TOPHER MEETS… DAVID EDWARDS: One of the original Clonezone founders
Clonezone came about back in 1982 when four friends (David Edwards, Mike McCann, Paul Orton and John Tillyard) were frustrated at the lack of good quality gear available to the exploding gay scene of 1982’s England. Almost instantly, Clone Zone (two-words at the time) became a staple within the gay scene. Clone Zone was provocative, daring and gave gay men access to the product they read about in gay magazines and saw in music videos.
It was still a risky time to be gay and the authorities often abused their power when coming to ‘raid’ or ‘check up’ on the Clone Zone stores. However; Clone Zone survived this, as well as the heartbreaking AIDS crisis, Section 28, multiple step backs and almost going out of business completely in 2009.
If it wasn’t for David, I wouldn’t have the job I have now. A job I care deepy about and has anchored my life for almost a decade. It’s the tenacity and ambition of people like David, that took steps to make the world a better place for LGBT+ people. Although David is very humble about the achievements of him and his friends; I wanted to have a chat with him for the Clonezone blog, so here we go…
Hi David! Do you remember the first moment that the idea of Clonezone came about? What was it and where were you? Describe the situation
We first started with importing poppers from the U.S. in 1980 and in 1981 we visited the States and started importing other items that you couldn’t buy in the U.K. like jocks, greeting cards, magazines, t-shirts etc. Then we set up a stall called “Popperware” at the “Campaign for Homosexual Equality’s” monthly disco in Sheffield. The event attracted people from all over the north of England and we got invited to take our unique stall to other gay discos all over the U.K. I think we had invented the first pop up shop.
Do you remember the first item(s) sold? What was it?
Clone Zone was a small shop in a disco called Subway in Leister Square, it came up for sale so we bought it, our first night was Friday 5th of March 1982. On the first night, we sold a copy of Gay News for 50p! Not a great start. We then renamed our travelling stalls, ‘Clone Zone’.
How did section 28 effect things for Clonezone?
Section 28 was a catalyst that really brought everyone together. I remember the March in Manchester it was huge. I remember 1000s of people marching through the city centre it was incredible to see. It took hours to pass the shop. We printed the t-shirts ‘Never going underground”.
We were raided a lot in the early days, weren’t we? Is there a particular time that you remember and why was it?
We got raided by the police in Manchester and London numerous times in the 80s and 90s. The last time was in Earls Court and we decided to defend the case and we won, everyone was amazed that the jury was not offended by the sight of a naked man. The victory was fantastic because we didn’t get raided again and we got our stock back the only problem was most of the stock was calendars and we got them back in July! As a result, Mike McCann one of the founding 4 directors started the Gay Business Association to help other businesses network and problem solve. It’s still going today.
How did the AIDS crisis affect the early days of Clonezone?
We lost so many friends and colleagues in the early years of the AIDS crisis, a positive test was a death sentence in those days. I remember the first guy to die in Manchester worked part-time in the shop his name was Roger. Paul Orton another one of the 4 founding directors helped start the “Village Charity” which started the Manchester Gay Pride weekend at the August bank holiday to raise money for local HIV charities.
We were the first people to import Levi 501’s into the UK. What other ‘firsts’ did we bring?
We were the first company to import Levi 501s as it was part of the Clone look. The Clone came about on the Castro in San Francisco when gay guys started to wear clothes that looked like the working straight guy. The first attempt at assimilation? We then started importing other items that our market wanted like gay greeting cards, books, magazines, jock straps, cock rings, toys etc.
How did it feel to be a trailblazer (the first) for gay retail on the high street? We were the first, weren’t we?
We were the first gay shops to sell a wide range of items there were small shops that stocked magazines and not much else like the Zipper store in Camden.
We’ve had our ups-and-downs over the years. How does it feel to see Clonezone back on top?
We have had our ups and downs over the years but to be still here and in our 37th year is amazing. I think the most amazing thing is how life has changed, 37 years ago we couldn’t allow anyone in our shop under 21 and people didn’t want to be seen coming in.
Who’s the most famous person that we’ve had in our stores?
We have attracted some famous people to our stores because they believed we were sticking our necks out and they came to support us in the early days. Kenny Everett was a regular customer. Paul O Grady as Lilly Savage opened our Old Compton Street shop 26 years ago. Tony Warren (the creator of Coronation Street) was a regular in the Manchester store he was so down to earth and such a laugh.
Is it true that the man from our original logo (1982) was called Derrick?
The original logo was based on a Tom of Finland style fictional character.
In the early days, you achieve celebrity status within the scene. How was that for you?
I didn’t much like the idea of celebrity, I just got on with the job… but we did get into clubs for free.
What’s your favourite ever moment from the 37-year Clonezone history?
There have been many memorable moments over the years the first was the TV documentary about Mr Hardware competition held in Heaven in 1982. It was a Gay beauty competition, but when it was aired it was labelled “something for the Ladies” the BBC bottled it at the last minute. It was the forerunner of Mr Gay U.K.
James Whale came and did a section on his show about the Manchester store selling Chocolate Willies. Shops all over the U.K. were being told to take them off sale at the time.
Miriam Stoppard came to film in the Manchester store with Lilly Savage about sex toys, we couldn’t stop laughing, it took so many takes to get it right.
The opening of the Old Compton Street store, we were the first to open in Soho.
Tell us something about you that not many people know?
My parents were Christian fundamentalists and never accepted me being gay. In fact, my husband who I have been with for nearly 30 years only met my mother 3 times.
Thank you, David! Here’s to another 37 years…