The 1950s was a dire era for the queer community in Britain. Continuing the country’s long-running attempts to crack down on the ‘homosexual man’ at a rate significantly greater than lesbians, the 50s reached a boiling point. Homosexual ‘scandals’ frequently made the news, from Alan Turing’s highly publicized trial to the charges against Labour M.P Willian Field. In order to retreat from these cruel headlights, queer men began to seek quieter, more discreet ways of maintaining contact with the community. And so, in 1954, Films and Filming was born.
Priced at 2 shillings during the first decade of its run, and 3 shillings in the following decade, Films and Filming presented a more accessible alternative for film buffs around Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world. Its content was also more accessible, allowing the publication to gain a wide readership through its promise of a satisfying mix of interviews with internationally celebrated directors like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini as well more light-hearted deep dives into popular culture.
As it rose in the ranks of the British arts journalism scene, however, Films and Filming formed a famous double life. Branded as a ‘film magazine’, with similar aesthetics to other renowned British arts journals such as Sight and Sound, and sold at most local newsagents around the UK, Films and Filming began forming a hidden space for queer men within the covers of its pages. Discussions of sexually ambiguous male actors such as Rock Hudson and Dirk Bogarde permeated its pages, and its sleek, monochromatic covers provided the perfect display for blown-up stills of a series of shirtless male actors, as well as queer icons such as David Bowie. These queer subtexts were immediately tracked by the community, all whilst leaving the heteronormative society oblivious.
The magazine equally engaged in multifaceted explorations of queer art, treating it with the same care as its more mainstream essays. An early issue featured an article entitled ‘The Money in Muscles’, which analyzed at length the ‘Beefcake Revolution’ in critically acclaimed Italian films of the time. As well as celebrating queer themes in cinema, the magazine also produced politically charged pieces on the ongoing issue of censorship of homosexuality in British cinema of the time. It carried on this focus throughout the 50s and 60s, up until the eventual relaxation of these laws after 1958. All this provided a way for queer men who were in the closet, and who feared prosecution for their identity, to actively engage with their community. As its early editor Robin Bean explained, “[queer men could] openly sit on the tube or a bus or in school or the office and be viewed reading the magazine without fear of anyone suspecting they were gay”.
What made the queer space of Film and Filming even more exciting, however, was its promise of a scene that could unite its readership with the local community. Not only could queer men read about queer cinema on the tube, but they could also send in and receive contact ads, whether anonymously or not. From the magazine’s first issues, regular ads for Vince Man’s Shop, a well-known queer men’s boutique in Soho, began appearing. Drag shows, kink parties posing as ‘bed and breakfast’ ads, and queer political meetings soon formed an integral part of the advertising space of Films and Filming. All coded, of course, but nonetheless accessible to the queer community in a homogenized way that had rarely been seen before. At the same time, contact ads from across the UK flooded in, asking for ‘male friends of a specific age range, and encouraging those interested to send in their replies alongside a photo and a short description. Interests included cinema, music, and art, as well as ‘wrestling’, and the ultimate queer code word: ‘physique’. This space soon grew past the UK and into the rest of the world. Years before changing the world of Australian TV as one of the two first men to share a homosexual kiss, Peter Bonsall-Boone placed an ad, similar to those above, in Films and Filming. Within this private sphere, queer men could find each other, have sex, form friendships and relationships, as well as experiment with their sexuality in a newfound, exciting, and relatively safe environment.
Across its almost three-decade-long run, Films and Filming gathered what queer historian Justin Bengry called ‘a veritable queer marketplace’. Despite its tragic end in bankruptcy in the early 80s, it cannot be denied that Films and Filming had an integral role in piecing together queer subcultures in post-war Britain. It is seen, time and time again, as the longest-running LGBTQ+ magazine in the UK. In the age before social media, it is journalism that offered the LGBTQ+ community a format through which to discuss their art, politics, and personal lives, and to form links with like-minded people. With its ingeniously concealed double life, Films and Filming is a great reminder of how our community adapted to its dire times and made something great out of it.
Excerpts from the Films and Filming archive are available on this Twitter page. If you’re interested in finding out more about the history of the magazine, check out the article The Queer History of Films and Filming by Justin Bengry as well as his chapter Films and Filming in British Queer History: New Approaches and Perspectives [ed. Brian Lewis].
By Miruna Tiberiu
Miruna Tiberiu is an editor of GAY45. She is an undergraduate student at Cambridge University. She has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is also the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Miruna is currently in Paris carrying out her dissertation research on Franco-Romanian cinema and hopes to continue this work as a postgraduate at Cambridge. To keep up with her work, follow her on Instagram or Twitter @mirunii_t.