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.

AFTER his trial in 1977 at the Old Bailey on a charge of blasphemous libel, Denis Lemon became something of an international celebrity: he was the first man to be convicted in Britain on such a charge in more than 50 years.

The trial for ever changed Lemon's life and he was pursued by journalists almost up until his death for comments on everything from the fatwa on Salman Rushdie to the retirement of Mrs Mary Whitehouse from the Presidency of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. And the stresses and strains of the months between June 1976 - when he published James Kirkup's poem 'The Love that Dares to Speak its Name' in issue 96 of Gay News - and his trial at the Old Bailey in July 1977, took a terrific toll on his health and was the main contributing factor to his selling the newspaper in February 1982.

Born in Bradford-on-Avon in 1945, Denis Lemon grew up in Herne Bay and Whitstable and was educated at the Simon Langton School in Canterbury. Moving to London, he worked in accountancy and later in a record shop in south London - music was an obsession, everything from rock 'n' roll to grand opera by way of Ethel Merman and Dusty Springfield. The evolving Gay Liberation Front pulled him in the direction of sexual politics and the idea of Gay News was originally mooted in 1971. The first issue of the fortnightly - run by a short-lived collective - appeared in June 1972.

Lemon became Editor in August 1972, remaining in that position until he sold the paper almost 10 years later. The newspaper did not long survive his departure.

Although he had written for Gay News and more recently contributed to Gay Times (notably his only written account of the blasphemy trial), Lemon was not a journalist and his vital contribution to gay publishing was as a far- sighted entrepreneur who was hard-nosed enough to get a gay newspaper up and running and keep it going in the face of hostility. He published Kirkup's poem in 1976 because he thought 'the message and intention of the poem was to celebrate the absolute universality of God's love', although he admitted it was 'probably not a great work of literature'.

Not everyone viewed the poem in the same light as Lemon and an outraged reader dispatched a copy to Mary Whitehouse who instigated a prosecution for blasphemous libel. Judge Alan King- Hamilton disallowed expert testimony on the literary, sociological or theological qualities of the poem - Margaret Drabble and Bernard Levin were allowed to appear as character witnesses on Lemon's part. John Mortimer appeared for the defence, but Gay News Ltd and Denis Lemon were found guilty - Lemon being fined pounds 500 and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment, suspended for 18 months and subsequently quashed by the Court of Appeal.

With Gay News behind him, Lemon became a restaurateur - notably at the Arts Centre in Exeter after he had moved to that city in an attempt to regain the anonymity he had lost. Increasing ill-health - he had suffered from Aids-related illness for several years - caused him to become increasingly reclusive but with a hold on life the tenacity of which left his friends amazed. He was a great original. He is survived by his partner of many years, Nick Purshouse, and several much- loved cats.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?