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A wonderfully quirky social history of modern Britain, explored through the medium of the personal ad

‘Bohemian girl (London, S.W.) 24, in digs, interested most things, educated, lonely, desires man pal, London or abroad.’

On 1 September 1920 the Metropolitan police received a tip-off that a certain magazine, the Link, was running extremely dubious personal ads. An investigation and court case followed, and the editor of the Link, Alfred Barrett, found himself in the dock accused of promoting, among many other things, loose living, homosexuality, prostitution and white slavery. As he struggled to defend himself, the full weight of official disapproval and media outrage was brought to bear on him.

So begins Classified, a fascinating sideways look at the history of relationships – and attitudes to relationships – in twentieth-century Britain, explored through the medium of the personal ad. From First World War soldiers hoping for lady friends who would send them food packages, to lonely clerks and typists desperate for love in the cities of 1920s England, through to the swingers of the 1960s and 1970s and the internet junkies of today, it shows how the personal ad has mirrored and encouraged seismic shifts in society and popular attitudes to relationships. At the same time, it also unearths the stories of the heroes and villains of the personal ad – the former deb Heather Jenner who in 1939 set up a marriage bureau for Tatler-reading aristocrats, the shadowy Cyril Benbow whose cryptic 'Gentleman has books for sale' masked a burgeoning pornography empire, and the tragic figure of Irene Wilkins, strangled and bludgeoned to death in Bournemouth in 1921 by a man who scoured the personal ads in his search for victims. Together the tales of such individuals reveal the many-faceted nature of love and desire in the Britain of the past hundred years.

Reviews

a fascinating portrait of changing social mores, from Thirties pornography and Seventies wife-swapping through to modern internet dating

Mail on Sunday

This trawl through the passions and peculiarities of the lonely and desperate is fascinating and surprisingly moving in its humanity

Waterstones Books Quarterly

A lively, surprising, sometimes saucy story

The Times

An interesting, topical and anecdotal journey through the years

Gay Times

Packed with fascinating social history ... compelling and informative

Scarlet

In telling the stories of those who use them, Cocks shows how personal columns were not only a vital way of making friends and meeting lovers but also of forging a community when homosexuality was still illegal, when being single past the age of 21 was seen as embarrassingly shameful and when the difficulty of divorce could make marriage seem an intolerable burden

Telegraph

the great pleasure of this book is the jump from the euphemistic wording in the ads to the sexual truth behind it

Harry Mount, Literary Review

Whether you're a SWF, NS, GSOH or merely intrigued by the lives behind the acronyms, this book takes a quirky look at modern relationships

Lauren Laverne, Grazia

How Britain has evolved from Victorian prudishness is the subject of this engrossing survey of our quest for love and sex over the past century

London Paper

An interesting look at a social phenomenon that is becoming less and less shrouded in stigma as virtual reality becomes the norm

Time Out

A fascinating book

Word Magazine

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780099519492

    February 15, 2010

    Arrow

    240 pages

    RRP $29.99

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  • EBook

    9781409060864

    September 1, 2010

    Cornerstone Digital

    240 pages

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    • iBooks NZ
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