‘History doesn’t record itself’

On the fortieth anniversary of the first reported Aids case Simon Garfield revisits his seminal text on the epidemic and explains how UK campaigners set the pace for the rest of the world

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The world has changed, thank God. But the world still has Aids.

My book about the early history of Aids in Britain went out of print a while ago, and I’m delighted Faber has reissued it. The publication coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first reported Aids case in the UK, and a sense that we may be running the last miles of a brutal race.

The book is now a time capsule. I haven’t touched a word of it. The first edition opened with an origin story, the tale of what may have been the first British case of HIV in a seafarer who fell unwell and then died in Manchester in 1959. The story was always scientifically problematic, and has since been disproved by genetic coding, and so I have excised it. But apart from that, everything holds true, or at least consistent. This was the story then.

Reading it again, I can see oversights and omissions, and I regret being a little too cynical at times, but I’m proud of the anger it contains, and I still feel indebted to those who helped me write it. I hope someone close to the story will one day bring the narrative up to date.   

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