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

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Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including 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.

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