Chris Brown (1951-2021)


Smiling man aged 62 wearing light blue sweatshirt and grey trousers, standing by a car.Chris Brown ran a popular coffee evening in Bristol in the 1990s, which was attended by many gay men and acted as a fundraiser for Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.

Chris Brown was born in Southampton on 4 November 1951 and moved to Bristol because of his employment, later working as a car salesman in Chipping Sodbury.

As there was no gay social group in Bristol at the time, he decided to start a coffee evening in his own home in June 1990.  He placed an ad in the Bristol Evening Post and received 12 phone calls, of which six actually turned up on the night.  After a slow start, the weekly Thursday coffee evening established itself and became known as Chris’s Coffee Club (sometimes informally referred to as 3Cs).   There was no formal structure or membership for the group.  Numbers at the coffee evenings grew, reaching 70, and there were up to 150 people linked informally to the group.

The activities of the group expanded when in 1991/2 Chris Watkins and his partner Bob Atkins started organising visits to historic houses and gardens, theatre trips, weekends away and holidays.  After 13 years Chris Brown decided to give up hosting the weekly coffee evening and the last one was held on 14 August 2003 at Chris’s house in Somerset Road, Knowle, although regular coffee evenings continued to be hosted by other members.

In June 2010 Chris’s Coffee Club changed its name to Gays Meeting Gays Southwest (GMG Southwest) in order to update and refresh the group.  Eventually GMG Southwest merged with 3Ms (Men Meeting Men), a supper group started by John Bescoby after he resigned as chair of Gay West, to form GMG Southwest, a social group which is still active today (2022).

Although there was initially a certain amount of friendly rivalry with Gay West, the oldest social group in the area, many gay men attended both groups and relations between the two groups later became more cooperative.  Chris heard at one stage that Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard was in debt and so started collecting money at the coffee evenings.  Eventually, he raised some £5,000 for Switchboard.

Chris’s Coffee Club is important as an example of how, as the result of the initiative of initially one person, later supplemented by a range of co-operative friends, gay people were able to form friendship networks which acted as a sort of extended family.  It enabled some men to come out and people still talk of the intense friendships they formed through the group.

Chris was a great bear of a man, sufficiently laid back to put up with the quirks of large numbers of people visiting his home but determined to make the coffee evening a success.  He was forthright in his views but kept his friends because of the strength of his personality.

In later years, he suffered from diabetes and had both his legs amputated but bore his difficulties with great fortitude, keeping active thanks to a specially fitted car and a mobility scooter.  On 14 November 2018 Chris had a fall causing a head injury and had a long spell in hospital partly in a medically induced coma, followed by time spent in three nursing homes, before he was able to return home.    He died on 28 September 2021.

Robert Howes, 2022