Does topless modelling exploit women; or is it just harmless fun?
The Sun’s Page Three feature was introduced by the newspaper’s owner Rupert Murdoch and editor Larry Lamb in 1970.
Singapore-born model Stephanie Khan was the first model to appear in her birthday suit, but quite how the tabloid started printing pictures of women baring their breasts is a matter of dispute.
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Vic Giles, the paper’s former art director, claims the decision was taken by the proprietor himself, against Lamb’s wishes.
However, Roy Greenslade, who was a sub editor at the time, recalls that it was Lamb who had been trying to come up with a publicity gimmick to mark the first anniversary of the paper’s relaunch under Murdoch.
Whether or not Murdoch was behind the original decision to introduce Page Three is up for debate, but the media tycoon certainly approved of what would become a British institution. “I don’t think it’s immoral or indecent or anything,” Murdoch once said.
This year marks half a century since the first appearance of a Page Three girl, and in this revealing (pun intended) documentary, its most famous models tell their personal stories.
It takes us from the finishing school graduates of the 1970s to the sultry superstars of the Noughties, as Samantha Fox, Jilly Johnson, Maria Whittaker and Keeley Hazell all describe the highs and lows of their extraordinary fame.
Plus, Rhian Sugden and Emma Morgan give emotional testimonies about the misery that came when they were the subject of tabloid scandals.
We also hear from Hannah Claydon, who describes the countdown to her Page Three debut at the age of 16, and Debee Ashby who speaks movingly of her decision to quit the industry in the late 1980s.
The programme also looks at some of the more well-known faces – such as Katie Price, Kelly Brook, and Geri Halliwell – who showed off their curves in The Sun, and hears from those who criticised Page Three in parliament and on social media.
It wasn’t until 2015, 29 years after the Labour MP Clare Short attempted to ban the feature, 26 years after launch editor Lamb said he regretted introducing it, and 21 years after Murdoch admitted it was well past its time, that The Sun set on Page Three.
Then in 2019, the Daily Star also announced it would no longer feature pictures of topless women. So nowadays, the Sunday Sport is the only British red top still going topless. Despite decades of being criticised for being sexist and exploitative, Becky Cadman, commissioning editor for Channel 4, says the tabloid tradition still has a special place in the nation’s history.
“Page Three was about a lot more than just naked breasts,” she explains. “Whether you’re of the opinion it objectifies and exploits women or think it’s a woman’s prerogative to go topless in a tabloid newspaper, it’s fascinating to hear first-hand from so many who’ve been there.”
Page Three was always a bizarre and uniquely British institution, and this programme tells its definitive story.
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