London Bisexual Phoneline: Dear HEA, please give us some money

By March 1996, the London Bisexual Phoneline needed some money. The diverter box we used had failed and it wasn't cheap to repair or replace.

One way or another, probably through some of us also being members of the Health Education Authority's bisexual advisory group, we arranged that they would give us a second bit of funding.[1]The first had been for the first run of the second version of the HEA's awful 'hands' ad, which paid to temporarily expand the days it ran from two to six.

Because of some budgeting rules within the HEA, this time they could not give it to us for what we actually needed it for, running costs. It had to be capital costs, i.e. buying something you could kick.

Well, if that's what they needed, that's what we would tell them. While I am certain that Clive knew exactly what was actually happening, either from us telling him verbally or him going 'If you want to spend it on A, you have to tell me B so I can pay', this is what he was told via a fax… Read more


1The first had been for the first run of the second version of the HEA's awful 'hands' ad, which paid to temporarily expand the days it ran from two to six.

London Bisexual Helpline draft monitoring policy – August 1998

In a London Bisexual Helpline meeting at London Lighthouse in 1998, it was decided to formalise assorted policies:

  •   equal ops
  •   complaints
  •   ethics
  •   good practice
  •   monitoring

Each was given to someone different to draft, and I had the last one. I can't remember if it was completely original or adapted from somewhere else. I also can't remember if it was adopted.

Although it gives a date of August 1998, the PageMaker 5 file it was recovered from has a 'last changed' date of 12th September. One of PageMaker's little quirks was that how many copies you wanted to print of a document was saved with the file, so it could simply be that was when enough copies for everyone were printed, rather than any more significant changes… Read more

London Bisexual Helpline call record sheet

This is the version that was used in 1995, when the Health Education Authority ran the second version of its (awful) 'hands' ad with a referral to the London and Edinburgh Bisexual Helplines in its body text.

In exchange for some money to open the London line six evenings a week rather than its usual two for some months, they wanted some data back, hence a somewhat expanded version of the call record sheet.

I'm not sure how much detail the HEA was given, but these sheets were used to note any trends in calls and, if needed, discuss how to deal with them at the regular Sunday meetings. Read more

How Can We Help You? – Information, Advice & Counselling for Gay Men & Lesbians (1989)

Originally set up in 1971 with the intention of being the counselling arm of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, "Fellowship for the Relief of the Isolated and Emotionally in Need and Distress" was far more widely known as 'FRIEND'. By 1977, its national organiser stopped being on the CHE board by right, and its newsletter stopped calling FRIEND "the befriending arm of the CHE".

Also in 1977, the London arm became a company limited by guarantee, Friend Counselling (London). As 'London Friend', it ended up operating from Caledonian Road N1, and was the venue used by the London Bisexual Group from around 1990 to its end around 2004 or 2005ish. Its website is here.

As other groups sprang up, a network was created as National Friend, becoming a company in 1987. The book's author, Macolm Macourt, is described as its company secretary and a lecturer at Newcastle upon Tyne polytechnic. He was also involved with Project SIGMA that looked at the sex lives of gay and bisexual men[1]They described it as "gay and bisexual lifestyles" but it was gay and bisexual men's sex lives that were the primary focus from the start of the HIV/Aids epidemic in the UK. Read more


1They described it as "gay and bisexual lifestyles" but it was gay and bisexual men's sex lives that were the primary focus

Bisexual Phoneline rings the changes

Originally published in BCN 54: Mar 2002 with additional footnotes added in June 2020.

January [2002] saw the 15th anniversary of the start of the Edinburgh bisexual helpline (RIP). It almost saw the end of the London one.

After over 13 years of letting it use a phone line in his West London flat, Ian Saxton moved to somewhere in Berkshire. The new people were due to move into his old flat the following weekend.

While I am of course incredibly grateful to him for his help over past years – especially when the helpline operated by connecting two phone lines together with an expensive but appallingly unreliable box of tricks that he had to keep kicking – I would also really rather have liked to have had more than two days notice of the move. Oh well.

For almost seven years, we've been operating with a single line. Most times of the week, callers to the helpline get through to an answerphone. Its message tells them to go away… and call back when we're open. At those times, we use a service BT now call 'Smart Divert' — we were one of the first to use it in the UK! — which enables us to divert calls to the helpline's number to (almost) anywhere else in the world, from anywhere in the world.

So volunteers can do shifts anywhere that's convenient and callers don't know the difference. We pay the cost of diverting the call 'from' the flat to wherever the shift is being done plus a quarterly fee for the privilege of letting BT charge twice for one call, but that's less than the previous cost of having two lines. And as the line is only open at evenings and weekends, the diversion call costs are minimal.

Now, with Ian gone, we were in trouble. Especially as I had to remove the helpline's answerphone while he was still there, so for one week callers 'outside hours' only got a ringing tone.

Something had to be done… but what, exactly? Read more