Bit of a departure today from my usual topic of film. The Media Guardian has just published a short piece of mine about Time Out canning its LGBT listings (The Listings Formerly Known As Gay), along with its editor of the last 20 years, Paul Burston. First, read the piece here.
I also wanted to share with you the story of how Paul got the gig in the first place, a tale of split personalities and being held hostage by Lesbian Avengers…
I employed Paul when I was Editor of Time Out in the ‘90s. The previous Gay Editor, Michael Griffiths, was a lovely man who also doubled as the receptionist. You would know when he fielded a call for the Gay Editor, as he would first answer in his high, lilting, very camp voice, “HelloTimeOut, howmayIhelpyou?” Then: “I’ll just see if he’s in.” He’d put the phone down, inspect his nails, wink at anyone who happened to observe the charade, then pick up the phone again and speak in a deep, butch voice: “Hello, Gay Editor Michael Griffiths here.”
Problem is, Michael was too nice. He gave everything glowing reviews, even when he admitted to me that the play or whatever was awful. “We all have to pull together,” he would say. So when, very sadly, he became too ill with HIV to work, I was determined to employ a trouble-maker, someone who, as in other sections of the magazine, would speak their mind without fear or favour. That man was Paul Burston, and he’s been causing wonderful trouble ever since.
I know this to my cost, as I was once “held hostage” (as the papers later put it) in the Time Out lobby by 20-odd Lesbian Avengers, a group of activists who in 1988 famously broke into the BBC studios and chained themselves to the cameras as Sue Lawley was reading the 6 O’Clock News live on air. The reason was a supposedly “anti-lesbian” piece in Time Out – written in the Gay section, by a gay woman. I came down to hear their concerns and explain why we stood by our story, and they left after half an hour, agreeing to disagree but happy to have had a dialogue.
Paul, as his many friends will know, has become a flamboyant figure, not given to hiding his light under a bushel. Author of several novels, founder of the Polari literary salon which just won LGBT Cultural Event of the Year, prone to photo-shoots in terrific hats and, often, none too many clothes. Yet quick as he usually is to take up arms on issues that affect LGBT readers, he has remained touchingly loyal to Time Out and keen to avoid knocking it, even for cancelling his section.
I, too, am loath to criticise my beloved old mag and the talented and tireless people who still work there following successive waves of cuts; not least CEO Tim Arthur, a second-generation Time Outer whose step-dad was the lovely Comedy editor, Malcolm Hay. Nevertheless, I felt the Guardian piece needed to be said.