On this date, 17 November, back in 1970, a German model named Stephanie Rahn was pictured in what was described as her “birthday suit” in the pages of The Sun, and the British media phenomenon of Page 3 was born.
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.
1/5 Dapper Laughs
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine
2/5 Dapper Laughs
Dapper Laughs had his own ITV dating show up until earlier this week when it was axed by the channel
3/5 Dapper Laughs
Dapper Laughs' brand of 'lad comedy' has causes widespread offence and anger
4/5 Dapper Laughs
'Clapham lad' Daniel O'Reilly aka Dapper Laughs
5/5 Dapper Laughs
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night
Those that 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.
True life comedy and strife: Danny Baker’s memoirs
Jeff Pope somehow combines the role of head of factual drama at ITV Studios with being one of Britain’s most successful television writers.
His work is currently being aired on ITV with a month-long celebration of his true crime dramas, including Mrs Biggs, the story of the wife of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and Lucan, dramatising events leading to the disappearance of the notorious earl.
Philomena, the feature film he wrote with Steve Coogan, was nominated for an Oscar. Pope’s next big project is for the BBC, Cradle to Grave, an eight-part series on the childhood of Danny Baker, based on the presenter’s memoirs. The project has roots at ITV where Baker and Pope both worked on the London Weekend Television programme The Six O’Clock Show (as did I).
Pope clearly remembers Danny’s father, Fred “Spud” Baker, a ducking and diving London ex-docker and key character in the new drama, visiting his son in hospitality at ITV’s studios at London’s South Bank. The classic Spud story features a young Danny following his father’s orders to tell an insurance man he is not at home, only for Spud to interrupt the conversation to tell the disbelieving visitor: “If he says I’m not home, I’m not home!”
Cradle to Grave, says Pope, will be a story of the Bakers against the world. “It’s how Spud fought for the best for his family, not always on the right side of the law.”
Though he is known for crime stories, the writer says Baker’s story will allow him to mix comedy with real-life events. “With Danny’s childhood in south London, and all the wonderful stories, this is the perfect opportunity to do that.”
The action finishes with Baker’s character still in his mid-teens, allowing for further series.
Pope’s recent work also includes Cilla, the dramatisation of another icon of the ITV building, where she used to present Surprise Surprise! and Blind Date. “I vividly remember seeing Cilla and her husband, Bobby, in the corridors and the lifts,” he says. Who will he pick for his next biopic, former boss Greg Dyke?Reuse content