Legacy of Brighton-based ‘Godfather of Gay Journalism’

Living in Gloucestershire in 1989 nothing got my heart racing more than the brown A4 envelope that fell through my letter box once a month.

Although ‘out’ at university, the anti-gay hysteria whipped up during the Thatcher years forced me back into the closet for my first job and the arrival of Gay Times each month was my touchstone to the world I’d temporarily left behind. Sealed and hidden in my briefcase until lunchtime, I would count the minutes before I could find a secluded corner and unwrap that month’s issue.

Gay Times - Over 4 decades - Burton interviewed some of the most famous gay people in the world. These date from the late 80s and early 90s. On loan from Torsten Hojer.
Gay Times – Over 4 decades – Burton interviewed some of the most famous gay people in the world. These date from the late 80s and early 90s. On loan from Torsten Hojer.

Which pop star or actor had been brave enough to be interviewed by the mag? How many handsome faces and bulging crotches would there be hiding within its pages? And what if – miracle of miracles – someone famous had joined the ranks of our number?

Of course, it wasn’t all reaffirming articles and witty repartee. There was the regular feature that trawled the world’s press for the most hideous stories of anti-gay feeling. Not to scare us I think. Though it often did. But to embolden us against our enemies. Prejudice and ignorance. There was also a large section devoted to films and books – often about people like me. And perhaps most importantly of all there were the pages telling me where I could actually meet these people.

Parallel Lives - One of the two volumes of memoirs Burton wrote about his incredible life. This one featuring his trusty typewriter. On loan from Torsten Hojer.
Parallel Lives – One of the two volumes of memoirs Burton wrote about his incredible life. This one featuring his trusty typewriter. On loan from Torsten Hojer.

Given the important role the magazine played in my life back then, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Queer the Pier was offered a number of artefacts belonging to Peter Burton, one of the most important people connected to the magazine and a resident of Brighton for over 30 years. Though a talented novelist and biographer, it was for his journalism that he is most remembered, often referred to as the Godfather of Gay Journalism.

The stand-out object amongst the ephemera we have been lent is the typewriter he used for much of his career. Peter it seems was no fan of computers! This remarkable survivor of a bygone age will be on display with a selection of Gay Times magazines from the 80s and 90s.

Typewriter -1960s ADLER typewriter on which Burton wrote most of his work. On loan fromTorsten Hojer
Typewriter – 1960s ADLER typewriter on which Burton wrote most of his work. On loan from Torsten Hojer

In a world that predated the internet, social media dating apps, where mainstream images of queer people were almost always negative and damning, it’s no exaggeration to say that magazines like Gay Times didn’t just inform and entertain. They probably saved lives too. Especially the lives of LGBTIQ+ people living in the sticks like myself. Thank you Peter. Thank you Gay Times. And thank you Torsten for lending them to us.

Peter Burton is just one of the lives celebrated by Queer the Pier. And this is just one of the blogs written by community volunteers about the exhibition. If you found this of interest please come back for more blogs inspired by objects in the exhibition.

Daren Kay, Queer the Pier working group member

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