Is Page 3 doomed? Girl Guides call for ban as pressure builds on 43-year 'institution'

Julian Gavaghan

It has been described as an 'innocuous British institution' by The Sun’s current editor Dominic Mohan.

But ever since the first topless model appeared in the tabloid newspaper 43 years ago, the now iconic 'Page 3 girl' has been the subject of intense controversy.

So – with thousands of Girl Guides today joining growing calls for the feature to be axed, and even Sun owner Rupert Murdoch suggesting its demise, we ask: is Page 3 doomed?

Girlguiding UK petition organiser Katie Wormald, 17, echoes the views of many critics by saying: "I believe it is wrong for women to be reduced to mere sexual objects in a family newspaper."

But such arguments have always had powerful opponents – not least the Page 3 girls themselves.

Perhaps this is because the paper, which is read by almost 10million people daily, has helped many glamour models become famous – and not just for baring their breasts.

Among them is 1970s favourite Linda Lusardi, who went on to be a soap star – but still describes her days as a topless model as 'the best years of my life'.
Another famous Page 3 girl, Samantha Fox, went on in to have a successful pop music career after leaving The Sun in 1986.

"Page 3 was my first job and I became a household name because of it. It was also a great launch pad and I went on to sign a major record deal," she told paper in 2011. 

In the 1990s, the feature propelled Katie Price into the spotlight, where she has remained ever since as a self-described 'media personality' with a penchant for weddings.

In 2008, a team of Page 3 girls, led by veteran pin-up girl-turned-photographer Zoe McConnell went on to successfully defend the topless feature in a debate at the Oxford Union.

But not all the women who dared to bare their breasts to the British public have been so supportive of their former employer.

For example, Nina Cater, who one of the first Page 3 girls in the 1970s, has backed a campaign calling for topless modelling to be banned in newspapers.

"It was a very different world then," the former wife of rocker Rick Wakeman told the Daily Telegraph last year.

"It was the flower power era – people were burning their bras.

"We fought for equality and now we live in a society where it’s dangerous for women to reveal all – it’s a bad message to put out.

"We see and hear things everyday of women being attacked and raped, so this message of nudity in these family newspapers is not necessarily a good one."

Rupert Murdoch, who has owned The Sun since 1969, is said to have been angry when then editor Larry Lamb introduced the daily topless feature in 1970.

But the tycoon wasn’t unhappy long as the newspaper had tripled its circulation within a decade of this controversial decision.

In response, the Daily Mirror also began featuring topless women, although stopped in 1986 after protests.

And the Daily Star continues to feature Page 3 girls.

But protests have grown. Campaigners helped bring about a 2003 law that made it illegal for models to pose topless before they had turned 18.

Until then the practice of 16 years olds baring their breasts had been commonplace.

Page 3 favourites Samantha Fox, Maria Whittaker and Debee Ashby all posed topless at this age.
Opponents to Page 3 have long been derided by editors of The Sun.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, for example, has been branded a 'feminist fanatic' by the paper.

And Labour firebrand Clare Short, who attempted to introduce a ban in 2005, was accused of being 'fat and jealous'.

One of the most recent campaigns to gain widespread public attention has been the 'No More Page 3' campaign, which was launched last year by actress Lucy Anne Holmes.

In response to her calls to voluntarily stop the feature, News Corporation’s controversial chief executive recently signalled that he might suspend it.

Replying to a fellow user of Twitter, who described Page 3 as 'so last century', he said: "You maybe [sic] right, don't know but considering. Perhaps halfway house with glamorous fashionistas."

By indicating that models might soon cover up, it was seen by many as a death knell for Page 3.

This is because anyone who knows anything about  Murdoch knows he is a man of resolve who always has the last word.

After all, he was willing to shut down the News of the World – the first UK title he bought and, until its closure in 2011, the biggest selling paper in British history – amid the furore of the phone-hacking scandal.

Therefore, changing the contents of a single page of another newspaper would be easy for him.
But the Australian media mogul is also renowned for only backing winners.

So, if the feature remains Page 3 remains popular enough, there could still be life in the old Page 3 girl yet – albeit, perhaps, on borrowed time.