The practice of the gratuitous insertion of pictures of young, attractive, semi-naked women in a newspaper. The trope is named after British tabloid newspaper The Sun, which had a long tradition of putting an attractive topless woman in page 3 of the paper.
While the trope can be seen in many newspapers in many countries around the world (some buried on page 5 or 7, others right on the cover), the Sun is the Trope Codifier, and most references to the trope will be to the way the Sun did it. The Sun had a collection of "Page Three Girls", one of whom will pose topless on page 3 nearly every daynote for no discernible reason. Sure, sometimes there will be an "excuse", but they tend tend to cover all the bases (e.g. "it's hot out, let's beat the heat" contrasted with "it's cold out, she's here to warm you up") or even be mutually exclusive (e.g. "England have won, let's celebrate" contrasted with "England have lost, she's here to cheer you up"). She's Always Female — there's no "Page Three Fella" (aside from a brief experiment on page 7 in The '80s). She's accompanied by a quote from her on the issue of the day, which is clearly not her own (and which, by extraordinary coincidence, will invariably agree with the Sun's right-wing editorial stance) — they've evolved from the banal (e.g. Alan Davies' "Jenny from Exeter thinks that war is bad") to the frankly absurd over the years.
Famous examples of Page Three Girls include Jordan a.k.a. Katie Price (who was "retired" from Page Three for getting breast implants, which the Sun doesn't allow); Samantha Fox, from the early days (who sang a bit too and later came out as a lesbian); Marina Baker (former Playboy Playmate-turned-journalist-politician-environmental activist, practicing Wiccan, and author of several books on white magic), and Helen Flanagan (professional Ms. Fanservice and Coronation Street graduate, who posed once in 2013).
The girls are unfortunately not treated particularly well. They're obviously highly sexualised and somewhat dehumanized — they rarely even get the dignity of a last name ("Jenny from Exeter" again being how they're usually referred) unless they're particularly famous. Models used to be as young as 16 before laws were changed to raise the minimum age (and it wasn't unheard of for the paper to show a topless 16-year-old and elsewhere editorialize against a public figure for their sexual interest in teenagers). And it's basically a truism that no model is over 29 — therefore, the girls tend to get booted out the minute they turn 30.note "Aftercare" to former models is generally believed to be nonexistent; for example, longtime Page Three Girl Jane Warner — who was exceptionally attractive and graced Page Three for as long as she could, from ages 16 to 29 — couldn't handle life afterwards and descended into outright prostitution and drug abuse, but the Sun did nothing for her and outright used her plight as content for its own tabloid peddling.
Naturally, this sort of thing riles up a lot of people calling for it to be banned, with feminists at the forefront. One of the most famous anti-Page Three activists is MP Clare Short, who was so persistent that the Sun tried to retaliate by getting a hold of her ex and trying to extract a topless picture of her (all they got was a picture of her in her nightie and a severe rap from the UK's Press Complaints Commission) and hiring a new 19-year-old Page Three model also named Clare Short.
In the end, the Sun stopped the practice in 2015, not really because of the controversy surrounding it, but mostly because the Internet has provided voluminous (and free) competition for ogling women, and it just wasn't worth it anymore.
The phenomenon is, of course, not limited to the Sun. Even (slightly) more "respectable" British Newspapers like The Daily Mail have done it, less often and with less exposure, and often of more "mainstream" celebrities, but with the same spurious reasoning (the Mail once did a spread on boots by featuring a model wearing only boots). On the other side of the spectrum is the Sunday Sport (or whatever they're calling it these days), which is famous for having at least one pair of boobs on every page and publishing a running "nipple count" in every issue.
In fact, although it's considered a British trope, there's a "Page Three" analogue in much of the rest of the world, although they don't do it exactly the same way. Continental Europe has the most, as they're probably the least shy about showing some skin. Austria and Denmark have "Page Nine Girls". Germany has "Page One Girls", but the pictures are (mostly) placed below the fold. In Portugal, Correio da Manhã dispensed altogether with Page Three Stunnas but sometimes distributes free DVDs of hardcore porn. Almost every Brazilian tabloid has a half-naked woman on the cover. In contrast, American tabloids are much stricter — only a few even have Stunnas, and even they keep the bikini tops. The U.S. and Canada have much more prevalent Moral Guardians (and their tabloids tend to be aimed at middle-aged housewives who often count themselves among said guardians) — but they do also have Victoria's Secret models, the more specialized men's magazines like Maxim and Playboy, and the much older tradition of World War II "pinup girls", whose pictures were distributed to GIs to... relieve tension.
- A subtle reference appears in Ultimate X-Men. Jean boasts that she and Storm made pages one, two and three of Britain's biggest-selling paper, while holding up a copy of The Sun. Main Headline — "X-Babes Smash Real IRA Plot".
- In Good Omens, Newton Pulsifer, in his role as a witchfinder, has to count the nipples of each model to ensure they don't have too many.
- One of the Discworld books suggests that a picture of a Goddess should be moved to "page three", because she's wearing half a toga.
- In Filth, Bruce often takes a copy of the Sun to the bathroom for some alone time.
- Sugar Walls a.k.a. Sharon LaHughes from Gimme, Gimme, Gimme is famous for being a celebrity who poses in her underwear and topless in newspapers (although not named, you can guess after reading this page what some of those newspapers were). Tom and Linda (secretly, her older sister) are disgusted by it and slut shame her behind her back.
- The Muppet Show, while ostensibly an American program, was actually filmed in the UK and includes a subtle reference to this in the George Burns episode. As part of an "ambush interview", gossip columnist Fleet Scribbler mentions to Miss Piggy that his paper was thinking of doing a photo spread of her, "something for Page Three". Needless to say, that joke was probably lost on the American audience.
- One appears in Waterloo Road as a former pupil of the school.
- Whatever It Takes is an average ITV one-off drama about a trainee police officer who gets caught having sex with a footballer and becomes one of these, suffering the full effects of celebrity. She is "replaced" by another one, oddly enough played by an actress who had been in Waterloo Road.
- From A Bit of Fry and Laurie:
- Yes Prime Minister:
Hacker: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
- In "A Conflict of Interest", Hacker claims to know exactly who reads each British Newspaper (also the source of the page quote):
Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.
- Hacker's daughter has gotten worked up about endangered wildlife and is planning a nude protest. He laments that the stunt will get her onto the front page of the paper — "and probably page three as well".
- The The West Wing episode "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" featured a Russian journalist at the White House asking Toby for press credentials because her work was brutally censored by the Russian government. This was true — but while Toby assumed it was because she dared to criticize an oppressive government, it was actually because she ran a newspaper that put naked women on every page (and also engaged in other putrid yellow journalism). Toby gives her the credentials but viciously lambastes her for wasting what little press freedom her country offers her on such trash.
- In The Vicar of Dibley, Owen photographs Brenda the barmaid as a Stunna for the village newsletter. She's 65. Exaggerated Trope as he also includes a "Page Four girl" (her mother) and a "Page Five girl" (her aunt's mother, who has recently died).
- Australian comedy series Fast Forward had a spoof where media mogul Rupert Murdoch takes over the Daily Planet, promising "Page Three girls on every page!"
- Lola Quinn, the victim in the London-set Elementary episode "The Further Adventures", is a glamour model who mostly appears in tabloids like this. It's suggested the paper in which she appears is the last one in the UK to still have this feature because the owner is secretly Lola's mother and doesn't want to put her out of work.
- In one episode of the satirical Brit Com Hot Metal, an unscrupulous publisher tries to spice up Page Three by introducing "Wobblevision" - a variation on stereoscopic 3-d which involves the use of special glasses with movable tabs. When the tabs are slid back and forth while viewing Page Three, the models' breasts appear to wobble. Eventually the Ministry of Health bans Wobblevision on the grounds that it really can make you go blind.
- Being a parody of sensationalistic tabloid papers, the Weekly World News featured a "Page Five Girl".
- Mentioned in the Tom Robinson Band song "(Sing If You're) Glad to be Gay":
Pictures of naked young women are fun
In Titbits and Playboy, Page Three of the Sun
There's no nudes in Gay News or One magazine
But they still find excuses to call it obscene
- The Beatles' "Polythene Pam", most likely:
She's the kind of a girl that makes The News of the World
Yes, you could say she was attractively built
- Fall Out Boy's "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs":
I only think in form of crunching numbers
In hotel rooms
Collecting Page Six lovers
- Referred to in Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week" from My Aim Is True:
- Rock Star Ate My Hamster has The Stun, whose in-game representation pictures a topless girl on the front page when the top story isn't about a rock star. Issues also occasionally advertise a contest to win a night out with a Page Three girl.