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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Proclamations of the Red Queen

28th March 2008

History: Peer Shaped? (UK, 1953)

Posted by: Craig Young

As fellow Gaynz.Com blogger David Herkt has covered one case of public sex and police entrapment in the earlier sixties, I thought I’d provide a similar British case, albeit one of higher public significance.

In 1953, the liberal New Statesman and Observer fought the police, judiciary and legal profession over whether or not male homosexuality should remain criminalised, following the apprehension of Sir John Gielgud, then recently knighted, on October 21, 1953. The embarrassed Gielgud pleaded inebriation, and was let off with a stern warning from the magistrate to consult his doctor, and fined the relatively modest sum of ten pounds for “drunk and disorderly” conduct.

At the time, Gielgud was appearing in West End live theatre, and was about to star in a Hollywood production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Quality and tabloid media treated the issue differently, as the aforementioned two liberal stalwart quality publications wondered if Britain should follow France’s Napoleonic Code lead and decriminalise male homosexuality, while moralist tabloid hacks in the Sunday Express, Daily Mail, News of the World and Sunday Pictorial  all wanted Gielgud humiliated and subjected to exemplary punishment. The House of Lords and baser elements of the judiciary agreed, and applauded judges who punished working class infringers of entrapment laws with three year prison sentences, although the Anglican Church of that time was divided between fundamentalists and liberal reformers, as has always been the case. It was to be another three years before the Wolfenden Committee was convened to address issues related to the decriminalisation of male homosexuality and prostitution.

Patrick Higgins: Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain: London: Fourth Estate: 1996.

Tags: General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Paul // Mar 30, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    In 1953 the UK was in the grip of a general post war crime wave and a major clampdown on homosexual clubs and gatherings. We survived by subverting the BBC and advertising gay parties as ‘ruby weddings’ on Housewive’s Choice, which unwittingly gave out the addresses of the parties. These requests were always for the same record: I enjoy being a girl, by Doris Day.

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