During the summer months of 1981 there was a late night programme on television called ‘Gay Life’ – for some reason aired on Sunday’s at 11.30pm, for half an hour. I of course had to watch it – back in those days there was little or no information about where to go, what to do and how to get laid. I would sneak downstairs after Mum and Dad had gone to bed, watching it in the dark with the sound way down – just in case. Gay ‘personal’ ads in newspapers and magazines (I had answered a few, to no avail) were hard to come by, in stark contrast to the many hundreds of sex ads for straight men and women. This show (seemingly put together by a watchful ‘caring’ sister of somebody gay) did at least inform me of four very important places, namely Hampstead heath, the disco ‘Heaven’, the ‘Salisbury’ in Saint Martin’s Lane and the ‘Coleherne’ over in Earl’s Court – both infamous gay pubs. The latter of those I had already visited, but after reading of the terrible dangers which might happen there, also fully exposed in this tv show, I became a regular. An avid regular, in fact. The Coleherne became my world and a few years later I wound up living a stone’s throw from it’s sleazy doors.
1981 was a good summer, many a hot day and many a day taken off work to sunbathe and get myself ready for the regular Friday night trips to Earl’s Court. Friday’s in that area were, supposedly, best avoided by the ‘younger inexperienced gay man’, so I made certain this would be where and how I might grab some of that much needed experience. I ploughed through men’s fashion magazines (both gay and straight) searching for a ‘look’, not knowing how best to present myself in the flourishing meat market that was Earl’s Court. I was a bit too young and thin for the leather look, despite it’s attraction. Copa’s (The Copacabana) at the other end of Earl’s Court Road was the late night bar/club for anyone wanting to party into the wee hours. A regular there, Steven, gave me many tips, one that oddly seemed to work however daft it might sound in print. ‘Most blokes like sporty boys’ he said, ‘So spray yourself with Ralgex instead of aftershave’. It worked, or coincidence may have played a part in that I seemed to become incredibly popular. I even went so far as venturing into Lillywhite’s to buy myself a much loved, much worn rugby shirt. I had never even held a rugby ball let alone played the game. So, with that shirt, carefully scruffed hair, reeking of Ralgex and with a now perfected pout I would stroll up and down the Earl’s Court road like peacock, dipping in and out of all the bars and pubs, most of which had a large proportion of gay men on the lookout for a pick-up. ‘Bolton’s’ on the corner of Earl’s Court Road and Old Brompton Road was a real mix of gay and straight, old and young, male and female – sometimes several all in one. A melting pot of rent boys, actors, Lords, Ladies, artists, ex-con’s, bohemians and social outcasts from all walks of life. The Coleherne, just along the road on the corner of the Brompton and Coleherne Road’s was like nowhere else on earth, at least for myself at the time. In the days when the pubs closed at 3.pm for four hours each day the entire crowd (it was always packed to the rafters) hung out in Earl’s Court, most notably in Brompton cemetery just along the road. It was a place to cruise, sunbathe and, if you dared, have full on sex if you hadn’t quite managed to score whilst in the pub. The entire area was abundant with gay men, many of whom had flown in from around the world to discover and experience what was then a gay mecca. It would be many years before the entire scene shift eastwards into the West End, which then had only a sprinkling of what were seen as safe and ‘respectable’ gay haunts. The heart of the West End was where you wanted to be seen, whereas Earl’s Court was the place to really play, to delve into a seedier and far more exciting nightlife. I once went home with a bloke called Gary, a blue eyed Irish lad who fancied the pants off me. He was a budding actor and lived in a disgusting bedsit on the Finborough Road behind the Coleherne. I clearly remember laying alongside him watching cars drive past through a hole in his wall, shivering under the blankets in the dark. It was in that very room where I first got stoned, taking only one puff of this HUGE joint – not really knowing what it was at the time (yes, true) . . My head span and I laughed for what seemed hours. I wasn’t keen on the smoking thing at all, but proudly wrote in my diary the next day: ‘Took drugs for the first time last night, and it was really funny. Don’t want to do it again though as it gave me a headache afterwards’. I had experienced the sex, had dabbled (albeit very mildly) with drugs, all I needed was the rock and roll. Being a disco music and Donna Summer fan made this final stage of credibility somewhat difficult.
Diary entry June 5th 1981:
‘Went to Earl’s Court’ last night, blimey, what a mad time. The district line took ages as there were delays, but I got into the pub around 9.30 so that still gave me an hour and a half to enjoy myself. Earl’s Court road was packed, so many gay guys cruising up and down. I had three blokes lined up in the pub, the best one I kept ’til the end. Even though it’s full of older men with beards they seem to like skinny gingers like me. There was this biker at the bar, in a red and white one piece racing suit, and he didn’t look funny in it either! He said he liked my cheeky grin (it ALWAYS works) then bought me a large Bacardi & Coke. We chatted for a few minutes before he got me in the broom cupboard near the loo. There was a bright light on and I said I didn’t like having sex with it on so he smashed the bulb out with the back of his hand – I think he was a bit mental but didn’t care ‘cos he was really horny. The smell of his Denim aftershave was a bit much but at least his breath was fresh, not like the first two. He knew exactly what I wanted and gave it to me. I’m meeting him in there again next week. Wait ’til I tell David’.
As each week passed I became more and more confident – to the point where I became so blase in work when Rod veered his attentions towards me, trying to embarrass me. I was getting cockier by the day, and loving it. Looking back it’s so obvious why the attention from him (and his creepy cohort) eventually waned. I was adored whilst I came across as innocent, but as I gained more confidence and began to express myself they clearly didn’t know how to behave around me. I basically shot myself in the foot, as the reality of having sex with both of these men loomed ever close. I didn’t fancy Nick, but I would have gone through with it to finally get Rod’s full attention.
Diary entry June 9th 1981:
‘Went for a pee before heading home and Rod came into the toilet. Nick wasn’t far behind him. He squeezed my crotch gently and said ‘One day i’m going to have you’, to which I replied ‘How about now’. He stroked my face and laughed, but I really wanted him to. Sat on the train home with a hard-on. After my tea Lorraine and Lynne came round and we played records, then went and played knock-down-ginger once it had got dark. That mental fella in the flats chased us but we’re way too quick for him’.