The End of Innocence -
Britain in the Time of Aids

About the Book

It is often hard to remember or explain quite how an idea for a book began, but this one is simple. In April 1993 I wanted to write an article for the Independent on Sunday about the history of the Aids drug AZT. The drug, once the only great hope for people with HIV, had been the subject of a very disappointing trial result in the Lancet, and I was keen to write something that would chart its various fortunes over the past few years and explain its significance. There were various pieces of information, but nothing that placed it in a wider context of HIV science. Wellcome, the company that made it, was nervous of the press. Furthermore, there was nothing that talked about the history of Aids in Britain in accessible, general terms. So I wrote the AZT article, and then composed the outline for this book.

It is an attempt to explain the personal, social and political elements of Aids in Thatcher’s Britain, and to weave these elements into a framework of personal testimony, jargon-free medical analysis and journalistic reporting. I tried to keep a positive outlook, and was ever in thrall to the doctors, patients and campaigners who agreed to help me. The book was criticized in some quarters for having no particular angle on the disease (which was precisely what I wanted to avoid). But on the whole it was welcomed. It was made into a BBC2 film for the Storyville strand, won a Somerset Maugham Award, and sold quite well considering its subject matter. The book was written before the major treatment breakthrough provided by protease inhibitors, which for many promised a greatly extended life and the possibility of treating Aids as a chronic illness rather than a death sentence. Since them, the medical science has been refined further still. The book defines the UK experience, and we know the situation in much of the rest of the world to be far worse.

The brief extract here is taken from the third chapter of the book, and the audio clip (read by Alex Lowe) concerns Health Secretary Norman Fowler saying the word ‘condom’. In the Journalism section there is also a longer article about the first 20 years of Aids which appeared in the Observer, and an interview with the filmmaker Derek Jarman six months before he died. I miss Derek, and all the other people in the book who are no longer around.

Simon's tweets

Events