The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on May 14, 1984 · 11
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 11

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London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Monday, May 14, 1984
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11
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GUARDIAN WOMEN Monday May 14 1984, 11 AT six o'clock on the Thursday before Easter, Peter Booth was clearly a little nervous. In the last month he'd been chasing suppliers and designers to ensure everything was ready for the opening night of Bromptons, a new up-market bar and restaurant in London's Earls Court. Now with a sharp, primary colour scheme of red and green and black, a lighting system and decor modelled on a New York brunch bar and Australian wine and fresh orange juice on tap, he hoped the atmosphere was right " bright and exciting without being over-fussy and feminine." An important point this, for the expected clientele were male, single and professional and gay. Two hours later Bromptons became the latest venue on London's gay social scene. And as the bar became crowded, there was more interest in which TV personalities were coming (or not) than in the mixed group sitting slightly uncomfortably at one of the tables. They were in fact the bar's owners : executives from London Hosts a division of the multinational catering firm. Grand Metropolitan which had put up the 118,000 needed to launch the new place and become the first major British company to start an openly gay business and go after the "pink pound." A likely result of the recession is that more companies will follow London Hosts in actively seeking out what according to Booth is "the most affluent minority in the country." Two surveys done in the last few years, one for the major American gay publication. The Advocate, the other for the now defunct British Gay News, back up Booth's claim. Compared with the heterosexual majority, the average male homosexual is likely to earn more and be in a professional job; own cars and credit cards; and not be tied down by family or mortgage commitments. He has a lot more money to spend. The American survey, compiled by non-gay research company, Walker & Struman, concluded that "gay discretionary spending power is incredible" putting it as high as 19 per cent of income. In the USA, the result has, perhaps, been predictable. A pink economy has developed in the last decade that has monetary power and resulting political clout. In most large cities, there are gay directories, gay business guilds and a plethora of firms ranging from the expected publishing houses and bars to the unexpected launderettes, florists, chiropodists, even solicitors and doctors. And in places like Florida's Key West, New York's Greenwich Village or West Behind the veil Victoria Brittain reviews a timely new novel written through the eyes of a 7-year-old girl who grew up in a Tehran slum in the early days of political upheaval mmu IT HASN'T just been a week of Fun Events in Urbleton. There's been another sort of athering, to which an inner rigade go, of the seriously involved and committed and those who know who's who, who doesn't like who, who knows who and what everybody's really doing and who said what about who, who's been ringing round and telling, and which Councillor went out to the pub on his wife's birthday and didn't even ask her if she'd like to go. They're a kind of nub of the more sombre event, and then there are others, some earnest, some ratty, but on Thursday they were all from a CC or an SS or a VS, (they had to say which one before speaking) and they all wanted to ask the MP from the Other Side sticky questions. But before they did that, Chairman decided which MP should speak first. First speaker would have the last word at the end. "I don't mind at all." "Nor me." "Let us toss a coin," said Chairman. "Heads, tails? You win. You choose then, Derek." ItatnbtC thai&i different OtdrCCNlVRioNvnMmcMsnutsmnw taddldouonngclliyauKd,iolt,ulcypaiUllcs. E .puWte contains 73 mg of vinmln C - all iTCoixirimojexninyaiMoniKijpm werta supply. Atyoufchemlu anil t good hops everywhere, JdBO of Dcron,CiTtaioa. Devon. GENrrURION HP if I London's gay social scene has potential o Hollywood, these firms dominate the local economy. Peter Booth thinks the same will happen here. He's conceived Bromptons in an American fashion: an entire complex with the main bar and restaurant supplemented by a clothing store, a record-shop and an adjacent "raunch" bar, Chaps, which is already taking 4,000 a week, three times that of the original, conventional pub on the whole site. "In the past," Booth says, "gay businesses were set up by people who weren't commercially orientated. Profit was a dirty word." (And when he says people, Booth means men the pink economy is almost exclusively male, even in the United States.) Booth thinks that this attitude came from the time all male homosexuality was ille WHO WOULD choose to be a seven-year-old girl in Khomeini's Iran? Certainly not Manny Shirazi, nor anyone who reads her novel. Javady Alley is the story of seven-year-old Homa, child of a Tehran slum during an earlier period of political upheaval. 1953 was an electric year in Iran as the workers put the Shah to flight for the first time and Prime Minister Mosadegh's government began to wrest control of the country's oil from the British. Homa's father was one of the militant workers. In one of the book's most devastating scenes, Homa watches her father, Eby and his fellow workers pull down a giant statue of the Shah in a frenzy of hate. Homa is perched on the shoulders of the local priest of Javady Alley who celebrates the downfall of the old order with a pier "I say alphabetical order," said Derek. "You first then, Colin." "ILEA is one of the most effective authorities in the country and gets Nothing," said he heatedly. "The Met. Police are the most expensive and the most inefficient." Applause. The other MP disagreed. The police weren't worse and ILEA wasn't better. "You will all know." said he, "that I am and always nave oeen a sucKier tor truth. I Will tell vou Facts." and hp looked earnest Not the sort of ijen wing earnest that people sneer at, out a crisper sort. "And the facts are that the figures have not been released yet." Little bitter smiies irom me audience. "Everyone's tears are ungrounded." said he. and stared out at everyone, as if towards a neat future. Then the MPs were off, back to the Commons for another vote, and two councillors took over, a tidy Baddie in checks and twills, and a slightly crumpled Goodie in a woolly ana corauroy. xne uaaaie spoke contemptuously of Rate neDaies. "Sentimental slosh." said he. "A load of garbage, if you 11 paraon my saying so." Somebody told him the poor weren't to blame for needing rebates. A plea from the heart in simple terms. He gave an exhausted sneer and leaned back a little in his chair. The Baddies knew they were right, the Goodies knew they were right, and the audience knew that everything was as bad, if not worse than they had thought it was, and nobody outside knew anything about it. It wouldn't have made any difference if they had. "We all go away," said Chairman, "perhaps a little more worried than we were when we arrived, but I think this has been a very worthwhile meeting." Applause. Michele Hanson (Slmasnimg gal, "we all had to stick together". Since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, he argues, Britain's gay community has mainly concentrated on campaigns and political rights. The development of a gay business sector is "our next step". Alex McKenna, certainly one of the most successful gay businessmen in Britain, isn't so sure. From his offices in Camden Town, like Earls Court a favourite gay area, he runs the largest gay publishing operation in Britain, Millivres. Titles include the nude magazines. Zipper, Vulcan and Mister, and the monthly news magazine, HIM-Gay times which started ten years ago as just HIM and in a year's time, will be called just Gay Times. Although some doubt McKenna's claimed circulation of 25,000, this magazine has moved into cing finger inside her pants. Hypocrisy and pain are Homa's impressions of religion. Manny Shirazi left Iran in 1972. The years in exile have confirmed every childhood experience of the religious side of Iran and the strength of conservative male-dominated culture which terrorises women in Iran today. "The last three or four years have been so repressive that women have erased the memory of what they could do before. . I supported the revolution wholeheartedly because of my own experience of poverty and political and personal oppression. The backbone of the Revolution was the socialist left workers and poets and writers. But we underestimated the role the clergy could play. The repression of all culture has been so absolute that there i I i s ill. .iimm81 i- - " -i msa 'Liu ri rgrirf v i : t ...u.a r- s i vfrfcsvw ' JJLL'" rx I amafeiryqwlmother! mp-A-tt, i I II A ATmER. i Hefletstnemaiimme touwimidb if You SHfl ilqo to ; trSsA CSV -r4, . nmAsssraaoL... f idfoTDS. GENTS. and mounts t aaronwewa i c ftwny theCEMfS 4 f( ((ralrT "T rra:'1- Krir- a rearguard f ,fornmimites! Mm I 1 -yr:-. LwWPs&wA T? JjJ lsSC domeopposite... ICitT actio,?.... f ? - Mfev -m tm& jmm rMmimsm tosh imiw erra Hem f llf mi - '"JJ!iVV ywy y I 1 i ... - ! ..I I. ..,. -i TRSSSPn fixJuiiilougheookie, , i:- -s, J J just acquired a new venue. David Berry examines the 'the most affluent minority in the country9 the position occupied by Gay News until its collapse last April as Britain's largest selling gay publication. Vet HIM-Gay Times faces several obstacles that beset Gay News and that American publications have long since overcome. Unlike in The Advocate there aren't advertising agencies queueing up topromote their products to affluent gay readers. Similarly, requests to advertise the magazine in popular Eapers like the Daily Mirror ave been ignored. The two firms that dominate news distribution in this country, W. H. Smith and John Men-zies, refuse to take on gay magazines. McKenna's bookshop in Camden High Street has been raided by the police, and banks, he says "tend to assume we're a bunch of hippies." He doesn't think Britain is going to develop an have been women intellectuals, poets for instance, who have committed suicide." Manny's own response to the present regime is not however one of giving up and opting out. "I have been involved in the broad socialist left writing and speaking about conditions in Iran. Of course I have been followed by Savak (the secret police) and I cannot go back." The novel grew out of a conviction that pamphlets, articles and theses would never brine home to the outside world the everyday reality of Iran. " Stories and novels can really show the feel of people's lives and also for the thousands of Iranian women in exile the telling of our stories can bring lis together." In the book, Eby, the father, is a cruel, violent man. Little Homa watches silently each Bromptons: American-type gay commercialism: "It's always been an illusion that the pink economy is contracting or expanding. It just stays the same." Doug Wilson, managing director of the gay travel firm, Man Around, is more ' optimistic. Suntanned from a recent trip to Portugal where he's persuaded a developer to invest 100,000 in an exclusively gay tourist site in the Algarve, he charts Man Around's successes: nine years in business, now organising 4,000 holidays a year, fully computerised with ABTA and ATOL (the major travel associations) recognition, an 18,000 mailing list. Offers this year include City Breaks in Amsterdam or Berlin, packages to the ever popular American gay resorts and, since last year, the more up-market Los Turbitos in the Canary Islands " The best time he beats his wife, trampling her body wrapped in its black chador until the heap of material is still. And after another scene when he has flung food and dishes into the goldfish pond, Manny recreates a moment of sheer childhood magic as Homa peers into the water clouded by the food and objects thrown in and sees a flash of gold. Her beloved fish have survived her father's attack. Although Javady Alley is a novel Manny explains that the characters are unvarnished straight out of her life. To the reader Eby's selfishness and inability to bring the beliefs of his political life inside his home are horrifying. To his mother, wife and daughter he is a man with no redeeming qualities. "Yes, he is terrible," navs Manny. She adds carefully : " He is actually an average ' good ' Iranian man." "conceiyed in an American asfiion" picture by Stuart Goodman gay accommodation to be found anywhere in Europe." Yet Wilson admits that although things are slowly changing "it's an uphill battle. We're still small and probably always will be." The key problem is lack of investment particularly from within the gay community. "There's a lot of gay men with money," Wilson says, "who are not 'out on the scene' but they still see gay businesses as a rip-off. And many gay firms do have very low standards but underinvestment keeps them low." Man Around has an annual turnover of almost 1 million, Millivres a little more. Market research for Bromptons estimated that 40.000 was spent each week in the gay bars of Earls Court alone. Apart from the 150 pubs listed in HIM-Gay Times every month as meeting places for gay men in Britain, there are One small scene illustrates woman's monthly, humiliation by the man she is closest to. Homa's mother sets out after dark with a mysterious bundle of clothes to wash in a city culvert. The grandmother tells her daughter-in-law to take little Homa with her to divert her husband's rage if he should meet her in the alley as he returns from drinking with his friends. Homa watches the blood run into the water and sees her mother - cover the washing with her chador in shame as a man' passes as she scrubs in the dark. Homa wonders but dare not ask what this scene means. Manny conveys how deeply the child instinctively sympathises with the woman. Another scene shows the mother and children snatch a day of happiness away from the drudgery of home. Long hours jolting on a bus take them to a shrine where they commercial another 100 or so businesses aimed specifically at gays. These include clubs like Birmingham's The Nightingale, Manchester's Hero's, and the most successful of them all. Heaven in London, now owned by the Virgin empire. There are clothes shops I ike Expectations and Clone-Zone, now turning over 250.000 a year. And publishers, an expanding sector with three new firms in the last few years. Gay Men's Press, Bril-lance Books, and Capital Gay, a free newspaper competing with HIM-Gay Times for the lucrative London gay advertising market Together these firms suggest a British pink economy of about 50 millions turnover a year, significant but tiny by American standards. Man Around reckons it reaches only 1 per cent of the possible market. But with no accurate play in the sun and the unhappy mother relaxes briefly in the love and comfort of her children. On the way home in the bus a man standing next to her mother in the crush leans against her again and again. The little girl wonders why her mother's chador is wet as they walk home from the bus and why the mother and grandmother shrug with cold resignation that men are all the same. Manny has deliberately told the child's story and blurred the character of the mother. But, even though she is not clearly drawn she emerges by the end of the book as exceptionally strong and with enough independence to leave her husband and take the children to survive on her own skills as a teacher. Manny's own mother did the same. "And her small example of opposition has Soffit: statistics of the number of gay men in Britain, they rely like everyone else in the gay .business world on the Kinsey Reports done over 30 years ago in America which by implication suggest a British gay male population of at least two million. Roy Pattison, an ex-director of Man Around now working for the London listings magazine, City Limits, doesn't see this' potential market being reached' by. gay businesses in the near future. "It's something peculiar to England. There aren't areas here like West - Hollywood or Greenwich 'Village or in the major European cities, .where a lot of gay men live. When gay men become established, they head for the conventional affluent areas, and don't identify as gay and become very conservative." For Pattison, the expansion of a British pink economy lies not ', in better marketing strategies. but a stronger gay political identity and he cites examples of firms run by gay men which don't advertise to the gay community, and the attempt two years ago to set up a Gay Business Association which collapsed because "it had no political context or weight. It wasn't, though, through in political terms." What such an association could do, Pattison argues, is not simply to pool resources to fund new businesses and do accurate market research but also act as a spokesman for the gay community " that the establishment will recognise. Wealth after all brings Eower." On April 10, one gay usiness, Gays the Word bookshop was raided by customs officers who confiscated 800 books many of which are available in non-gay bookshops around the country. "They'd have had much more difficulty doing that in San Francisco," Pattison says. " The gay business guild there is too powerful." . . But there is no sign that such a powerful business association will emerge in Britain or that the pink economy here will dramatically expand along American lines. Down at Bromptons, Peter Booth is more immediately concerned with establishing the new bar business is good and his directors are talking of using Bromptons to test a new lager in London. And this could be the economic role of Britain's gay businesses in the future. In the consumption of fashions, cosmetics and consumer durables, gay men are usually trend-setters what they consume today, heterosexuals will tomorrow. Such a potential testing ground for new products seems too good to ignore. Bromptons could be the prototype not for a new range of gay businesses but of clubs for single heterosexuals who want to emulate gay style. affected a number of other lives. Other women who saw her leave believed they too could say they wouldn't stand for it, they would manage on their own. But the regime has so clamped down on women that these individual gestures have not grown into a movement. In 1979 we had 20,000 women on the streets of Tehran demonstrating. That was two weeks after the Revolution and we already saw the danger of an Islamic government. The clowns like Rajavi and Bani Sadr who say they are the opposition now couldn't see what we saw and were afraid of the Women's movement. But Iranian women will be the key strength of any serious political movement in Iran however long it takes." Javady Alley, by Manny Shirazi, is published by The Women's Press, 3.95. VITAMIN r. PASTILLES The Vitamin C forallseasons

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