The shadow of AIDS

John remembers hearing about AIDS for the first time in 1981 in Leeds and how the situation developed globally.

Duration 02:19


This clip has been interpreted by a BSL signer. Watch the video below.


1981… I used to come home from Leeds up Swinegate to the station and on the corner of a little yard I now know as Blayds Yard there was a bookshop that sold 'dirty' - inverted commas - magazines. One day one of these magazines caught my eye and for some reason I bought it. And in it I learnt about AIDS for the first time. It wasn't called AIDS then - 'gay plague' I think they called it - it later became H3, then H4, and then HIV. This article mentioned this disease that was affecting the gay population in California and America and it described it was a nasty disease and people dying from it but it wasn't widespread; it was just confined to a certain area and - as they put it - it was 'as rare as rocking horse shit' so there was nothing really to worry about.

Well, following on from that you started seeing snippets in the main papers. You'd hear about this disease in America, and this disease in America was going round male saunas, and Ronald Reagan didn't think much about this disease and he didn't do anything about closing these saunas. And it was a nasty disease and there was no cure for it and people were dying from it. And other people could catch it besides gay men and all these little things in the papers - not a lot, but if you were a gay man and you were looking out for it you noticed them, you took notice of them.

Well I think the watershed moment was when Rock Hudson died. That was splashed all over the front of the papers - I think November... October 1985. 'Rock Hudson dies of AIDS' - a picture of Rock Hudson, 59, a wizened old man! 'That can't be Rock Hudson the film star, surely? He's a handsome young man! He's not gay!' And I think that was the watershed moment when people took note of the fact that AIDS existed and homosexuals existed and it had to be talked about. Prior to that homosexuality wasn't mentioned.