12: Colt Cinema


6 Berwick Street, facing the shop fronts, number 6 is the anonymous building just right to the alley.

The early 1980s saw London’s gay scene pushed back into the fringes, behind the blacked out windows and unmarked doors of scruffy pubs and basement cinemas.

Gays and lesbians were under attack from Thatcher's Government, gay men were once more persecuted by the police, and a homophobic media were creating anxiety among the general population about a mysterious new illness that they were calling the "gay disease".

A visitor to the Stradivarious London website remembers working at the Colt Cinema (later renamed Stud Cinema) in the early 80s: 

It was a fun time and a very exciting place for a young guy in his mid twenties to find himself. We had a cinema in the basement and I had to change the reels when the old reel had finished, not that anyone was watching the films, the cinema was bursting most nights and among the punters were many good looking guys[…]

We were regularly raided by the police, on one occasion they turned up and cleared all the punters out and promptly picked up the TV on the counter and threw it on the floor, they would taunt the customers calling them perverts […]. After being raided we would call the boss who would come and restock the shelves.

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, the British public reached peak hate in 1987, with 75% of the population agreeing that homosexual activity was "always or mostly wrong". In the same year, on 8 November, the Golden Lion pub on Dean Street (still there but no longer gay) suffered a small bomb attack, causing minimal damage to the toilet stall where it had been planted.

In 1989, across England & Wales, consenting same-sex relations between men over the age of 16 resulted in 3,500 prosecutions, 2,700 convictions, 380 cautions and between 40-50 prison sentences. 1,503 men were convicted of gross indecency, compared with 887 in 1955 when sexual activity between men was actually illegal.

Among those prosecuted in 1989, many teenagers were also penalised: 185 convicted, 147 cautioned and 23 imprisoned.

Next stop: Village