tops. But in 1980’s England it just gave grist to the mill, ammunition to the campaign of people who were trying to equate homosexuality with something to do with child abuse. TW: In the middle of this period was the Local Government act 1988. Which controlled what local authorities could and couldn’t do, including how to spend their money. AZ: In Section 28 of that act was the thing that stopped local authorities from spending money on any recognition to do with homosexuality. NCS: Things around the world were getting very much better. But in the UK things were going into reverse, and this new law, Section 28, 27, 29 as it got renumbered as it passed through, became clause 28. It was aimed at preventing local authorities from allowing youth groups to meet, it was aimed at preventing books from getting into educational resource centers and schools.
[Sombre music plays] Switchboard Volunteer: The whole thing about Section 28 in general, as you know a long time in coming, and really part of the you know, the Thatcherite backlash of family values, a bit like Queen Victoria - they can do anything they like as long as they don’t fight on the horses, darling. You know Section 28 and the promotion by a local authority of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle would not happen under a local authority, with any local authority funding. But that did mean that libraries were taking down books. Like Gore Vidal, like Oscar Wilde, because, well they were homosexuals and perhaps A Picture of Dorian Grey wasn’t really about [inaudible]. So it frightened everybody in libraries and it frightened everybody in teaching about not being able to talk about homosexuality. TW: It’s really horrible to look back at these entries, at these people’s memories, at these stories and think about what was at stake here. Whose lives were at stake here. And as us as two queer people now in our 30s, the impact of this legislation that was passed on us as well. AZ: Mmmhm, right. TS: Because they were then linking gay rights with child abuse, you know we’ve got to protect our children from the sodomites. And all of that stuff. And again, it was the Christians who were leading the charge. But they had an awful lot of support in the newspapers. Column after column really, really hostile. [Music plays] MH: Me and some friends, we actually lodged a complaint with the press complaints commission and we were told that ‘poofter’ was acceptable language. And that’s because it was at that point. I mean, not acceptable if you were gay. I’m Matthew Hodson. I first went to a gay club in 1983 when I was 15. So one night, this was before Section 28 had passed, me and some friends, I have to admit, we had had a few drinks, and we just went and bought some paint and we literally painted Fleet Street pink. We daubed pink triangles over all the newspaper offices in Fleet Street. So we got arrested, and it was kind of like, it wasn’t even like we were trying to do it and not get arrested, we wanted to make a point and we wanted the attention. It felt like when we tried to pursue the normal conventional channels nobody paid any attention, we were just dismissed, and we were so angry and so frustrated that our lives were being reduced in this way that we had to do something, that we had to take action. Well, we were treated with contempt, we were thrown into a cell we weren’t given water or anything like that. You know, it was pretty shoddy. We went to trial. I banned and to keep the peace for a year. It hadn’t been a violent crime, I think we banned to keep the peace because it was politically motivated. There may have been a more severe penalty if it hadn’t been that, if it had just been an act of random vandalism. I look back on it now and I don’t think, oh wow that was some amazing action. I think it was you know, kind of in some respects it was quite silly. I wish we had coordinated something a bit stronger, but I don’t regret doing it in terms of – I know why I did it. TW: When experiencing any for of oppression there are several in which you can respond to it. Like Matthew did through direct action, but also… AZ: Through a formal complaint which is what Terry did. TW: I thought, how far can this be pushed. You know all this talk of poofs and poofters. Batty boys and bumboys. You know the language was really really extreme. And I thought this is creating an atmosphere in this country of real homophobia. Real hatred. I mean, there’s a lot of homophobia anyway. There always has been and I suspect there always will be. But they were encouraging it and inflaming it. And I didn’t know where it was going to end. So I thought, I’ll try and use the Press Council to stop them using this inflammatory language. I made several complaints and to the Press Council, all of which took weeks and weeks to resolve and then were rejected. It’s run by the editors of the newspapers themselves, who have to you know, who have to rule on complaints and if you made a complaint, there would, everything had to be done by letter. Eventually, the Press Council was The Chairmanship was taken over by Louis Blom-Cooper who was this sort of liberal lawyer. And I thought we might have a chance now. [Sombre music plays] TW: So I made a complaint about Gary Bushell and his so-called TV reviews which were incredibly vicious towards gay people. And Blom-Cooper upheld one of those about the use of words like faggots and batties and all the kind of stuff that these right-wing columnists absolutely loved. He was saying things like, on the 1990 Sunday 21st March, ‘It must be true of what they say about nobody being all bad, even Stalin banned poofs’. Poofs and poofters were the words they used and which were ruled to be unacceptable. He argued that it was the language of the Sun reader. And I’m afraid it might well have been. I write a whole chapter in my book ‘The Media Watch’ about the different approach between the printed media and the broadcast media and they’re quite different. For all the homophobia that was spewing out of the tabloids, the broadcasters were doing there best to keep a level head. Give proper information. Put Claire Rayner on showing you how to put a condom on a banana and all that kind of thing. Taking it really seriously. Whereas the tabloids were fearmongering the TV was trying to give you facts. And it was just as frightening, but it was a frightening time. TW: And now we’re going to hear from previous volunteer Femi. Who was often seen in front of the camera and was never afraid to speak her view. FO: I think the first time I was asked to appear on camera was Claire Rayner’s Casebook, so that would have been early ‘80s it could have been ‘83. I was nervous occasionally cus I was starstruck. I mean I was completely smitten by Claire Rayner, I didn’t have a remit to speak for the Black Lesbian and Gay communities, certainly not the Black Lesbian community we didn’t have spokespeople like that. Or, it was only that I had the freedom. The social, the financial and political freedom to react as a lesbian, and as a black lesbian at that. So I wasn’t so invested, this is quite interesting, I wasn’t so invested in the Black communities that I had any risk at all - that I would lose my friends and family, or any of the connections I wasn’t involved in churches, I wasn’t part of a huge family, I’ve got a huge family but they weren’t based here and I wasn’t dependent on them. I had nothing to lose so I could use my voice. Not everybody was in that position. When I was being wheeled out in front of cameras and having lights put in front of my face. It didn’t actually occur to me that I was being put up there as a spokesperson of our community. I was young, in my twenties. I don’t think I was arrogant I think I was just clueless. I mean what I believe what I think to be right, I was politically motivated I went off to do it. I didn’t see it in the context of, is this right? I never asked myself that. When you give your views on these things do you stop for a second and think whether other black lesbians would like you to say that? [Laughter] It never occurred to me at all. So it’s completely understandable if lots of them were really annoyed. TW: I think there’s something powerful in seeing Femi represented in lots of these TV programmes from the time. And it resonates with me and some things that I’ve heard, lots of people talk about now ‘that you cannot be what you cannot see’ and I know, you know, at the time she doesn’t recognise quite what she was representing. It had a really big impact on a lot of people, and I know a lot of people that we’ve spoken to talk about that. AZ: Definitely and it’s great that she was always willing and brave enough to go on the TV, to walk onto a TV set. Actually in 1958 there was a bunch of other lesbians who were brave to go on a TV set in a slightly different way. TW: And that was when the lesbians stormed the Six O’Clock BBC News. [Original TV broadcast audio plays] Presenter: The Six O’Clock BBC News from the BBC. On the air with Sue Lawley and Nicholas Witchell. [Beeping] [Voices shouting, overlapping] Voice 2: We’re on the air! Voice: Get ‘em out! [Static sounds. Voices shouting, overlapping] Presenter: It’s six o’clock in the House of Lords a vote is taking place now on a challenge to the poll tax. Protester: Stop section 28! Stop section 28! [Sounds of a scuffle] Presenter: Tory rebels have said… Protester: Stop section 28! Presenter #2: I do apologise if you’re hearing quite a lot of noise in this studio at the moment. Protester: What are you doing?! Presenter: I’m afraid that we have rather been invaded by some people who we hope to be removing very shortly. [Muffled shouting] Presenter: In the meantime if you can possible ignore the background news we’ll bring the news as best we can. KL: I remember distinctly I was on a teaching practice in St Helens on Merseyside and I remember coming home from a day of teaching practice to my other housemates in our shared house in Liverpool and watching the Six O’clock News. My name is Catherine Lee and I started to train to be a teacher in 1986. My closest friend in that house was heterosexual and I remember coming out to her a couple of years prior to that, and her saying ‘Oh you’re not are you? Oh no! I still want us to be friends. Oh what a waste, what a waste!’ I remember the five of us in the house and we’d not lived together that long. We were cooking for the whole house. So I remember that myself and one of the other girls had cooked a very disastrous meal that involved corn beef and potatoes. The sofas were really uncomfortable, I think they were meant for conservatories because they’d got this kind of like cane arms and cane sides and it was not a really very nice place to be. But we felt so independent at having it and living away from home and living together. And I just remember feeling that it was something serious, but not, sort of wanting the ground to swallow me up. And wanting it go away. And I remember distinctly Nicholas Witchell and Sue Lawley reading the Six O’Clock News and the lesbians invading the BBC studios. Nicholas Witchell going off air and Sue Lawley carrying on while there were these muffled sounds. We didn’t know what it was, but you could barely hear them say ‘Stop Section 28!’ so we had a good idea. The house that I shared, there were five of us, all training to be PE teachers. Three of them were heterosexual so me and one other person that was gay, and I remember us both looking at each other as the news was on and thinking ‘crikey this is serious’. TW: If we look back on Season One which started just after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in ‘67 one thing that certainly feels like we’re going back in time of Season Two is the representation of gay people in the tabloid press especially when it comes to crimes. AZ: Yes that’s right. There was this case that was called The Brighton Boy Case in 1983 and the way that the media handled that is I think, really telling of the theme that you’re talking about Tash. This was a boy in Brighton who was sixteen years old, he was abducted by three men and sexually assaulted and left in the street. Now because he was a boy and the perpetrators of that crime were men, the tabloid press conflated homosexuality with that level of peadophilia and abuse and criminality. TW: And if we look at some log book entries from this period of time it gives you the sense of feverish atmosphere that was leading up to Section 28. This is a log book entry from 19th August 1983. Man phoned saying ‘Watch your mail threatening bombs aimed at gay centres because of the Brighton Boy’. AZ: and then another volunteer has written under that later that day: A second bomb threat, ‘If that boy dies don’t you have enough bums to fuck?’ Which is like, really threatening.
TW: I mean that’s really something. AZ: And kinda horrendous. TW: I can’t imagine getting that phone call.
[Sombre music plays]
TS: Yeah this is a log book entry from 18th August 1983. A phone call from Brighton Gay Switchboard suggesting we advise callers to exercise caution when they go to gay pubs or clubs in Brighton at the moment. This is due to the massive publicity surrounding a recent sex attack on a child there, see The Evening Argus on noticeboard. This has led to pubs and clubs attracting great attention from gangs of thugs have been hanging around threatening customers. Media hacks from London, ITN, and the Daily Mail are also to be found hanging around hoping for a good quote people say the place is also full of plain clothes police and the place is also a lot emptier than usual. TW: In this year, 1983 there was also another crime that made the news centring around homosexuality and that’s mentioned in the log books here too.
TS: This is a log book entry from October 26th 1983. Beware both the Black Cap and the Golden Lion have so far been mentioned in press reports of the Nilsen trial, should we caution callers to be on their guard since the location of both these pubs is now available to a large number of potential queer bashers. Dennis Nilsen was a mass murderer of gay men, he murdered at least twelve young men between 1978 and 1983 in London. And this was a gift to the tabloid papers, because of course we’ve got here a gay mass murderer. And it gave them the opportunity to paint this awful picture of gay life in London. The awfulness of squalid and seedy pubs where aimlessly drifting young men would congregate and be shark bait for people like Denis Nilsen and it really was awful. I mean the Daily Mail wrote ‘There are middle aged homosexual sharks, who know that to homeless lads seduction might seem a small price to pay for a few nights in a warm bed’. It gives the impression that Dennis Nilsen found it easy to find these vulnerable young boys and take them home and murder them. But the overall picture that they were painting of gay life in London was so squalid it made it sound like the dregs of society. And yes, there are seedy places in London - but they’re not all gay. Although they were drawing attention over and over again to the fact that this was the gay killer, killing gay men, never once did I hear Peter Sutcliffe - The Yorkshire Ripper - referred to as a heterosexual man or a straight man murdering straight women. There just didn’t seem any justification for them drawing attention constantly to these people’s sexuality. I mean it was tragic for these young people to be murdered, was a tragedy, and they were reduced to just being lumps of sordid flesh as far as the papers were concerned.
LP: Well my memories of Nilsen are very complex, because I knew the last person he killed. Stephen. And that was very difficult, I was working with Stephen through a homelessness project in The West End at the time. So that was horrible and very close to home. I mean, we’re talking decades ago but it was a real [disgusted groan] at the time. It was a shudder that went through the kids who were homeless in the West End. Because he was a very popular character there. But there were real issues with paedophiles who tried to get onto our accommodation service and later our employment service. Real issues with paedophiles trying to even get involved with us in other ways. And we kept a list, throughout the 80’s. It was a very quiet list but it was a list in the front of the accommodation service a list in the front of the employment service, and a list in training group, of people who we considered were, at the very least, dubious. And in some cases convicted paedophiles who we did not want anywhere near us. TW: God that’s quite chilling isn’t it from Lisa. AZ: Yeah and it’s this conflation of paedophilia with murderers and gay men, which is part of how gay men were demonised in the 80’s especially in the media battleground for that. TW: Totally, and today we’re seeing this misrepresentation and totally unfair portrayal of transgender and gender non conforming people in the media. AZ: Yeah. But Trans and Queer people are fighting back against bad representation and sometimes even inside media organisations they are not monolithic they are full of lots of people with conflicting views. And so here is a story from the log books about a person at one such organisation, the BBC. Log Book Reader 4: This is a log book entry from April 3rd 1984. Man who works at BBC called, outraged at sensationalist and alarmist nature of AIDS programme. Would like us to put in an official complaint on basis of huge floods of calls we get, especially as he would like to raise a bit of a stink within the BBC and this would give him strong ammunition. No doubt the BBC will have a fair idea of our feelings towards that programme, but something specific in writing always helps. Can someone organise this? The caller also informed me that the controller of BBC 2 is gay. Thought you’d like to know. [Sombre music Plays] AZ: We thought about how to reflect on the media today and we realised here at the Log Books that we are the media [laughter] TW: That’s right. Adam is a former journalist, Shivani is a current journalist and I’m on social media [laughter]. So we thought we’d have a chat with Shivani about how the media is today. SD: It’s really weird being on this side of the mic. [Laughter] TW: So we talk a lot about representation in the Log Books. Both behind the scenes and also throughout the podcast episodes. Is there anything that you can think of that makes you reflect back on that, in the context of today? SD: Marc was making a really good point in this episode about how he never saw any gay black men, and that’s not to say there weren’t any gay black men. It’s just that they weren’t being the ones that were put in front of the cameras, or put in front of the microphones. And I think we have been, we have started to get better with that, but largely the LGBT representation that we do have in the media is still so cis and so white, and as things are trying to slightly progress and we’re getting more and more aware of different intersections and intersectionality there are people who are trying to eek out all of those different nuances and experiences, and lived experience. TW: I think it’s worth us just giving our listeners an update on what we’re talking about when we refer to cis and trans. So, trans when we’re talking about that means transgender which means that you don’t align with the gender you were assigned at birth and cis gender is someone who does align with the gender they were assigned at birth. Do you think there’s been more progress in who is telling the stories these days? SD: Yes and no. I think it depends on what kind of stories are being told. If you’re reporting on a news piece and there are straight up facts. Those stories are largely told by straight people and cis people. All throughout the history of time and now those stories are still being told by largely cis and straight people. But, that is the job of a journalist. To report facts and to tell you what has happened. Now there are more initiatives and more queer people in media, telling their stories. Because I don’t think that it’s been the case that queer people weren’t working in the media industries, I think there’s been a lack of being able to tell the stories that they’ve experienced and the stories that they resonate with. AZ: Shivani, thinking about the point you made about positive representation and visibility could you tell us a little bit from your own experience about that? SD: Ok so i’m brown, for the record. I’m brown and queer. Which means that when I walk down the street or when my picture is on the website at work saying ‘Oh this person is presenting this show’ that comes up and people can see that I’m brown and that’s a really good bit of representation and people need to be able to, you can’t be what you can’t see, so people need to know that they’ve got opportunities in that area if they want to. And me as a kid, when I was growing up I wanted to see people like me doing the jobs that I wanted to do. But, if you’re queer, largely you can’t tell that someone’s queer, unless they’ve got a badge that says ‘Hello I’m Queer’ which some people do, and I respect it. But you can’t always tell. So I think in my role, I recently came out as non binary on the radio, and I did that because I just thought it was so important to let people, who may not necessarily feel like they’ve got a specific place in society, or may not necessarily feel like they fit in with the very binary world that we live in. Just let them know that it’s ok to navigate this world that isn’t necessarily built for you. Because you know, I’ll still fill out forms that are like ‘Are you a man or a woman?’ and I’m like ‘Dude’. There’s not a specific way to be and that’s the whole thing about, there’s no one way to look. Male or female or non binary. So, I just feel like as somebody who has a position, a job, that can be quite public and is public facing, it’s almost like, partly a duty to let the people who come after me know that it’s going to be ok for them, because there are people there before them trying to pave a way that lets them live a comfortable life. TW: But coming out publicly in that way, also means that people interpret you, or project onto you, the role of an activist. SD: Well, I’m not an activist. [laughter] I’m just living my life, and I think that’s what a lot of queer people and LGBTQ+ people are doing. Yeah you’re right, I mean it happens so mch, some people will come out and then immediately they are asked to speak on ten different issues that affect whatever community they are a part of now. Not that they haven’t always been part of that community, but as it wasn’t publicly knowledge before, people didn’t care about what their opinions were on those things before they said that they were aligned with it. So there are people who do want to lobby governments and they do want to campaign and that’s a really valid choice and I respect that, because if it wasn’t for people having campaigned I wouldn’t be able to live the life that I have now. So I really respect that, me and my job and coming out wasn’t a campaign aiming stunt, it wasn’t like activism, it was just breathing. It was just existing. And being like honest about who I am. AZ: How do you think social media has changed this whole conversation and this whole topic of the media and representation, compared to in 1983 - 91 when social media just did not exist? SD: I mean there was a time before Instagram. AZ: Ha ha yes, believe it or not. And there will be a time after Instagram too. [Laughter] SD: After I came out there were a number of news articles written about me. Loads of people from all sorts of different places, got in touch with me, either to support me and give me some solidarity which was really great because it was a really vulnerable time in my life and that was really really nice. And there were other people who were coming to me and saying ‘I didn’t know that that was a thing and now I’ve read up on it. And I’ve either A) learned something new or B) I think that’s maybe me too, I think I’m the same’ and that’s also great because it means that you can start to reach out and connect with people. But then equally, it was quite bad, specifically for me with this example. My social media was sort of linked to these articles that were written and in having the media publicise me and who I am, meant that there were people who were made aware of me that they wouldn’t have known who I was before. They were made aware of me and decided to start like, sending me awful messages. To the point where it was harassment. TW: I remember you telling me about this when it was all happening. How are you doing today? SD: I think I’m coping quite well, it’s always weird having your life being thrown into the public eye, especially when that’s not who I am. I’m not like a celebrity, I’m not like, it came out of nowhere for me. All things considered there was a bumpy road in the middle, but I’m doing ok and I think it’s largely down to having supportive friends IRL, in real life. And just understanding how to use the protective measures you can on social media, and how vital and important they are. TW: Yeah I couldn’t agree with that more. It’s been so nice chatting to you on this side of the podcast in front of the mic Shivani. SD: It’s like the mask is off. [Laughter] AZ: It’s been great! And we also have to remember to cover television because one of the things that you might have noticed in this season of the podcast is these clips from these old TV programmes. Which is, in part, thanks to the work of Simon McCallum at the BFI National Archive. And we had a quick chat with Simon about the archive, what’s in there, and why it’s important to preserve that kind of media and stay engaged with it. SM: So the BFI National Archive looks after an enormous number of film and TV programmes you’re looking at over a million titles actually. And of that, maybe two thirds are actually television, a lot of people don’t realise how much TV we look after. So it’s a massive part of the work we do, both in preservation and programming and one area that I’ve sort of been digging down into in my area of the BFI is LGBT representation, both in film and telivision. My name is Simon McCallum and I’m Archive Projects Curator at the BFI which is the British Film Institute. In the 80’s the power of television really comes into it’s own when we’re looking at how the HIV AIDS epidemic began to be discussed and represented on screen and it’s really television that was important here as opposed to cinema. Whereas over in America you had feature films like Buddies, groundbreaking films like that, Long Time Companion. But in Britain it was very much a case of television kind of addressing and dealing with the epidemic and that’s not to say it wasn’t in a problematic way because unfortunately, while there was some real kind of compassionate programming around AIDS that were specifically looking at the experiences of gay men. As the decade wore on and as Thatcher’s Conservative government started to dig their heels in and it became increasingly moralistic, with legislation like Section 28 – programming sort of took a step away from addressing the specific concerns of the gay community, and started to focus on how the epidemic was a risk to the hetrosexual population, or ‘normal folk’ as they sort of coded them very often in their language. And there’s kind of interesting scenes in some of the documentaries about AIDS that were being made towards the end of the 80’s where the shift was very much towards young, sexually active people. In some cases they would talk about injecting drug users in Scotland for instance, there was various pieces up in Scotland where there was a real you know, hub of the epidemic up there from drug users. So there would be these other groups, haemophiliacs that were sort of focussed on. Young, sexually active heterosexuals became the main focus of both the government campaign and the broader media depiction of the issue. So you would get young people being interviewed saying ‘Why would you wear condoms it’s like eating a Mars bar with the wrapper on’ and they are going out to the bars interviewing these young people. And it’s a reminder that it wasn’t just about convincing gay men to wear condoms, it was about the wider population. And again it takes us back to the famous AIDS advert in ‘87 and the subsequent messaging from the government, which again there was a lot of back and forth and arguing about the accuracy the usefulness the clarity of the message. And so nowadays yes, we have many more channels of communication, we have social media, we have a lot more at our disposal and a lot more representation of all sorts of diverse groups. But yet at the same time we’re still in the position where we are very much arguing about a lack of clarity, so you know, in some ways not an awful lot has changed, despite the massive increase in communication. So there are a few ways you can explore our collections as we digitise more and more of the archives. So, online we’ve got BFI player where we’ve now got over 10,000 films from the BFI national archive but also partner archives around the UK. And as part of that project which is called Britain On Film there’s a big collection called LGBT Britain where you can explore various kind of examples of how the community was sort of represented on TV and film over the years. If you’re in London you really should visit our Mediatheque at BFI Southbank where we’re able to make loads more stuff available that we can’t put online for rights reasons. So, particularly talking abut TV you’ve got incredible resources in there from television in the 80’s and 90’s.
[Music Plays] AZ: You could just get lost in those old TV programmes held by the BFI National Archive, or you could stick around here for the next episode of the Log Books. TW: Both equally appealing. But we’re going to keep continuing our journey from ‘83 to ‘91 through the log book entries, and stories about how queer people felt throughout this period of time.
AZ: Calls to Switchboard are confidential, so to bring The Logbooks to life, we’ve changed the callers names. The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Zmith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. TW: If you think other people would like The Logbooks, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TheLogBooks. Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you’re affected by any of the issues in this podcast, or need to discuss anything to do with your gender identity or sexuality, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630. Email email@example.com or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money, or time, to help.