The Brixton Fairies: 1970s gay squat

Discussion in 'Brixton' started by editor, May 10, 2004.

  1. editor

    editor hiraethified

    I was chatting to a gay playwright friend of mine who was telling me all about 'The Brixton Fairies', a group of outrageous, radical gay men who lived in a set of 14 back-to-back squats around Railton Road in the 1970s.

    They'd knocked all the gardens through to form a large communal space and the community was in the forefront of Gay Liberation Front activity at the time. A gay theatre group called 'The Brixton Fairies' grew out of this scene.

    I was hoping I could get my mate to write a piece about this fascinating part of Brixton history, but sadly as a writer he'd require a shuffle of fivers for that.

    I've tried to research the story myself, but a shuffle through google brought forth barely a peep.

    So has anyone any memories, news, photos about this 1970s squat?

    And who'd like to write a feature for the site (for free, natch)?! ;)
  2. hatboy

    hatboy Banned Banned

    Those houses are now the "gay community" in Railton Rd. They are the same housing co-op as my house. I know of people there and could find you contacts.

    The 14 gardens are all still one garden and still beautiful.

  3. Ms T

    Ms T Honey-coloured ramparts

    The TV people should definitely do Railton Rd and have them in their programme!
  4. Mrs Magpie

    Mrs Magpie On a bit of break...

    Quick! Get Alfie Howard a transfer to Railton Road!
  5. Gramsci

    Gramsci Well-Known Member

    I have a picture with a banner saying something about Brixton Gay liberation.The book its in im still trying to get back from someone
  6. Gramsci

    Gramsci Well-Known Member

    Ive got a feeling the buildings were turned into a permanent Housing Coop-keeping the communal garden.

    Just noticed HBs already pointed that out.

    All I found on google was that a South London Gay Community centre opened in a Brixton squat in 1974.Though i found no other details on it.

    Obviously their is a history to be documented.
  7. felixalvarez

    felixalvarez New Member

    I Was There!

    My name is Felix Alvarez. In 1973 I'd just left University. I lived in the south London area and became involved in the early GLF group (which used to meet in a pub next to Oval tube). I was intimately involved with the squatting action which set up the Brixton Gay Community Centre and so, therefore, am well aware of most of the history of that group. I moved away from London to work abroad in 1978 and it was only many years later that I tried to trace many of the people I knew from that group and that era, only to discover, sadly, many had fallen victim to early HIV. Off the top of my head, some of the names of the people involved were as follows:

    Gary Devere
    Colm (surname I don't remember, but along with Gary, one of the two more forceful GLFers in the group)
    Alistair Kerr (prime diamond fairy, lovely guy - also Aids victim)
    Malcolm Greatbanks (GLF's candidate to Elections in Brixton around 1974, for whom I stood in as 'partner')
    John Lloyd - I understand he is still around and living in the Railton Road 'commune', now Housing Association property
    Julian Howes - managed to get in touch with him several years back and I understand deeply involved in Aids awareness work. Also, I understand, part of the Brixton Fairies theatre group.

    The Community Centre was an important historical point for the gay movement of the early 70s: it was the first of its kind, for a start. The many activities it sparked (phone counselling, information and advice, gay disco, political awareness raising and action, a gay wrestlers' group, encounter groups etc) brought into many from the nascent gay movement who later went on to continue their work in other ambits (Friend, Icebreakers etc). Contact with the media was also something the group undertook, including a spot on London Weekend Television's "London Programme" around the time of the 1974(?) elections. Fringe film producers also used the members of the Community Centre for what I remember was to be a film entitled "Night Hawks". Don't know whatever happened to that project.

    I vividly remember one night sitting in the Centre only to find, suddenly, the door slamming open and being put into a police van, along with others with practically no reason being given for our detention. We were held in the cells for a few hours and interrogated individually. I never did find out exactly what the reason for that treatment was, but we suspected the reason being that suspected paedophiles had started to attend the Community Centre, discussing issues around child/adult sexuality, the main thrust of which was an ideological position regarding respect for children's sexuality. That, ofcourse, was an area of much contention from a gay liberation point of view, and no consensus was uniformly held.

    The participation of women in the centre was always low, though existent. This was, to some extent, undermined by the revelation that one of the women who presented herself as Lesbian was allegedly revealed as being a heterosexual 'fag hag'. This caused a level of unhappiness in a group which saw heterosexuals as attempting to undermine the sexuality of gay men (whom, allegedly, this person enjoyed 'seducing').

    Towards the end of the Centre's short life, the cogency and solidarity of the group began to reveal itself in a series of ideological differences. This was, ofcourse, part of the natural development of the group as differences of view indicated the growing self-esteem of individuals who began to assert a plurality of ideological positions regarding their own sexuality.

    One of the other problems that raised its head was the attempt by political ideologues external to the Centre attempting to 'infiltrate' the activism and energy of Centre members. One such group I remember well was the International Marxist Group (IMG) who advocated Marxist revolution and advocated an IMG-style approach to social campaigning.

    I am sure that the more I think about that era the more will start to emerge from my unconscious. I am happy to enter into any further details with anyone interested in documenting this what I consider to have been important element in early 70s gay activism in order to address what is clearly a deficit in historical documentation (Bill Thorneycroft, by the way, was also a central figure in the life of the Gay Community Centre in Railton Road and it is only today when, prior to discovering this forum, I entered a few key searches that I discovered that Bill went on to co-authoring some interesting academic works on sexuality. I do not know if he still lives, but if so, Bill will similarly be a great source of reminiscences.)

    I returned to my native country (Gibraltar) in 1997. Appalled at the situation of gay people in Gibraltar, I founded Gib Gay Rights (GGR) in 2000, which has over the last 7 years grown into Gibraltar's primary voice in gay and human rights. I can be contacted at gibgayrightsATyahoocouk. You can view our website at and I'd be delighted to hear from any of you.

    Felix Alvarez

    <I've taken out the dots and @ in your email or you'll get spammed to bits...Mrs M>
    spliff, tim and dogDBC like this.
  8. Maggot

    Maggot The Cake of Liberty

    Looks like Ed's got his article already written!
  9. Mrs Magpie

    Mrs Magpie On a bit of break...

    I think I know him......well, I certainly know a Malcolm who has lived in Brixton since God was a child and was involved in GLF....
  10. timothysutton1

    timothysutton1 Brixton resident.


    Isn't it a sad comment on the area that any gay activity is now history; not a gay bar, club, cafe or shop in sight.
  11. bluestreak

    bluestreak HomosexualityIsStalin’sAtomBombtoDestroyAmerica

    yeah, i heard that in the 70s there were quite a few gay venues in brixton. is this true?
  12. Kid_Eternity

    Kid_Eternity "You might be a lord but here comes the king."

    This is fucking mental! That thread is over three years old!
  13. Maggot

    Maggot The Cake of Liberty

    The Fridge used to be a gay club, and so did Sub-Station (or whatever it was called then). I don't know if either of them go back as far as the 70s though.
  14. Mrs Magpie

    Mrs Magpie On a bit of break...

    The Fridge used to be down past the Police Station under the gas showroom but in the 70s it was still the Ram Jam...loads of ska, Prince Buster etc etc.
  15. Mrs Magpie

    Mrs Magpie On a bit of break...

    btw, the Fridge was never a gay club as such, but it was gay-friendly and had gay the days when music was live.....
  16. dogmatique

    dogmatique merde alors

    Fantastic post Felix!
  17. Bazza

    Bazza New Member

    The Annexe (former Sub-Station) is not exclusively gay but had a lot of gay clientele when I went there recently.

    Great music.
  18. Funki mamma

    Funki mamma ..still shakin' dat tush!

    Also...I seem to remember The Prince of Wales was a Gay pub, a lot

    bigger, (and the loos were where the KFC is now. :D ) Early 80s I think.
  19. William of Walworth

    William of Walworth Festographer

    Kinnell, yer man felix is a fucking good historian! :cool:

    (I knew nothing, but now do :cool: )

    And I never saw this thread when it was started in 2004!!!! A three years later bump is mental! and must be a record on Urban.... :eek:
  20. juliandrag

    juliandrag New Member

    yes the history of :
    faerie land in brixton in the 70 and beyonds needs recording - including
    Tom Robinson singing at Gay Dances at the Town Hall
    The squatted gay cente in Railton Road
    Pearls gay shabeen also on Railton Road
    The gay community sqauts on railton and Mayall Raod - and what has become of them
    The blasphemers ball at Lambeth Town hall - raising funds for the campaign against the prosection of Gay Times - and the fact that the campaign was run from Brixton
    Gay Noise - a radical late 70s freesheet produced in Brixton
    The anto Nazi march through brixton and the strong gay presence on it - and the pink and blue demim banner strung across railton road with a queen (or two or three) doing a royal wave past - in full drag- from the houses on railton road
    There is a huge wealth of material out I am sure there for anyone who wants to write this history up ...but scattered to the far cormers i am sure
    The only other history of early gay Liberation is 'No Bath but plenty of bubbles' an oral history of the Gay Liberation Front 1970-1973 by Lisa Power . This is no longer in print but easily avaialable on Amazon etc
    My name is Julian Hows and I was a member of the early Gay Liberation Front , Brixton Faeries and lived in the squats and still live in the railton road area. Would love to hear from anyone who is still alive and remembers and was involved in these times ...especially with pictures, posters etc
    dogDBC likes this.
  21. editor

    editor hiraethified

    Cheers for the input so far, folks.

    I'm going to add a feature about Brixton's gay past in the Brixton section of this site and would be happy to include emails from anyone looking to get in touch with others.
  22. lang rabbie

    lang rabbie Je ne regrette les gazebos

    Various middle aged Lambeth politicos, of all political persuasions, are united in their nostalgia for the Prince of Wales in that period.:D

    Was "Phil Starr" (formerly of the Two Brewers at Clapham, I discover from some Googling) the last licensee to try and run that place on its original scale before the site owners took KFC's filthy lucre?
  23. quimcunx

    quimcunx protestant traybake

    Quote: I vividly remember one night sitting in the Centre only to find, suddenly, the door slamming open and being put into a police van, along with others with practically no reason being given for our detention. We were held in the cells for a few hours and interrogated individually. I never did find out exactly what the reason for that treatment was, but we suspected the reason being that suspected paedophiles had started to attend the Community Centre, discussing issues around child/adult sexuality, the main thrust of which was an ideological position regarding respect for children's sexuality. That, ofcourse, was an area of much contention from a gay liberation point of view, and no consensus was uniformly held. Unquote

    sorry I'm new and haven't worked out how to quote someone elses post yet.

    I think this must have been the Paedophile Information Exchange which was around at the time. I only just found out about it the other day. Seems they were for getting rid of the age of consent all together.
  24. detective-boy

    detective-boy Banned Banned

    Click on the "Quote" button in the bottom left of the post and it opens up a window with the entire post in. You'll see the square bracketed bits which make it a quote but within them to can delete the non-relevant bits so you don;t have to quote the whole thing.

    This button over here ... >>>>>>
  25. quimcunx

    quimcunx protestant traybake

    I found it, thanks, :) the Quote message in reply tickbox confused me.
    spliff likes this.
  26. Crispy

    Crispy The following psytrance is baṉned: All

    Yeah, that's for the Quick Reply only.
  27. brixtonscot

    brixtonscot Well-Known Member

    Here's article about 1978 by Brixton Faerie, Terry Stewart...............

    1978 seems like another lifetime, when one looks at the massive changes in both Gay lifestyles and social attitudes. I do recall the gay movement was fighting on about four or five different front around various issue such as, the Gay news appeal at the law courts, which was lost. WH Smiths continued its shelf ban of Gay News. Nazi’s were on the march of hate, and the attempt by the far right to link homosexuality and pedophilia, was in full swing. Finally Captain Morgan’s Homophobic advertising was getting a good battering from queens “You don’t say hello sailor to a Captain Morgan’s drinker”. On all fronts queens were fighting back.

    Great gains had been made in America with the election of the first Gay Mayor of San Francisco Harvey Milk. Sadly some deranged religious nut murdered Harvey. The down side was, Anita Bryant a B movie starlet, whose career went nowhere, accept on a homophobic rampage. She wasn’t very good at selling Florida Orange juice either. She lost that job thanks to the Gay lobby in America.

    Disco was still all the rage and it seemed like we were never going to stop dancing. Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company was pumping out great shows, as were Blue Lips. Hot Peaches the American theatre group had made a tour of England and Germany and as a result we were all inspired, by their production The Divas of Sheridan Square. So much so that Brixton Fairies theatre company was formed. Not to forget Eric Preslands productions on Hampstead Heath. Can you imagine all that Gay theatre? The women’s group Ova was beginning to make a name on the women’s circuit. We were Cultured, Radical and ready to take on the World. So much so that the International Gay and Lesbian Association was formed.

    Ron Peck the Film Director was just putting together the final script for the film Night Hawks, which depicted the dilemma of a Gay schoolteacher being in the closet. Ron went on to direct the sequel Strip Jack Naked, which I would recommend every young Gay and Lesbian see to get a flavour of the period, nothing to do with the fact that I have a brief cameo role in the film, which lasts all of fifteen seconds.

    A good night at the cinema was to see the latest John Waters cult movies staring the diva of all time Divine, of Hair Spray fame, god rest her little socks.

    Poor Julian Hows was having a hard time at work. London Transport had introduced new uniform policy, were female staff could wear trousers if they wish, so Julian decided it should work both ways and arrived on the platform at Earls Court station in a little grey two piece LT skirt and top. Management were outraged.

    We didn’t have Employment Rights, no we had to just go in and brazen it out and hope for the best. British Homophobic Stores didn’t particularly like us then, and we had to make a few visits to their shops and let them know we were not shopping.

    Schoolteachers were getting it in the neck big time and the Gay Teachers Group had a very robust campaign around the issue of being gay and out in the classroom. It was a few years later that the whole issue of Section 28 came along and undone any gains made.

    Cottaging was another major issue at the time. People did cottage and large numbers of those who did were closeted or gay men who saw no dilemma in such Social, Public and Municipal activities. There were of course the Moral Mary’s who frowned upon such behaviour and would accuse those who did, of “dragging our good name in the mud”. Begs the question, what good name?

    The Police were raiding the Gay scene on a phenomenal scale, along with a general clampdown on Gays in Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and London to name but a few. This was very much lead by the Commissioner of the Manchester Police Mr. Anderton, who said that God had spoken to him with regards to Homosexuality.
    (cont'd )..........
    spliff likes this.
  28. brixtonscot

    brixtonscot Well-Known Member

    1978 cont'd

    Finally Reverend Ian Paisley had established the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign the previous year, and it was well and truly producing the bigotry and hatred that he wanted to unleash on the Gay community in the North of Ireland.

    The morning of Gay Pride was different in 1978. We would not be marching up Oxford Street freaking out the Shoppers and Tourist. No this year we would march right through a residential area were real people lived, and reclaim the streets of Earls Court which was very much the Gay Mecca of the Time.

    All that year the queens at the various pubs had been having a very tough time with the local police. Night after night there had been arrests around the Colherne Pub. It wasn’t quite Stonewall, but Queens were fighting back and not being bullied by the Lille. This march would be in solidarity with those Out on the Gay Scene and would take us right to the heart of “The Gay Community”.

    We were up early that morning and some queens were having a Champers breakfast before taking on London. The Gay Dragon, which would be the centerpiece of the march, was having the final touches put to it, and there was a practice march around the garden to make sure everyone had the general idea of how to dragon dance and breath at the same time. We had the usual Black Steel Band to lead us through the streets of London, as was the case for a number of years.

    I can’t understand where this argument of Black people being more Homophobic than white people came from. You should try being an Irish Catholic gay man. This same backward argument would be used later to move the Pride festival out of Brockwell Park. This certainly wasn’t our experience having lived on the frontline in Brixton for several years in an openly Gay Commune.

    Pearl a lovely big Jamaican women had her Gay Shebeen on the frontline were Black and White gay men would dance until the wee small hours. It wasn’t quite Queer Nation, but we did enjoy ourselves, in an environment that was free from the usual racism that was pretty much run of the mill prejudices encountered by black people on the gay scene at the time.

    Back to the Gay Pride March. The word Festival would come later when the Gay Pink Pounders would attempt to de-politicize the annual event. “Waving banners up and down Oxford Street screaming your tits off is all very well, but we want to be respectable” I heard one queen arguing. We all headed over to West London to begin our Annual Ritual of letting Joe Public know, that we were Out and Proud.

    Everything was going well until we arrived outside the Colherne pub, where a bunch of tacky queens came out and decided to bottle the march, not a very good move. Handbags at dawn. If we were not going to be bottled by straights, we certainly were not going to be bottled by our own. Some queens rushed the pub lead by His Eminence Julian and put down the revolt in a way that only queens know how. Julian came out of the pub like the Victor over the Vanquished with his booty, a great big handsome Leather queen and some others who joined the march. It all ended very positive with the regulars all coming out and cheering us on.

    The march was very lively and upbeat. We didn’t have 95,000 people, but the residents of West London knew we had arrived. The last big march we had was in February which we managed to mobilize thousands on the issue of “Stop the Backlash” which was during a period of general Homophobia on a wide scale with a lose coalition of the religious right, various sections of the establishment and far right political organizations.

    The Gay Pride Ball that evening was held at Chelsea Town Hall and was a tremendous success until some straight male bouncer decided to chat up some of the lesbians. All hell broke out. We had just finished our production called “Swan Vista on Rice” which was a ballet on roller skates and a piss take of the John Curry on Ice show, which every family were flocking to see.

    By closing time the police had arrived with dogs and began to clear the hall. We all stood outside, began to sing, blow them kisses and make offers of a good night out, as they retreated with the little dignity they had left, back into their little powder blue panda cars.

    The various Gay Centres around London were being attacked night after night. Even known Gay households were firebombed and windows caved in. It was a question of having to get out there and fight for our very survival.

    There is nothing more terrifying to a Homophobe than a queen dragged up to the nines wielding a club and screaming obscenities. It often worked and the only damage was a few broken cuticles and nothing a good hairbrush wouldn’t sort out.

    The Economy was in a mess the IMF and World Bank had already threatened to bankrupt the country, even though we were pumping out that black gold in the North Sea. This period also saw a fragmentation of the left in general and the gay and lesbian movement in particular.

    Labour Government in power, broken promises and a shift to the right by the same Government. Does this sound familiar?

    At a more general level we had seen Workers and Trade Unions begin to take a hammering as the powers that be, began to clampdown on the movement, and remove any gains made during the previous period.

    The reason I raise these issues is to illustrate how fragile our rights are and how the economic impact on the broader community affects us.

    It was only a very short time before Disco would become House, GLF would become Stonewall and Revolution would become Reform. The economy was in a mess and so was our makeup and we were going to need more than a mascara brush to sort out the dilemmas within the Gay Movement. The rest is another story for another day.

    Some of you will have different memories. Nights out at the Vauxhall Tavern, Bangs Disco, or a romp at the Gigolo and a dance at the Sombrero. Even pubs such as the Salisbury, The Golden lion or the A & B or the Embassy club will spring to mind. The Gateways was at its peak for women. I think the Catacombs may have already closed down.

    Twenty-five years later, seeing young Gay and Lesbians experiencing a better life than the nightmare we were up against, is a joy to be celebrated.

    To see old friends is always a great pleasure, because from 1982 onwards HIV and AIDS devastated our community. We lost almost a whole generation of friends and people who were very valuable to us all.

    It was a very tough time but thanks to the likes of His Eminence Julian and others who have stayed around and did the most tremendous work around HIV and AIDS. You are probably asking yourself is this an article on Pride History or Julian Hows, and my response is, you can’t separate them.

    Individuals don’t make history, but history does make individuals and Julian is one of them. It is about the early queens who survived and stayed to fight. The unsung heroes that don’t get mentioned.

    That is Pride worth celebrating, worth fighting for, worth remembering and worth gold dust twenty-five years later. I wouldn’t change it for the world you hear me say. I don’t think so.

    I can’t for the life of me remember what happened to the Gay Dragon. Someone put that Gloria Gaynor track on again.
    spliff likes this.
  29. zuszsa

    zuszsa dazed and confused

    cheers brixtonscot.
  30. mallee

    mallee New Member

    I lived there 1981-1982

    My name is Malcolm Thorne from Australia, I lived @ 152 & 146 Mayall Road in 1981 & 1982. I have photos of meetings in the back garden & of the people there at the time; Mathew, Chris, Dirg, Steve, Ernst, Andy & Carlsberg the cat + photos of what was left of Brixton after the riots. Am happy to put photos up on facebook or elsewhere. Mathew Jones & Chris Dobney are alive & living in Australia as far as I know. I was there during the second Brixton riot & I saw the police start it. Many happy memories of the wonderful men of the Brixton Gay squat. malleescrub at

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