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THE EARLY EIGHTIES


DRAG AT THE ROYAL OAK, HAMMERSMITH. EARLY EIGHTIES

 

The early eighties were for me a wonderful time. Newly released from a marriage and free for the first time in my life to explore my sexuality to the full, I took full advantage of all the opportunities.

When I first came to london, a friend told me that I was making a mistake. The gay scene he explained, was a young man's world and very heavy. At 40, you are, as he tactfully put it, too old. An interesting comment as, although younger than me at the time,  we shared a bed on more than one occasion with highly satisfactory results for both of us.

My first port of call after booking into a small hotel in Ealing, was the Coleherne and bingo, the first night saw my single room occupied by two persons. From then on until AIDS started to be a serious issue life became all work and lots of play. 

The reason I had come to London was to take a job and this entailed quite early starts in the mornings, sometimes before six. And yet I was out late almost every night, in bed with someone and wide awake until the middle of the next morning and still turned up for work on time every day. Looking back, I'm not sure how I did it. Even at forty the energy levels were incredible. I consumed vast amounts of alcohol although not drugs and  ate an atrocious diet.

I suppose I had twenty years or so of feelings held back inside me which just had to get out. Although in the last few years of being married I was leading a double life with opportunities grabbed when they occurred. Every gay man has met married guys who have the same problem of having to grab what they can when they can. It's the reason for the popularity of cottages with married guys.

One of my favourite pubs at the time was the Champion. It was a two bar pub back then with a small cosy room at the back. The straight landlord and his wife ran the pub very strictly but it was a great place to pick guys up. Many lived locally so it was easy to go to their place, enjoy, as the Americans say, and get back before closing time for seconds.

The pub was also popular with orientals, asians and rice queens. There were quite a few regulars and the social side of the pub was good with the availability of sex being a bonus.

I also enjoyed the Salisbury where it was always easy to pick up attractive guys. One night I picked up an oriental guy there and when we went back to find my car, it had gone, towed away to the Hyde Park Police pound. The guy was really good about it and came with me to Hyde Park. I paid my fine and we went back to my place. he said afterwards he had had a great evening and enjoyed seeing how the police worked in London. He must have enjoyed more than that as we saw each other a lot after that. Twenty years on we still exchange Christmas cards.

The toilets at the Salisbury were always busy and the staircase leading down to them. Eventually the brewery or the management got fed up with the gays and threw them out. Fortunately the Brief Encounter opened opposite and took off like a rocket to become probably the most popular pub in London and again a great place to pick up guys.

The cottages were great too. My favourites were at Ealing Common,  South Ealing, Lammas Park, Shepherds Bush Green, Kew Bridge and Acton Vale. All were close enough to where I lived to whisk people back. And whisk people I did. 

Looking back the mixture of guys was extraordinary. An estate agent, a young Egyptian student, countless Chinese and  Malaysian guys, lots of married Indian guys and a Woolworth's manager. The last one was great. We met in a pub and went back to his place, a bloody big Woolworth's. He let us in after resetting the alarm and on the way to the staff areas he picked up a bottle of baby oil. In the staff area was a medical room with a bed and we had a great time. Ah, the wonder of Woolies !

I also enjoyed the Quebec as a picking up place. I took back a really good looking Malaysian student one night. He had been chatting with another Malaysian friend. A week later I was in the pub and the friend was there alone. He zoomed in on me and asked if things his friend had told him about me were true and when I said yes, he was in my car on on his way home with me faster than MacDonalds can ruin a hamburger.

Sometimes I ventured south of the river. The Vauxhall Tavern was a favourite, but mainly for the cabaret, as was the Union Tavern. I did see a great production of Dick Whittington here performed by the Trollettes. The Cricketers was a fairly short lived place which eventually went back to being straight and the Market Tavern was a great place in it's early days. I even managed to get as far as Clapham and the Two Brewers which was managed at first by Phil Starr, who is still performing on the drag circuit.

When a gay pub opened in Brixton, I tried it out but it was a long way to go and it didn't last very long. Eventually a second pub opened in Hammersmith and made the pages of a Sunday Tabloid for selling poppers over the bar. It closed soon after being rather too small.

Favourites for after hours drinks were the Gate club, still going strong and Sombreros in Kensington High Street. I liked that place even if people did pinch your drinks. I never made it to Napoleons but it was a favourite with some of the asian and oriental guys from the Champion.

For a short time, the John Bull in Chiswick turned gay and I even worked behind the bar for a time. It could have been great but the police targeted it and did their best to close it including taking down car numbers in the car park and marching into the pub at closing time just waiting to catch someone drinking after the ten minute drinking up time.

One barman who wrote a letter complaining about the police actions to a newspaper, later had a private party at his flat invaded by police who even took away bed linen to test for stains. And they wonder why we have never trusted them !

Finding poppers could be a problem. There was a furniture shop which sold them in Fulham and a grocery shop in Hammersmith. Another source was a private individual in Putney who also did some great VHS videos. It was all very under the counter and a question of knowing someone who knew someone.

Attempts to open a gay bar in the Ealing area have always failed in the past until W5 opened last year. There was a short lived bar at the back of Bentalls old store and another club opposite the Broadway station, but the Police managed to stop anyone opening a proper bar.

Richmond was always a possibility with the Imperial which is now a pizza place and Cobwebs which disappeared.  The Richmond Arms however eventually opened and has thrived. There was a short-lived pub on the south of Putney bridge and another which lasted longer north of the bridge the names of which have gone from my mind.

The Boltons of course in Earl's court was worth an occasional visit but was plagued by rent boys. I always likes Banana Max, Harpoon Louis, Harpos or Earls as it has been called in it's history and was sad when it went straight a year or so ago. The place was never promoted properly in it's later years but in the eighties it was a very busy venue with a small garden and always packed with good looking guys.

Even the Bromptons has changed and while it is still busy late at night as a club, it was a more posher place when it first opened with thick carpets and good quality fittings. It even had an article written about it in a colour supplement at the time.

When AIDS began to make an impact in the mid eighties there was speculation that bars would close down, but they survived and thrived. Habits changed however and I came down to earth and for the next seven or eight years changed my way of life totally. I was angry in a way because I had reached a point where I was confident enough to be who I was and enjoy it when, bang, I was back almost to square one.

I think a lot of us felt like that, even younger people. It was like have unlimited sweets and then seeing them snatched away. Add the hysteria of the gutter press, the homophobia of the Thatcher government and the hunting down of gays by the Police and the second part of the eighties was not an especially wonderful time.

With the nineties, things changed again, but that's another story.
 

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