An inconvenient truth: Gay Manchester was better 20 years ago

Ad for Heros gay club, Manchester 1980's

I get tired of newspaper articles that make out that the gay ‘scene’ in Manchester used to be so seedy and bad years ago, but now it is so wonderful. It just isn’t true. Take this article from 2003 which appeared in The Manchester Evening News — a newspaper that can be relied on to regurgitate hype about gay Manchester (just check out contradictory figures in the Evening News for attendance at Pride over the past eight years). Here the Evening News quotes Iain Scott, owner of Taurus bar and restaurant in Canal Street who says:

“The last 10 years have seen the biggest evolution,” says Scott. “It has gone from three, maybe four, venues to over 30 venues in the Village Business Association.”

There may only have been a handful of venues around Canal Street. But if he is suggesting that there were only three or four in the whole of the city centre, then that is not true at all. Flyer for Stuffed Olives mid-1980's with typewriter and magazines of the time I moved to Manchester in 1982 and in the early to mid-1980s there were the following gay bars and clubs in Manchester city centre: Stuffed Olives, High Society, No1 Club, Manhattan, Rembrandt, Dickens, Napoleons, The Union, New York, Heros, Archway, Thompson’s Arms. A quick look at a couple of issues of Mancunian Gay magazine from the time shows some others that I don’t remember. The November 1983 mag lists: Why Not? on Ashton New Road and the Egerton Arms Hotel on Gore Street. The May 1984 issue lists Shadows on Union Street (later called El Cid). The June 1985 issue includes Paddys Goose on Bloom Street. I make that 16 pubs and clubs. Not ‘three or four’. ‘Him Monthly’ August 1983 issue lists a leather/denim night every Friday at the Wheatsheaf pub on Camp Street (would you believe?) and there was the Poly gay disco also on Friday nights. And let’s not forget the Bloom Street Cafe and Gaze bookshop and Clone Zone which were also on Bloom Street. There were two gay bars that we used to go to in nearby Stockport: The Baker’s Vaults and the New Inn.

Flyer for Heros gay club, Manchester, 1983

In those days, gay bars and clubs were almost entirely gay. There were no straight boys looking for a fight and no shrieking hen parties. On the whole, people were not on drugs and it was rare to see anyone drunk and incapable. It was really quite civilised and fun. You could enjoy a night out without worrying that you might have your face punched in or drink spiked. Yes it’s true you had to knock on the door to get into some places. But that kept out the trouble-makers. These days they are inside the pubs and clubs.

Ad for Manhattan gay club, Manchester 1980's

In the 1980s some of the places were in better parts of town: Stuffed Olives and Heros were on the other side of Deansgate to Kendall’s department store. Manhattan was in Spring Gardens and No.1 Club was near the town hall. In fact, far less ‘seedy’ than Canal Street is now.

Ad for No 1 gay club, Manchester 1980's

Many venues were gay owned and run (unlike today). There may be double the number of venues that claim to be ‘gay’ now. But I reckon there are fewer gay men and women out on the scene now than there were in Manchester 25 years ago.

This isn’t just because everywhere is now ‘mixed’, but also because older gay people aren’t welcomed by and don’t ‘fit in’ to most places in 2006. Meanwhile, many gay youngsters reject what the scene offers and can socialise perfectly well without it.

Years ago, it really was like a family. You would see senior citizens in The Rembrandt and The Union alongside 18-year-olds. Out on the scene we had friends of all ages and some of the older ones were almost like aunt or uncle figures to us. We valued their experience and advice and enjoyed their company. They cooked meals for us (poor students) and threw the best parties in town.

But where do older people go in the wonderful gay village now, Evening News? Do tell… That public community has broken down and everyone is poorer now because of it.

I would say, in general, there is more ageism, sometime bordering on age phobia (everyone aged over 35 is a paedo — it’s a well-known fact!) and perhaps fewer mixed-age relationships because those are less accepted (‘what will my mates think?’).

However, off the scene, mixed-age LGBT friendships are still very much around. Some of my dearest friends are aged in their twenties. But we rarely meet or do anything on Canal Street. If the gay village, scene and Pride don’t welcome everyone, what is the point of them? Are they a force for good or bad?

Ad for High Society gay club, Manchester 1980's

The old magazines also list a number of gay groups that met and there was the Gay Centre in the heart of things on Bloom Street. The 1982 and 1984 issues list two clinics in the city centre area where you could get a sexual health check up. Compared to one today. In those days you could actually walk in and see someone immediately without having to wait up to six weeks for an appointment as you have to now.

The Pink Picnic 1990

The Pink Picnic 1990

Out, proud and very visible at the Pink Picnic 1990. It was held on a public footpath next to the Dovestone Reservoir at Saddleworth. No fences, politicians, marketing people, police or permission. All the money collected went to good causes.

And as for people not being ‘very proud to be seen’ until the gay village became over-commercialised and full of straight people in the mid 1990’s, with bars like Manto… What a travesty of the truth: tell that to the thousands of men and women who walked around the city centre (not in front of friendly crowds) and then packed Albert Square for the Section 28 rally in 1988, the Liberation ’91 march, or who took part in the Walk For Life every year.

They were out and proud on the streets. By comparison, how much courage does it take to go to a ‘mixed’ bar where you can pretend to be straight if anyone sees you there?

Liberation 91 march, Manchester

Watch historic video footage of the Liberation 91 lesbian and gay rally in Manchester, 1991

What is there is to be so proud of now? It’s all about money, youth, alcohol and hairless gym bodies. Our (non-political) Pride event excludes people who can’t afford to pay and the binge-drinking, drug-taking, self-destructive culture which it promotes results in many actually ending up with HIV and needing a lifetime of expensive combination therapy.

Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990

Above: raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a jumble sale on Canal Street, Manchester, August Bank Holiday, 1990.

Which makes a mockery of the relatively small amount that Manchester Pride raises for charity. In 2006 people with HIV were actually charged to walk in the Pride parade.

Currently, the gay village is something to be ashamed of, not celebrated. We have let big business and the City Council destroy the community that we once had. Meanwhile the same people are behind this blatant rewriting of history because it suits them and their business purposes.

As for Iain Scott’s suggestion that in the 1950’s ‘all’ the buildings in the Canal Street area ‘were derelict’, this isn’t true. In a recent episode of BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, featuring David Dickinson, he revealed that in the 1960’s he worked in a building on Princess Street opposite the New Union.

There were lots of businesses operating in the area. Photo 1: from 1963, a shot of the site where Clone Zone stands now on Sackville Street. There are two neat little shops that are open for business. On the far right of the block is what is now Napoleons (then a restaurant) and beyond it a church which stood where the Bloom Street car-park is today.

Photo 2: The Rembrandt in 1962. The shoe repair shop next door was still there thirty years later. Photo 3: this picture from 1973 shows a restaurant in the building that is now Thompson’s Arms. Photo 4: a cafe and a couple of other businesses at the junction of Sackville Street and Major Street in 1962. This is the street that is between the CIS building and Bloom Street car-park. In all, a thriving area I would say and probably with a wider variety of different businesses than there are now.

UPDATES: small additions were made to this article on 5 September 2009.


  • Barry Shaw says:

    I totally and utterley agree with your comments and are 100% true. I moved to Manchester in 1978 and although I was indeed younger the gay scene was more exciting then. I hate the gay village for what it has turned into and try to avoid it. I am writing this from Madrid where the Gay scene is a success. Manchester City Council Take note you have made a complete mess of the gay area.

  • David Wlliams says:

    I totally agree. I packed it all in around the early/mid nineties as it just wasn’t any fun any more.
    The nights I used to enjoy in Stuffed olives (formerly Bernards Bar), Hero’s, Number 1 and High society were brilliant compared to what’s on offer now.
    Ok, a lot of people will probably think I’m just a bitter old queen hankering after the 80’s and they would probably be right up to a point! But it’s interesting to read about the ageism and ‘corporate’ takeover of everything. I thought I was the only person thinking this.
    I knew things had took a turn for the worse when a bloke asked me my ‘chest size’. When I told him I had no idea he looked at me like I’d just arrived on the planet.
    There is no sense of friendship or community (well there wasn’t last time I looked), but that’s probably true of pretty much everywhere now.
    Unfortunately, I doubt places like stuffed olives will come back. I used to go there at lunchtimes with (straight) colleagues and friends and we always had a relaxing time. I suppose we were lucky in that we experienced all this in the time it existed…
    Ah well.

  • Tina63 says:

    I loved all those places it was like being in a big family lads and girls together all ages welcome go from place to place following the crowd Frid, Sat and Sunday.

    I tell my 11 year junior partner about the friendly Manchester 80’s scene and happy times she doesn’t believe me.

    Based on Vanillas, Paradise factory, greasy take aways, struggling to think which way to turn on exiting the car park.

    I don’t know any where to go we are so bored there is nothing in Cheshire, Manchester how about Liverpool?
    I love dancing don’t drink and there is nowhere to dance anymore,
    Everyone seems obsessed with drinking, straight people have taken over you feel uncomfortable in your own social space.

    Where can I go now at 47 years old with my 36 year old partner (co-habiting 13 years) for a good happy time dancing together alongside gay men and other ladies remember Flamingos in Blackpool.

    I don’t feel safe in Manchester people are staggering around drunk with no morals or self respect. How about opening a gay club for us older people with strict membership only? lets reclaim our weekend.

  • Little Nell says:

    thanks for sharing some queer history unfiltered by the corporate establishment mouthpieces.

    A friend showed me footage from the first Huddersfield Pink Picnic and early pride events in Manchester referenced above and as young adult in my twenties, I was shocked by how relaxed friendly fun and humorous these adhoc gatherings were, followed by footage of the first big stages, corporate sponsors and heavy drinking hard sell ticketed events aimed mainly at wealthy tourists, from mid nineties onwards.

    Unlike most people of my generation I don’t drink or smoke or take drugs, so I won’t be spending £20 on manchester pride tickets for entry to a giant barricaded toilet overflowing with aggressive hetro security vomiting drunks and charity pests, when I could be attending diy community events elsewhere and donate £20 to homeless shelter.

  • Philip Humphreys says:

    What a refreshing BLOG!!! I agree with everything the author and the commenators have said. GAY Manchester WAS so much better then – and no I’m not a bitter aging queen (have aged brilliantly and still party hehe) I’m 43, hit the scene at 17 (1984) and had THE best time of my life with my friends and lovers, at all the places mentioned. Tis true there was never any trouble, it was FUN FUN FUN and safe! The Gay Village, as it is now is commercialised and full of hen parties, progress? That said, a bunch of us 40 somethings went out a couple of Saturdays ago, started at Taurus, then onto The Parlour Lounge, then The Eagle, then Thompsons Arms (bit yucky but hey ho) and had a ball – our BIG GAY NIGHT OUT – t’was like the old days. RIP Gay Village x x x

  • Steve Palmer-Jackson says:

    Just read the article.. I was around in those days, yes it was one big fun place to be. You always had fun with friends and friends of friends. I no longer live in Manchester (UK) but the good old days have given me some great friends. When i fly back to the UK and visit Manchester i have to say its lost what we had as a “Village” … If you look closely you will see me in the video…jajajaja

  • George E. Drew says:

    I can go back even further! How about this list of city centre gay venues in 1958. Yes! 1958! The Old Garrett (Original Building), The Union Hotel (it’s then name), The New York Inn (it’s then name), The Trafford Bar, The Prince’s Hotel, The Cafe Royal, The Concord Bar in the Midland Hotel – yes! you read that correctly!, The Garrick Hotel, The Thompson’s Arms (original building), The Kingston (now called Paddy’s Goose), The Waldorf (the one in Cooper Street). A spot for a late night coffee or snack ( maybe something else!) was the Bus Stop cafe -known by the gay crowd as the snake pit! As a matter of additional interest what is now The Rembrandt was then in the pre-fire building and had the original name of The Ogden Arms. The licnsee at the time was gay hostile – so we certainly weren’t welcome. That pub became gay when a gay licensee took over in February 1961 and the name became The Rembrandt later that year. Anyone wanting to know more is welcome to get in touch with me.

  • Abigail Ward says:


    What a brilliant article! I work for Manchester District Music Archive and I’m currently building an online exhibition in celebration of Greater Manchester’s gay music and club life from the ’40s onwards.

    I would very much like to have a chat with you about your experiences, and would especially like to reproduce this article and images within the exhibition, plus full credits and links back to your site, of course!

    I would be very grateful if you could get in touch with me on the above email address. I’d also like to contact the person who left the comment above, George Drew.

    I’m looking to contact anyone who may have images, posters, flyers, footage, press articles or simply memories relating to gay music and club life in Manchester.

    Thanks very much!


  • Alex says:

    I think this article is a bit “Those were the days”. I’m 19 and go out on the scene in Manchester often. Personally I don’t find it overrun with straight people, I’ve always felt safe and I’ve made many friends of all sorts of ages when I’ve been out; my last boyfriend was 11 years older than me, but I haven’t really met many people over the ae of 32. I’d love to have a gay ‘uncle’ figure personally, someone to look up to and advise us, but many older guys do tend to look at the younger ones as pieces of meat, which makes us feel very uncomfortable. Obviously not all are like that, but many I’ve met are. I wouldn’t say that older gays aren’t welcome on the scene, but they tend to stick to their own bars now, which is a shame in my opinion. Don’t see us as eye candy to admire from a distance, come say hello and be our friend! Many of us need some guidance, trust me.

  • Alan says:


    What a great memory, and I totally agree with what you say, fond memories of Wayne and Harry’s Archway on Whitworth St, they both sadly are no longer with us, but it made a big impact on the Manchester scene with the first leather type club in a railway arch. Not sure of the dates it opened and closed but guess it was the early – mid 80s.
    I seem to recall a bar off Deansgate called Slingsbys, any one else recall that? Then everything changed when Rockies landed in town, and we had our largest nightclub.

    Happy memories, remember the old “private parties” and Sauna at Stretford, Knott Mill cottage, the gay centre that was IN the village, and the 24 hr café on Albert sq if you had failed to pull in Hero’s!! Phil Clegg gave Manchester a great place in Hero’s. I also remember the Friday nights at the Wheatsheaf, and everyone jumping into cars on a Sunday night to go to Whalley, but the name escapes me, sure someone will recall it.

    I cannot recall the last time I visited the Manchester village, and yes I did prefer the old Manchester gay scene, even if it was not all in a village!!! I know we had to be less open, and fight for our freedom, something the young people today know little about and take for granted. The older generations did fight to give them the fun they have today, but we had a blast doing it!!

  • Richard says:

    You are spot on, the gay scene in the 80’s was more than 3 or 4 bars. I remember all the clubs on your list. I lived in Manchester in 1984 – 1985 and with all the choice of places to go thought that I had died and gone to gay heaven(I am from Belfast!) I have very fond memories of Manchester.

  • Terri Fox says:

    what a wonderful article , I have just returned to live in manchester and know some of the above people who have commented , infact i worked with a couple , I am not a bitter old queen and the young people really dont have any respect for there older counter parts and really dont no what we went through to give them what they think is is so wonderful , I have been to the so called village once since my return and wouldnt go again , what some people forget what is the village now in my youth was the place that you only went on a sunday and really attracted the lowest off the low ( no insults meant) the places to go weren’t here they were allover town and we migrated depending on the night in question , we had great respect for the older queens and sat and listened to there tales of the past and wanted to know more the older drag queens were always referred to by miss & then there surname (ie) miss Lewis and you had to do this or you got a slap there were no straights , that’s the fault of the youth wanting to bring them into what was a family and wrecking what took decades to create , we had our own music chart usually bought records on a sat from spin inn never had the same as the radio plays ,we learnt Palarie our own language so straights couldnt understand us , each week there was a hand bag express , a coach taking us to other clubs in other towns for the night and was free and clubs bars etc were gay ran or owned NOT AS NOW , the 70s and 80s were really a wonderful time to be gay and you felt like you had more choice of places to go not as now it seems like all the same almost every place had cabaret and we rilly did go out to chat ,, mostly sit in the ladies bog to chat , cant do that now !! no drugs on the whole and no one falling on the floor out of there head , It really was like a huge gay family party , Im not looking back through rose coloured glasses yes there was always the element off vile nasty people but you knew where that hung out and chose to go to different part of town , then down to Knot mill cottage where car stereos would play out off there windows and we would carry the party on until it was time to go to greasy Nicks for a coffey and the the night buss home , no so called mardiras , we had a sports day on bloom st on the bank holliday sunday no cops no straights and no one looking to see who had the best desighner outfit on I could go on and on that’s why im writing a book any one who remembers these days and me please get in touch

  • Karen says:

    I’m not sure if my views will be welcome here or not, but I’m going to give them anyway XD. I’m not gay but I used to go to gay bars/clubs when I was younger. I remember High Society as it was pretty much my ‘local’. I made some wonderful friends there and even to me it was a place I could go to, meet some amazing people without the hassle of getting chatted up and harassed(which was why I started going there in the first place), have a fun time and listen to amazing music.
    I still live in Manchester but have only been down Canal St once or twice and that was only because I was dragged there.
    It just feels like its lost it’s soul.

  • drinky says:

    Just found this blast from the past as last night I had a dream about being in Slingsbys and thought I’d google what happened to the old chap. Nothing online but dream reminded me of that (sort of) innocent time when I was just coming out. You’d go downstairs after a wrestle with Bernard and have to listen to some shaggy dog story/rambling gag and then downstairs a world away from reality ad brilliant bar staff. Shaggy haired Dennis, an alternative/observational stand up comedian before his time, the all seeing discreet acerbic Peggy at the weekends, John the shy student in the cocktail bar in the corner that didn’t do cocktails, little RB/Arbie the glass collector with his withering looks at outbreaks of lust on the sofas, another cheeky blond into watersports, another camp guy with a horny Spanish boyfriend. If we were lucky the dashing Phil Clegg and gorgeous Terry would make a visit to keep an eye on the competition.
    Late drinks meant more jokes from Bernard but also getting a bit of pie from the kitchen from the oddly straight business lunches earlier in the day and then maybe/usually a curry somewhere on Cheetham Hill Road or a mysterious, secret Greek steakhouse in the middle of nowhere. I’d go anywhere, with anyone, (I was young, in my defence..).
    Still no further along finding out what happened to Bernard Slingsby but if anyone knows owt, get in touch…

  • Jen says:

    To be fair though, the quote from Iain Scott says not that there were 3 or 4 bars in the village or gay* scene 10 years earlier, but that there were that many in a specific network, the VBA.

    Which may or may not be the case, and may or may not be a desireable change, but is fairly clearly not what you’re suggesting he’s saying. He’s not talking about a gay* scene coming into existence, but a shift in how those venues interact with one another. Which is probably a whole other article!

  • GS says: in reply to Jen:

    It’s written in an ambiguous way.

    “The last 10 years have seen the biggest evolution,” says Scott. “It has gone from three, maybe four, venues to over 30 venues in the Village Business Association. The original Manto bar blew it all apart.”

    He states that there are 30 venues in the VBA at the time of the interview with him (2004). The “three, maybe four” could mean the number of venues overall or it could mean VBA members.

    But did the VBA exist in 1994 — ten years before that article? I’m not sure it did. And even today in 2012 there are venues that are not members of the VBA. For instance currently Tribecca isn’t.

    Changing the subject slightly, if you go back to the original Guardian and Observer news reports about the drag ball in 1880 you find that it happened at Hulme Place, York Street, Chester Road, not on Quay Street as stated by the Evening News article.

    Police raid on Manchester drag ball in 1880

    Unless there were two police raids on outrageous drag balls in 1880 with one not reported at all. Which seems rather unlikely.

  • anne says:

    What a refreshing article. My partner and I were on the scene from 1974, and yes I agree too, we were family, and it was good fun. We ran the small kitchen in Olives at lunch time. My partner and I were together thirty nine years and have such good memories of all those times. I remember a club called Dicken,s on Oldham Street, what a strange place but again fun and safe. I really dislike the village now and what it has become, but I suppose that could be an age thing. Happy memories. Anne.

  • wayne mather says:

    Im u cud say i was born into th old gay village .iwas 6 wen my mum startd work as a barmaiid in th new york inn as it was then nown. There was no pride then exept evry bank holiday there wasa waiters race for th barstaff of the surrounding pubs and reg kilduff used to paddle down th canal in a dingy while his staff threw rotten food down on him from the above bridges. All for fun then there would be floats/representing the local pubs .going round the areaa each one having a theme. The new yorks being red white an blue with flags an staff dressd in americana .there would be music outside an staff.s kids all partying alday good memries .now its all comercial an profit. It was a smaller more personal affair then .for staff customers an familys .i loved it an used to take my mates evry mum was called lily and loved workin for th puff.s tips she made took us on holiday evry year .

  • wayne mather says:

    Wen me n my mates came out in1984 there wernt many places to goi remeber mu bringin home tickets for us to go to the openin night of both archway and the number 1 club .we all went but still ended up back at hero.s .we all saw divine at hero.s in 85. Still got th flyer with his signiture on it an his lipstick print .i will tresure it forever.our saturdays went as follows thompson arms at 8pm.then at 10 evryone started leavin for stuffed olives then hero.s at 11pm then after hero.s closed we.d all go to archway.then on the way home we.d meet friends at th old reno till late. We.d all five of us save a quid each for a black cab to wythenshawe. Arriving early morning worse forwear.sunday wud be spent recovering .then on monday we would start planning our outfits for the following night i was ill and my mates all met THE sylvester and he took them to his hotel for drinks. Now i would.nt evn bothr going out as the gay village is far from being a good night out for me.its too comercial and ivwould.nt feel comfortable in an atmosphere that is false’, aggresive ,expensive.and not a gay night out anymore. Wayne mather

  • Billy Smart says:

    I came across this website by accident, I was discussing Les Cockell the DJ from Heros
    My name is Billy, known as Black Billy, worked at Heros from he opening night to 1981 when I left
    There are some of he happiest moments of my life, with friendships which cannot be matched today,
    The Village was a community, a family, where we the young gravitated after families kicked their gay children out. I should say some. I heard. Rumour that Les has passed away in sad circumstances.
    Could someone please confirm but preferably dispute his as a fact. Hope who ever reads this
    Will be kind enough to get in touch. I also worked at Slingsbies and Suffed Olives.
    Hop his message greets you all in good health.

    Kind Regards
    Bill Smart

  • geoff says:

    I came across this site whilst looking up gay pubs that I frequented in the early 1980’s-late 90’s. Reading some of the stories brought back memories and little ancedotes about some of the people that I’d come across.I certainly recall dennis from High Society. He was lovely and i believe he went off to Spain to run a Bar in the mid 1980’s? I remember the 2 ladies who ran the original New York; they were scary but also very friendly to us, as a group of 20 year olds who probably didn’t know any better and now, in our 50’s still don’t but we only live the once so I’ll continue to be a daftie and jump in the occasional puddle or pile of leaves.
    Growing up and being gay in the 1980’s no doubt has been written and re-written many times but for me, it was mostly fun, late nights, early mornings and wondering who the next guy to come through ‘that’ door would be like. Luckliy I met my ‘Knight in shining armour’ and though he’d say it was a tad tarnished now were still together and instead of whoopng it up on a dance floor, whoop it up/at a Garden centre or Stately Home.
    Yes! occasionally we’ll still dance to Cher and even dig out our ‘Hi Energy’ records and pretend it still cost £6.00 to get back to Whitefield by taxi or the fact we actually wore leg warmers and thought they were the height of fashion.
    Anyway, if anyone else wants to jot down some of their ramblings I’m sure we’d all be , sneakily, rather interested.

  • Drinky says:

    Hey Billy
    Do you know what happened to Bernard Slingsby? Wre you around with the Dennis/Peggy/Arbie crew?

  • Ian Wilmott says:

    I wanted to respond to Billy first. Sadly Les Cokell was killed in a traffic accident some many years ago now on Chester Road. Les had developed early signs of dementia and it seems he walked in front of a car.He was tragically killed outright. He was a much loved friend and brilliant DJ who had such a great influence on Manchester’s music scene. Things got re-written with the emergence of the Hacienda and the whole ‘Madchester scene’ but in my opinion DJ’s like Les and Ian Levine have been overlooked by history. I am living in Spain now but have an idea to write something about this era so was delighted to read these articles and indeed remember many of the names above (hi to those who remember me).Just to add to the list of venues in the 80’s who remembers Horts on St Anne’s Sq, and also the gay lads who ran the Royal Exchange catering set up – we were always in there. I was also involved in regular ‘Gay Soc’ discos at the Unversity that attracted a regular crowd, Sunday nights at McMillans in Liverpool or the huge club in Whalley, Lancs where I DJ’d.


  • lizzi says:

    I remember the gay scene of the late seventies and though I’m not in Manchester anymore, and I was my friend Mike’s faghag, we had a great time. Agree with everyone else, the emphasis was on dancing. We girls were rare birds, but we came for the dancing. No fear some drunken ugly git would think we were giving him the come on. Mike and I shared a flat. he wasn’t ‘out’ to his family, so when his parents came round one Sunday and his dad saw a certain lotion in the bathroom for eradicating little visitors, the git told his dad it was mine! It was all Grace Jones, Seventh Heaven, Summer Nights – american imports, which always catches me out in pop quizzes because we heard them first. I’m never coming back. The past isn’t just another country, it’s a whole different reality and anyway, it’s not there anymore. But it lives on in our hearts. We few, we happy few survivors of the crazy happy 70s. To all my beautiful boys, thank you for taking me into your lives and looking after me. Wherever you are, I still love you all.

  • Philip Humphreys says:

    Hey y’all – reading new comments and rereading old ones – fond memories. I was around Heros, Olives, High Society, No1Club all of the above during mid to late 80s – Rockies, Horts etc etc in fact our night sounds just like yours Wayne Mather lol! My friend at the time, Joanne Fildes, used to work for Phil Clegg (she cleaned Heros during the day when it was shut) and her mum used to do the food in the kitchen in the evenings – I met Devine in the kitchen with Joanne’s mum, Carol I’m sure she was called! Phil Clegg was my introduction to the scene haha I was so naïve.
    Does anyone recall going to Blighty’s in Farnworth once a month with Cleggy? I’m sure Tim Lennox Dj’d, incidentally Tim is organising a No1 Club reunion night in Dec this year. There was a place in Liverpool we used to go to once a month as well. Be great to hear from anyone email Cheers Philip

  • Hi
    Just came across this article whilst making plans for my whirlwind trip to Manchester. My half brother is Glen Stevens. I first met him when I was 20 (in 1978) , having being brought up in Rhodesia ( it’s such a long story that I have written two books about it).

    You can imagine my surprise as a naive colonial boy entering the gay scene of Manchester ( no pun intended ) At the time he ran The Shamrock on Bengal Street and Dickens nightclub on Oldham Street. Later, I believe it was he that opened up High Society. As of today’s date – 29th January 2014 it has been almost nine years since I have had any contact with him, and I am visiting Manchester to revisit all the old gay haunts for a future chapter in my forthcoming book.

    There is a large chapter devoted to my return to my roots and my introduction to the gay scene of Manchester at that time, in my second book ” Simply the Pest ” – Karl Greenberg , available on Amazon in Kindle and in print.

  • GS says: in reply to Karl:

    Around 1991 we used to go to New York New York on a Sunday evening. If I remember correctly, Glen would compere wearing an emerald green suit and purple shirt and Mark Jones was the DJ?

    One Sunday after standing by a banister with his leg between the rails one of our friends found his bleached jeans were covered with bright red paint which hadn’t quite dried! Glen offered to pay for them to be replaced.

    Those were happy, more gentle times that we just assumed would go on forever, with things improving. I’d be interested to hear what you make of it after so long away.

  • drinky says:

    Ayone used to join the cross border raids for Yorkshire totty?
    Manchester closed down on a Sunday in the late seventies so it was over to Huddersfield and debauchery…
    Is there noone that has a clue what happened to Bernard Slingsby?

  • bernie says:

    Hi am I crazy as a straight lady to take on Paddy Goose with my gay cousin. He Dublin I Northern ireland

  • GS says: in reply to Bernie:

    I don’t know much about Paddy’s Goose. I was in last year autumn. It seems like a really traditional pub, unlike the rest around there, and I would guess has some loyal regulars.

  • GS says: in reply to Drinky:

    People were disappearing off to Huddersfield at the start of the 1990s too! There was a feeling that gay Manchester had seen better days. We used to go to the Greyhound pub (I have a home video of New Year’s Eve) and also to an ordinary pub in Ripponden on Sundays. You would walk in and immediately clock that it was full of gays. I’m not sure whether the regulars realised or not.

  • Alan Entwistle says:

    I first came onto the gay scene n 1971. Tonight [Thursday 14/08/2014] I was abused by a group of drunken idiots as I was passing Via bar on Canal Street. I couldn’t repeat was was said, it is too vile..I was so incensed I went into Via to complain and they just dismissed me and they served them again. Of course, Tony Cooper, the manager, is only interested in profits. The “Gay Village” is no’s just a cash cow for the VBA [Village Business Association] and Manchester City Council who have turned it into a tourist attraction: beggars, drunks, homophobic stag parties, raucous hen parties….it’s not a nice place to be any more…

  • Jason says:

    Well I’m still out there. Dancing, the gay scene has always allowed me the platform to do this. For which I am eternaly greatfull. And yes I was at Hero’s, Olives, Slingsbys, Exit, Number One, Hacienda, Queer, Cruz, and I’m still out there. THE THING IS, NOT TO STOP.

  • drinky says:

    Well done !Keep those legs in the air `Jason (if you get my drift…)

  • Steven Underwood says:

    Gosh, we must be of a similar age. I first went in Heroes in October 1982, aged 18. Although by then a out of date record, I got ready at a friend’s house and he played ‘Native New Yorker’ by Odyssey and whenever I hear that record (surely one of my all time favourites) I think of Heroes. I think Marsha Raven and Sharon Redd where the big hits at the time.

    Happy times too, being lined up by the police outside of High Society, when the homophobic bigot, James Anderton ruled the GM police force.

    30 years on and I live in London and can’t remember the last time I went in a gay club – I think it was some ‘GaySoc’ do in Oxford in 2004. Happily married now an like many gay couples weekends tend to focus on antique fairs and/or doing something rivetingly boring, like traipsing around a National Trust property or hiking across Bodmin Moor!

    But still have great memories of my time in Heroes, like many a young chicken I thought I’d step through doors into the magical world of, for me, the newly discovered gay scene, and Mr Right would charge in on a white horse and carry me off to a life of bliss… Of course it never happened and eventually I exchanged my Dorothy Bag for academia and headed off into a more boring and congenial sunset…

    Eh bien!

    I note many of the tunes from Heroes days are now available on Youtube!

  • Gregor Martin says:

    Good lord, Steven there’s only 2 years difference in our ages as I too have very similar memmories. Now living and working in rural Lincolnshire with a rather wonderful man in my life for the pAST 15 years……………..’Hi energy…………’So many men so little time’ . Just 2 of the endless songs I used to jiggle about too.

  • Gregor Martin says:

    Just had to post @He’s a Saint he’s a Sinner’. All from 32 years ago, seems like 4 minutes ago………………

  • Dean Morris says:

    Fantastic article all very true I now live and work in Dubai I first went to Manchester early 1982 I was living in Chester then (all we had there was Oliver’s nightclub) and came over almost every weekend to the city “Heroes” great club, and great live PA’s saw Miquel Brown there. The New York when it was a decent pub, Stuffed Olive’s small but good! personally me I stopped going to Canal St regularly around 2006 change in clientele lost it heart really. Wasn’t there a club called The Archyway or Archway’s on Whitworth St that opened on a Sunday day time end of the 80’s? that was brilliant. Rockshots was also good then became Legends later. Used to alternate between Manchester and Liverpool during the 80’s early 90’s loved McMillan’s in Liverpool on a Sunday. Fvaourite 80’s dance classic’s heard in Manchester Rose Laurens American Love, Carol Jianni Hit n Run Lover, The Flirts Calling All Boys, Viola Wills Stormy Weather, Patrick Cowley Menergy, Taffy I Love My Radio, I could go on. Enjoyed Reading all the comments memories :)

  • Davie says:

    It’ll seem absurd to many but I was nearly 30 before I ventured on to he gay scene, apar from one or two visits to places that were a bit camp for me and I felt uneasy going to in the early 70s in London and Blackpool.
    So in autumn 82 I took a deep breath and visited Herosfor the fist time, although I had just had a brief look around gay places in Amsterdam which were wild beyond belief.
    The music blew me away and I wanted to know every record, I can recall most of them – BB Vand All Night Long, Passion by the Flirts, Msterpiece by Gazebo, Divine, it was exciting and powerful and very masculine.
    I got talking and made friends and soon started going to Stuffed Olives before Heroes. It was wonderful and carefree – but I remember being disturbed by something I read in a tiny inside page article about a new illness in the US, and it said 100 people had already died – and I clearly remember thinking this must be wrong, it would be in all the national newspapers. A misprint, false rumour, nobody else ever mentioned it.
    Late in 1982, my favourite arist had become Patrick Cowley, and his album Mind Warp was amazing – they played so much of his stuff and what he backed Sylvester on too. I went to Heros one weekend and they played a Cowley track, then announced that he had sadly died that week. A shiver went down my spine, and somehow I instinctively knew what had happened to him and somehow I felt scared and went home.
    I checked all the papers, no internet then, and phoned some gay helplines for info on Patrick Cowley – but not only had they bot heard of him, but were totally unaware of this new ‘illness’- aid it was probably a false story.
    So back to clubbing, Amsterdam for new year, and Manchester every weekend, until March when the BBC showed a documentary called ‘Killer in the Village’ – a week after Id had pretty tame but very enjoyable sex (we didn’t screw) with someone who I was then told ‘put it around a bit’.
    the programme confirmed worse fears – the 100 dead had become 1000 by spring 1983, cases in 40 states plus deaths in London. A few days later a teletext report was headed ‘mystery disease hits 8 more gay Britons’ and by the summer the News of the World were prining horror pictures under massive headlines like ‘What the gay plague did to handsome Kenny’.
    Looking back, I had some sort of nervous breakdown, though I kept it well hidden and carried on working, but stopped going out anywhere and was convinced I was going to die – remember no test then, no idea how it was spread. I went to an STD clinic under a false name and was given a clean bill of health, but realised they didn’t even consider what was now being called AIDS.
    Slowly the panic subsided within me – I missed my nights out in Manchester but it was a whole 18 months before I went again when I saw ads for 2 new places – High Society and Archway.
    I went to High Society on a Friday and loved it,nd was very aware of a great looking guy cruising me, but didn’t responf. On the Saturday I went to Archway and was amazed at the place, small but dynamite…and literally ran straight into the guy from the night before and we both fell over each other and that was the start of Manchester part two.
    Archway became my favourite place, I also liked High Society and was very sad when Archway closed after losing all its customers to Rockies about 1987.
    By the 90s things were changing too fast, and after 2000 an the Queer as folk series it wasn’t the same city.

  • Erika says:

    Tributes paid to ‘champion of Radcliffe causes’ Bernard Slingsby

    For the people who were asking what became of Bernard (known for Bernard’s Bar and Slingsbys) see above.
    I used to work for Bernard in the early 80s and have fond memories of those days.
    If Billy is reading this I remember you well.
    Erika (aka Erotica – according to Bernard!!!).

  • Paul Tennant-Moore aka Winnie says:

    Hello Erika! What a blast from the past :)
    My camp name was Winnie at the time, I have no idea why but it stuck for a very long time.
    I used to come into Stuffed Olives with a group of friends, tall Paul (he was tall, and deadly handsome), camp Mike (he was ,well camp and loved to speak German and had the perfect clone tash). We were there every weekend friday-Sunday and all of the lunchtimes as well. Sunday night it was off to Napoleons, for drinks under the counter, and I used to hang around with Karen (mentioned earlier up the page).
    Sunday afternoon when the bar closed for a break we used to go round the Bernards house and you would cook Sunday roast, while I cleaned the bathroom for Bernard!
    I was persuaded by Clive and Peter to quit my job at the courts in Salford and go to work at Stuffed Olives with Michael behind the bar. I had an absolute blast. All of those crazy party ideas that Clive used to come up with – a massive swimming pool down there during the hosepipe ban, and Barry from Archway slipped and knocked the side in. Poor Damien was on stage (before the Time Warp days) and I flew out from the bar to sweep him out of the way before he was carried off by a tidal wave! Eventually I worked at Hero’s, taking over a slot in the Back Bar I think after black Billy left. Arbie was the glass collector, big Bill was on the door, and Michael (another Michael) who did Diana Ross as drag worked the door. I was hired, fired, punched by Phill Clegg because he thought I was sleeping with his current bow from London – I wasn’t but it made for exciting times people thinking I was. Graham was the dj at Hero’s and was the first person I ever knew to play Frankie goes to Hollywood’s Relax and we all thought he was mad! The theme parties, especially the winter wonderland where the snow was washing powder and it went all shitty when it got hot an steamy in Heros :) All of the major US acts that we saw down there: Ertha Kit being carried onto the stage because she was too drunk to walk, and couldn’t even mime to her track: Divine, Sharon Red and someone nicked her fingernail extensions from the dressing room! I absolutely loved my time at Heros and Stuffed Olives, the best times for sure. I moved to London in 85 and made a few trips back out in Manchester, Pride, Paradise Factory. Now living in France semi retired.
    Thanks for the article about Bernard, it’s nice to see he ended up being respected after Bernards Bar/olives. Do you remember Cerise? the trans from Liverpool who was constantly pissed and used to drive a Triumph Herald called Tellulah?
    Ok I should get off before this turns into a book. Yes we did junction 21 once a month on Sundays with Phill Clegg in the days when Hero’s was closed on Sundays and then eventually open until 10.30. And Nottingham, and Liverpool! Gosh they were great times.

  • Drinkyboy says:

    Thanks Erotika!
    Have been longing to know what happened to Bernard. He was a kind and funny man when I was coming out in the late 70’s at Bernards Bar and it appears from your link he ended up a well respected Radcliffe gentleman. How his former self would have laughed at the thought!
    Been a busy January so far for the grim reaper…Might just have to have a G&T in memory of Bernard and my lost youth.

  • Drinkyboy says:

    and I meant funny ha, ha…No one apart from Ken Dodd had more jokes up his sleeve.

  • GS says:

    Great comments! In reply to Paul, the “Grand Opening” flyer for Heros (21 Nov 1983) in the photo above opens out and advertises Eartha Kitt. So that may be the night you mention unless she appeared there more than once?

  • Tony Aston says:

    Well I have to say after stumbling upon your blog I whole heartedly agree. I ‘discovered’ the magical wonderland of the scene in the mid 80s with the opening of Rockshots in Leeds. However, Manchester soon became one of our favourite haunts. There seems to be so little evidence on the internet of the scene in the 80s (I can find only one picture of Rockshots). The beauty of the scene in those days was that it was ‘ours’ a mystical world just for us – our own venues, fashions and music – and what wonderful music it was! All this and some of the most amazing, larger than life, characters – who have become legendary. I found things changed rapidly with the broadcast of Queer as Folk. It seemed to be a turning point. No longer was Canal Street a place for us, but a place where we became entertainment for people from ‘the real world’, The scene was no longer ours. It was only a matter of time really – the Internet took over from the bars as a place to meet people. What the internet couldn’t give us was the friendship, community and characters, and of course, the magic of that world. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and the resulting comments. I’ll pop back to check on updates!

  • Charles Cohen says:

    Absolutely spot on, Manchester City Council have ruined the gay scene. Thanks for some wonderful memories.

  • Clive jones says:

    Stumbled upon this by chance , it’s brought thousands of long forgotten memories flooding back , what a fantastic time I had !
    So glad to see all is not forgotten, Clive ( Olive )

  • alexander bennett (alex) says:

    No It’s not forgoten Clive and we did have a brilliant time did’t we!I could tell so many stories about those wild times!

    How are Peter(Mitsy)and paul(Venessa)? Trixie,Portia,Edith (miss Swiss Air) and all the others? what became of them?

    This was one of the most nostalgic parts of my life, even if I was suicidal sometimes.

    Makes me laugh when they talk about the ‘Hacienda’ being the first major gay club.

    I’d love to hear from you all. I have a bar (Studio620) in the Pyrenees and I’m looking to put it on the GAY map. You’d be welcome for a holiday. Why don’t we get a re-union together ?

    Look the bar up on facebook.

  • Clive jones says:

    Alex , how wonderful ! Cant seem to find you on Facebook, perhaps you could friend request me please , so good to hear from you x

  • Clive jones says:

    Found you , looks fantastic.

  • Sophie Harding says:

    I hope it’s ok to post this comment…I was born in Sale and relocated to Leeds at the age of 11, so the early years of my “coming out” we’re spent elsewhere. However, I believe my father frequented Canal Street in the 80’s/early 90’s. His name was Edward Harding although it’s a long shot, I would love to find out if anyone knew him in any capacity. Unfortunately, he passed away from an AIDS related illness at the age of 33 after contracting HIV so I have never had the opportunity to ask him anything of his “secret” (I hate that it was secret) life. I believe he was quite the regular, he was pretty eccentric! Like I say, it’s a long shot but I would love to hear from anyone who may have known him during this time. Much love x

  • Andy ex Rockies says:

    I used to work at Rockies in the Mineshaft with Alan “Alice” and Gael (American) and had the time of my life, which I look back on with fond memories as there is nothing quite like it now in Manchester. The music of Les Cockell in the Mieshaft and Mike “Big Bird” Coppock in the main disco was exceptional but it is great to see all the music on youtube now. I miss the friends I made and would love to catch up with some – David who worked at the Inland Revenue and Gordon Banks who used to work at Paddy’s Goose and the Thompsons Arms with me to name but a few. Miss the old scene in Manchester – it is too commercialised and lacks gay owners now.

  • Liza may tribute ( mark) says:

    Thank you everybody for bringing back so many wonderful memories. I am so forgetful these days but wow some of those days were magnificent. Although I perhaps didn’t appreciate it so much then. Thankyounonce again

  • Doug says:

    First gay bar I ever visited was the Rembrandt in 1968, as a naive student of 18. I remember Napoleons, where I first danced with another bloke (to “Spanish Harlem”), the Union, and the New York, as well a Stockport pub under the railway arches whose name I’ve forgotten. Run by Reg and his partner Eric, he of the ill-fitting dentures and curling brisket barm cakes. Happy days.

  • Horwich Mark says:

    Agree totally with the article ‘An inconvenient truth’ but really enjoyed reading all the replies to it. Brought back loads of memories of the fun happy times I had as  young 18 year old back in 1975 starting his adventures on life. Have to say I got to know both Bernard from Slingsbys, then Bernards Bar so sad to read he passed away.

    and Phil Clegg..  always relieved I was never his type although he was very pleasant to me. The venues – Hero’s, as well as Rockies, Archway there where many, many more all friendly safe places. One person who was so good to me was  Phil Wilson had many a visit to the Cavalcade on a Sunday then joining him and his crowd for lunch at his place in Alty.

    Even worked for the council in the 80’s and loved the community spirit generated by local activities got to know some good guys Steve Spiers comes to mind.

    That time was a golden time to be on the scene , people looked after your back and as a outsider venturing to the big city the smaller crowd on the scene certainly made it enjoyable. One sadly missing these days, far too commercial and false, certainly not for me.

    A time all gone now but not forgotten, never really knew what happened to many of those I got to know but every now and then paths cross & memories relived.

  • Ian Brown says:

    So many fantastic memories of those days. I used to help out in Stuffed Olives as I lived at
    Mitzi’s house . You may remember me Clive . Ian sometimes called Badger. Hope Mitzi is well and does anyone remember the lovely pair Waffle and Lawrence from Olives

  • Drinkyboy says:

    Hi, great hearing all these memories of a great period…a golden time and the brilliant ‘It’s a Sin’ on TV recently shows how much we were living in the calm before the storm.
    Was wondering if anyone could help with the name of the club that Bernard Slingsby ran after Slingsbys?
    After the little bar became Stuffed Olives, he moved to a much bigger place, still a basement, around 1977.
    The same team were there, Billy, Arbie, Peggy, John, Dennis the DJ etc. Can’t for the life of me remember what it was called.

  • Adam says:

    What a fabulous article, and one I totally agree with, thanks for this.

    I had a blast in Manchester from the mid 80’s onwards, so many places to go all with a slightly different feel to them, but most were places you got round to going to at some point.

    My favourites were Archway, Stuffed Olives, and The Number One Club, and loved Napoleons on a Sunday night too.

    I spent that much time in Archway, I ended up working behind the bar, happy days.

    When I moved to Manchester, Hero’s was dying off which was a shame,as I imagine it had been amazing at its peak.

    Nowadays, it’s all a bit hollow to me, we don’t have our own music any more like we did back then, it doesn’t feel as safe, and don’t get me started on the blatant commercialisation of Pride.

  • Lee Thornhill says:

    I have so many memories of the Manchester Gay Scene and particularly the Gay Village back when it was good, and you were always guaranteed a warm welcome and No Ageism by young queens. I remember Ian who used to own and run Bloom Street Cafe where I made many friends and even worked there odd times and knew Carl one of the staff there two good friends back in the day, really miss Ian and the café, the good ol’ days! Even Frank Lamar was a regular with his partner Frank! Use to have such laughs. I also worked in the original Clone Zone store on Bloom Street in the Basement and made many friends including Paul Orton one of the then Directors of CZ , David, Robert, John Tillyard, the lovely Brian Walker who was a good laugh, Jean the Cleaner, Les Cokell who had a record shop in the CZ shop there and was like somebody said a brilliant Scene DJ who I had many laughs with. I remember Glenn Stevens in New York New York too, Rockies Nightclub, the Mineshaft, The Rembrandt, The Union, The Thompson Arms, Julia Smith toi when she owned the phoenix centre with shops and bars. Oh the memories!!!

  • Stephen Jones says:

    Yes it was great in those days. Used to enjoy Saturday night at Cruise 101 which we used to go to about once a month and then most Sunday evening at Stuffed Olives which was a lovely place to go for a relaxed Sunday evening. Had such a great time going with Philip my partner of 25 years, most of them living together at a flat in the centre Manchester.

  • DJ Nigel says:

    I came across this article and all the replies and agree with most of them.
    I worked as a DJ on the gay scene in Manchester in the 80s at High Society for Reg and fat Ron, then to Heroes for Phil, did a while at Naps for the skinny jewish guy and his wife, can’t remember his name but he drove a 70s Rolls, managed Clone Zone for a while for Paul and David.
    If anyone remembers me, do get in touch. I am now 61 and in a steady relationship (17 years) with a Burnley lad.
    I used to go out with Ashley from Clone Zone for about 10 years.
    I remember one day when Phil Clegg got his convertable attacked with battery acid and an axe. So I ended up lending him my car for £30 a week.
    Please give me a shout.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


My contact information is here.

People In Need Gambia. Read more in The Guardian