When Frankie Goes To Hollywood appeared on Top Of The Pops in January 1984, they looked northern and working class and extremely sexy. I was ten at the time and didn’t parse all this, exactly, but I knew it was exciting. Paul Rutherford, Brian Nash, Mark O’Toole and Peter Gill in their Persil-white dress-shirts, sleeves rolled up, and black bow-ties, undone. And Holly Johnson, small and beautiful and cocky in a black leather blouson jacket with zips. Blouson! Strutting and preening and sneering, and miming “When you wanna come?” straight into that BBC camera. “When you wanna come?”

Thatcher had just won her second term as prime minister – we were weeks away from the miners’ strike, the Brighton hotel bombing, and that first BBC screening of Threads which infamously petrified thousands of schoolchildren who stayed up late to watch it and never recovered. It was quite a time to be growing up in the UK.

“Our main purpose is pleasure,” Holly Johnson told the NME, about a month before that TOTP appearance. “We want to communicate a good feeling.” We needed a good feeling, in a country run by war-thirsty sociopaths. The NME interview is deeply, casually homophobic, with a thick streak of snobbery, so maybe it’s not surprising that they miss the power and beauty of Holly Johnson’s worldview. At least they got some of his quotes down, though. My other favourite is: “I’m trying not to give anyone a hard time, aren’t you? That’s about the only moral I’ve got.” If only the government had had half of his morals.

In his book 1984: The Year Pop Went Queer, Ian Wade doesn’t exactly tell us what he means by queer, but it’s woven through the pages. Those of us who don’t remember those giddy days of seeing Frankie and Boy George and Jimmy Somerville on teatime telly 40 years ago, beaming new and beautiful and filthy and fascinating and powerful ways to be queer right into our front rooms, can get a pretty full picture here, and more: Wade covers those three treasures, plus Pet Shop Boys and Wham! and Soft Cell, and a pleasing combination of megastar allies (Queen, Madonna) and curveballs (Hazell Dean is nestled between Divine and The Smiths, just as she should be, and Judas Priest turn up, unexpectedly). It’s a whizzing rundown of how the stars aligned four decades ago and gave us a particularly fabulous year, along with the kind of lengthy footnotes and pub-quiz trivia that makes you feel like you’re listening to someone with an endless supply of music-journalist anecdotes. Wade leaves it until the end of the book to explicitly say what is inherent throughout: the homophobic, reactionary, dullard bigots are back (as if they ever really went away) but they are outnumbered, because the queer icons and allies are back too (in fact, they definitely never went away). Perhaps one day we’ll get a book that pulls together Planningtorock, John Grant, Harry Styles, OneDa, Dua Lipa and Self Esteem as we look back to the distant horrors of 2024.


Sounds good right? 1984: The Year Pop Went Queer is published by Nine Eight Books on 18 July.

Preorder a copy HERE.

Anna Wood is a writer who lives in London. In her electric debut ‘Yes Yes More More’, Anna Wood skips through the decades of a woman’s life, meeting friends, lovers, shapeshifters and doppelgängers along the way. ‘Yes Yes More More’ is packed with friendship, memory, pleasure and love.

Out now via Indigo Press.