For 44 years since, the paper has continued a tradition that, in its own small way, helps to define Britain’s national identity and continues to be a source of bemusement to foreign visitors and newly arrived immigrants today.
This morning, in protests around Britain to mark the anniversary, the growing “No More Page 3” campaign will seek to persuade the public that pictures of naked and semi-naked women should not be a fixture at family breakfast tables in 2014, either in print or in high definition on mobiles and tablets.
In the two and a half years that this campaign has been going, The Sun and its publishers, News UK, have argued that Page 3 brings pleasure to the paper’s millions of readers, and the feature’s future should not be decided by a small cohort of political activists who don’t, in any case, read the paper.
But for how much longer can it maintain such a stance?
Page 3 seems to belong to the world of Dapper Laughs, the determinedly sexist comic creation of Daniel O’Reilly, who was dropped by ITV last week as the act was described as “a new Jim Davidson, at his worst”.
Like Davidson, Page 3 gained public popularity in the Seventies. The feature was the concept of Rupert Murdoch’s first editor of The Sun, Larry Lamb, a Yorkshire-born blacksmith’s boy with a brief to turn the paper into a racy tabloid. Page 3 was immediately credited with piling on sales.
Those who recall 1970 as a progressive time of bright fashions, the first Glastonbury Festival (although not then so called), gay liberation marches and votes for 18-year-olds might not register – as No More Page 3 founder Lucy-Anne Holmes does – that it was only 42 years after the Equal Franchise Act, which gave women the same voting rights as men. It was a time when Jimmy Savile was being hired for public-information campaigns, when Rolf Harris was in the charts with “Two Little Boys” and when the Benny Hill theme was the signature tune of British comedy.
Next year’s much anticipated film Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, will commemorate the courage of the women who fought to bring about that 1928 legislation. The introduction of Page 3, a year after Murdoch bought The Sun, roughly marks the midpoint between the triumph of the suffragettes and now. And the bare boobs are still here, at the first turn of Britain’s biggest-selling daily’s pages.
But there are signals of change. Murdoch has been drawn into tweeting on the subject and, although he prefers the status quo, his interest is enough to ensure global media exposure for No More Page 3.
When David Dinsmore became The Sun’s editor in the summer of 2013, he made an immediate statement that he wanted the paper to be more inclusive. Since then he has tried to show that Page 3 is more than a permanent exhibit, a tabloid version of the Louvre’s Venus de Milo, and instead has some relevance to a news medium.
This does not mean accompanying the topless photos with the demeaning, pun-laden “News in Briefs” blurbs, which Mr Dinsmore has sensibly dropped. There is a marked difference between the Scotsman’s approach to Page 3 and that of his predecessor, Dominic Mohan, who told the Leveson Inquiry that the photos represented “youth and freshness”.
Topless images on the first turn are regularly replaced with pictures of at least partially clothed celebrities. The “Check ’em Tuesday” campaign, which works to help identify breast cancer, is an attempt to show that Page 3 can be a force for good.
To coincide with this month’s Movember campaign, The Sun has introduced a “Feel ’em Friday” battle cry, to help to combat testicular cancer, illustrated with a groundbreaking image of a naked West Ham United squad. On Friday, The Sun repeated the exercise with Dan Osborne from The Only Way Is Essex in his pants, showing the stunt wasn’t a one-off.
This will not satisfy No More Page 3, and so it shouldn’t. Topless pictures of men do not equate with topless images of women, as Holmes points out.
Besides, her campaign – which she now works on full time – is gathering momentum. It has the backing of women’s groups as diverse as Rape Crisis and the Girl Guides and vocal supporters in the form of Mumsnet, the teaching unions and the British Youth Council.
Its network of activists has expanded to around 20 regional groups, four of which have been founded by men. The Nottingham Forest and Cheltenham Town ladies football teams have adopted No More Page 3 as their shirt sponsor, as has the Scottish mountain biker Lee Craigie.
The singer Miss Baby Sol, who works with Paloma Faith, is releasing a song in conjunction with No More Page 3, “Now’s the Time”, in an attempt to enter the Christmas chart. The campaign’s supporters will create the video.
There will be no knockout punch here. The Sun will always want to argue that any changes in its editorial approach – and scrapping Page 3 would be a historic one – are done on the paper’s own terms.
But Mr Dinsmore, with his circulation below two million and his paper’s reputation lately tarnished by the Mazher Mahmood affair, could do with having more of Britain’s women on his side.Reuse content