The Coleherne, Earl’s Court, 1981

The Coleherne, Earl's Court, 1981

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Summer, 1981

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 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’.

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When Mum was younger than me . . .

Diary entry: May 28th 1981

‘Mum’s forty three today and we’ve got Jean, Jane, Mark and Grandad coming over for drinks tonight. Work was really boring today, I went for a walk by the Thames in my lunch hour. I went right down Queen Street and over Southwark Bridge towards that cool old disused power station. Didn’t go too far as it was a bit deserted and I had to get back by one anyway. That tasty policeman was outside Wood Street nick on his horse again. Maybe one day i’ll pluck up the courage to ask him for a ride 🙂 They keep playing that Quincy Jones song ‘Ai No Corrida’, might have to buy it. So glad all that John Lennon shit is finally out of the charts’. Got my face a bit sunburnt today as it was really hot’.

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Totteridge And Whetstone, 1982

Working in an office meant I got to read all the freebie magazine’s like ‘Miss London’, ‘Girl About Town’ and ‘9-5’. They were mostly full of financial and legal secretarial positions, as well as interviews with pop stars and many an article on how best to apply your make-up. The last few pages of ‘Miss London’ regularly featured an advertisement for ‘Starnest’ model agency, based in George Street W.1. I was intrigued, and most happy that it stated ‘Boys welcome’. I rang them, described myself and very quickly arranged an appointment to go and see them. ‘Have you any catwalk experience’ asked the lady on the telephone. ‘Oh yes’ I replied, without any hesitation. My appointment was for the Friday morning of that week, and I thought I would call in sick rather than ask for the day’s holiday at last minute notice only to be refused. Friday soon came, and although I was excited I was of course a bundle of nerves. However, I had no spots that week, my hair was looking good and I was pretty much ready for anything. It was easy as pie, Debbie (the lady on the telephone) was most welcoming, as was the really fat guy who asked me to walk up and down the room so he could ‘get a good look’ at me from all angles. I was on their books in a flash. Just like that. Well, I would have to pay seventy five pounds for some photographs to be taken, then another fifty pounds to print up my agency card, complete with all my measurements and contact details. Fabulous, I was now a model AND journalist, as well as still working in a bank.

I thought long and hard about what to wear for the photo session. Mum loaned me her suitcase (threatening me with my life not to damage or lose it) and off I went to Totteridge And Whetstone for my first foray into the grown up world of professional modelling. I remember Dad’s face looking at me as I left, most likely baffled as to what I was up to next. On arrival at the house (not for one moment wondering why it wasn’t a west end studio) I was met by Derek, a mid forties Reginald Perrin look-a-like sporting a very bad wig and a huge gold chain around his neck. ‘Pleased to meetcha Grant’ he said, squeezing the life out of my hand as he offered me a stiff drink. I didn’t have a drink, I wanted a cup of tea.

As I excitedly showed him all of my ‘Top Shop’ clothes he kept saying ‘very nice’ yet never even glanced at them. I was feeling awkward but not wanting to blow my chance at fame and fortune. He told me all about this magazine called ‘Vulcan’ which specialised in male models and glamour work. I had no idea that glamour work meant I might have to appear scantily clad or worse, naked. However, I really didn’t care and would have done anything to be professionally photographed. He told me that the boy who was supposed to be the centrefold ‘Boy of the week’ had cancelled, and asked if would I be interested. I jumped at the chance, oh BOY I was excited. And I didn’t want to let them down. I had never heard of the magazine, but trusted that it was a quality glossy magazine that featured boys who went on not just to be professional models but also actors and agents themselves. The many clothes I had carefully selected, ironed and packed were a waste of time. ‘Here, have these’ he said, handing me a pair of white shorts. I didn’t have the beefiest legs aged seventeen but it didn’t seem to matter to them. ‘You’re perfect’ he said, reassuring me.

The studio was in his conservatory, complete with a sun-kissed, palm tree lined beach scene backdrop. There were various props including a wicker chair, a few polystyrene cubes and a huge beach ball. And all the lights, the lights really made me feel like a star. The pictures were to ‘hint’ at eroticism, as that was the new ‘genre’ in male modelling I was told.

Another man appeared, a much older man who was there to help. I had to strip to the waist and make my hair wet, as well as smear suntan oil over myself and apply a pair of sunglasses. I said I was fine applying the oil myself. The huge beach ball was for me, to play with, and ultimately lean over on my belly for the crucial shot they wanted for the centrefold photo. As I leaned over the huge plastic ball, slipping off several times as I had made myself way too wet with the oil, I was given a small bottle of what I thought were eye or nose drops. The older man, helping me unscrew the lid said ‘Here, sniff these’, and I did. My head went really hot, and I felt a bit sick at first, but it quickly became really nice. There was music on but I had no idea what it was. As I leaned over the ball the older man came up behind me and pulled at my pants ‘Perfect’ said Derek ‘Let’s do some more’. More of the smelly stuff was shoved under my nose and many MANY more photographs were taken. I was in heaven, being adored by these two men and feeling really hot in the head, plus I was going to be a star.

I told David all about it the next day, and he said he wished he could have been there. A few weeks later I recieved a copy of the magazine and I was indeed the centrefold, they hadn’t lied, they were honest men. There I was, glistening under the spotlight like a star in my tight white shorts, bent over the huge beach ball as a ‘strangers’ gloved hand came into the right hand frame, tugging at them and pulling them off, complete with a ‘shocked’ look on my face. I was even mentioned on the very front page as ‘Fresh Essex boy centrefold’. I was immensely proud, so very pleased that I had done this all myself, a mere young boy from Rainham, a star in the middle of a big selling magazine. The only down side was that the staples were placed right over my naked arse, spoiling the photo.

Unfortunately I didn’t get anymore modelling work, ringing Debbie at the agency each week to ‘check in’ she could only ever inform me that nothing else had come in. My modelling career was over, but by then I had decided to write a book on Donna Summer.

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When I was a ‘model’ . . .

When I was a 'model' . . .

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The perfectly confused teenager

Diary entry, April 21st 1981:

‘Back to work. There was a gorgeous guy on the train, I could barely contain myself. He was horny and had a really nice hair cut. And a big bulge in his jeans. I forgot to take Rod’s sex book back but he wasn’t annoyed. I can’t believe how dirty the pictures are! Went to ‘Our Price’ records in Cheapside and bought ‘It’s A Love Thing’, ‘Intuition’ and ‘Can You Feel It’, which David bought the other day. We’ve been out rollerskating to it, and i’m much better than him as I can spin faster. He’s rubbish at turning as well. I watched ‘Crossroads’ later then went up the phone box to ring Karen. She’s getting quite a big bump now. I need to steam my face and clean it with lemon juice as i’ve eaten loads of chocolate over Easter.

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In search of love and sex

Diary entry February 20th 1981:

‘Went to Soho again tonight, saw Gary in the bookshop and had a long chat with him. The police came in and gave him a lot of grief. They asked me what I was up to and I was shitting myself. When they’d gone I left and walked up a really dark street towards Oxford street. There was a man behind me who was wearing one of those Freddie Mercury leather jackets, he was about thirty but really sexy and I wanted him to talk to me. He looked really mean and I really wanted to have sex with him. He went into a doorway and I waited outside for ages but it was freezing so I gave up. I really need sex with someone who isn’t David.’

So, it would seem that I was indeed hungry for love, and sex. I was getting a lot of attention in work from one of the dealers – a married man with three daughter’s who found it funny to embarrass me in front of everyone in the office by grabbing at my crotch and calling me a pretty boy and regularly asking me if my ring was ‘burning’. I remember being slightly embarrassed but I fancied him so much I was grateful for any male attention. The verbal and physical abuse was most welcome, yet I never dared admit to it.  He went on a business trip to Frankfurt (a regular occurrence) and came back with a ‘gift’ for me. Opening it in front of everyone I pulled out a photo’s-only magazine called ‘Gay Man’, which had the most explicit photo on the cover I had ever seen anywhere. ‘You like that don’t you?’ he said, as I slithered out of the office trying unconvincingly to be offended. Still seventeen and for most of the time walking around with a hard-on in my pants which never saw any sign of relief other than when I got home and went to bed, this magazine was a most welcome addition to the homemade book of collected horny pictures I kept hidden under the mattress. In work he went from one extreme to another – he made it very public in one way, most likely saving his neck, making fun of me in front of several people, but deep down I just knew that he was getting something out of it, he had to be. When we were in the lift together, or the gent’s (I perfectly orchestrated this situation many a time) he would go further. Only once did he actually get his hand inside my trousers, but that was enough, and I was high on the attention. One of my jobs was to make him a daily cup of tea at 3pm. I would consciously go in with it a few minutes late, apologising with the cheeky grin I KNEW he liked. It was like an affair that never happened, and in my diary I often wrote how much I loved him:

March 27th 1981:

‘Saw Rod in the lift this afternoon, he’d been to the wine bar and smelled of booze. He stroked my hair and said that I was very pretty and well groomed. If he likes me so much why doesn’t he leave his wife? I think i’ve fallen for him. Went into the record shop at Dagenham East and bought ‘Kids In America’, had to use my bus fare. Walked home and got soaked.’

There you go, you don’t get more naive than that. I was a strange mix of both forward and naive. I was ready to grab a situation, yet naive to the point of never realising when someone was pulling the wool right over my eyes.

One of the Sunday papers had a three page ‘expose’ focussing on the sleazy underworld of London’s Earl’s Court. I clearly remember consciously NOT paying that much attention to it whilst Mum and Dad were in the room, yet reading it over and over again once they had finally gone to bed. The many photo’s they printed and the exciting stories both enthralled and titillated me so much I made my way there before the end of that week. The following Friday I had ventured for the first time all the way to Earl’s Court tube on the District Line, a long but direct journey all the way from Dagenham East. I sat there for the fifty five minutes feeling scared and excited, nervous and confident, a wonderful teenage mixture of emotions and feelings. Oh my, walking down the Earl’s Court Road and into the Coleherne pub took some courage, but the place was so busy it was easy to be anonymous, until inside of course. I had never seen so many men in one place, other than a strike outside Ford’s in Dagenham when I was a kid. But all of these men were attractive, none of them were my mate’s Dad and they all (thank God) looked like they’d come straight from a gay porn magazine, THAT porn magazine – dressed head to toe in leather, with whips, chains and harnesses seemingly the norm. Loud disco music blared from the jukebox, a song that sounded like Donna Summer, but wasn’t. Terrified but in smoky, sleazy heaven I moved cautiously through the throngs of men folk to the bar, ordering a half lager and lime. The barman was unfriendly and wouldn’t take my money, which I found odd. I also didn’t fancy him, a snarling, white-vested, tight jeaned popper-sniffing skinny dude about ten feet tall. The man who’d paid for my drink sat at the end of the bar – overweight, bearded, greasy, leathered and very very sexy. With a wink of an eye and a ‘come here’ finger curl, I was at his side in seconds and spent the next two hours telling him how much I hated my job, loved Donna Summer and Abba and wanted to move out of Rainham. Amongst other things. He probably wanted to hear how much I needed some man love, but THAT wasn’t something I could express verbally at the time, though it wouldn’t take long. I rode the train back home late that night with a rock in my pants and a song in my heart – I had found an opening to a world that was outside of both Rainham and the mundanity of working in an office in the city. I had found my secret place, my escape, and it was full of sexy men.

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