HomeBooksBookshops1984. The trials of Gay’s the Word.


1984. The trials of Gay’s the Word. — 18 Comments

  1. Nice brief account of an event which took 3-4 years of my life! But as I was there a small correction. The case was not ended by a judge but followed a government shake up. We got supporting MPs to see the new guy (forget his name but he went on to be Minister for Northern Ireland. He was an book collector). He took one look and ordered Customs to get them out. We negotiated an agreement in which they saved face by retaining about 15 titles that they claimed were obscene under the obscene publication act.

  2. Long before the advent of Amazon if I was looking for books covering gay issues I would make the 300 mile round journey to GTW…sometimes several times a year.

    When I had lived and worked in London I was still very much “in-the-closet” and would walk past the shop trying to pluck up the courage to walk through the door.

    Once I had finally steeled myself and entered the shop it was almost an anticlimax to find that it was so similar to so many other book shops. I wasn’t sure what I expected, maybe I thought that by entering the shop I would suddenly be propelled out of the closet and into the spotlight and my “safe” constructed life would screech to a halt as my secret was exposed!

    Once I started browsing the titles I realised that I had found a life changing source of information and the staff were so friendly.

    Nowadays I will always make a point of going in to GTW whenever I am in London and buying a book or two to support the business and to relive those memories of finding myself.

  3. Paud is my brother and I miss him but am so proud of him and know that he would be proud of us all today xx

    • I only recently learned of Paul’s passing Bridin, so my belated condolences. I didn’t know him well but we did have the occasional chat around the time of the GTW Trial and also when we were collecting for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. I was so impressed by the fact that Paud was so obviously supportive of LGSM collecting outside the shop when the shop itself was already on trial; he was a brave man and I hope his contribution to our community is fully recognised.

  4. I looked Sir Patrick Mayhew up in order to find out more about whether he could have been the person behind the decision to drop the GtW case. Mayhew is described as a pragmatic politician who was not a Thatcherite. But he didn’t change job at any time between the raid and the end of the trial. The only new appointee around the right time was Paul Channon, who became Trade and Industry Secretary in January 1986. He was described as being on the left of the Tory Party and had voted against the death penalty. The gay playwright Terrence Rattigan dedicated his play, ‘The Winslow Boy’, to Channon. Rattigan was a close friend of Channon’’s father, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, who was notoriously bisexual. The sources didn’t say whether he was a book collector, but he was interested in art, design and culture in general. He named his son Paul after Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, the person he said he had loved most in his life.

  5. Pingback:1980s. ‘The decade of the gay novel’ – Gay in the 80s

  6. Pingback:Coming out of the attic – Paud's Pins – an LGBTQ+ history project

  7. The Minister who told Customs to drop the case was Peter Brooke then the Treasury minister responsible for HMC&E. he later became Northern Ireland Secretary.

  8. In “Logical Family” Armistead Maupin says Maggie Thatcher did this. So did she order it? Or was it just bureaucrats run amok?

    If anyone knows I’d love more info. Maupin’s next book, set in the Cotswolds comes out March 2024, and the characters make claims that a UK law, Section 28, increased gay bashing more than they had been before or after, so I am curious about his accuracy on the book seizure claim.

    • I don’t think Thatcher ordered the raid. Indeed, the most detailed study of this attack (‘Saving Gay’s the Word’ by Graham McKerrow in ‘Queer Between the Covers’, University of London Press) says that, during the trial “It emerged that Operation Tiger had been organised at quite a low administrative level…” But it also became clear that Customs and Excise had a policy of seizing any book that came from places like the LGBT bookstore ‘Giovanni’s Room’ in New York and/or had ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in their title. In other words, officers seized books for the flimsiest and most bigoted reasons. (It also emerged that the majority of officers issuing seizure notices were 20 years old and had left school at the age of 16, so weren’t really in any position to judge books by their literary merits.)
      As for Thatcher, while she didn’t order the raid, she was certainly no friend of LGBT people and used homophobia as a political weapon. Section 28 is the most obvious example of that – homophobia entrenched into law. It’s my view that Section 28 was part of her bigger plan to gain greater control over local authority spending. She wanted to show that local authorities were ‘wasting ratepayers money’ on such disgusting schemes as equal treatment of queer people. So whipping up homophobia was part of the plan – and, of course, all of this at a time of a growing AIDS crisis; the ‘gay plague’, which the media often suggested was caused by our disgusting, degenerate lifestyles. One Tory MP even stood up in Parliament and said Section 28 was necessary to prevent the spread of AIDS.
      But let’s also be clear that homophobia/biphobia/transphobia were very much alive and well before Section 28 was even thought of. Raids on gay nightclubs and the illegal seizure of their membership records, raids on parties in private homes, physical attacks on queer people – and police intransigence (and often abuse) when they were reported. Just a few of the manifestations of ingrained bigotry. Section 28 may have turned up the dial a bit but the hatred and discrimination was alive and kicking (often literally!) well before Section 28. Thatcher had no interest whatsoever in addressing any of these things. She dragged her feet when it came to tackling AIDS then used homophobia as a political tool.

  9. I worked at Open Gaze bookstall and Lavender Menace Lesbian and Gay Community Bookshop in Edinburgh from 1979, and we imported many boxes of books from Giovanni’s Room (based in Philadelphia) during that time. To the best of my memory few were ever seized, and the seizures mainly happened around the time of the Gay’s the Word raid. I’m very excited to read Graham McKerrow’s article and look forward to seeing his book.

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