Thursday, 27 July 2017

Who was more influential - Wolfenden or his son who wore make-up?



The media has gone mad for gays lately!

Of course, it's all because of a small matter that happened fifty years ago - the (partial) decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. As we are all to well aware, "celebration" is perhaps not necessarily the right way to approach the subject, given the fact that there were many decades of strife to follow that one momentous Act of Parliament, and the fact that this ground-breaking piece of legislation had such a long and drawn-out birth that began a decade earlier...

From a Guardian article by Geraldine Bedell in 2007:
In the mid-1950s, there was an atmosphere of a witch-hunt (probably not unrelated to what was happening in America with McCarthy), with consequent opportunities for blackmail. Leo Abse, who eventually piloted the Sexual Law Reform Act through Parliament, recalls that, as a lawyer in Cardiff, his fees from criminals suddenly all started coming from the account of one man. He investigated and found he was "a poor vicar. The bastards were bleeding him. I sent for one of the criminals and told him if I had another cheque from this man, I'd get him sent down for 10 years. I sent for the vicar and told him to come to me if they approached him again."

MPs on both sides of the House began to demand action. One or two newspapers ran leaders. And then there was another high-profile case in which the police were called on one matter and ended up prosecuting another. Edward Montagu, later Lord Beaulieu, contacted the police over a stolen camera and ended up in prison for a year for gross indecency. Two of his friends, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood, got 18 months. Their trial in 1954 probably played into the decision of the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, to establish the Wolfenden Committee to consider whether a change in the law was necessary.

As Lord Kilmuir, Maxwell-Fyfe led the opposition to law reform in the Lords, so it was ironic that he started the process. Perhaps he thought, by handing over to a committee, to shelve the issue. Perhaps he assumed Wolfenden would find against, in which case, he chose a curious chairman, because Wolfenden had a gay son, Jeremy. [Pioneering gay rights activist] Antony Grey told me that when Wolfenden accepted the job, he wrote to Jeremy saying "it would be better if he weren't seen around him too often in lipstick and make-up".

[Fellow pioneer and "founding father" of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality] Allan Horsfall believes homosexuality was tacked on very late in the day to the business of a committee that had already been set up to look into the legal status of prostitution. (Certainly, its remit covered both; its findings were popularly referred to as The Vice Report.) That would make sense of the choice of chairman, although it is also possible that, given the secretive atmosphere of the time, Maxwell-Fyfe didn't know Wolfenden had a son who wore make-up.

The Wolfenden Committee sat for three years and recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be illegal. Setting the tone for the discussion about law reform that would follow, it made no attempt to argue that homosexuality wasn't immoral, only that the law was impractical. The age of consent should, in the committee's view, be set at 21 (it was 16 for heterosexuals). The weedy reasoning behind this was that young men left the control of their parents for university or national service. In fact, it seems to have reflected a general prejudice that homosexuals were even more simple-minded than girls.
It took ten years before the findings of the Wolfenden Report were finally passed into law with the Sexual Offences Act of 1967.

In today's Guardian, our esteemed pal and "gay rights spokesman", Polari host Paul Burston takes up the baton - from the perspective of someone who, like me, came out in the mid-80s when things were still far from "reformed":
There was a lot to be angry about in the mid-80s. The age of consent for gay men was 21, which meant the law was being broken on a regular basis. Section 28, with which the Thatcher government outlawed the promotion of homosexuality in schools, was just around the corner. And soon a big disease with a little name would claim the lives of many of my closest friends.

Around this time I had a friend called Tom, who was in his 60s and who would often tell me tales of life before the 1967 act. He and his partner had been together for many years but slept in two separate single beds. As he told me, “You could be put in prison just for loving someone.” The day the act was passed he and his partner went out and bought a double bed. Every time he told me this story, my eyes would fill with tears.

It’s a commonly held misconception that the 1967 act legalised male homosexuality. It didn’t. It partially decriminalised it under certain conditions. In the years that followed, gay sexuality was policed more aggressively than before and the number of men arrested for breaching those conditions actually rose considerably. As research conducted by Peter Tatchell recently found, in 1966 some 420 men were convicted of the gay crime of gross indecency. By 1974, that number had soared by more than 300% to over 1,700 convictions.

Policing in the 80s and early 90s was virulently homophobic, whipped up by hysteria around AIDS and gay-baiting newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and News of the World. Manchester’s police chief, James Anderton, penned a tabloid column about AIDS in which he described gay men as “swirling in a human cesspit of their own making”. Gay saunas were raided. “Disorderly house” charges were pressed against gay bars and nightclubs. At the Royal Vauxhall Tavern one night there was a raid by police wearing rubber gloves. The drag queen Lily Savage – also known as Paul O’Grady – encouraged everyone to resist arrest.

I’m not saying that the 1967 Act wasn’t revolutionary. In many ways it was. For men such as my old friend Tom, it meant a change of life. Finally he got to sleep with his partner in a double bed!

But it was also very limited. It allowed the law to go on punishing us for things heterosexuals took for granted – the freedom to have sex at 16, the freedom to express our love in public, the freedom to be ourselves.
Regardless of hindsight, July 1967 was a momentous moment in time for our gay forefathers in the UK half a century ago, and to that I raise a toast!

But what else was in the news at the time? The Vietnam War (of course) continued to occupy the headlines, as did the Cold War (with worsening relations between Russia and China); the first UK colour television broadcasts begin on BBC2; the Nigerian civil war led to dreadful famine in its formerly secessionist state of Biafra; British Steel was nationalised; and race riots swept across the USA, leaving hundreds dead or wounded.

This was (apparently) "The Summer of Love", and the music scene was dominated by the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper, The Doors and myriad "hippie" tunes. In the UK charts this very week in 1967, All You Need is Love was at #1, and Scott MacKenzie, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, The Turtles and Small Faces were all present and correct; also in the running were more "mainstream" artists such as Lulu, Engelbert Humperdinck, Sandie Shaw and the Johnny Mann Singers.

But, held off the top only by the Fab Four was this unabashedly camp number (which I imagine loads of gay boys were singing as they toasted the Sexual Offences Act with several large glasses of Blue Nun) - it's house fave here at Dolores Delargo Towers, Miss Vikki Carr!


I tell myself what's done is done
I tell myself don't be a fool
Play the field have a lot of fun
It's easy when you play it cool

I tell myself don't be a chump
Who cares, let him stay away
That's when the phone rings and I jump
And as I grab the phone I pray

Let it please be him, oh dear God
It must be him or I shall die
Or I shall die
Oh hello, hello my dear God
It must be him but it's not him
And then I die
That's when I die

After a while, I'm myself again
I take the pieces off the floor
Put my heart on the shelf again
You'll never hurt me any more

I'm not a puppet on a string
I'll find somebody else someday
That's when the phone rings, and once again
I start to pray

Let it please be him, oh dear God
It must be him , it must be him
or I shall die, Or I shall die
Oh hello, hello my dear God
It must be him but it's not him
And then I die
That's when I die

6 comments:

  1. I loved that this song played a delightful part in the film, Moonstruck.

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  2. I haven't read your post yet but I will, but is that a real mag at the top? I hope it was/is, especially if it features the Groovy Adventures of Jo Grant (Katy Manning has to count as a gay icon surely - she was Liza minnelli's best friend at school, and her first words to her were"Do you like boys? Let's go to the cafe at lunch and we can look at boys.")

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    1. Unless Liza went to school in Guildford, I doubt any of that is true. Jx

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  3. They are friends! Go on YouTube and find Ruby Wax's interview with Liza! Liza doesn't contradict Katy at any point, so if it isn't true then Katy Manning clearly hangs around Liza's house pretending they've been long-term friends and Liza never questions it

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    1. I remember that hilarious Ruby Wax Meets Liza programme, when she waited around for three days before Liza and Katy turned up, off their tits! Car crash TV...

      I know they are long-term friends - but it was from teenage when they both went to an "academy for young ladies" (finishing school). Well that didn't work out too well, methinks. Jx

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