Q is for Queer as Folk #atozchallenge

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When I arrived in London in 1979, it was a month before the Tories under Mrs Thatcher took power. I’m not one of those who think her terms in office were the worst thing that ever has happened; a Curate’s egg from where I sit.

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But one thing about which she was not just wrong but criminally wrong was her attitude towards homosexuals and gender differences generally.

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Perhaps most notorious was her treatment of many in local authority and the teaching professions through the provisions of the notorious Section 28 of The Local Government Act 1988, viz, a local authority

shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality or promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

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This was only repealed in England in 2003. Shame on us.

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Barcelona? No Earl’s Court

But if I’m honest, you might have found me ambivalent to the troubles this would cause a group of my neighbours. Everything in my life back then pointed me at differences rather than similarities. I had no gay friends back then, I knew of no ‘out’ gays, I was fully aware of the humour around that used gays of every rainbow hue as the butt of jokes and I laughed at what was in effect bullying. Yet you couldn’t be unaware, in London of all places, of a thriving gay underworld.

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London has moved on; it is far more tolerant, if far from accepting and acceptable. And I have lovely friends of every hue.

So today, on our tour, we have reached ‘Q’ and I would like to acknowledge the importance of the gay and the wider LBGT community’s contribution to this fair city. I’ve invited a really lovely friend, known to many through his blog Hugh’s Views and News, Hugh Roberts, to take a trip down memory Lane and remember his days as a gay man in less than tolerant London.

In particular Earls Court – ah ha! So that’s why there are all this pictures of Earls Court….. Over to you Hugh.

“They all have moustaches, wear 501s and are called Clones.”

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Those were my words to a friend upon my first visit to Earls Court, London, back in the mid-1980s. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Just about every man in the place had a moustache, and I was big into moustaches and body hair.

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Back then, there were five gay bars in Earls Court. It was the centre of the universe for any gay man visiting London. It was easy to get to and I always felt safe there. It was as if the place had a safety bubble around it. No surprise then that I moved into a two bedroom flat in Earls Court shortly after arriving to live in London in 1986.

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The most famous of the bars was called The Colherne. Now a trendy restaurant come wine bar which I believe serves some smashing food.

 I spent lots of time in The Colherne. In the days when all pubs had to close their doors between 3 and 6pm (2 and 7pm on a Sunday), the place was always packed out during the final hour of drinking time. It had a jukebox in the corner that played all the latest hits as well as many ‘Hi-NRG’ tunes which was a new type of music adopted by gay men. Yes, we even had our own music in those days.

 I’d usually visit The Colherne with my best friend, Neville. Like me, he was into the same types of men. There was a strict rule about going into The Colherne. Those wearing leather, such as a bikers jacket, waistcoat, or chaps, had their own entrance door. Everybody else had to use the other door. If you went through what Neville and I called ‘the leather door’ you’d end up on the leather side of the bar. The leather men would glare at you if your attire included no leather and they would continue to glare at you until you made your way to the non-leather side of the bar. Frightening stuff for first-time visitors or anybody who entered the pub by mistake. 

What made Neville and me laugh the most was that many of the Leather Queens, as they were known on the gay circuit, would often arrive carrying a motorcycle helmet under their arm. They’d place the motorcycle helmet on the top shelf above the bar, order their drink, and then stand around looking as butch as possible. At closing time, we’d watch most of them make their way to the bus-stop with motorcycle helmets under their arms. For some, carrying a motorcycle helmet was the must have new fashion accessory when dressed in leather.

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Although the pub was probably the most shabby of all the five gay bars in Earls Court, it was always busy. Just down the road, at one end of the street, was The Boltons. This was a strict no-no bar for Neville and I because it was known for its Rent Boys.

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The Brompton – now a block of flats

 At the other end of the street was Bromptons. This was the bar Neville and I nicknamed ‘Clone City’ because just about every man who entered had facial hair.

 Bromptons opened at 10pm and closed at 2am. It was a 30-second walk from the flat so was very convenient. Friendlier than The Colherne, for those who’d never visited before, it had a small dance floor and a kiosk that sold all the latest Hi-NRG 12-inch vinyl singles. Yes, Gay Men only purchased 12-inch vinyl singles, unlike most other people who would buy the 7-inch vinyl version.

 There was the odd splattering of leather amongst the crowd, but most were dressed in check shirts, 501s and Doc-Marten boots. Just about everyone drunk bottles, rather than pints, of lager and if you arrived really early you could compare your check shirt and see if it clashed badly with the check carpet of the bar. However, that didn’t matter to some because arriving before 11pm meant free entry.

 The Barmen at Bromptons were often hand-picked by the owner. “Have good looking bar staff and you’ll pack the place out every night,” he told me, and he was right! The place was a magnet for clones who seemed to need little sleep despite having full-time jobs, many of which required an early morning start.

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Once one of Hugh’s clubs … now a Wagamamas

 The other two bars at the opposite end of Earls Court were located next door to each other. One was a pub called Harpoon Louis, which hosted cabaret most nights. The likes of Lily Savage (aka Paul O’Grady) started out here and it was always a great place to go for a laugh. ‘Cruising’, as Gay men called it (better known as looking for a partner for the night), did go on, but whereas in the other bars it was very serious and you dare not laugh when trying to pick up your date for the night, here it didn’t matter.

Copacabana was next door and was the main Gay nightclub of the area and very handy to fall into when coming out of Harpoon Louis. This place was the biggest of all the bars and had a large dance floor. It was the place to hear the latest Hi-NRG tunes, dance, drink and check out the men. Some famous faces often frequented the place, but being gay men the clientele often dare not approach them.

 Today, Earls Court is no longer the centre of the universe for gay men. Soho took its crown during the late 1990s and now shares it with Vauxhall. Neville and I would not have liked it. Earls Court holds lots of happy memories of two 20 something gay men. A lot has changed but the gay people of today still enjoy a good time.

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The posh end – The Boltons

Thank you Hugh. In 1980, my girlfriend and I were on a number 31 bus back to my flat near the World’s End in Chelsea. She was taken with an urgent need to pee as we reached Earls Court. No, she couldn’t wait she said as we jumped off by what was – indeed still is – the Bolton. In she shot, hunting out a loo. I followed and stood near the bar, wondering if the polite thing to do was buy a drink. Many eyes turned to look at me. I scanned the room – not many blue suits, no women, quite a lot of leather and unexpected areas of flesh. I can honestly say I didn’t feel at home.

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And the odd thing then, looking back is that this was the pub Hugh recalls as for the rent Boys. See, back then, as now, the Boltons is a uber smart area of fabulously expensive properties with their own private squares. The mansion blocks feel more like Barcelona and the houses gated and feted. That’s London – contradictions everywhere.

This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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68 Responses to Q is for Queer as Folk #atozchallenge

  1. Judy Martin says:

    This was a great post, chaps! I really laughed at the image of the ‘leather-clad macho men’ going home on the bus with their motorbike helmets tucked safely under their arms. However, I roared my head off when I read about you Geoff standing at the bar uncomfortably waiting for your girlfriend to hurry up!!!

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Judy Martin says:

    Reblogged this on Edwina's Episodes and commented:
    I don’t know a lot about London, but have been following Geoff’s A-Z and have learned a lot so far. Today he has Hugh over and they are talking about the LGBT community in London, which I didn’t have a clue about! Interesting post that shows how far we have come. It also gave me a laugh (at Geoff’s expense) and at Hugh’s reminisces!

    Like

  3. I didn’t know about that little gem from the Gospel according to Saint Margaret, but I was aware that a gay teacher in one of the schools I did my teacher training at in the early 80s was having awful and distressing problems from unpleasant parents. This explains a lot.

    Like

  4. Jools says:

    Love it! What a fabulous reminiscence, from both of you. Whilst Hugh was living it up in Earl’s Court, I became part of the Basement Wine Bar Generation in Farringdon and the City. Evenings (ummm… and lunchtimes) saw me and other worker-bees in subtly lit (dingy) basement bars, killer heels clattering on the fashionable flagstone floors, dressed to impress in my power suit with shoulder pads to make Joan Collins proud and a silk bow from Tie Rack (don’t laugh, we all did it), clutching my briefcase (really, yes) and knocking back balloon glasses of vin rouge.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I do love a great history. I wonder if it makes both people and places sad now that so many are priced out of living in these areas?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ritu says:

    Fantastic double hosted post! !!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sacha Black says:

    Motorcycle helmets without bikes is hilarious! The fashions we’ve had I this country amaze me! I wondered for a minute of it was the same kind of signal as the side you wore your coloured bracelet – I got educated about that rather graphic subject at grab canaria pride one year.

    As for thatcher… Cu…. Alright I won’t say it, but still…nt. Oops 😋

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Anabel Marsh says:

    The only reason I would agree with your second sentence is that I think this lot are worse! Interesting post otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We move on slowly don’t we! Great post Geoff and Hugh, I enjoyed the juxtapositions 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Geoff, thanks for having me over on your blog today (oops! excuse the pun!). It was a pleasure writing about my memories of Earls Court in the 1980s. Of course, there are lots more memories and that’s why I started putting them all into a book.

    I can’t believe it was ‘The Bolton’ where your Girlfriend had to go and use the loo. Neville and I certainly would not have been in there given what the place was known for, but it’s very nice to hear how upmarket it has gone. Oh! if they only knew.

    Remind me to tell you about the night I met Sue Pollard at Brompton’s as well. 😀 Or should I keep that for the book?

    Thanks again 👑

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: R is for Romancing the Reader #atozchallenge – Hot Cup of Kaapi

  12. Reblogged this on Hugh's Views & News and commented:
    Yesterday, I was guest blogging over at TanGental.

    When Geoff invited me to write a post about gay life in London, during the 1980s, as part of the A to Z challenge he is participating in, a trip down memory lane had me at the keyboard.

    Please pay Geoff and his blog a visit and leave any comments there.

    I hope you enjoy reading about my trip down memory lane. In fact, I’ve already started writing my first book that will include a lot of these memories.

    Thank you, Geoff, for inviting me to write a guest post.

    Like

  13. Miriam says:

    What a great collaborative effort Hugh and Geoff, full of history, nostalgia and a few laughs along the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. blondieaka says:

    Wow..a long post and interesting….If I speak my mind please still speak to me Hugh 🙂 I have gay friends..not really sure if I like that label who are really great people and I love them to bits. I have no problem with what anyone does just don’t shove it in my face…I wouldn’t ,maybe I am old fashioned but some things are private. The only thing I have an issue with is …I loved my Janet and John books and I don’t think it’s ok to teach impressionable young people it’s ok to have John and John. I don’t think it’s ok to be really against a different lifestyle( not sure I am doing ) very well here. What will be will be and it will happen if it’s meant to but let people find their own way..no judgement and if it was my grand children now( as my kids) are grown up. I would n’t disown them or make them feel bad I would treat them just like any other child or grandchild….Am I making sense…Live and let live I suppose I am saying….Ohhhhh on that note I am going to shut up….Great post ::)

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Carol. I think we may have to disagree about the John And John piece because there are and will always be John and John and to pretend otherwise merely creates a sense of wrongness. Frankly where we may differ is that I don’t believe I chose my sexuality any more than Hugh did. It just was. So to find that one is accepted – as the norm but also the right think – merely leaves confusion angst and potential alienation. Living in London today you’d be hard pressed unlike in the 80s to point to a specific gay community as Hugh does from his past. Then they craved acceptance, identity whatever which led to accusations of pushing their sexuality in others faces. But what choice did they have? I am glad that today you don’t see it in anything like the same way and that’s because being gay isn’t such a big deal. But bottom line is thank you for coming over and sharing.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I do agree with what Geoff has to say, Carol. Back then, we had no choice but to try and be accepted even though our own Government saw it fit to try and hide homosexuality away in the closet. It was a lifestyle I (and thousands of others) had no choice over, and when I think about what other gay people had to go through before the age of consent was introduced, it really does sadden me.
      Thank goodness we have moved on in most parts of the world, but there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that Gay people are accepted in all corners of the world and we should do all we can to educate people that there is nothing wrong in being gay.
      Thank you very much for reading the post and for leaving your comment.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Cathy says:

    Great post, Geoff and Hugh 🙂 really enjoyed reading.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Great post. How brilliant that we have emerged from the dark ages! jx

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Vicky says:

    Found this via Hugh’s post- what a fab reminisce of London gay life more than a few moons ago, thanks to Hugh for linking and thanks for your memories…great fun to read…takes me back to the days of loons, velvet jackets and platform boots!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Enjoyed reading this amazing post on UK culture where you’ve sensitively touched the issue of gays. The pictures are drop dead gorgeous and falling in love with London:)

    Liked by 2 people

  19. noelleg44 says:

    Entertaining and enlightening! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Helen Bushe says:

    Amazing how comparatively recently things were like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for sharing Hugh’s and your story, Geoff. Whenever I think of LGBTQ icons and moustaches, in addition to you, Hugh, I think of the late, great Freddie Mercury. I had no idea about this niche of London . . . and, yes, Hugh, I think your autobiography would be cracking good!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. A fine post! I did not know that Earls Court had once been a haven for gays but it is a lovely part of the city. My thanks to Hugh and Geoff for this collaboration. Thankfully times have changed int he UK and the US but there still needs to be support for the LGBT community. Gorgeous shots of the area! I hope to get back there one of these days.

    Like

  23. Pingback: S is for Sharing Memories #atozchallenge – Hot Cup of Kaapi

  24. dgkaye says:

    Thanks guys for sharing this great post and taking me through some of the ‘groovy’ times in Jolly old England. Sheesh, I thought London was always very hip and up to date with worldly progression. I mean great musicians, punk rock and everything liberal was going on in the 80s so what on earth was all the hush hush about being gay. Although, I know because of politics it was difficult to ‘come out of the closet’ so to speak for many because of the fear of reaction from the ‘unaccepting’. Great share! 🙂 ❤

    Like

  25. This is a fabulous post, Geoff. I enjoyed seeing perspectives from both you and Hugh on the era. Hugs all around.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. A great article. I loved the idea of motor cycle helmets as fashion accessories, but then that’s no more odd than dogs in handbags!

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Thanks, Teagan. I enjoy telling people about my past (well most of it, anyway) 😀

    Like

  28. Fascinating post, guys! It was great to read a little about Hugh’s past. Although I’d still like to know what ‘rent boys’ are. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Very entertaining post. I enjoyed reading about Hugh’s past., and your unplanned visit to the then Rent boy pub with your then girlfriend Geoff!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Oh my gosh! What a great post! I enjoyed this so much! You gents had me laughing. Back in my day, I frequented a few gay bars for women with many of the same classifications of folks. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Loved them. I need a sample of that Hi-NRG music! LOL! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Mabel Kwong says:

    Thanks Geoff for sharing Hugh’s story about the gay nightlife in London so many years back. That bar with the leather and non-leather sections sound intimidating, but I suppose that was all part of the vibe. The Leather Queens sound like a very nice-looking bunch, and I am sure they turned a few heads themselves when they were passing by. It’s all in the attitude. Great read.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Val says:

    I was born and brought up in London (but left it years ago to live in rural Wales, and what a difference!) and had many gay friends during the 1970s. I went to a few gay places around that time and maybe in the 80s too but I don’t think I went to anything in Earls Court so wasn’t aware of these places. Hugh – did you ever go to Heaven (nightclub)?

    Like

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