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Page 3 of The Sun returns: bare breasts are back in the paper today, so was it all a publicity stunt?
January 20, 2015 | By:

Topless Page 3 girls seemed to be no more, with The Sun featuring 'scantily-clad' women instead of bare breasts this week. Now they're back, so was it all in the name of ridiculing other media?

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Demonstrators from No More Page Three. Today it appears that topless girls are back in The Sun

We Brits have always been a bit funny about sex, or at least since those prudish, hypocritical Victorians started covering up in the way we today associate with extremist believers of non-Christian faiths.

There has been a long tradition of nudge-nudge wink-wink humour that you can trace back from Chaucer and Shakespeare through the music halls, saucy seaside photographs, the Confessions of… and Carry On films, Benny Hill and The Sun Page 3 girls, which it appeared had been consigned to history. Women in bikinis had featured on Page 3 this week, but today the paper printed a topless picture of Nicole from Bournemouth, in what might be a speedy return to its 1970s morality.

She is pictured under a ‘clarifications and corrections’ headline, with this caption: Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth. We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us.

So, it’s gone back to its old-fashioned ways, sitting firmly in the Benny Hill camp, harking back to the 70s when Stephanie Rahn became Britain’s first topless Page 3 Girl in November 1970.

That there was so much hoo-ha about Lissy Cunnigham becoming the ‘final girl’ to be featured, last Friday, speaks as much to The Sun’s former cultural influence as it does to today’s paper.

As Roy Greenslade, media commentator and former Sun journalist, said this week: “To put the matter in perspective, an outdated newspaper feature that treated women as sex objects has been ditched way after its sell-by date. Let it rest in peace.”

But did The Sun just temporarily ditch a topless Page 3 as a publicity stunt? Perhaps the paper is reacting to rival The Star which said yesterday that it was ‘proud to continue the great British page 3 tradition’.

Has Rupert Murdoch bowed down to his editors now?

But there is little objective perspective when it comes to the ever-polarising Sun. Whether the No More Page 3 campaign led by Lucy-Anne Holmes, or individual campaigners such as MPs Clare Short and Harriet Harman, had any influence on The Sun covering up for three days is debatable, however admirable their work in the face of so much ridicule and opprobrium.

In some ways the campaign made The Sun dig in, and even more so by bringing a topless Page 3 back. News International (now News UK) always liked to feel there was an anti-Sun agenda out there, and it was never going to give in publicly because of them.

The Sun’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch, has never been a massive fan of the feature. His tweets out of the blue last year that it was increasingly “old-fashioned”, it would be fair to say, blindsided those who defended the boobs.

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Rupert Murdoch, The Sun’s proprietor, tweeted last year that Page 3 was ‘old fashioned’. Photo from Corbis

Greenslade was correct in his interpretation of The Times’ report on the matter: “The News Corp executive chairman is understood to have signed off on the change of policy.” That’s euphemistic corporate-speak for ‘Rupert dunnit’, and was News UK’s way of announcing the demise of the page. But is the seeming return of Page 3 today a slap in the face for Times editor John Witherow, and a boon for Sun editor David Dinsmore?

Why The Sun misunderstands today’s working class reader

I spent five years at News International, and during that time The Sun was wrestling with the matter. Less because it had a female editor, Rebekah Brooks, who went on to be chief executive, but more that in the face of industry-wide falling newspaper sales it was trying to redefine who the modern working class reader was.

The new generation of eastern European immigrant did not grow up with Carry On. More to the point, he or she is likely to be devoutly Catholic. Working class British Asians and British Caribbeans are equally likely to be conservative in their outlook. Page 3 started to feel as anachronistic as football pools or Jim Davidson, but the paper has clearly made the decision that it wants to remain firmly in the 1970s.

As the father of two daughters, I’ve always found the page awkward whenever we have seen it together. Not because of any fear of the breast or nudity, but because of what it says about journalism, my chosen profession, and its objectification of women – in a Britain that still finds public breast-feeding offensive.

I was glad that it had appeared to have been consigned to history. Below, there’s a selection of views of people of all ages in the High50 office, which we published on Tuesday when a topless Page 3 seemed to have gone. What do you think?

High50 staff on the apparent demise of Page 3

Julie Hamlet: On the one hand Page 3 absolutely sets a bad example for children to see their parents (dad) staring at semi-naked women and can encourage a lack of respect for women. The world won’t be a worse place if it’s not there. However, if people stop buying the paper because of a lack of boobs on Page 3 then go buy some soft porn… It’s not the sight of boobs but the fact that they are there 100per cent to titillate.

Jenna Lazaric: It’s degrading and unnecessary. Instead of showing women as purely sexual objects, why not celebrate women and their achievements? This is a proud day not just for feminists, but for men and women striving for equality. To quote Lucy-Anne Homes: “Women are made to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, and yet we’re showing teenage boobs on Page 3. People are raped and sexually assaulted, so why are we showing women as being there primarily for men’s sexual pleasure?”

Andrew Walker: The physical paper costs 30p and the online version is £9.99 for three months. In short, you need to pay for it and in return you get a product. In the same way you pay for Diet Coke, perfume, toothpaste, trainers… Should we stop a half-naked guy in a Diet Coke break? Should we stop celebs getting nippy all in the name of perfume, or should we stop provocative teeth brushing? Sex sells when kept clean. I do, however, think we should spend more time stopping free child porn, executions on YouTube, Snapchat abuse and so on.

Sophie Morrison: Strangely, as a girl I never really minded Page 3. In fact, I’ve always found it incredible that a national publication has managed to regularly run a feature that would relegate any other publication to the top shelf. The Sun has had a 45-year run at it, but it’s now time to use credibility rather than nudity to sell papers. Welcome to the modern age.

Jess Pan: As an American, I was aghast to find that Page 3 still existed. I thought it was some gross relic from years gone by, until I moved to London, sat next to a guy on the Tube, glanced over his shoulder and it was staring me in the face. It made me uncomfortable. How did a newspaper justify flagrant sexism in this day and age? Replacing Page 3 with scantily-clad women is just a small improvement, but now we can finally say Page 3 as we knew it is obsolete. 

Jacqui Gibbons: Finally, I thought, The Sun’s misogynist editors have moved on from the 70s. I was young then, and seeing soft porn over someone’s shoulder in public when I was a pre-teen wasn’t OK then and it’s not OK now as a 52-year-old woman. I’ve heard an argument that for some of the women who got their tits out for the lads it was an empowered choice. Let’s find other ways to empower and lift up our young women to be more than this.

Lucy Handley: The Sun getting rid of Page 3 girls would be a tiny but significant step in the right direction in terms of the way we – and the media – obsess over women’s bodies. I remember occasionally seeing it as a child (not in my house!) and thinking that’s what I, and all my friends, would look like when we grew up. We’d all have flat stomachs, big boobs, and perfectly-proportioned hips. It took a long time to realise that we come in all shapes and sizes, and that all of them are attractive.

But covering up Page 3 girls (they will still be ‘scantily clad’) is really only a tiny step towards representing women in a truer way. Young girls and women are much more exposed to naked women’s bodies now than I was, growing up in the 1980s.

Pop videos feature twerking, lads’ mags look like soft porn and girls are put under pressure by boys to send naked selfies or risk being labelled frigid. Page 3 is outdated so it’s great that it’s gone. But I fear it will drive ever more people online, which is perhaps News UK’s intention. How many men will Google ‘Page 3’ today, go to The Sun’s website and be teased with a few nipples, then be prompted to sign up to become a paying Sun ‘member’?

Paul Gardener: I like a good breast (or pair of them) as much as the next man, but there is no rational justification for Page 3 continuing to exist. The original intent behind it is now a mystery, but even in terms of what I imagine it must have been – modest daily titillation for the red-blooded 1970s working man – there are now far more effective resources available. Page 3 now represents nothing more than an embarrassing reminder of our inability to understand how to balance the interests of the sexes with any sensitivity.

Rosanna Dickinson: Thank God it’s gone. Having small boobs I have always felt inadequate and misrepresented by Page 3. If there is anything that is going to make girls invest in silicon tits it’s those pictures. I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed for them, smiling away with their breasts out opposite real news stories; men lusting over them, without actually buying porn. Mind you, I don’t buy The Sun. I don’t have to look at them and are pictures of scantily-clad celebrities any better? At least it gave non-celebrities who didn’t care if they took their tops off a chance to make some money. If sales drop will they put them back?