Page 3 was a British tabloid tradition of publishing an image of a topless female glamour model, known as a "Page 3 girl", on the newspaper's third page. Page 3 originated with The Sun in 1970. The Daily Mirror and Daily Star subsequently imitated the feature, although the Mirror ceased featuring topless models in the 1980s. Notable former Page 3 models include Samantha Fox, Linda Lusardi, Katie Price, Maria Whittaker, and Kathy Lloyd.
Page 3 generated heated debates throughout its history, with defenders of the tradition calling it harmless while critics characterized the images as sexist, demeaning to women, or inappropriate for nationally circulated newspapers easily accessible to children. Campaigners including Labour Party MPs Clare Short and Harriet Harman, Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas advocated for legislation to ban Page 3. Although legislative efforts never succeeded, pressure increasingly mounted on newspaper editors and owners to remove the feature voluntarily, especially after activists launched a No More Page 3 campaign in 2012.
In August 2013, The Sun ceased publishing topless Page 3 models in its Irish edition, citing cultural differences between Ireland and the UK. In January 2015, after running the feature for over 44 years, The Sun dropped Page 3 from its UK edition as well. The Daily Star continued its own feature until April 2019, when it decided that its models would no longer appear topless.
Beginnings and early years
When Rupert Murdoch relaunched the flagging Sun newspaper in tabloid format on 17 November 1969, he began publishing photographs of clothed glamour models on its third page in a move intended to help the paper compete with its principal rival, the Daily Mirror, which was printing photos of women in lingerie or bikinis. The first edition featured that month's Penthouse Pet, Ulla Lindstrom, wearing a suggestively unbuttoned shirt. Page 3 photographs over the following year were often provocative, but did not feature nudity.
Whether it was editor Larry Lamb or Murdoch who decided to introduce the Page 3 feature is disputed, but on 17 November 1970, the tabloid celebrated its first anniversary by publishing a photograph of 22-year-old Singapore born model Stephanie Khan in her "birthday suit" (i.e., in the nude). A sub-editor misread her name as Stephanie Rahn, a German surname. Sitting in a field, backlit by the sun, with one of her breasts visible from the side, Khan was photographed by Beverley Goodway, who became The Sun's principal Page 3 photographer until he retired in 2003. Lamb thought the models featured should be "nice girls"; he believed that "big-breasted girls look like tarts". Page 3 was intended to be "breezy, not sleazy"; Chris Horrie wrote in 1995 that it was intended as comparable to the naturism of Health and Efficiency magazine rather than top-shelf pornography titles.
Page 3 was not a strictly daily feature at the beginning of the 1970s. The Sun only gradually began to feature Page 3 models in more overtly topless poses, with their nipples clearly visible. The feature, and the paper's other sexual content, quickly led to The Sun being banned from some public libraries. The first such decision was taken by a Conservative council in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, although it was reversed after a series of local stunts organised by the newspaper and a change in the council's political orientation in 1971.
The feature is partly credited with the increased circulation that established The Sun as one of the most popular newspapers in the United Kingdom by the mid-1970s. In an effort to compete with The Sun, the Daily Mirror and Daily Star tabloids also began publishing images of topless women, although the Daily Mirror stopped featuring topless models in the 1980s, deeming the photographs demeaning to women.
After the mid-1990s
The Sun made some stylistic changes to Page 3 in the mid-1990s. It became standard to print Page 3 photographs in colour rather than in black and white. Captions to Page 3 photographs, which previously contained sexually suggestive double entendre, were replaced by a simple listing of models' first names, ages, and hometowns. After polling its readers, The Sun in 1997 instituted a policy of featuring only models with natural breasts.
In June 1999, The Sun launched its official Page 3 website, Page3.com, which featured the tabloid's daily Page 3 girl in three different poses, including the photograph published in the printed edition. On 1 August 2013, coinciding with the launch of the subscription-based website Sun+, the official Page 3 website became accessible only to Sun+ subscribers.
Before 2003, British tabloids sometimes featured 16- and 17-year-old girls as topless models. Samantha Fox, Maria Whittaker, Debee Ashby, and others began their topless modelling careers in The Sun when they were 16. The Daily Sport was even known to count down the days until it would feature a girl topless on her 16th birthday, as it did with Linsey Dawn McKenzie in 1994. After 2003, the legal age for topless modelling was raised to 18.
During her tenure as deputy editor of The Sun, Rebekah Brooks argued that Page 3 lowered the newspaper's circulation because women readers found the feature offensive. When she became the tabloid's first female editor in January 2003, she was widely expected either to terminate the feature or to modify it so that models no longer exposed their breasts. However, Brooks changed her position and became a staunch advocate of the feature. She later wrote an editorial defending Page 3 from its critics, calling its models "intelligent, vibrant young women who appear in The Sun out of choice and because they enjoy the job." Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman in 2005 accused Brooks of having "played up" Page 3 by introducing the "News in Briefs" caption (a paragraph attributing the newspaper's editorial views to the Page 3 model). The caption was removed in June 2013 when David Dinsmore took over as editor.
Controversies and campaigns
Critics usually considered Page 3 to be demeaning and objectifying to women, a form of softcore pornography that was inappropriate for publication in a national newspaper readily available to children. Some campaigners sought legislation to have Page 3 banned. Others, wary of calling for government censorship of the press, sought to convince newspaper editors and owners to voluntarily remove the feature or modify it so that it no longer featured a topless female model.
A YouGov survey carried out in October 2012 found marked differences in attitude toward Page 3 among readers of different newspapers. 61% of Sun readers wished to retain the feature, while 24% said that the newspaper should stop showing Page 3 women. However, only 4% of Guardian readers said The Sun should keep Page 3, while 86% said it should be abolished. The poll also found notable differences by gender, with 48% of men overall saying that Page 3 should be retained, but just 17% of women taking that position.
Political campaigners for legislative action against Page 3 included Labour Party MPs Clare Short and Harriet Harman, Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. The Sun has responded to such campaigns with mockery. When Short tried in 1986 to introduce a House of Commons bill banning topless models from British newspapers, The Sun branded her "killjoy Clare". When Short renewed her campaign against Page 3 in 2004, The Sun superimposed her face on a Page 3 model's body and accused her of being "fat and jealous". The Sun also branded Harman a "feminist fanatic" and Featherstone a "battleaxe" because of their stances against Page 3.
In August 2012, Lucy-Anne Holmes, a writer and actress from Brighton, began a grassroots social media campaign called No More Page 3 with the goal of convincing The Sun's editors to voluntarily remove Page 3 from the newspaper. Holmes stated that she began the campaign after noticing that despite the achievements of Britain's women athletes in the 2012 Summer Olympics, the largest photograph of a woman in the nation's biggest-selling newspaper was "a massive image of a beautiful young woman in her knickers". Holmes further argued that Page 3 perpetuated the outdated sexist norms of the 1970s, portrayed women as sex objects, negatively affected girls' and women's body image, and contributed to a culture of sexual violence against women and girls. Some commentators, such as Kira Cochrane in The Guardian, were supportive of Holmes' goals although commentators in publications such as the Telegraph and New Statesman criticised the campaign, calling it "censorious" and "sinister".
At the Liberal Democrats party conference in September 2012, former MP Evan Harris with the support of others, lent support to Holmes' campaign by proposing a party motion to "[tackle] the projection of women as sex objects to children and adolescents by restricting sexualised images in newspapers and general circulation magazines to the same rules that apply to pre-watershed broadcast media". However, party leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg distanced himself from the motion. In an October 2012 radio interview, Clegg said he did not support a legislative ban on Page 3, believing that government in a liberal society should not dictate the content of newspapers. "If you don't like it, don't buy it ... you don't want to have a moral policeman or woman in Whitehall telling people what they can and cannot see," Clegg stated.
The Leveson Inquiry heard arguments for and against Page 3. Representatives of women's groups (including Object and the End Violence Against Women Coalition) argued that Page 3 was part of an endemic culture of tabloid sexism that routinely objectified and sexualised women. The inquiry also heard testimony from Sun editor Dominic Mohan, who argued that Page 3 was an "innocuous British institution" that had become a "part of British society". The Leveson report concluded that arguments over Page 3, and the representation of women in the tabloid press more generally, raised "important and sensitive issues which merit further consideration by any new regulator".
In February 2013, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News International, parent group of the Sun, stated on social networking site Twitter that he was considering replacing Page 3 with a "halfway house", whereby Page 3 would feature clothed glamour photographs, but not bare breasts.
In June 2013, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas defied parliamentary dress code to wear a T-shirt bearing the slogan "No More Page Three" during a House of Commons debate on media sexism. Arguing that The Sun newspaper should be removed from sale in Parliament until it dropped the feature, she said that "if Page Three still hasn't been removed from The Sun by the end of this year, I think we should be asking the government to step in and legislate". Culture minister Ed Vaizey responded by stating that the government did not plan to regulate the content of the press. Later that month, newly appointed Sun editor David Dinsmore confirmed that he would continue printing photographs of topless women on Page 3, calling it "a good way of selling newspapers".
In August 2013, citing "cultural differences" between the UK and Ireland, Paul Clarkson, editor of The Sun's Irish Republic edition, announced that he would no longer print images of topless models on Page 3. The Irish Sun now features images of glamour models with their breasts covered. The No More Page 3 campaign called the decision "a huge step in the right direction", and thanked Clarkson "for taking the lead in the dismantling of a sexist institution", and called on Dinsmore to follow suit with the newspaper's UK edition.
The hopes of campaigners were further raised when Rupert Murdoch, in his Twitter feed in September 2014 suggested the Page 3 feature was "old fashioned". Eighteen months earlier on Twitter Murdoch had suggested that it might be better to show "glamorous fashionistas" (i.e., clothed models). Murdoch affirmed that the feature would eventually end in an interview for India Today magazine in 1994. While defending it from criticism, he said: "But show it to me in any other newspaper I own. Never in America, never in Australia. Never. Never. Never. It just would not be accepted."
End of the feature
The feature in the British newspaper was reported as having been scrapped in 2015 with the edition of 16 January supposedly the last to carry the feature, after a 20 January article in The Times, another Murdoch paper, said that a decision had been made to end Page 3 in the present incarnation.
On 22 January 2015, after an absence of six days, The Sun returned to publishing shots of topless female models. A notice appeared in the issue: "Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth. We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us." In the evening of 21 January, Dylan Sharpe, the head of public relations at The Sun, wrote on social media: "I said that it was speculation and not to trust reports by people unconnected to the Sun. A lot of people are about to look very silly".
The apparent ending of the feature gained much attention in the British press. Clare Short thought that the dropping of topless photographs on Page 3 of The Sun "is an important public victory for dignity." As Caroline Lucas explained in an article for The Independent: "So long as The Sun reserves its right to print the odd topless shot, and reserve its infamous page for girls clad in bikinis, the conversation isn't over." The business minister Jo Swinson criticised the newspaper, saying that the decision to replace topless models with women in bikinis did not go far enough. After the re-appearance of a topless Page 3 model after nearly a week's absence, Lucy-Anne Holmes wrote on social media: "So it seems the fight might be back on."
The edition of 22 January saw the return of a topless Page 3 model, but this revival has turned out to be a one-off. The Sun continued to run the Page 3 website, featuring multiple topless shots of a different model on a daily basis until 29 March 2017. Circa September 2018, the Page 3 website was taken down and the website's URL made to redirect to The Sun website.
Page 3 models
Born 1991 onwards
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (November 2018)
- In January 2015 the Daily Star announced its intention to continue its Page 3 feature. By the time of the newspaper's 40th anniversary in 2018 it was still publishing a photograph of a topless model on Page 3 every day but in April 2019 the feature's models ceased to be topless.
- On 24 January 2015 the Daily Mirror responded to the publicity surrounding The Sun by publishing a montage of blue tits, great tits and coal tits on its Page 3.
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- The Sydney Sun tabloid published a weather girl on page three, always in a swimsuit and generally a bikini (summer or winter).
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