Sunset looms as Page Three marks 25 years

Pornography debate: Tabloid institution celebrates anniversary as opponents hope changing times will bring its demise anachronism opponents scent victory with its impending demise

LOUISE JURY

She has defied the feminists and the years. The glamour may have tarnished, her star faded, but when the Sun's Page Three girl sticks out her chest this Friday she will be marking 25 years of topless titillation.

On 17 November 1970, Sir Larry Lamb, the Sun's then editor, published the naked breasts of model Stephanie Rahn in his newspaper and a national institution was born.

The page's biggest successes became household names. It was a big weapon in the newspaper circulation wars. The bitter arguments over Clare Short's anti-Page Three Billserved to fuel the interest in the likes of Samantha Fox, Maria Whittaker and Linda Lusardi.

The Campaign Against Pornography was set up to support Ms Short and fights on. But time and the supermodel may now be its best chances of success. Two years ago, Rupert Murdoch, the newspaper's proprietor, conceded that the "Page Three lovely" might be past her sell-by date.

More significantly, the cult of the supermodel and her new found willingness to bare parts never bared before has dented the Page Three market. Once the fashion models started doing semi-nude calendars the pin-up lost popularity, Yvonne Paul, a former Benny Hill girl who runs a model agency, said.

Page Three used to be a better career move than it is now, she said. "It used to mean the girl would move on to being a minor celebrity. I don't think that's going to happen again."

There is still money to be made, even though the Daily Mirror dropped its equivalent several years ago. A Page Three session - invariably with photographer Beverley Goodway, who has snapped more than 50,000 - will take three hours and pay pounds 60 an hour, Ms Paul said. "Girls who work for Tatler or Vogue get pounds 80 a day."

Tracy Kirby, 29, became a Page Three girl after a friend sent in her picture to a competition. She was embarrassed at first, but it was exciting. "You were a queen. You had a brilliant time."

Now she is trying to break into television with Live TV. Her past has been a mixed blessing. "I certainly wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now if it wasn't for Page Three. But people won't take you seriously. I've had to prove myself."

Today's "girls" know the heyday is over and there are problems, like nuisance calls. But she thinks the pictures are harmless.

Maria Whittaker, 27, was one of the stars. More than 3,500 turned up on a wet Wednesday to see her open a shop in Oxford Street. Now she is concentrating on a singing career and agrees a Page Three past makes it more difficult."People imagine we can't talk and that we have no personality. But I'm glad I did it. I travelled the world, met lots of people, earned money."

The Page Three girl is losing her pull, relegated on occasion to page five or seven. On a busy news day she can vanish.

The Campaign Against Pornography is confident it is winning the battle. "Eventually it will go," spokeswoman, Andrea Alexander said.

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