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Bill Gavan

Bill Gavan, born 1950


Bill Gavan, 57, is a prominent member of Birmingham’s gay community, having been involved in running gay clubs for many years in both Wolverhampton and Birmingham. He talks about gay life in Wolverhampton from the Silver Web to the Dorchester. He discusses politics, both gay and national and how he has used his influence for the benefit of the gay community. He talks frankly about institutions such as Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police and their attitudes to gay people. He talks about his instrumental role in setting up Birmingham’s first Pride event in 1997 and discusses many aspects of the gay scene over the last 30 years including fond memories of Laurie Williams.


Moving to Birmingham – 10
Parents - 10
Gay Wolverhampton – 20 30
Gavans – 20 30 80 90
Silver Web – 30 60
Dorchester – 90
The Jug 40 50
Laurie Williams 40 42 45
Women’s access to bars 42
Camp Hill Nightingale - 42
80s Birmingham scene - 50
Lesbian friendly venues – 60 70
Terminology 70
Subway City – 40 100
First Gay Pride – 110 130 160 190
Later Prides – 320
Police attitudes – 120 135 140 370
Police Liaison Group/Police forum – 135 360
Pride Forum - 210
Pride Ball – 200
Gaydar – 350
Divided gay scene – 300 260 290
Politics/stonewall – 240 250 310 330
Stonewall 310 315
Donations to gay organisations 315
Working for the gay community 330
Alcohol and drugs – 340 360 370
Rent boys – 370
Changes in society – 340
Domestic violence - 380
Catholic Homophobia - 390

10 Coming Out and moving to Birmingham

Bill came out in 1979 having been previously married with a family. “I discovered what they called in those days ‘latent homosexuality’. After an amicable divorce I went in search of another life. I met my partner of the past 25 years, David Jilkes, who lived in Birmingham, so I moved down from Glasgow in 1980. I first came to England in 1969 (from Scotland) when married, and fell in love with Birmingham, so came back second time round as a different guy. David was an only child, and his parents knew he was gay, so we very classically had their spare room until we bought our first house, they kindly helped us decorate at the weekend and we ended up picking them up every weekend for fifteen years. Eventually they stayed with us for the last ten years of their life until they both died, in our granny flat. So David as a partner was a ‘package deal’.”

20 Gay Bars in Wolverhampton 1980 - 1990

“During this time we had many small businesses, restaurants and hotels. As a side business we opened the Lord Raglan in Wolverhampton as a gay pub in 1980, (sold on in 1983). Then we had a couple of restaurants; the Old Chelsea Hotel, (from ‘83 to ‘88 with gay bars, or gay-friendly), also in Wolverhampton.”

“During that period, ‘85 to ‘90, I opened a small nightclub in Darlington Street, Wolverhampton and held a gay night on Saturday and Sunday. We were asked at the licensing department what it was going to be called so I said ‘Gavans’ for the lack of a better name. It later became known as ‘The Small Gavans’ because we then ended up with the bigger club called Gavans, within the Dorchester Club. When the Dorchester opened and the Saturday night Gavans was moved from the small to the large club, it was then known as the ‘Big Gavans’.”

30 The Wolverhampton scene c1980

“In those days (around 1980 – 82) there was a very limited gay scene, though Wolverhampton had the biggest scene. It had a nightclub, owned and run by a brother and sister, Betty and Norman Webb, The Silver Web, which was bigger and we later had the smaller club, the Small Gavans. We were in the centre of town, but the Silver Web was the other side of town, very much on the back streets, not in the entertainment quarter, up a huge staircase with a little door and you knocked. Gavans was very public, with a grand street entrance, and everyone knew what the hell it was. We had The Dorchester from 1992 and sold it in Jan 1996 to Northern Leisure plc and it was no longer gay, and then it closed.”

40 Buying the Jug in 1995 from Laurie Williams

“I then bought the Jug in 1995 from Laurie Williams but it only became public that it was mine after I sold the Dorchester in 1996. I closed and renovated it for six months and reopened it as Subway City in 1995. In the meantime Laurie spent the money from The Jug on opening a small bar in what is now Angel’s Café Bar.”

42 Laurie Williams
“Laurie Williams worked at the Home Office and he managed to get the Nightingale a late licence, like a Working Man’s Club, in a tin hut in Camp Hill. Then they had a political fall out about whose club it was and Laurie was booted out, so he set up The Jug Club, which was ‘Just Us Guys’, and then it changed (its meaning) to ‘Just Us Gays’. In those days most lesbians went out as friends of gay men, known as lipstick lesbians. You’d say ‘Is she married? No she’s one of us.’ In those days it was more difficult for women socially than it was for men. Laurie was obviously bitter against whatever happened with the Gale but he had wonderful foresight about lesbians and gays when I first met him in the early 80s. He’d seen lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, all mixing together, and he always knew that when he had them in his club he could get them all to socialise as normal people. He had the belief that if they could do it on the dance floor, they could do it on the street. He was an amazing character and I believe with his stage presence and his wit and his camp, if he’d been based in London, in Soho, he’d have been very well known, on Channel Four, and a minimum of a Larry Grayson type of person, but he was also politically motivated and had done a lot behind the scene. He’d entertain the local police and local politicians for dinner or drinks, that’s the way it was done in those days and he’d make sure that his clients and clientele, and the general clientele in Birmingham were quite well looked after. I found him an amazing character and respected him, and although he had his own grudges, his and his partner Lionel’s ultimate aim was to unite. The Jug at that time was underneath in Water Street, but before that it was in Albert Street, up in the town centre, underneath a restaurant, you went down a little spiral staircase and you were served through a little cubby hole in the wall. “

45 Laurie Williams’ funeral
“Laurie William’s funeral was the best funeral I’ve ever been to in my life and I’ve been to many. I’ve stopped going to gay funerals, except for very personal and close friends, half way through the nineties because it reached literally hundreds. I went to Laurie Williams out of respect for Laurie and I’ve never laughed so much at a funeral in all my life, it was attended by the most amazing characters, some of whom I knew but not personally which was a shame. These were the campest, loveliest bunch of people that I’ve ever met.”

50 Birmingham scene in the early 1980s

“Again in Birmingham in the early 80s there was a very fragmented situation, with three very small clubs scattered across the city: the Nightingale, in a terraced house at the end of a row of terraces in Aston, Laurie Williams had the Jug Club in the city and there was the Grosvenor Hotel on the Hagley Road. When they were all full you’d be lucky if you could get 600 people in all three venues, whereas the Silver Web was enjoying a crowd of 900 – 1000 way back in the early 80s. In Birmingham it was all very male-dominated. “

60 The Silver web, very lesbian friendly

“The Silver Web in Wolverhampton was very much frequented by lesbians, a good split crowd, 500 lesbians, and had shown me that there was gay women as well as men (wanting to use clubs). I don’t know what happened to the lesbian crowd in the 90s but in the 80s they were out there big style, ‘shouting their tits off and guzzling the beer down!’. Lesbians came from Staffordshire, Shropshire, to Wolverhampton and the Midlands, and it was easy to get there, they enjoyed tremendous support from the lesbian community. Wolverhampton played a big part in getting the clubs to get bigger and, as we got more commercial, there was business to be made from us, all of a sudden we got a voice, and I felt it was my place to take advantage of that and see what we could get. We were very fortunate, what we’ve got so far. “

70 Position of lesbians, and comment on social tolerance in early 80s

“Most of our friends were lesbians. Back in those days we never used the word ‘lesbian’, it was ‘gay women’. Through the 80s, as supposedly homosexuality was being accepted socially, I never believed we were being accepted, it was a fashion item. It was nice for every heterosexual couple to have a gay couple or gay friend at their table. I realised we had very limited facilities to us socially, or in any other way, i.e. David and I had the same doctor at the time, it was more convenient to have private doctors and dentists rather than NHS, your money could get you treated as a gay couple, but normal working class gay people, which we were, but because we were in business, we were allowed to (but they couldn’t).”

80 Gay Politics opening Gavans for a political reason

“We then started to get very involved in gay politics, with rights for lesbians and gays, and I’m among the old school, I’m not very good at going out on the streets carrying a banner and harassing people, I like to do it in private, behind the scenes, lobbying, and lobbying with money. I then took the gamble, because of the limited social scene and how things were restricted, because then the Nightingale didn’t let women in, they had to be guests, and you had to make an application, so I opened Gavans, it became very popular, and that was very politically motivated. Although it was a business in the commercial sense for me it was very politically motivated, there was a lot of people in Wolverhampton screaming for racial equality, the Asian community, the West Indian Afro-Caribbean community, and no-one was screaming for us, nobody was even talking about us. “

90 Gavans Night at the Dorchester

“So when we opened Gavans, there was a bit of a blaze of publicity about having the largest gay club in Europe, on the front door, the Wolverhampton people accepted it, lovely, the club became a very successful commercial club. On three other nights it was not gay, most of the gay community believed that Gavans was Gavans on a Saturday night and that was it, it was financially the least successful of the four nights, although very busy and successful, the other three nights, giving the heterosexual community the gay camp that we knew, they called it ambience but we knew it was camp, in other words, ‘lulu’ and a lollipop on the way in, a bit of live entertainment, they were much more successful. The club was called The Dorchester Club, the other nights were rock, indie and student, and all had their own name, Rock Night at the Dorchester, Gavans at the Dorchester on a Saturday. David and I owned the Dorchester freehold. The general public and the gay people wouldn’t get confused, if a gay person came on a Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it and saw a queue of people on a Friday they would be under no illusion. In those days, homophobia was still (rife) on the commercial sector and on the streets at night, especially if the gays were outnumbered; I didn’t have protection for gay people, being me as well. It was quite fashionable for the general public in Wolverhampton, to attend the Dorchester, and they would proudly announce which nights they went, ‘Oh we go on a Friday’. But there was a lot of, ‘Oh, we don’t share the same glasses do we?’, and all that kind of thing, which was still very rife in the eighties. That moved on, gay people did sometimes go on the other night and mixed socially with other friends, in a gay friendly environment, it was the same door staff and owners and management every night, so there was a comfort zone. It worked the opposite; the general member of the public knew any abuse or even (negative) reference to gay people would not be tolerated. That also worked in a much bigger way, it also applied to the Asians and Afro-Caribbeans, there was no discrimination at all allowed. Therefore white couldn’t refer to black people by street names etc. It was a very much attitude-free zone, which Wolverhampton absolutely fell in love with.”

100 Opening Subway City

For the past fifteen years Bill has been running Subway City. “Laurie Williams, who was an icon in Birmingham, and one of the founders of the Nightingale and a very clever and highly camp man, had a club called The Jug Club, which is now the club I own, Subway City. I’d done a deal with Laurie a few years before his retirement and I advanced him some of the money, that I’d take those premises, because I felt there should be an alternative to the actual gay village, which was there by this time, in those days 15 years ago there were a lot of people for whom anonymity was more important than anything. Consequently, I developed that club the same as the Dorchester, where the most successful night would be a Wednesday for students, and a Friday night for rock and Indie, and a very successful gay night on a Saturday and Thursday. I’d run free coaches from the gay village, when I brought gay people purely on gay nights. It was very successful for people out of town and people whose anonymity was important. I still think today anonymity is very important and we should always respect anonymity. Some people think ‘Just come out and it’s all over’; it is not all over, I’m a firm believer that people should come out if they want to, when they’re ready and only when they’re ready, and sometimes not at all.”

110 First Gay Pride, The Triangle committee 1996

“I, like most other gay entrepreneurs, would shout and complain on a regular basis, that we had no rights and nothing, until my partner said one day ‘why don’t you do something about it, instead of complaining’ so I organised a small committee, the Triangle Committee, in 1996, and had public meetings about having a Gay Pride.”

120 Digbeth Police Station in 1996

“At the time Digbeth Police Station was quite notorious about cruising this area and always arresting a couple of gay people at the weekend, who would be physically and mentally abused. There used to be a meat wagon, blacked out, with six or ten police officers sitting in it, singing YMCA and making fun of people outside gay clubs and we had no rights. “

130 Approaching the Police and the Council about a Gay Pride

“So I was elected to approach Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police, and went to the Chief Constable at the time and he said ‘There’s no problem with Pride so long as it’s a celebration and procession, not a demonstration’. He gave me a small hand written note to take to the local police station, and the local desk sergeant at Digbeth said ‘Over my dead body’ – so I showed him the note, and that was basically the start of the Police Liaison situation. So I went to Birmingham City Council, and that was much easier, I told him that it would be privately funded, self-supporting, and they welcomed us with open arms, but I believe to this day that it was because I didn’t ask for any money. “

135 230 The Police Liaison Group later the Police Forum

“I then got very interested in the Police Liaison Group, depending on what shift was operating the level of support, or level of contempt we would have. The whole idea was to try to get rid of street crime, get us some street cred. A particular police officer took a year out and was funded to become the Police Community Officer, and he eventually retired, and funding was not continued the following year. He embarrassed the Police into getting involved. We registered the Police Liaison Group meeting with Birmingham City Council, which then meant they (the police) were obliged to turn up on a monthly basis. We eventually got the Inspector of the area to attend on a regular basis, and we then got crime figures from quarterly down to monthly, broken down along Hurst St, all numbered, so we knew exactly where the attacks were taking place, and that’s still in place today. A lot of the practices that were brought into the gay village are now citywide under banners like ‘Pub watch’ and ‘Club watch’. These are all offshoots of things that BCC and the West Midlands Police invited me to join and set up. I assumed that the heterosexual community of Broad St or the rest of the town were totally organised, but they weren’t they were in more disarray than we ever could imagine! So I helped to form those things over the last decade all over the city and bring Police Liaison into every aspect of the community, Asian, Afro-Caribbean, white, heterosexual, that has been good for the gay community and me. We’ve come a long way and made the path smoother, but there is still a long, long way to go. “

140 The police now

“We knew in the eighties and early nineties that we would have to wait for people
(in the police force) to retire, or die, for new attitudes, attitudes to change. The police force are now having inspectors who are university educated, much younger and open, they had different opinions on racial and sexual discrimination, and orientation. As time has passed, 99% of that has happened and the West Midlands Police Force has its own (gay) recruitment campaign, and has hundreds of gay people working for them. They have their own (LGB) social club, called the Rainbow Club, and get a £50K annual grant. That in my lifetime is phenomenal. We don’t have a problem now with the police in general, they’re one of the biggest employers in the country, the West Midlands Police, so they’ve got to have departments or individuals who don’t get it right, but that doesn’t mean the whole force is homophobic. I have lunch with the Chief Constable four times a year, he’s a charming man, and anything seriously untoward that we have against us in the gay community he sorts in 24 hours. He would do that with any community. He’s the only Chief Constable that’s attended the Police Liaison meeting; he asked to be invited and came within his first month. We’ve had the leader of the Council.“

150 We have come along way in terms of gay rights

“I don’t think we should underestimate how far we’ve come but I don’t think we should spoil things and I think we’re in danger of doing that. I hate people saying, ‘in my day’. In my day it was crap being a gay man and today it’s wonderful being a gay man or woman. I was brought up in an impoverished, strict Catholic coal mining community and none of my nephews or nieces can comprehend that, it was shit old days, the same applies to the gay community. We don’t have a memorial in November like for the forces but there have been people sacrificing their lives, who have been ruined along the way, for the gay community. I would love to see if it’s referred to in 100 years time.”

160 Why we wanted a Gay Pride

“Gay Pride was designed purely to have a procession through the town ‘We’re here, we live here’, for gay and lesbian people and their families, and a street party. It was not, initially, tens of thousands of people drinking and rolling in the streets. My idea was just to get us collectively together for one day on the street, having a drink, saying ‘Hello’, mothers meeting other mothers etc., because then, we didn’t have all the offshoot meetings we now have e.g. for lesbian mothers, bisexuals, parents, etc. Nobody told me, I knew what homosexuality was, but I never really understood – it didn’t apply to me, it was a taboo, being brought up as a strict Roman Catholic, not only was homosexual sex taboo, sex was taboo and never discussed. “

190 Setting up Gay Pride 1997

“I set up the first Pride not to become the Bill Gavan road show, but the first year would be me and some other people, then in 1997 we would retire and become patrons (matrons) on the gay scene, and a newly elected body would do the next year and then the matrons and patrons could retire and move upstairs, so we’d have new ideas. The first Pride had about 20,000 people. The committee consisted of three lesbians (see Inge Thornton interview) and four gay blokes (see Trevor Sword interview), all openly out. I couldn’t have pulled it off without the girls, the guys were easier because they were on the gay scene, they were getting the local businesses involved, but the lesbians – I called them the girls – they were bringing people in from the voluntary sector, and other members of the public, in other words they had more balls than me, to go out there and invite the general public.”

200 The Pride Ball

“Out of the first Pride, to fundraise came the Gay Pride Ball. I suggested we all invite our solicitors, accountants, doctors, dentists, hence why the Ball is 50% gay, it’s friends, families, associates, it’s become a business. The first Pride Ball was in 1997, some time after the Pride. Myself and Philip Oldershaw (then the manager of the Nightingale), would go on stage, it was called the Bill and Phil Road show, and that was the only way we could raise funds, by emotionally blackmailing people from the stage, saying ‘hello, nice to see you two together again’ – we had to, it was very small, very nice, but not the best way. Unfortunately now the money that it takes to put it on Pride Ball, was enough to stage Gay Pride itself (then). Things have moved on apace.”

210 Birmingham Pride Forum set up 1997

“The Police Forum was set up around the same time 96/97 and also the Birmingham Pride Forum – the idea was always to have a separate voluntary body belonging to Birmingham Pride, set up separately, not to get lost in the commercial side. From day one we decided that Steve Ball and those type of people, who were good at what they did, would continue to involve the wider community, and everything else and deal with all the charities and the offshoots of all the things that’s happened in the last decade. Let the commercial people raise the money, to allow you to do the things that you need to do, the commercial side were making enough money all year round, although I believe now there are places that need Pride to help them balance their books, but in those days that was not the case. “

240 1997 Election

“During the period of the nineties when I was involved in Pride, I also got involved in politics with the then Labour Leader John Smith, before he died, and a number of prominent gay people in the country sponsored some MP (candidates) for the 1997 election. We sponsored 10 but ended up getting 14 gay MPs elected, and for that we were told we would get a Minister. That was Chris Smith, the first gay Minister, which automatically meant he could become a member of the House of Lords, and so from that election, overnight, Tony Blair carried out that promise, and homosexuality was no longer a News of the World headline. What followed that was half a decade of Tory sleaze because we were no longer front-page news. After the election, gay MPs came out in all parties, members of the House of Lords. “

250 Working with Stonewall for equality

“I then got involved at national level with Angela Mason at Stonewall and campaigned and lobbied for other government promises that we would get equality, i.e. legal partnerships, which I’ve taken advantage of, pension rights, and equality across the board. I don’t believe the institution of marriage is necessary (for gay people). My partner and I have the same rates, mortgages, wills, pensions, rights, adoption. (I’m too old for that, but I believe adopting children at any level is better than no love at all, you can never be too old to be loved.)”

260 Unity and division in the gay scene

“I have been privileged to be a part of the behind the scenes local and national politics campaigning for us gay men and women. Most gay rights are human rights. I’ve had a fear over 4 – 5 years that as we move forward since the turn of the millennium, the city’s grown so much, and is high flying, and there are government pressures for them to produce the best, I believe we’re being left behind. The strongest thing we had going for us was lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered and our friends all being united, and we got what we wanted in Birmingham and at a national level. Now in Birmingham we are so divided, and I’ve often said publicly, ‘United we stand, divided we don’t’. The Nightingale is having terrible problems with developers, Gay Pride is going off in different directions and there’s too much money involved, and it’s missing its original aim, to make our statement. We have to unite behind the principle of equality for all, which means, us, UK citizens. “

290 Corporate influence and division in the gay commercial scene

“The Universities exploded in the nineties, Gay Socs expanded and got big, we’ve spread and got everywhere. In today’s society, big corporations like Tesco could do more for the gay community than we ever could. Manchester actually advertises as a place for gay people to come to. Because of the volume of money and tourists involved, when you have a large commercial voice you have a voice, and from that can come all the things we need, would like and want. As our commercial voice has been divided, so does our level of being able to shout and get the attention. You need a political party or major institution behind you, irrespective of any individual’s private feelings towards each other, or the 20 gay bars, 20 queens in 20 castles, who are entitled to their own opinions and way of organising. But those politics are in-house politics. The politics for the whole wide gay community, there should be no dispute whatsoever; we should be in the same room, shouting from the same place. We should discuss and prioritise, but we should do it together. It doesn’t matter if one person gets 10K grant, and another contributes 10K there should be nobody gets a louder say. I don’t believe that people who are really involved in the commercial side have the time and right frame of mind to represent us as a community on other things. Take myself, ABplus has always been a favourite charity as a gay man and I’ve always been fortunate, it was obviously God’s will that I didn’t get HIV as a young man; but I don’t like to contribute the money and then dictate how it should be spent, that’s not my business, my business is to raise a thousand or ten thousand, then the trusted people in ABplus can do what they want with it, it’s the same with lesbian or transgender issues, who am I to say what the lesbian community wants. I’ve a couple of lesbian friends who’ve been in a relationship for 20 years, and a younger couple who’ve been in it five years, it’s difficult enough to imagine what Christmas gift to get them, never mind what’s right for them or what services they want! Although we have the common denominator of gay, the word gay and lesbian, we are different as chalk and cheese. Many lesbian and gay people have come to my house and said “What a beautiful house”, but heterosexual people will come and say “My god, it’s just like my mother’s house!” What did they expect?”

300 Divided Gay Scene

“I am not one for public shock, or embarrassing or offending anyone, that’s not the way forward, but if people take the piss of me, the gay and lesbian community – in the current situation (referring to The Fountain and the Police raid) I went to the meeting and accused the Superintendent. That’s where the divided scenario is, that would not have been allowed to happen a few years ago because the gay police community meetings were very tight, now we are very divided. We don’t have anyone shouting our corner from week to week, year to year. Everything gets in to a mad panic in February or March and we have it in May weather permitting or not, then it’s all back to sleep and everyone falls out for the rest of the year. It’s time to take a step back, and get the common denominator, we still need to protect each other, we are a substantial population of the UK and the world. “

310 National lobbying

“We’ve now got these rights but people forget that a new government could easily rescind everything we’ve got. I find it easy to make money and almost impossible to keep it, my gay rights are the same. I know my rights, but depending on the individual I meet, whether I’m given them and respected, is another ball game. We have to get out to the Shires, the schools, though not in the way we did in the eighties and nineties by showing videos of our sexual behaviour, there’s education that can be done tastefully. Maggie Thatcher and Clause 28 – is when I stood up to be counted, no f***ing way was that woman putting me in that scenario, and I’ve campaigned tirelessly nationally – I’m in Westminster once a month still, still lobbying, all through the Labour Party Conference, taking certain Lords, Ladies, Baronesses and MPs out for lunch and drinks parties at night and making sure we get the support, that still has to be done. The dirty word ‘commercial’ allows me that facility. I’m a member of the Labour Party and donate money, not in lump sums, but retrospectively, e.g. paying the bill for the general election by monthly direct debit, that gives you the chance to go down to London and say what about age (of consent) and legal partnerships, pensions, housing market etc. One of the things I campaigned for for a long time, was, when a gay couple went for a mortgage, the insurance company (esp. Standard Life) would charge four times as much for life insurance policies, or charge a higher mortgage rate. We don’t see that any more. We suffered in loads of ways. It’s a personal campaign. Under no circumstances would I stand for office, people ask my why I don’t become a magistrate, but I would jail myself for contempt of court. As a lobbyist, and I put my money where my mouth is, you have the right to say what you feel you have to, to whom, and if the party wants the money they have to listen. Once you become one of them, I have to do as I’m told. Angela Mason and I had many discussions, with Michael Cashman, who decided to get involved in European politics, because he wanted to change lots of things because Europe was so far in advance, with gay rights, and if he can help to get in and bring up gay rights that’s good. Angela worked in London and I was responsible for coming out to the Shires, i.e. anything North of Watford, but it was done with good fun, hard work and enthusiasm and fund-raising. I’m doing more politically now than I ever did, locally and nationally, not just in the labour party, but also making sure the conservatives will stick to their word, I don’t want to choose which party runs the country, I want to know that whichever party is in, that we’re OK.”

315 Donations to gay organisations

“Although my club (Subway City) is no longer a gay club, it’s frequented by straight people, I still use all the money we raise for charity, about £60K a year, to gay charities (except Children in Need) and the money I make is donated to the political scene, there’s gay somewhere involved. If there’s not gay in it I’m not involved. I’m not so involved in the local gay things so I’m able to spread it wider, particularly down at Westminster. I was involved in the first few fund-raisers for Stonewall at the Royal Albert Hall. I’ve acquired a substantial amount of race horses, now based in France, though then here, but I would donate my race horse to someone for the day and we could raise substantial funds that way, and they could keep the prize money, so we managed to raise lots of money, and Stonewall has been the backbone of our national things. It needs people and there are quite a number of people like me, up and down the country, not so many from the commercial sector because quite a lot of people would be frightened to put their political views out there, commerce and politics don’t mix. I have stood on the stage with a microphone and said, ‘If you are gay you cannot vote conservative, not at the moment, we’ve got to get Labour in, get all our rights, get Clause 28 repealed’ etc. I’ve done it in written articles, in magazines, on Channel Four, Radio 5, all the local TV and radio over the years and thoroughly enjoyed the politics.

320 Birmingham Pride 2007

“Birmingham City Council have been trying to accommodate us or relocate Pride into a proper place, even last year. Got the commercial sector to put up a quarter of a million pounds for Pride, the Mardi Gras, and we dismissed it out of hand. By ‘we’ I am referring to a collective representative of the B5 traders group and our current people who run it. In my opinion we were disgusting, we thought they were trying to hijack our event, but to my mind all they were doing was trying to make our little private event a big public event, which we had been campaigning for all our lives! For me, a big Mardi Gras, led by the gays through Birmingham was all I ever wanted, total acceptance. To say Broad St businesses were hijacking our ideas was bullshit, it just meant we could have used all of Broad St and the whole of the city and finish off down here, where we belong! But we knocked back a quarter of a million funding on the table, not from the Council, but the Council had managed to get a lot of local businesses to support it, and we knocked it back! And we didn’t even say ‘No thank you’, we were absolutely gross in our rejection. I went there quite confidently with the Midland Zone Magazine, that they would welcome it at long last and stop piddling about with little grants of five or ten thousand, with a quarter of a million we could have done the most superb thing, beyond what we could raise, and any money we got for events held in our own area, we could keep. It was the cake, and the icing as well, but we were foul-mouthed, arrogant; we shocked the majority of people in that room and we disgusted all of them. We told them where to go in a most horrendous fashion. I’ve never been so embarrassed and offended in all my life. Steve Ball was there fortunately, and made some nice comments, and he can tell you how it was so offensive. It was then that I decided to retire from the gay scene, nothing to do with the previous Pride (Pride 2006), and the £10 in the park and all that, as that came and went every year. But then, I thought, I cannot, and refuse to be, part of this. I was offended as a gay man, and as a citizen of Birmingham. I felt since that meeting, and with these people and companies, that we are no longer welcome as we were before, we as a group, normally it would be open arms, now it’s almost with contempt, and I believe we’ve taken a serious step back. That was commercial going crazy, our little queens in their little castles terrified of losing their own bit, whereas it would have given us the same level as Manchester. Manchester had plodded along with their gay prides the same as we did, went bust, people ran away with loads of money, we’ve never done that, we’ve always been able to donate loads of money to charity, but they tripped along until they managed to get the local commerce and council behind them. We eventually were given it, and we snubbed it. So for the people that say the Council do nothing for us, that is not true, we just don’t want it.”

330 Work for the gay community being recognised

“I’ve had the most wonderful time, the most wonderful life, for the past 25 years. I met some of the most wonderful people, and Birmingham and Wolverhampton and the Black Country have been a charming area, charming people. I’ve just retired at the right time because I’m about to have open heart surgery for a hereditary condition, so I’ll only be able to do my own private politics, my business ventures are being looked after by directors now, who run things. I still own the companies of a number of things, people who’ve worked for me for ten years are now directors and shareholders, that’s their pension and their futures, my only fear is we are being developed out, as a gay commercial village. Crosby Homes v the Nightingale, I’ve not got involved but if the Gale are unsuccessful then I will get involved, it’s everything we’ve all fought for. It might be Bill Gavan-led on a certain day or year, but I’ve not put in the most effort, there have been quite a few over the past decade, one or two have been recognised with OBEs and MBEs and I’ve been playing a major part in making sure that those honours have gone to the real people who’ve done the work behind the scenes. Gay people, some not even out, but they’ve done things. If you’re going to be recognised for normal things, who do the work in the community. Angela Mason and I had it in common, you see in the Honours Lists, ‘Work for the Gay Community’, in various places, that recognition bit is there. It’s still light years away for Sir Bill Gavan, but if you’re not ready to say ‘work in the gay community’, rather than community, you shouldn’t be ready to accept it. They get it for work in the Asian or Afro-Caribbean community; work in the gay community should be the same. The other thing that isn’t recognised, especially in London, is there are as many non-gay people working for the gay community, as there are gay, on committees etc it’s no longer gay people, it’s others using their expertise, that’s real integration. A lot of people locally knew about all the achievements being made behind the scenes, not the commercial side and Gay Pride side.“ Bill has won the Pride Ball ‘Gay Personality of the Year Award’ nine years out of the past eleven and got a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

340 Thoughts on changes in society and ambiguous sexuality

“When two men went into a toilet cubicle in the eighties or nineties, in public, you would automatically assume they were gay, and the average man in the street would not do that. Now, the average man does do that, him and his friend go in together, they don’t mind being accused, or even referred to as gay, because they use that facility to take their drugs, their ‘charlie’ or their ketamine, all the stuff they’re doing, and that has amazed me in the club scene over the last ten years where I see healthy heterosexual young men almost impersonating gay people going into the cubicle together. It’s basically so they can take their drugs, sometimes not just two of them, reference will be made when they come out, ‘Oh yeah, get you’ and they blow kisses and these are heterosexual guys who don’t mind people referring to them as gay. Police can raid the cubicles as much as they like, because gay people don’t have to go into them any more, but society changes, so now it’s the heterosexuals doing it for Class A drugs. We are impersonated in the queue of a gay club, you’ll see straight guys, dressed like us, holding hands, doing lots of things, and so do girls, just to get in. They don’t want sex with us but they want what we’ve got socially. They call it ambience, and we know it’s camp, and camp is not about being effeminate, it’s our ability to chill and enjoy ourselves and relax. Walk into a lesbian bar on a Saturday night and its heavy lesbians and the common denominator is that everyone is drinking lots of beer and the laughter is in every corner of the room, everyone is enjoying themselves. You walk in to an outrageously gay bar and all these effeminate trendy men and hairdressers, and the same denominator is everyone is enjoying themselves and laughing and having a good time. It may only be a façade, but if you walk into a straight bar, the ambience is not there, the camp is not there. My only regret is that we have not passed on that ability, we haven’t passed the camp on to the kids. We’re letting it die and we should be held accountable. “

350 Gaydar

“Gaydar’s been the biggest competitor to gay businesses in my lifetime, the only reason a gay club was full on a Saturday was because we were all very inquisitive, nosey bastards, we wanted to see who was out and what we were missing. With Gaydar that no longer applies, people can make their own arrangements and meet beforehand, so it’s a totally different environment. For me it’s much better for the wider spectrum of the gay community. “

360 Alcohol and being teetotal

“Between 15 and 25 I became dependent on alcohol and drugs, so joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1976 and have never touched alcohol since, over 30 years of sobriety. So my gay life has all been totally sober. Basically I remember it as it was, and not as other people told me. Unfortunately I was never able to socialise and have a drink in a gay venue, though I’ve owned many of them. I’ve always supplied alcohol, sometimes at crazy rates, because I believe people who can enjoy a drink, should enjoy a drink and have a lovely time. I’m still involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, which I attend twice a week.”

370 Male prostitution: Red Card Scheme 2007

“I attend and help to organise Alcoholics Anonymous and Drug Addiction meetings in the Cathedral. I’ve been involved in Police liaison for drugs, rent boys, prostitution and homeless people, and am still involved. At Snow Hill, there are lots of institutions for homeless people with social needs including gays and lesbians, rent boys, drug users. Now that the law has changed to recognise male prostitution the rent boys, basically young heterosexual males with drug addictions, the police are now using the kerb crawling scenario the same as with (female) prostitutes. A lot of these men are married, with children, so we have introduced red and yellow cards. If they get stopped and caught they get a yellow card, and nothing is done, but if they reoffend and get caught with a red card, then the full force of the law is thrown at them. So that warning system was implemented many years ago at New Street Station where a businessman committed suicide and someone else’s wife or son committed suicide after the outcome of them being caught in a public toilet at New St. We got behind the British Transport Police and the West Midlands Police to introduce a warning system. “

380 Domestic violence between men

“Mark Sharrett, Manager of Route 2, he was quiet and unobtrusive, but he wouldn’t hesitate to go up to the Council or the Police and give them what for, and fight a lot of individual cases, and he was quite instrumental, with me, for getting domestic violence in the gay community recognised as domestic violence, rather than ‘that bloke broke that bloke’s nose’, so he goes to jail and he gets fined as well for fighting, but they weren’t fighting. I’ve tried to get the magistrate to understand that this is not a normal criminal situation. What’s the difference, two men fighting, but it’s the same as her and her husband, it’s a domestic situation and has to be treated as such, rather that a criminal situation. You would rarely see the wife being handcuffed and taken away. We’ve been successful in training up the police, to ask if there are two men ‘Do you share this house, are you gay?’ Then they bring in the tactics for a husband and wife team, that’s about being treated normally. It’s painful for some, getting one pension instead of two now, but you have to take the bad with the good.”

390 Catholic Homophobia

“The Catholic Church has taken a much stronger stance against homosexuals; their doors are bursting now because they are getting millions of good, nice Polish Catholic people, so they are out shouting again, they’re bringing Catholic priests in from all over the world."