Peter Dorey, fearless co-founder of Britain’s first LGBT+ bookshop, dies aged 73. This is how family and friends remember him

The Dorey and Gay's the Word families
·4-min read

Peter Dorey, who co-founded London’s beloved LGBT+ bookshop Gay’s the Word, has died aged 73 at his home in Brighton, England. Here, his family and Gay’s the Word remember him.

In 1979, Peter was one of a small group of LGBT+ activists, including Ernest Hole and Jonathan Cutbill, who established a small, specialist bookshop on Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury.

Gay’s the Word was one of Britain’s first queer bookshops, opening when LGBT+ titles were generally not available in ordinary bookstores. Peter provided the very necessary funding for it.

The founders were members of Gay Icebreakers, a gay social group that ran a helpline and later held meetings at the store, a safe space for the LGBT+ community. Without their vision and commitment Gay’s the Word bookshop would never have existed.

To think of all the lives that have been nurtured and all the knowledge shared in the intervening 42 years, it is clear that generations of LGBT+ people owe Peter Dorey a debt of thanks.

Following the raid on Gay’s the Word by HM Customs and Excise in 1984, Dorey was one of the bookshop directors charged with conspiracy to import indecent books under the Customs Consolidation Act 1876.

After their arrest and charges being brought, the names and home addresses of the directors were published in the press and they faced hefty fines and potential prison time.

Gay's the Word
Gay’s the Word on Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury. (Twitter/@Gaystheword)

Money was raised by the Defend Gay’s the Word campaign and a passionate and robust defence was mounted before all charges were eventually dropped. The moral courage of Peter Dorey and the other bookshop directors in these circumstances cannot be overstated.

Peter attended many of Gay’s the Word’s birthday celebrations over the years, often talking of his pride in the bookshop’s longevity and ongoing vitality.

At the Gay’s the Word’s 40th-anniversary event at the British Library in 2019, both Peter Dorey and Ernest Hole were in the audience.

At the end of the night, there was a spontaneous standing ovation for the two men to thank them both.

Peter Dorey was ‘stoically upbeat’ until the end.

Peter was born in London in 1947 to Frederick and Irene Dorey, the eldest of three boys. His father’s family had roots in Dorset in the small village of Kingston near Corfe Castle – the region remained close to Peter’s heart throughout his life.

On his mother’s side, the family, originally Jewish immigrants from Russia in the mid 19th century were noted Quakers. One of his uncles was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), as well as being the proprietor of the Ham and High Express.

Two great uncles had been prosecuted for conscientious objection in World War I.

Peter attended Preston Manor Grammar School in Wembley. At university in Leeds, Peter became involved with student radio and then with BBC Radio Leeds before returning to London where he worked for over 20 years as a sound engineer on BBC Radio, spending time at BBC stations in Bristol and Belfast.

Peter Dorey
Peter Dorey was a hero to many. (Gay’s the Word)

Typically, when his first nephew was born in 1984, he visited the new-born with equipment to record the baby’s cries, gurgles and snuffles to add to the BBC sound archive.

Although he retired from the BBC in 2000, his interest in and loyalty to the organisation never waned.

In 1985 Peter met Timothy Groom who was to be his partner of 25 years. After 15 years living in Islington where Timothy was a science teacher, they moved to Brighton in 2000, shortly afterwards embarking on a year-long world tour taking in Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada.

Returning to Brighton, they enjoyed entertaining friends and family with Tim cooking memorable meals. Peter would say: “Tim liked to cook and I liked to eat.”

Tim died suddenly in 2010 much mourned by Peter and by their families.

Peter had the enviable capacity to retain a large number of friendships over many years and over wide distances.

Stoically upbeat during increasing ill-health and limited mobility he was making plans for the summer in France at the time of his death.

Latterly Peter found companionship and support from his civil partner Ian who survives him as do his brothers, Gerald and Brian and nephews Guy and Max, one nephew, Edward pre-deceasing him.