news

Peter Dorey, co-founder of London's iconic Gay's the Word bookshop, dies aged 73

"It is clear that generations of LGBT+ people owe Peter Dorey a debt of thanks," said Gay's the Word in a statement.

2021-02-16

Pictured: Peter Dorey (left) with Gay's the Word co-founder Ernest Hole outside Gay's the Word in London the day it opened in 1979 (Image courtesy of Gay's the Word)

Words: Will Stroude

Peter Dorey, one of the co-founders of London's iconic Gay's the Word bookshop, has died at the age of 73.

Mr Dorey, who was among the small group of gay activists who opened the UK's first queer book shop in 1979, passed away last Friday (12 February) following several years of declining health, his family has confirmed.

Born in December 1947 to Frederick and Irene Dorey and raised in Harrow, West London, Mr Dorey attended Leeds University before securing a job at the BBC via a stint at BBC Radio Leeds, spending many years working at Broadcasting House as a sound engineer.

By the late '70s, he was a member of Gay Icebreakers, an LGBTQ social group, and in 1979 he joined fellow members Ernest Hole and Jonathan Cutbill in opening Gay's the Word bookshop in Bloomsbury, London, at a time when gay-themed works were not widely available in other bookshops. 

Mr Dorey provided the financial funding to set up the business in an era when few financers were willing to back such an enterprise.

Gay's the Word co-founders Peter Dorey (left) and Ernest Hole outside Gay's the Word in London the day it opened in 1979 (Image courtesy of Gay's the Word)

Gay's the Word quickly established itself as a vital queer community hub during the 1980s, offering information and resources to members of London's LGBTQ community and regularly being used as a space for LGBTQ groups to congregate. 

Peter Dorey was a director of Gay's the Word during the infamous homophobic raid on the shop by the authorities in 1984, which saw Customs and Excise seize thousands of pounds worth of stock and senior staff charged with conspiracy to import 'indecent' material.

A defence fund was set up and raised over £55,000 from the public, including donations from many well-known writers including Gore Vidal, who donated £3,000.

The case gathered a great deal of media coverage and questions were raised in the House of Commons before the charges were finally dropped.

Image courtesy of Gay's the Word

After spending most of his adult life in London in Islington, Peter and his partner Timothy moved to Brighton in the mid-1990s, where they lived together until Timothy's death in 2009.

Peter is survived by his husband Ian, his Brothers Brian and Gerald, his nephews Guy and Max, and his great-niece, Josie.

In a statement, current Gay's the Word staff members Jim MacSweeney and Uli Lenart said: "it is clear that generations of LGBT+ people owe Peter Dorey a debt of thanks."

"After their arrest and charges being brought, the names and home addresses of the directors were published in the press and they faced hefty fines and potential prison time... The moral courage of Peter Dorey and the other bookshop directors in these circumstances cannot be overstated.  

Gay's the Word co-founders Peter Dorey (left) and Ernest Hole at the shop's 40th anniversary celebrations at the British Library in 2019 (Image courtesy of Gay's the Word)

Mr MacSweeney and Mr Lenart continued: "Peter attended many of Gay’s the Word’s birthday celebrations over the years, often talking of his pride in the bookshop’s longevity and ongoing vitality.

"At the Gay’s the Word 40th anniversary event at the British Library in 2019 both Peter Dorey and Ernest Hole were in the audience. At the end of the night there was a spontaneous standing ovation for the two men to thank them both for what they did for us all."  

"Thank you, Peter Dorey, from all of us at Gay’s the Word."

Peter Dorey's family are encouraging members of the community to share their memories and pictures of Peter via the email address [email protected].