Obituary: Denis Lemon

Denis Edward Lemon, newspaper editor and restaurateur: born Bradford-on-Avon 11 August 1945; Editor, Gay News 1972-82; died Exmouth 21 July 1994.

I NEVER met Denis Lemon, writes James Kirkup. But in the early Seventies I found his editing of Gay News original, brave and professional. I first got in touch with him when I was living in New York, where the liberated and liberating sexual climate released in me a long sequence of homosensual poems. The only place likely to accept them in Britain was Gay News, so I started sending them there. Among them was the poem that caused such an unnecessary uproar, 'The Love that Dares to Speak its Name', and which I disowned long ago. It was part of the sequence I called, in homage to Picasso, 'My Blue Period'.

This involved me in some correspondence with Lemon, whose letters were funny, affectionate and perceptive. One of the last poems he accepted was 'Gay Nursery Rhyme' - based on 'Gay go up and gay go down / To ring the bells of London Town'. But when the storm broke over our heads, I begged Lemon not to print it, and he sent a sympathetic letter of agreement.

By this time, I was concluding negotiations on a contract for a teaching post in Kyoto and I returned to Europe to make preparations for my departure. I wrote to Denis Lemon asking him how I could be of help, but received no reply. I wrote to his staff at the newspaper, but got no answer. Then I received a disturbing letter from Marion Boyars, who informed me of something I had not known: I would not be allowed to defend myself in court.

The date for my return to Japan was put off again and again as I tried to get to the bottom of Gay News's mysterious silence. I wrote several letters outlining my position to Boyars, who without asking my permission sent them to the Observer, which published them. I finally left for Japan. I had done all I could to help.

Francis King, like many others, misunderstood my attitude. In his inventive autobiography Yesterday Came Suddenly (1993) there are many inaccuracies about me. Even worse, he suggests that I am a coward: 'Since Denis Lemon was a friend of mine, since I felt sorry for him, cruelly isolated by Kirkup's refusal to return to England to defend his own poem', he agreed to John Mortimer's request to give evidence - which he was of course unable to do, as I could have told him. He continues: 'It was a great relief when the judge ruled that literary merit was irrelevant in the case.' But there was no relief for me, pursued by avalanches of hate mail, some of it from so-called 'gays' and 'Christians'. In the end, I gave up opening my letters, and drowned a great bundle of them in the Inland Sea, along with piles of unread press-cuttings.

When the case was over, I again wrote to Lemon expressing my sympathy and again offering him my support, but there was no reply from him, though I got one from his assistants, who declared that my letters in the Observer had been magnificent - I had written to Boyars that 'blasphemy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder' - and that they had been a great help and consolation to everyone concerned. I now realise that Lemon was advised not to write to me by his lawyers.

I deeply regret the trouble I caused him and his newspaper, and mourn the passing of someone I should have liked to know better, but was prevented from doing so. He was gifted, witty and courageous.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam