Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column by H G Cocks - review by Harry Mount

Harry Mount

‘Gay But Not Screaming’

Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column


Random House Books 228pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The classified columns of newspapers are strangely fertile territory for tragicomedy. Ernest Hemingway spotted the potential in his one-line short story – ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. 

Now H G Cocks, a history lecturer at Nottingham University and author previously of Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the Nineteenth Century, has pulled off another little cracker with his history of the personal ad. 

Adverts seeking husbands and wives began in the 1690s, around fifty years after the invention of the modern newspaper, but the practice only got going in earnest in 1915 with The Link, the first magazine entirely devoted to lonely hearts advertising. 

The isolation and terror of war

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Art of Darkness

Cambridge, Shakespeare