Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Prime Minister's Ironing Board And Other State Secrets: EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT!!

Let’s Not Talk About The Queers 1954

An ironing board, pictured recently.
Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe brought an awkward problem to the cabinet in February 1954: the proposal for a Royal commission to look into both “the prevalence of prostitution” and “the unexplained increase in homosexual offences [which] constituted a serious social problem which the Government could not ignore.”

To press his case, Maxwell Fyfe distributed a secret report amongst his colleagues. It revealed that the number of “unnatural offences of the gravest kind (sodomy and bestiality)”, along with other offences like gross indecency, had risen “between four-fold and five-fold over pre-war figures.” Actually, the surge in prosecutions for gay sex was all too explicable: the Met had got into the habit of sending their prettiest policemen into public toilets to flirt with strangers and then slap handcuffs on those who responded. The freshly-knighted actor Sir John Gielgud had been caught that way the previous year and charged with “importuning for immoral purposes”, a case which, along with the high-profile jailing of Lord Montague of Beaulieu and two friends after a pair of RAF men testified against them in return for their own immunity from prosecution, had helped force the government into reviewing the situation. Maxwell Fyfe was quick to make clear to his colleagues that “although he himself doubted the expediency of amending the existing law on this subject, it must be recognised that many responsible people believed that homosexual practices between adult males should not constitute a criminal offence.”

The Home Secretary’s preferred course of action was to leave the law as it was – he had told the Commons the previous December that “homosexuals are a danger to others and so long as I hold the office of Home Secretary I shall give no countenance to the view that they should not be prevented from being such a danger.” Instead, he wanted to concentrate on trying to force gay lawbreakers to, well, stop being so gay. Although he admitted that “experience shows that only a minority of homosexual offenders are likely to benefit by psychiatric treatment,” he nevertheless concluded that “there may be some scope for development here, particularly when it is possible to open the new institution for mentally abnormal offenders… I think that the most profitable line of development is to improve, so far as finances permit, the facilities for the treatment of homosexuals sentenced by the courts.” Four months after this was written, the war hero, codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing killed himself after the experimental hormonal treatment he was forced to undergo following his own conviction for having a relationship with another man left him impotent and growing breasts.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill favoured another tactic: to not talk about it and pretend it wasn’t happening. After due thought, he announced the following month that “in his view, the prudent course would be to take no action save to encourage a Private Member to introduce in the House of Commons, under the ten-minute rule, a Bill designed to prohibit the publication of detailed information of criminal prosecutions for homosexual offences.” Maxwell Fyfe, however, “pointed out that such legislation, even if it had the effect of allaying public anxiety about homosexuality, would make no contribution whatever towards a solution of the problem of prostitution. This, in his view, was the more urgent and obvious problem.”

Bring back National Service!
Bananas look like cocks.
One of the reasons put before the cabinet that March as to why action was becoming urgent was that “Lord Winterton had been anxious to raise these questions in a debate in the House of Lords… he could not be prevented indefinitely from doing so.” On 19th May it proved impossible to hold him back any longer: the former cabinet minister stood up in the Lords to denounce “the filthy, disgusting, unnatural vice of homosexuality” and demand that rather than focus on “whether or not the law should be changed in favour of homosexuals”, the government concentrate instead on “the moral issue of how a further rise in criminal vice can be prevented.” He went on to claim to have been reliably informed that “there was no ground whatsoever for saying that it was true that adult homosexualists did not attack children” and that “homosexuals, being admittedly peculiar and in many cases vain creatures, glory in a prison sentence as a form of deterrent.” Winterton, whose political career had kicked off when he was elected as an MP way back in 1904, died five years before homosexuality was legalised, railing against “pansies” and the “propansy press” all the way.

But he was fighting a losing battle. Maxwell Fyfe announced the creation of a Royal Commission under the leadership of university Vice-Chancellor Sir John Wolfenden that August. Wolfenden may have insisted on referring to the subjects of his three-year study not as homosexual offences and prostitution but as Huntley and Palmers, to spare the blushes of the female secretaries to his committee, but he did come up with the proposal that same-sex activity should be legalised in private for men over 21 (it took a further decade for this to be made law). That age was picked on partly “so as to exclude National Servicemen,” which suggests that legislators found a man in uniform so irresistible that they couldn’t imagine them possibly being able to keep their hands off each other. 

From a new book by Adam Macqueen (clue's in the name) of Private Eye fame.
Probably the most amusing and revealing book about British politics since Margaret Thatcher's tell-all bonkbusting memoir The Downing Street Years.

Full disclosure: Fagburn has not been paid for this promotion, but is hoping for a blowie.

PS I only learnt yesterday that the Private Eye offices are next door to Candy Bar.
That London is so so gay (and lesbian)!

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