In 1971, The Times featured the first nude to ever appear in a British newspaper. She was Vivien Neves (20 November 1947 – 29 December 2002).
Modern readers might suppose the honour of being first newspaper to host an image of a naked women to be the Daily Star’s or The Sun’s.
In 1971, the Daily Star was not yet in existence. The Sun had become a tabloid on 17 November 1969, with a front page headlined “HORSE DOPE SENSATION” – an ‘exclusive’ in which a racing trainer admitted he was doping his horses.
The Sun had featured the first topless Page 3 girl on 17 November 1970 – German-born Stephanie Rahn was the “Birthday Suit Girl”. She was there to mark the first anniversary of the relaunched Sun.
Rupert Murdoch owned The Sun, but he never gained control of The Times until 12 February 1981. In 1971, the venerable Thunderer was owned by Canadian publishing magnate Roy Thomson.
The Sun was well impressed with the Times‘ foray into soft porn:
“There had never, they said, been a picture quite like it in the entire 186-year history of The Times. They finally came abreast of the times, so to speak, with a whacking great portrait of model Vivien Neves . . . starkers.”
As The Times notes:
Although its tone was undoubtedly mocking, The Sun’s interest in the story was legitimate. At that time, Neves was one of the red-top tabloid’s most popular Page 3 Girls; that one of its biggest assets was flaunting her wares in the paper of record must have been a shock.
At age 18, Neves had worked as a “bunny” at the Raymond Revue bar strip club in Soho.
The bar was owned by Paul Raymond.
The bar job set her up for a career in top-shelf magazines.
Here she is on the cover of Span, the magazine for central heating enthusiasts:
“Working at the club had made me immune to nudity, and the thought of showing my nipples to magazine readers didn’t bother me a bit.”
In May 1970 Neves made her debut on The Sun’s newly launched topless Page 3 (36-23-36).
She also became a calendar model.
But it was the advert that made her name. Did the Times readers like the advert?
“The Times should not use such matter which degrades womanhood and uses the female body as an eye-catcher”
Are you trying to drive away your readers by subscribing to the present advertising belief that it is only sex and nakedness that sells?”
“I hope this delightful picture has the same effect on The Times’ circulation as it does on mine.”
“It’s disgusting! It isn’t even in colour. Tut tut.”
Why Fisons? The words beneath the picture explained the company’s thinking:
Money lay at the heart of it:
On March 17 that year, the chemical company Fisons had bought out all the display advertising space in the newspaper to promote its various products, which included slimming biscuits and shampoo. Neves’s slender, curvaceous — and unclothed — figure appeared above the caption: “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a firm like this?” The full-page advertisement was in black-and-white because the Editor, William (now Lord) Rees-Mogg, feared that a full-page advert of a young, female nude in glorious colour might prove too much for some readers.
Neves’ own mother, Iris, was surprised by her daughter’s showing in the Times:
“We’ve got used to her modelling now, but it is still a bit of a shock, especially to see it in that paper.”
Vivien was delighted:
“A whole page? Wheeee! Imagine all those men in bowler hats grumbling ‘What’s this country coming to?’”
Neves was famous.
In October 1971 she appeared briefly in small role in an episode of the Tony Curtis/Roger Moore series The Persuaders in an episode written by Daleks creator Terry Nation. Subsequently, she appeared with Curtis on the prestigious Parkinson chat show on 1st July 1972.
1973 Neves announced her retirement. Fans were bereft, one writing:
“Could you please inform the delectable Viv Neves that even if she walked down the middle of Oxford Street, wearing a pair of wellingtons, a boiler suit and a balaclava, every hot-blooded male in the vicinity would still think she is the sexiest bird in the business. Please don’t go, Viv.”
Vivien Neves, model: born Brighton, Sussex 20 November 1947; died Guildford, Surrey 29 December 2002.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.