Page 3, or Page Three, was a British newspaper tradition of publishing a large image of a topless female glamour model (known as a Page 3 girl) on the third page of mainstream red-top tabloids. The Sun introduced Page 3 in 1970, which boosted its circulation considerably, leading to other tabloids imitating the feature on their own third pages.
Attitudes toward Page 3 varied widely throughout its history. Some readers regarded the feature as harmless entertainment, but cultural conservatives viewed it as softcore pornography inappropriate for publication in generally circulated national newspapers, while feminists saw it as a misogynistic tradition that objectified and demeaned women. Some politicians, notably former Labour Party MP Clare Short, campaigned to have Page 3 banned, but never succeeded in enacting legislation against it. In 2012, activists launched a No More Page 3 campaign in an effort to pressure newspaper editors and owners to end the feature.
In August 2013, The Sun's Republic of Ireland edition replaced topless Page 3 girls with clothed glamour models. Its UK editions followed suit in January 2015, discontinuing Page 3 after more than 44 years. The Daily Star became the last print daily to drop topless photographs, moving to a clothed glamour format in April 2019. As of 2021, the only British tabloid still publishing topless models is the niche Sunday Sport, available only in select outlets.
After Rupert Murdoch relaunched the flagging Sun newspaper in tabloid format on 17 November 1969, editor Larry Lamb began publishing photographs of clothed glamour models on its third page to compete with The Sun's principal rival, the Daily Mirror, which was printing photos of women in lingerie or bikinis. The first edition showed 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.
On 17 November 1970, the tabloid celebrated its first anniversary with a photograph of Singapore-born model Stephanie Khan in her "birthday suit" (i.e. in the nude). Sitting in a field, backlit by the sun, with one of her breasts fully visible from the side, Khan was photographed by Beverley Goodway, who became The Sun's principal Page 3 photographer until he retired in 2003. (Alison Webster took on the role from 2005 onward.)
Page 3 was not a strictly daily feature at the beginning of the 1970s, and The Sun only gradually began to feature Page 3 models in more overtly topless poses. Lamb thought the models featured should be "nice girls" and the feature made a conscious effort to avoid the sleazy image of top-shelf pornography titles, with The Sun's female reporters reviewing Page 3 images before publication to ensure that women would not regard them as "dirty". Regardless, the feature, and the paper's other sexual content, quickly led to some public libraries banning The Sun. A Conservative council in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, took the first such decision, but reversed it after a series of local stunts organised by the newspaper and a change in the council's political orientation in 1971.
The advent of Page 3 is partly credited with boosting The Sun's circulation. In the year following Page 3's introduction, daily sales doubled to over 2.5 million, and The Sun went on to become the UK's bestselling newspaper by 1978. In an effort to compete, other tabloids including The Daily Mirror, The Sunday People, and The Daily Star began publishing topless models on their own third pages, although The Daily Mirror and The Sunday People discontinued the practice in the 1980s, calling the photographs demeaning to women.
Page 3 reached its heyday in the 1980s, launching the careers of many well-known British glamour models, including Samantha Fox, Maria Whittaker, Debee Ashby, Donna Ewin, Kirsten Imrie, Kathy Lloyd, Gail McKenna, and Suzanne Mizzi. Fox, who appeared on Page 3 between 1983 and 1986, became one of the most-photographed British women of the 1980s, behind only Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher. A number of models, including Fox, Whittaker, and Ashby, began their Page 3 modelling careers aged 16 or 17, which was legally permitted in the UK until the Sexual Offences Act 2003 raised the minimum age for topless modeling to 18. In 1986, David Sullivan launched a new tabloid, the Sunday Sport, which published numerous images of topless models in each edition.
The Sun made 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 listing of models' first names, ages, and hometowns. After polling its readers, The Sun in 1997 ceased featuring models with augmented breasts.
In June 1999, The Sun launched the 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.
Beginning in 2002, The Sun ran an annual contest, Page 3 Idol. Amateur models submitted photographs that were voted on by readers, with the winner receiving a cash prize and a Page 3 modeling contract. Notable winners of Page 3 Idol included Nicola T, Keeley Hazell, and Lucy Collett.
In 2020, Channel 4 produced an hour-long documentary, Page Three: The Naked Truth, to mark 50 years since the introduction of Page 3.
Page 3 was controversial and divisive throughout its history. Its defenders often represented the feature as an inoffensive aspect of British culture, as when Conservative Party MP Richard Drax called it a "national institution" that provided "light and harmless entertainment". Many of its critics considered it demeaning and objectifying to women, or as softcore pornography inappropriate for publication in a national newspaper readily available to children. Politicians including Labour Party MPs Clare Short, Harriet Harman, and Stella Creasy, Liberal Democrats MP Lynne Featherstone, and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas took stances against Page 3. Meanwhile, The Sun vigorously defended the feature, often responding with ad hominem attacks against its critics. When Short tried in 1986 to introduce a House of Commons bill banning topless models from British newspapers, The Sun ran a "Stop Crazy Clare" campaign, distributing free car stickers, calling Short a "killjoy", printing unflattering images of her, and polling readers on whether they would prefer to see Short's face or the back of a bus.
As co-founder of the organisation Women in Journalism, Rebekah Brooks was reported to be personally offended by Page 3, and was widely expected to terminate it when she became The Sun's first female editor in January 2003. However, upon assuming her editorship, Brooks became a staunch defender of the feature, calling its models "intelligent, vibrant young women who appear in The Sun out of choice and because they enjoy the job". When Clare Short stated in 2004 that she wanted to "take the pornography out of our press", saying "I'd love to ban [Page 3 because it] degrades women and our country", Brooks orchestrated a "Hands Off Page 3" campaign that included superimposing Short's face on a topless woman's body, calling her "fat and jealous", and parking a double-decker bus with a delegation of Page 3 models outside her home. The Sun also called Harman a "feminist fanatic" and Featherstone a "battleaxe" because of their stances against Page 3. Brooks later said that she regretted The Sun's "cruel and harsh" attacks on Short, listing them among the mistakes she had made as editor.
Lucy-Anne Holmes, a writer and actress from Brighton, began the No More Page 3 campaign after noticing during the 2012 Summer Olympics that the largest photograph of a woman in the nation's best-selling newspaper was not of an Olympic medalist, but of "a young woman in her knickers". Holmes argued that Page 3 perpetuated outdated sexist norms, portrayed women as sex objects, negatively affected girls' and women's body image, and contributed to a culture of sexual violence. Launched in August 2012, the campaign gained support at the Liberal Democrats party conference the following month, where former MP Evan Harris proposed 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". Liberal Democrats MP Lynne Featherstone voiced her support for a ban, claiming that Page 3 caused domestic violence against women, although the party's then-leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg distanced himself from the motion over concerns about press freedom, stating: "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". The No More Page 3 campaign collected over 240,000 signatures on an online petition and gained support from over 140 MPs, as well as a number of trade unions, universities, charities, and women's advocacy groups. It also sponsored two women's soccer teams, Nottingham Forest Women F.C. and Cheltenham Town L.F.C., who played with the "No More Page 3" logo on their shirts.
The Leveson Inquiry heard arguments for and against Page 3. Women's groups argued that Page 3 was part of an endemic culture of tabloid sexism that routinely objectified women, while Sun editor Dominic Mohan defended the feature as an "innocuous British institution" that had become "part of British society". In his report, Lord Justice Leveson stated that complaints of sexism over topless pictures fell outside his remit of investigating media ethics, but merited consideration by any new press regulator. Noting Mohan's "spirited defence" of Page 3, he said that "many will feel that Page 3 of The Sun raises a taste and decency issue and none other", although Clare Short questioned Leveson's finding, stating: "Surely the depiction of half the population in a way that is now illegal on workplace walls and before the watershed in broadcasting, is an issue of media ethics?"
In June 2013, participating in a House of Commons debate on media sexism, Caroline Lucas defied parliamentary dress code by wearing a "No More Page Three" T-shirt. During the debate, she stated "If Page 3 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", to which culture minister Ed Vaizey responded that the government did not plan to regulate the content of the press. Later that month, newly appointed Sun editor David Dinsmore confirmed he would continue printing photographs of topless models, calling it "a good way of selling newspapers". Pointing to a survey showing that two-thirds of Sun readers wished to keep Page 3, Dinsmore argued that most people who wished to ban the feature had never and would never read The Sun.
In February 2013, Rupert Murdoch suggested on Twitter that The Sun could transition to a "halfway house," featuring glamour photographs without showing nudity. In August 2013, Paul Clarkson, editor of The Sun's Republic of Ireland edition, replaced topless Page 3 girls with clothed glamour models, citing cultural differences between the UK and Ireland. 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". It called on Dinsmore to follow suit with the newspaper's UK editions.
Page 3 did not appear in The Sun for several days after 16 January 2015, with the third page featuring images of women in lingerie and bikinis. On 20 January, The Times, another Murdoch paper, reported that the tabloid was "quietly dropping one of the most controversial traditions of British journalism". The end of the feature garnered significant media attention. On 22 January, The Sun appeared to change course, publishing an image of a winking model with her breasts fully exposed and the caption: "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". This turned out to be a one-off, with clothed glamour replacing topless images on the paper's third page thereafter. Although Page 3 no longer appeared in print editions, the official Page3.com website continued publishing topless images for another two years.
Longtime campaigners celebrated the decision. Clare Short called the end of Page 3 in The Sun "an important public victory for dignity", while Nicky Morgan, then serving as Minister for Women and Equalities, called the move "a small but significant step towards improving the media portrayal of women and girls". Caroline Lucas welcomed the decision to discontinue topless images but criticized the transition to clothed glamour, saying: "So long as The Sun reserves its right to print the odd topless shot, and reserves its infamous page for girls clad in bikinis, the conversation isn't over". Others defended the feature and the women who posed for it, with glamour model Nicola McLean telling ITV's Good Morning Britain that: "[Page 3 models] are all very strong-minded women that have made our own choice and feel very happy with what we are doing. We certainly don't feel like we have been victimised". In a televised debate with Harriet Harman and Germaine Greer, model Chloe Goodman asked: "Why should feminist women tell other women how to live their lives?" Harman responded: "In a hundred years' time, if you look back at the newspapers of this country, and you see women standing in their knickers with their breasts showing, what would you think about women's role in society?" Goodman replied: "What do we think of women and men a thousand years ago, when we see statues [of them] nude? All over the world there are [depictions of] bodies in the nude, so I don't understand why it's just Page 3 that's being targeted".
After 29 March 2017, no further images were published on the official Page3.com website. The following year, Page3.com was taken offline and its URL redirected to The Sun website. The Daily Star became the last print daily to discontinue its topless glamour feature, when it shifted in April 2019 to publishing clothed glamour images. This ended the tradition in the mainstream British press, with only the niche Sunday Sport continuing to publish topless images in tabloid format as of 2021. The No More Page 3 campaign site, nomorepage3.org, was taken offline in early 2020.
See also: Category:Page 3 girls
Born 1991 onwards