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Memories by Bill Gavan

I fell in love with Birmingham

Bill came out in 1979 having been previously married with a family. “I discovered what they called in those days ‘latent homosexuality’. After an amicable divorce I went in search of another life. I met my partner of the past 25 years, David Jilkes, ...

The Wolverhampton scene in the 1980s

“In those days (around 1980 – 82) there was a very limited gay scene, though Wolverhampton had the biggest scene. It had a nightclub, owned and run by a brother and sister, Norman and Betty Webb, The Silver Web, which was bigger and we later had the ...

Buying the Jug

“I then bought the Jug in 1995 from Laurie Williams but it only became public that it was mine after I sold the Dorchester in 1996. I closed and renovated it for six months and reopened it as Subway City in 1995. In the meantime Laurie spent the mone...

Laurie and The Jug

“Laurie Williams worked at the Home Office and he managed to get the Nightingale a late licence, like a Working Man’s Club, in a tin hut in Camp Hill. Then they had a political fall out about whose club it was and Laurie was booted out, so he set up ...

Laurie's funeral

“Laurie William’s funeral was the best funeral I’ve ever been to in my life and I’ve been to many. I’ve stopped going to gay funerals, except for very personal and close friends, half way through the nineties because it reached literally hundreds. I ...

Birmingham male dominated in the 80s

“Again in Birmingham in the early 80s there was a very fragmented situation, with three very small clubs scattered across the city: the Nightingale, in a terraced house at the end of a row of terraces in Aston, Laurie Williams had the Jug Club in the...

Lesbian friendly Silver Web

"The Silver Web in Wolverhampton was very much frequented by lesbians, a good split crowd, 500 lesbians, and had shown me that there was gay women as well as men (wanting to use clubs). I don’t know what happened to the lesbian crowd in the 90s but i...

Opening Gavans politically motivated

“We then started to get very involved in gay politics, with rights for lesbians and gays, and I’m among the old school, I’m not very good at going out on the streets carrying a banner and harassing people, I like to do it in private, behind the scene...

Gavans at The Dorchester

“So when we opened Gavans, there was a bit of a blaze of publicity about having the largest gay club in Europe, on the front door, the Wolverhampton people accepted it, lovely, the club became a very successful commercial club. On three other nights ...

Opening Subway City

For the past fifteen years Bill has been running Subway City. “Laurie Williams, who was an icon in Birmingham, and one of the founders of the Nightingale and a very clever and highly camp man, had a club called The Jug Club, which is now the club I o...

Setting up the Triangle Committee

“I, like most other gay entrepreneurs, would shout and complain on a regular basis, that we had no rights and nothing, until my partner said one day ‘why don’t you do something about it, instead of complaining’ so I organised a small committee, the B...

Abused by the police

"At the time Digbeth Police Station was quite notorious about cruising this area and always arresting a couple of gay people at the weekend, who would be physically and mentally abused. There used to be a meat wagon, blacked out, with six or ten poli...

Over my dead body

Bill Gavan discusses Digbeth Police Station's attitude to the first Birmingham Pride event, “So I was elected to approach Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police, and went to the Chief Constable at the time and he said ‘There’s no problem wi...

The Police Forum

"I then got very interested in the Police Liaison Group, depending on what shift was operating the level of support, or level of contempt we would have. The whole idea was to try to get rid of street crime, get us some street cred. A particular polic...

The police now

"We knew in the eighties and early nineties that we would have to wait for people (in the police force) to retire, or die, for new attitudes, attitudes to change. The police force are now having inspectors who are university educated, much younger an...

We have come along way in terms of gay rights

“I don’t think we should underestimate how far we’ve come but I don’t think we should spoil things and I think we’re in danger of doing that. I hate people saying, ‘in my day’. In my day it was crap being a gay man and today it’s wonderful being a ga...

Why we wanted a Gay Pride

"Gay Pride was designed purely to have a procession through the town ‘We’re here, we live here’, for gay and lesbian people and their families, and a street party. It was not, initially, tens of thousands of people drinking and rolling in the streets...

Setting up the first Pride

“I set up the first Pride not to become the Bill Gavan road show, but the first year would be me and some other people, then in 1997 we would retire and become patrons (matrons) on the gay scene, and a newly elected body would do the next year and th...

Why we needed a Pride Forum

"The Police Forum was set up around the same time 96/97 and also the Birmingham Pride Forum – the idea was always to have a separate voluntary body belonging to Birmingham Pride, set up separately, not to get lost in the commercial side. From day one...

The first Pride Ball in 1998

"Out of the first Birmingham Pride, to fundraise came the Gay Pride Ball. I suggested we all invite our solicitors, accountants, doctors, dentists, hence why the Ball is 50% gay, it’s friends, families, associates, it’s become a business. The first P...

Working with Stonewall

“I then got involved at national level with Angela Mason at Stonewall and campaigned and lobbied for other government promises that we would get equality, i.e. legal partnerships, which I’ve taken advantage of, pension rights, and equality across the...

Unity and Division on the gay scene

“I have been privileged to be a part of the behind the scenes local and national politics campaigning for us gay men and women. Most gay rights are human rights. I’ve had a fear over 4 – 5 years that as we move forward since the turn of the millenniu...

Donations to gay causes

“Although my club (Subway City) is no longer a gay club, it’s frequented by straight people, I still use all the money we raise for charity, about £60K a year, to gay charities (except Children in Need) and the money I make is donated to the politica...

Pride 2007

“Birmingham City Council have been trying to accommodate us or relocate Pride into a proper place, even last year. Got the commercial sector to put up a quarter of a million pounds for Pride, the Mardi Gras, and we dismissed it out of hand. By ‘we’ I...

National Lobbying

“We’ve now got these rights but people forget that a new government could easily rescind everything we’ve got. I find it easy to make money and almost impossible to keep it, my gay rights are the same. I know my rights, but depending on the individua...

A more ambiguous society

“When two men went into a toilet cubicle in the eighties or nineties, in public, you would automatically assume they were gay, and the average man in the street would not do that. Now, the average man does do that, him and his friend go in together, ...

Gaydar a challenge

"Gaydar’s been the biggest competitor to gay businesses in my lifetime, the only reason a gay club was full on a Saturday was because we were all very inquisitive, nosey bastards, we wanted to see who was out and what we were missing. With Gaydar tha...

Alcohol and being teetotal

“Between 15 and 25 I became dependent on alcohol and drugs, so joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1976 and have never touched alcohol since, over 30 years of sobriety. So my gay life has all been totally sober. Basically I remember it as it was, and not ...

Red Card scheme 2007

“I attend and help to organise Alcoholics Anonymous and Drug Addiction meetings in the Cathedral. I’ve been involved in Police liaison for drugs, rent boys, prostitution and homeless people, and am still involved. At Snow Hill, there are lots of inst...

Catholic Homophobia

“The Catholic Church has taken a much stronger stance against homosexuals; their doors are bursting now because they are getting millions of good, nice Polish Catholic people, so they are out shouting again, they’re bringing Catholic priests in from ...