Terry Higgins was one of the first people in the UK to die of an AIDS-related illness. His friend, Martyn Butler, and partner, Rupert Whitaker, set up the Terrence Higgins Trust shortly after he died in 1982. By naming the trust after Terry, Martyn and Rupert hoped to personalise and humanise AIDS in a very public way.
Terry worked for Hansard in the 1970s. “He was one of the team that typed copy for us,” remembers former Hansard editor Ian Church. “To describe him as effervescent would be something of an understatement. He was a very lively colleague and, as I recall, very popular—a bit of a Welsh whirlwind.” Terry’s energy was valued by his colleagues. John Parker, who worked as a House reporter, recalls that he “typed like the wind”, helping him and the editorial team to meet tight deadlines.
A double life
Terry worked at Hansard for a couple of years, going on to become a transcriber reporting Committee debates, and a union rep for the Civil and Public Services Association. He would often work late, with the House sitting into the early hours but, incredibly, he had a second job. After finishing work at Hansard, he went off to DJ in Heaven, the legendary gay club in Charing Cross. “We were the heartbeat of Heaven,” remembers Martyn Butler. “Freddie [Mercury] would come in. Jim Hutton, Freddie’s boyfriend, and I were drinking buddies for years. Kenny Everett was frequently in our corner. They were just mates, really.”
At Hansard, Terry had to hide his sexuality. “He was a bit paranoid about being found out to be gay,” remembers his friend Linda Payan. “Once he said, ‘I've got some people from work coming over for dinner, could you pretend to be my wife?’ So I did.” Linda says that Terry led “a double life” at work, but he was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, and as a union rep tackled office bullying. He was “generous to a fault”, says his friend and former Hansard sub-editor Vanessa Clarke, “he would give his shirt to anyone who needed it, and to his friends he would give not just his heart but his soul as well.”
To mark the 40th anniversary of Terry’s death, the Terrence Higgins Trust is co-ordinating work on the Terry Higgins memorial quilt. The UK AIDS memorial quilt celebrates the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses, but there is currently no quilt for Terry. The project will change that with a quilt consisting of panels showing different aspects of Terry’s life. Rupert Whitaker, Martyn Butler and Linda Payan are working on panels for the quilt, along with current THT staff, the Royal Navy, where Terry worked before joining Hansard, Heaven and Welsh queer artist, Nathan Wyburn.
Hansard has been asked to contribute a panel, and we are working on the project with Martyn, who is a LASER artist and graphic designer, and has helped to turn our sketchy pencil outline into a workable design. Hansard staff have contributed fabrics to be used in the quilt panel, and we will stitch it together under the guidance of members of the Quilters Guild.
Martyn says that he liked Terry “because he cared about other people”, and we want to show that we care about him too. He is part of the Hansard family, and we are proud to tell the story of his time in Parliament.
Title of blog post inspired by Sir Keir Starmer's comments in the House of Commons on 6 July 2022 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Terry's death.