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London and gayness September 16, 2005

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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No, this isn’t a guide to Old Compton Street and its best haunts. This is in reaction to the still I used from Victim posted on Blognor Regis (and thank you to that site’s owner for making a better version of the still available in the comments to the same post). As Mark originally said in his post, it’s

A superb thriller and historical document based around an important issue of the day.

That reminded me of a book I recently read of a true case on a very similar subject, though events happened a bit earlier, in the mid-50s. Peter Wildeblood’s Against the Law is an interesting account not just because it describes that nice old polite gentlemanly England that Victim does, but also because it contains surprising views (e.g. that no-one gave a toss about Wildeblood’s homosexuality in prison) (there’s a lovely scene in the film, by the way, where Bogarde’s 200-year-old clerk, who’s worked for him for ever, understands his boss is gay; his reaction is so wonderfully loyal and understated), is further proof that some people find something bordering on happiness in prison (Theodore Dalrymple has written on this; can’t be bothered to look for a link just now), portrays the underground way in which homosexuals had to live back then and, last but not least, gives us the whole legal rigmarole of being prosecuted for homosexual offences. But the really admirable thing, in my view, which I’d no doubt be called a dinosaur for in this day and age, is that NOT ONCE in this book does Wildeblood moan about his lot. I can’t help finding that dashing and heroic. I’m not saying he says, “I’m a whoopsy and deserve everything I got,” but he fought his corner honestly and openly and dealt with his lot admirably.

I tend to think of myself as a bit of a non-political queen these days which comes from the luxury of having been born much later than Mr. Wildeblood. That is my good fortune and I don’t think I need apologise for not going and blowing my whistle more frequently. It’s still fun, though, when one occasionally bumps into a much older queen who tells you of days gone by. A good friend of mine recently met a gay couple aged 67 and 85 who’d been together for 47 years. They plan to dash and register their relationship as soon as they can (in the UK) in December this year. They were astonished when my (much younger) friend said he didn’t know if he and his boyfriend would bother to do likewise. But they had grown up in a generation where they had a genuine fight on their hands and think they have a point to prove come December. (It also helps that they’re loaded and don’t fancy giving a good chunk of their money to the taxman when one of them dies.)

Another fascinating book covering pre-Wolfenden gaiety is Sebastian Faulks’s The Fatal Englishman. The third of his three fatal Englishmen is none other than Jack Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, who, one way or another, because of his gayness or not, drank himself to death in December 1965. An extraordinary life with extraordinary details (Douglas Hurd’s fag at Eton, chaperoned by KGB boy Vladimir Pozner (now a Russian TV star) when first in Moscow). His father’s report did eventually lead to homosexuality being decriminalised, of course. The irony there, though this was just intial fervour, I suppose, was that more people were prosecuted for homosexual offences immediately after decriminalisation than were before.

In any case, they’re two gripping reads (and the film’s a gripping watch), showing a bygone age that you can’t help feeling just a bit of a yearning for.

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