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
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'