Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wildeblood & a very British sex scandal

A VERY BRITISH SEX SCANDAL, 2007. Life could be grim for homosexuals in '50s Britain and USA, where they were seen as security risks if in high office, blackmail was rife and if incriminating letters were found ... so they had to be very discreet. A holiday weekend at the estate of Lord Beaulieu in 1952 will have repercussions for four men, leading eventually to the Wolfenden Report and the 1967 changes in the law.

Putting this in context, being in my mid-teens around 1960 I came across the name of Peter Wildeblood and that sensational court case in 1954 where he and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu were tried for gross indecency in one of the British legal system's frequent attempts to clampdown on homosexuality, an almost unmentionable subject back then - trying to find out more about it was difficult. Other famous cases in the '50s  against gays were John Gielgud's arrest in '53 and Alan Turing's ....  while other notorious types like MP Tom Driberg and Lord Boothby were able to get away with it by their sheer chutzpah.

Then the Sixties began:  the 2 Oscar Wilde films appeared in 1960, Bogarde's VICTIM in 1961,  and the Profumo case would have us all engrossed, including teenage me, in 1963. A year later in 1964, I arrived aged 18 new in London, and already changes were in the air: signs like "No Blacks, No Irish" were being swept away; subtle gay contact ads were published in "Fiilms & Filming" magazine, Swinging London was about to happen, the Beatles made long hair and looking mod fashionable (not so gay looking anymore) and young gays went about their daily lives unbothered by the antiquated laws which were about to change, as they did in 1967 - when we were bopping to Tamla Motown in the new clubs like Le Deuce in Soho. I spent a weekend in Hastings with a friend, which  turned out to be the weekend Joe Orton was killed by his lover Kenneth Halliwell - it was in all the papers (I had seen his play LOOT a few months earlier).  Good to see that Wildeblood continued working as a campaigner until his death in 1999. His book "Against The Law" is still in print and available, I shall be reading it before too long ... he wrote some novels too.

Our enterprising Channel 4 ran a series on gay themes back in 2007 - to celebrate 40 years since that 1967 law decriminalising private gay behaviour. A VERY BRITISH SCANDAL was a fascinating docu-drama on the court case, mixing in reconstructions with talking heads of older gay men recalling their experiences at the time. I missed this programme at the time, but thanks to my good friend Colin, have now been able to catch up with it. Martin Hutson makes a fascinating Peter Wildeblood, and Orlando Wells (Susannah York's son) plays Lord Montagu, who always maintained his innocence. Karl Davies is also good here. Martin Hutson should surely be a lot better known, I see he has been busy in the theatre a lot, as actor and director.
Reading the two reviews on it over at IMDB, one of them is by my friend Martin Bradley, I think his comments sum it all up perfectly:

This docu-drama may err more on the side of docu than drama but it is nevertheless pertinent, beautifully made and ultimately very moving. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it tells the story of the famous Lord Montagu trial in the early fifties when a peer of the realm and a well-known British journalist were arrested and tried for gross indecency. The high-profile nature of the trial in turn lead to the establishment of the Wolfenden Committee and ultimately to the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

Peter Wildeblood
Part history lesson, part polemic and part love story Reams' film shows just how terrible life could be for practicing homosexuals in the 1950's. It may all seem a lifetime away from today when gay role-models now seem to be ten-a-penny, (young gays may wonder what all the fuss is about), yet it is films like this that make us realize just who are heroes are and the debt we owe to men like Peter Wildeblood, the journalist in question who sealed his fate by admitting his homosexuality in court.

Alternating between a dramatization of events and a 'talking heads' approach in which elderly gay men who were either directly caught up in the events or simply remembered them talk directly to the camera, it is never less than engrossing. At times I found it deeply depressing but ultimately it is both uplifting and deeply moving and a credit to everyone involved.

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