Another critical scalp (and this time it’s mine!)

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Mark writes regularly for The Stage, including reviews from London and the regions, features and, since 2005, a daily online column.
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All good things come to an end (and some not so good things, too). I've been predicting the demise of careers in print journalism for some time, and yesterday the latest scalp was claimed: my own.

After some eleven and a half years as theatre critic for the Sunday Express – which began with a review of the opening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium in May 2002 and ended with a column that included an instant gay theatre classic in Jumpers for Goalposts at the Bush last Sunday – I have been laid off.

So I follow in the footsteps of Libby Purves and Kate Bassett, respectively let go from reviewing for The Times and The Independent on Sunday, earlier this year. While it was an editorial decision in each of those cases – for The Times to change its critic and for the Indie on Sunday to abandon criticism entirely – mine turned out to be more intimate, historical and entirely unrelated to my professional activities.

The paper had been tipped off by a malicious third party that there were some private, personal (but entirely legal) images of me available on a gay website. I'd never seen or heard of the site myself so it was news to me, but yes, the thumbnail picture I was shown by the Head of Human Resources was indeed of me. I had not posted it, but remembered it being taken, by my reckoning, by a friend in San Francisco I have long lost touch with some 22 years ago – long before I either worked for the paper or the internet had come of age, so I never expected them to turn up on a website that didn't exist then – or to find it still live now!

The Sunday Express’s Head of HR, however, believes that the existence of any such images could bring the company into disrepute. My sexuality is public knowledge and by revealing this information freely as I'm doing now, it is clear that I do not agree. The editor of the paper also stated, in front of the HR head, that the images were "embarrassing". Sorry to disagree with his world view, but I'm not embarrassed at all. (In the week that Tom Daley came out, it is good to be able to be honest about who you are and even what you look like without your clothes on – though I will agree that Mr Daley looks rather better in a state of undress than I do.)

It is, of course, the prerogative of a newspaper editor to choose his own writers but there is a certain irony that a newspaper, now owned by proprietor Richard Desmond whose business interests once included the publication of Penthouse in the UK and Asian Babes – and which he continued to publish long after he acquired the Express group in 2000, until he sold the adult magazine business in 2004 – should be so affronted. (The company continues to own and operate Television X, a series of subscription adult television channels) It could be said that the only difference is that these are straight magazines and channels, whereas mine was defined as a gay one

As Nigella Lawson is currently discovering, the salacious details of one's private life are often now in danger of becoming public property. But it doesn't make her less able to be a cooking authority and doesn't, by the same token, change my relationship to an art form I am passionate about and rigorous about covering. I will continue to write, tweet, broadcast and publish with my usual passion and integrity for other outlets including, of course, The Stage.

45 Comments

  1. Mark,
    I am so deeply sorry and disappointed to hear this news. As you know, I am very much an admirer of your excellent work, and any publication that dismisses you for something so irrelevant is a lesser one for it.
    Robin

  2. I am incredibly shocked by this news. You are a brilliant critic and I have always enjoyed both your reviews and your fair, but opinionated, blogs.

    I remember when my paper closed four years ago, and you took me for coffee and gave me advice about arts journalism. I hope someone snaps you up immediately.

  3. This very sad news, Mark. You’re their theatre critic, not their religious correspondent! You could be dancing naked on Big Ben for all anyone cares. What a great shame for us all.

  4. You have been treated wrongfully and shamefully by the Express. I will continue to read and enjoy your theatre criticism wherever you decide to publish it! But I’ll never buy the Express ever again.

  5. Sorry Mark – no sympathy I’m afraid. Welcome to the 21st Century. No one else in any other industry would get away with it. To suggest as you do the Editor is homophobic is a low blow, and as for aligning yourself with Nigella and Tom Daley…please. What next, Harvey Milk? Alan Turing? Honestly, your comments are wildly offensive to gay people who face actual discrimination every day.

    Perhaps it was just the excuse someone needed to get someone in who doesn’t just chat about a) their back problems, b) how horrendously busy they are or c) how many times one jets back and forth from New York to their luxury Manhattan apartment.

    Perhaps in the future you should not use your position to publicly bully people. I’m sure there is an exhaustive list of ‘malicious third parties’….what goes around comes around.

    Looks like its your loss and a win for a legitimate theatre writer.

  6. I have to say Mark, I am a long time reader of your blogs, and usually a fan. Whilst watching C4’s Musicals programme this week however, I was disturbed to see how delighted you seemed to be sniffing around for the story about Top Hat closing early. You were positively beaming and couldn’t wait to ‘sniff out’ the story. Perhaps you now know how the cast and team of Top Hat felt? At least you didn’t have to read this news second hand.

  7. I’m very sorry to see you go. It sounds like they were just looking for any excuse to fire someone :-/.

  8. Hmmm, bewildered that this could happen, wouldn’t have thought there were legal grounds to be able to do that. Ho hum – well rid, better things will be out there. Keep doing what you are doing, keeping us great information about the theatre world.

  9. Sorry Mark, information in the hands of the ‘wrong righteousness of the sepalchrones’ who can make mayhem out of innoncence and intention out of the very reverse is the same old monster we thought progress would out-run. Why society piously prides itself on progress when really we just have a superficial wee series of two-faced changes is a constant disappointment. I’m sorry you’ve suffered the same old same old. Just remember keep outliving them… keep living! Mari

  10. Shocked to hear of this ridiculous decision, Mark. You are a superb critic and will surely continue to inform and entertain your many appreciative readers here in The Stage and elsewhere.
    all the very best
    George

  11. Completely outrageous! You should sue them for unfair dismissal! In this day and age, it seems we still have a long way to go in accepting homosexuality – because that is what it boils down to. Sue them!

  12. Bravo to you.
    No shame, no apologies. None required.

    Look forward to reading your theatre criticism wherever you publish it.

  13. Hi Mark. My friend emailed me your article. Jaw on the floor. It’s offensive what has happened to you. Agree with your views about Desmond. Afraid we’ve come up against exactly the same hypocrisy in the media along the way too (from a very big media group, surprise, surprise!)Can we get an interview with you about your opinions? Can you email your contact details to ndebz@gmail.com. Neil & Debbie, formerly of GaydarRadio, now of JemmOne.

  14. Mark, commiserations – this was utterly none of their business. And also congratulations – what a classy response! Your former PA colleague.

  15. Good luck, Mark! I enjoy your stuff, and I hope you find a new perch or perches somewhere at least as congenial as the Sunday Express. I know this is obvious, and at the risk of being patronising, it sounds as though you may want to hold fire on this topic in public in case there are legal channels to pursue in the future.

  16. So sorry that this allegedly “progressive” paper is taking such a puritanical approach, but your departure is their loss.

  17. This is a dreadful thing to happen! What *is* going on with newspapers today that they are so quick to fire such talented writers for such stupid reasons! Anyway, wishing you all the best for the future and look forward to reading more of your stuff! XXXX

  18. Sympathies Mark, and one blog subject might be how the rare paying jobs for arts writers whether in the UK or US are often for fascist rags, with hitlerian Aussie editors, etc. If an arts writer cannot stomach the rest of the paper that pays him/her, is it worth compromising just to get a (tiny) paycheck? When the Express replaces you with a celibate Mormon, what will have been achieved? Hope all this does not put a crimp in your transatlantic lifestyle! Cheers!

  19. This is bloody stupid. Surely Richard Desmond could be found guilty of homophobia and unfair dismissal -especially if he was the former proprieter of sex magazines displaying the bodies of women. His objections make no sense whatsoever. Are you sure there is not a financial reason for this and this is just an excuse.

  20. Dear Mark,
    I’m probably you’re only admirer old enough to rememberr Prince Phillip’s comment of long ago: THE EXPRESS IS A BLOODY AWFUL NEWSPAPER. All best wishes, Margarita.

  21. well said Mark, good luck with everything, sometimes when forced into a change, great things happen.

  22. Now that’s a shock. Very short-sighted of the editor (in my opinion) – I bet they’ll struggle to get someone as knowledgeable as you are and someone that will covers as much ground as you did, especially when they probably only pay their writers a meagre rate – and don’t/won’t even cover food expenses let alone travel or accommodation.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but surely you’ll be saving money now that you don’t work for them!

    Love your writing and I’m pleased that you still write for some of the quality theatre sites.

    PS Thank you for saving me the occasional £1.35 as I don’t need to buy that paper ever again.

  23. The Sunday Express isn’t my choice of newspaper but my partner buys it and I read it-or did, not anymore!
    I thoroughly enjoyed your reviews I found them interesting and fair, always including the positive aspects of any production. You have been treated disgracefully and the Sunday Express look ridiculous for sacking you.

  24. Mark,
    Your writing about music theatre is always insightful and interesting and I don’t doubt shall continue to be so online and in other print forms, comfortably far away from that squalid little rag. One’s private life is and should remain one’s own and you should hopefully know already that you have the respect and support of people such as myself, and I don’t doubt that I speak for many others.
    Your measured public reaction seems very calm and collected to me, I admire your cool greatly, good for you.
    Keep up the good work.
    Warm wishes,
    Larry

  25. Oh it is their loss, the only beacon of class in their sheltered homophobic world has been extinguished. You will rise above it I have no doubt!Onwards, bigger and better.

  26. So the editor thinks that your sexuality could bring the company into disrepute, whereas sacking you won’t. wtf??????

  27. Sorry for the o’er hasty spelling mistakes. The sympathy and good wishes remain.

    Dear Mark, I’m probably your only admirer old enough to remember Prince Phillip’s comment of long ago: THE EXPRESS IS A BLOODY AWFUL NEWSPAPER. All best wishes, Margarita.

  28. How utterly ridiculous. Frankly you should be pleased to be out of the place if that is how they treat you. Theirs is the only loss.

  29. My sympathies to you on the repressive and self serving reaction of your employers. No one should *ever* have to apologize for being gay or for pictures posted to a web site without your permission. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  30. I wonder if you would have been sacked if you were straight as were the leaked photos? Good luck in the future.

  31. Totally ridiculous decision. Brush yourself down, plan the next career move and go for it. Good luck in the future: you will be remembered for taking a principled stand and the small minded bastards that made the decision will be relegated to the dustbin of journalism and memory.

  32. I am deeply offended by the paper’s decision, and will never buy the publication again (I only did for your reviews anyway).
    I imagine their risking more negative PR than they might’ve got otherwise, ironically.
    Stuart Piper

  33. Totally ridiculous and a big backward mistake ,I’m more offended by the reaction than the actual supposed offence, keep you’re head up Mark and keep doing what you do best.

  34. I am sad to read that it seems the Sunday Express is still found to be worryingly living in the dark ages, and also with showing little respect towards their employees. What I do know for sure, Mark, is that their loss of you will soon be some other lucky and quality publications gain. See you soon RJ x

  35. For this obvious offence and blatant crime of homophobia by a hypocrite, i Hope you DO SUE THEM.

    Not doing so, would mean another gay man down the line would have to put up with this shameful and disgusting behaviour which borders on crime. People who sell porn should not judge people who have pleasure in the same sex genre!

  36. Don’t let the b*st*rds grind you down!!!
    Sue them for what they’re worth – you’ve got nothing to lose, much to gain (and not just the money)

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