London’s Boyz magazine celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. The ground-breaking title first appeared to coincide with Pride London in 1991.
It was launched by publishers and partners David Bridle and Kelvin Sollis, who also owned the LGBTI newspaper, the Pink Paper. In an editorial in this week’s anniversary edition, Bridle, who still owns the title, says that he was prompted to launch the mag when he spotted a gap in the market.
The Pink Paper and rival title Capital Gay covered politics, news and LGBTI protests, but did little coverage of the commercial gay scene – a haven for many gay men at the time.
They decided Boyz would be the magazine to cover the scene and reflect their readers’ lives.
‘We have never been shy of admitting that Boyz is for everyone, from the Sainsbury’s checkout boy planning his clubbing weekend to the teacher or City banker who just want to relax or get horny on the gay scene,’ says Bridle in an editorial in this week’s issue.
‘We have been happily bright and breezy for most of our life and make no excuses for that.
‘There have been times when cheering gay men up has been more important than getting them outside Parliament carrying banners.’
‘We made the conscious decision to show how much fun it was to be gay’
Boyz took an increasingly cheeky, brazen and humorous tone throughout the 90s, but never forgot to also encourage its readers to take care of themselves – running constant information and discussions around safer sex and HIV.
As the gay scene grew throughout that decade, so did Boyz, in both pagination and reach. It went from newspaper to magazine format, and went national: distributed to gay venues from Aberdeen to Plymouth. For several years it was the most widely read gay publication in the UK.
Popular features included a raunchy vox pop of readers’ own sexual exploits, a ‘Freak of the Week’ interview with a fetishist, Rigid Boner’s Diary (confessions of a gay air steward), and a cheeky, Smash Hits approach to interviewing celebrities (‘What do you eat for breakfast?’).
‘What made Boyz stand out at the time was that it was a pure celebration of being gay,’ says former editor Simon Gage.
‘Other publications were cataloging crimes committed against us – and there were many – so we made the conscious decision to show how much fun it was to be gay in terms of sex, clubbing, music and fashion. We were political and responsible, especially when it came to promoting safer sex, but we didn’t see why a protest couldn’t be fun or why health information couldn’t be sexy.’
Boyz celebrated its anniversary with a party last night at London superclub G-A-Y. That club’s promoter, Jeremy Joseph, agrees that when Boyz first appeared, it was ‘truly innovative … there was nothing else like it.
‘People forget that the scene wasn’t based in Soho then. It was spread out, with bars all over the place. Boyz arrived and covered them all and spoke to its audience in exactly the right tone of voice.’
He says its 25-year anniversary is, ‘a massive achievement.’
The magazine had to also sometimes cover more dramatic events. An arson attack on its office in 1996 led to a hastily assembled front cover the following week that boldly stated: ‘Stop Arson Around!’
In September 1999 it ran a front cover depicting flowers left outside the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho – after three people were killed and many more injured in a bomb attack.
Following Simon Gage, I took over as editor for eight years from 1998. My memories are of partying, pop stars, and editorial meetings dedicated to deciding just what we could get away with each week. My overriding recollection is the genuine warmth in the feedback we got from readers.
Like many magazines, Boyz faced challenges in the 21st century with the advent of the internet. The web and smartphones have changed the gay scene, and how men meet and interact with each other.
Boyz ceased its UK distribution in the early 00s, but has continued as a London scene stalwart, covering the clubs, bars and personalities of the commercial gay scene.
Bridle believes that even in the ‘digital world of Facebook, Twitter and Grindr’, there is a place in the lives of London gay men for Boyz.
‘The magazine continues to evolve and our most recent redesign and editorial revamp has seen a lot more LGBT community news, theatre and arts in the magazine,’ he told GSN.
‘Gay guys may go to a social or sports group or theatre production, but will then go for a drink afterwards in a gay bar, and many LGBT groups hold fundraising events on the scene. We want to help bring LGBT groups and the scene together much more.’