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The dark days of AIDS

Illustration by Shonagh Rae

Already being hailed as a masterpiece, Russell T Davies’ new Channel 4 drama, It’s A Sin, revisits the health crisis that decimated the gay
community. Paul Flynn, who came of age at that time, salutes a story
rarely told from the inside — and shares his own

Back in 1990, hitch-hiking somewhere up the M6, a friend and I were picked up by a cockney lorry driver carrying a wagonload of oranges from Seville. We were two 19-year-old Northern gay boys, knee-deep in the thrills of a new decade. His name was Harry and he had all the patter. I can still picture his craggy, almost archetypal East End face, fuzzy mutton chops and pork pie hat, as if three decades ago were yesterday.

After a couple of hours chatting amiably, Harry offered to buy us breakfast at Lancaster Services. As we sat down over a Little Chef full English, he took off his hat and promptly burst into a flood of unexpected tears. Through the wet face of a thousand ‘sorry’s, he explained that only a week earlier he had buried his partner of 25 years. He’d died quickly of pneumonia in the last stages of his Aids battle. More ‘sorry’s. The trip to Seville was Harry’s first job since leaving his bedside. More tears.

Nathaniel Curtis and Olly Alexander as Ash and Ritchie in It’s A Sin

“Just because they don’t look exactly the same as our personal experiences doesn’t mean that every gay person who lived through the Aids crisis won’t feel their full storytelling heft”

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Omari Douglas as Roscoe in It's A Sin

“Aids turned us into gym bunnies to disguise the dissipation, drama queens to quantify the theatre, depressives to honour the macabre”

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“If Aids were a disease that had primarily happened to straight men it would’ve been sorted out in no time”

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