Rupert Murdoch relaunched The Sun as a tabloid in 1969. Its sexual politics were in place from the start.
The first Page 3 girl, Stephanie Rahn, appeared in November 1970, and the new feature doubled daily sales to over 2.5 million. By 1978, The Sun was the bestselling newspaper in the UK.
The newspaper also set out to popularise the ‘sexual revolution’ in other ways too – articles on orgasms and losing one’s virginity often extracted from “better sex” books like Jane Garrity’s The Sensuous Woman.
Competing tabloids, including the Daily Mirror, the Sunday People, and the Daily Star, also began publishing topless models to increase their own sales, although the Daily Mirror and the Sunday People discontinued the practice in the 1980s
Page 3 launched the careers of many well-known British glamour models, including Debee Ashby, Linda Lusardi, Donna Ewin, Jo Guest, Kirsten Imrie, Kathy Lloyd, Gail McKenna, Suzanne Mizzi, Melinda Messenger, Maria Whittaker, Keeley Hazell, Katie Price (aka Jordan) and Samantha Fox (pictured) – who became the most-photographed British woman of the 1980s, behind only Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.
Even a pre-Spice Girls Geri Halliwell appeared as a Page 3 girl for The Sun in 1990.
Labour MP Clare Short led a campaign in the late 1980s to ban Page 3 girls from Britain’s tabloid newspapers with her proposed ‘Indecent Displays (Newspapers) Bill’, claiming the pictures helped create a “sex culture which encourages rape and sexual abuse”. The British government never enacted the legislation.
The Sun voluntarily discontinued its Page 3 girls in January 2015 after more than 44 years.
In April 2019, the Daily Star became the final print daily to move to a clothed glamour format, ending the Page 3 convention in Britain’s mainstream tabloid press (although the topless models remained in the niche Sunday Sport).