Front page of the Australian newspaper “The Truth”, 18th June, 1942.
Front page of the Australian newspaper “The Truth”, 18th June, 1942.
A question for you guys out there – are you finding men’s underwear really uncomfortable these days?
There seems to have become, amongst designers and manufacturers, this obsession with “emphasising” underwear. Now, I don’t know about you, but in my day-to-day life, just running around doing the mundane everyday things, I don’t really stop to think “is anybody looking at how big my clock looks in these undies?”. Add to this some really strange fabrics to make them from, and you have the perfect recipe for uncomfortable undies. There is simply no worst scenario than walking along a crowded street and realising that you either have to pull your briefs out of your bum crack, or you need to rearrange the jiggly bits…including having to hoy your balls back in after a fallout! Next time you see a guy furtively ducking into a dark lane way, or hiding in a doorway…ask yourself…does he have to rearrange?
It seems that just about every pair of briefs you buy these day has to have instructions on how to put them on. There is a whole world of special pouches, holes, double linings, and specially sewn front panels to navigate when you put them on! Push down, pull up, manipulate, mould, insert here, put this bit here and that bit there – it’s a world of intricacy! Bad waistbands that are either too wide (and act like corsets), too narrow, too loose or too tight. Fabric mixtures that are too smooth and slinky, or just seem to…embarrassingly…just…smelly! And all for what!
If you already married or partnered, then your other half already knows how big – or small – you are, so you are going through a lot of discomfort for nothing. If you are looking for a partner, or a pick up…is it a good idea to falsely advertise! Let’s face it…sooner or later the briefs are off, and the truth is just sitting there (or otherwise). And how do you go about hiding your excitement at the thought of some potential rummy-pumpy? In the old days, you’d just jiggle it down your trouser leg, but with these new-fangled undies, well…there it is! Hello world…I have a hard-on!
They are just not working for me. I’m sick of looking like a dirty old man, constantly fiddling with myself when I realise the head is caught in an uncomfortable position!
About 12 months ago, I went back to cotton classic y-fronts. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am seeing many photos of guys in the same, in my Insta feed. And a lot of them are young guys…the ones I would expect to see in Andrew Christian. I know that classic y-fronts have an image problem! There are associations with fathers and uncles, high school locker rooms, and conservative ads. There is an image of oldish men with their undies midway up their chest, looking remarkably unsexy. But that image is slowly being turned around as it becomes more obvious that they are not going to be pushed out of our wardrobe by those cock emphasising youngsters.
I don’t want undies midway up my chest, in “dad” style. I’m getting on…but not that much. To counteract that really bad look, I’ve gone down a size when buying them. And it works. Sits them very nicely just above the hips. They are roomy enough to do this, and in the case of American “Jockey” (as distinct from Australian “Jockey” – yes, there is a difference!), you get some shrinkage with the first wash.
And I have to say – America wins hands down in the y-front stakes. “Hanes”, “Jockey”, “Fruit of the Loom”, ‘Polo Ralph Lauren”, “BVD” (have to be bought from Asia now), “Roundtree and Yorke”, “Stafford”, “Calvin Klein”, “Tommy Hilfiger”, “Lee”, “Gildan”, “2Xist’, and “Dockers”…along with many others, gives a great choice to those considering an undie rethink. Even contemporary labels like “Box” and “Aussiebum” are putting them out. All these brands fit well,in a smaller size. Australia does its own “Jockey” (the branding on the waistband is in grey…black in America…and our fabric is a softer, smoother cotton than the weave of the American), and we also do a very cool “Teamm8”, not forgetting our traditional “Bonds” with the horizontal fly, labelled as a S’port brief).
My biggest disappointments have been the British y-fronts. I’ve tried 3 brands so far, and they have ALL had the same problem – the bias binding on the leg bands. Within an hour of wearing them, the leg bands have stretched…and I’m falling out of them!
Do they have sex appeal? Am I ashamed to drop my duds when wearing them? Yes, they are sexy, and the number of guys who find y-fronts a fetish is quite staggering. No, I am not ashamed to be caught in them. They cling where they should cling, and definitely show off ones merchandise with no uncomfortable contraptions. They sit comfortably on the hips…and you are totally unaware of their presence when going about your everyday affairs.
In a word…they are just damn comfortable!
Sometimes it pays to look back instead of forward. For those who feel a need to twist and manipulate their bits into junk-emphasising undies…you are welcome to them! But this guy is proudly striding out in his y-fronts!
Tim Alderman ©️2019
“People don’t often say what they think but rather what they think is permissible.”
― Michael Rectenwald, Springtime for Snowflakes: Social Justice and Its Postmodern Parentage
“In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
There was a time, not that far a distance past, where we thought social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Smartchat et el were the way of the future, a form of media that would give us all a voice, allow us an opinion on myriad subjects, give us new, fertile ground for debate. Somewhere along the line, that freedom became twisted into silence!
It started simply enough, with memes seeming to do endless loops…for years! Then we had the video clips, often displaying graphic acts of deplorable violence, which also did the rounds regularly, though, oh course, often to a new audience who displayed their abject horror, and commented so, until being told “oh…that old chestnut again! Been doing the rounds for yonks!”. Then, of course, there was all the shit that was just made up, to elicit a response. It was about this time that many of us started to evaluate just how valid and pertinent this new media was. Many users canned the apps at that stage, though a good many more, like me, dithered to leave, due to the amount of contact we had with friends on social media. With the tyranny of distance, it was often the sole point of contact we had.
As a writer, I love the medium for the opportunity it gives me to have an individual voice, to share an opinion, to be, if I choose, controversial, to go against the grain, or step outside the square. My opinions lean left, and no apology is made for that. I believe in social justice, a fair judging for all (provided no harm is perpetrated on others), equality, the separation of church and state (I’m a professed Atheist, but with a tendency towards Buddhism), a fair deal for all through good government, unbiased charities, and the inherent good nature of the majority of people. However, social media is slowly silencing many of my beliefs, forcing me to hold back when I encounter unfairness, prejudice, and hate-speech. It’s turning me into someone I don’t like!
The rot started to set in a few years back! In the first instance, I reposted a meme. The meme held a very pertinent message – lost on me, this far down the line – and had something to do with American Indians, and had the face of one on it. Within minutes, a vehement, aggressive comment was received back from someone on my friends list, stating that it had nothing to do with Indians, that I was being racist, and demanded that I remove it immediately! I remember exactly how I felt when I read the tirade – shocked at the aggression, embarrassed (to the point where I blushed, despite being on my own), belittled, yet furious that someone would dare accuse me of being a racist! But, I was so taken aback by surprise that I made the wrong decision! Instead of replying “No, I won’t”, and sticking to my guns…I deleted it! I remember only too well how angry I felt with myself for days after that, that I’d allowed myself to be bullied by someone I knew. If by standing up for myself they unfriended me, would ai miss them? The trueful answer was…no! And let’s face it – ANY face that wasn’t white would have exhibited that response from THAT person, because they like to be seen as non-judgemental as far as other races go. The hypocrisy is lost on them! As for me? Well, let’s just say…don’t test me!
In the second instance, I liked a Facebook page called Barebackers. My personal opinion on barebacking is that, as two mature, consenting adults, we have every right to make any decisions pertaining to having sex together, ourselves. This particular page never sent out offensive posts, nor did they promote the use of barebacking in posts, though they did send out some quite amusing gay memes. I quite regularly reposted their memes, without any judgement at all…until one point in time! There always has to be one! This particular “friend”…who I didn’t know personally, but was only friended because we had both gone to “Mandate” in Melbourne in the 80s, and had similar memories…took personal offence to the fact that I received posts from a Barebacking page. Not only did he take offence, he reported the page to Facebook, then had the hide to inform me of that fact, along with a tirade about his displeasure. I knew this person had issues from other posts he made, but this was going to far! Not only had he reported a page purely because of its name, despite the inoffensive posts, but was, in effect, dictating to me what I could – or could not – look at, or practise! I wasn’t silent this time! Not only a long, angry comment on him minding his own business, and not inflicting his personal beliefs on others…but I immediately unfriendly him! Goodbye, and good riddance! Facebook did – rightly – absolutely nothing about the page! He has sent me friends requests in the intervening years, but to no avail. Such a betrayal of friendship is unforgivable.
In the third instance, I was walking my dogs one morning in Glebe, and noticed some cottages in one of the local streets that had a frontage no wider than 6-8 feet, with these tiny old houses from another era on them. When I got home, I made an innocuous post about my observation, that the frontages and houses were so narrow that they had to be claustrophobic to live in. That was it! An observation! An abusive comment came back…this time from someone I knew…regarding how first world my opinion was, that there were people in the world who would be more than happy to live in such places etc etc. Again, a reply went back that I had not been making a social statement about the houses, but purely an opinion about them based on what I saw. He unfriendly me this time. Truthfully, I laughed this one off – as did others – as he had a reputation for being self-opinionated, and commenting just to provoke argument! But a point was made…we were not supposed to comment negatively on anything, or comment contrary to commonly held opinions, or be, in any way, an individual with an opinion. The realisation that social media was not a fair-minded or democratic place to be came into being. It changed how I dealt with things, with what I commented on, with how I interacted with people, even those I knew!
Many people take social media way too seriously, and many…too many…post more than they should! It shouldn’t be a medium to discuss personal arguments, obscure comments with no referencing point, and anything about yourself that is a little too personal. Another person on my friends list,- who was there for no other reason that he was friends with others I knew – made a rather heart-wrenching post about himself, perhaps exposing more vulnerability than is healthy! There are times where you should just seek medical help, not rely on social media to diagnose mental or physical problems! Anyway, I was quite touched by his vulnerability, “Liked” the post to acknowledge that I’d read it, then commented sympathetically, and non-judgementally. *Ding* goes Facebook Messenger minutes later. A message from said person! “Gee, thanks for liking my current situation, you fucking arsehole. I hope you have a life of fucking misery. You deserve it. You shallow arsehole”. I was incredulous. I tried a calming response “That’s a bit unfair. A like is a recognition of having read something. I actually empathise with you, and have commented likewise. I’m sorry that you took an actual acknowledgement as an insult!”. I waited…and waited. No response! I was getting a bit cranky by now that he had been so rude, so fired off another response “It seems it was a bit much to expect an apology for an abusive message…to someone you don’t even know! I’ll save you the trouble of doing the obvious”. He then came back with “I’m not apologising. You took pleasure in my suffering”. By now, all empathy and niceness had gone out the window “You’re obviously a self indulgent brat! Goodbye”, and I hit *Block* before he could respond. You just can’t win with some people. Perhaps not surprisingly, I don’t respond to these sorts of posts anymore, no matter how I feel.
So I started – and still do – self-censoring. My posts are pretty bland, and uncontroversial. I often find myself about to comment on a post, then deciding…no! It will only cause an argument! Or worse still…*name* will see the comment, and take it personally! Or *name* will see the comment, and take it the wrong way! So I delete what I was starting to type. It seems as though if I can’t be 100% positive and light-hearted…I just don’t comment! It has also made me realise that I am often way too liberal in maintaining friendships on social media. Some terrible things float through my Facebook feed these days, by people I’ve known for a long time., and who have the ability to shock me with their posts. Prejudice, misogyny, intolerance! There are times when I’m stunned by just how blatant people are on social media…and feel no shame! I don’t “get” how people from a community that is prejudiced against by so many, for so long, can, in turn, be prejudiced against others! It makes no sense.
Like many, it’s not about making a comment, or instigating debate! It’s that fair debate doesn’t happen anymore. We all maintain individual friends lists, and quite often there is no cross-over with friends. So you will comment on a friends post…perhaps not agreeing with their opinion…and the next thing you know, someone who you don’t even know is aggressively throwing in their two cents worth. If you then reply to them, it just gets more aggressive, and you end up just letting it lie because it’s getting out-of-hand!. The other annoying thing is people who take comments off in totally different directions to what the post is about! FFS…stick to the point!
So is social media stifling our individual opinions, causing us to self-censor, to reel in our own opinions even if they are contradictory? Yes, it is! We are even careful about how we use humour now, as it is often taken out of context! Social media has brought out our blandness, forcing us into an unreal world of niceness, and never ending positivity. It has made children out of adults. It is, like the daily news, dumbing us down!
As an intelligent, reasoning adult, I keep telling myself to just quit it. I stopped using Twitter because it is just a nasty bitchfest. I’m moving myself more to Instagram these days, as with a world-wide audience of followers, it tends to not be so judgemental and negative. As stated earlier, I’m loathe to quit Facebook due to my friends there, but having said that, those who actually like or comment on my posts is minimal in number, so maybe I need to reassess my priorities. Maybe I just need to be brutal. Maybe the qualifying question that needs to be asked is…
Are you suffocating my voice!
Tim Alderman ©️2018.
When Ronnie Kray fancied you, you made yourself scarce says veteran entertainer Jess Conrad – Mirror Online
It is pretty hard not to have heard of the Katy twins, Reggie and Ronnie, especially after the film “Legend”. The two London gangsters robbed, bashed and murdered their way through the London underworld in the 60s, and owned and ran a string of nightclubs and protection rackets.
As boys in 1940s England, Ronald and Reginald Kray were wartime evacuees. They called Bethnal Green home, had a dog named Freda, an older brother named Charlie, and a sister who died as a baby.
No strangers to malfeasance, the two got started early, racking up a lengthy rap sheet before they could even order a pint. Violence, gang activity, and running from the law were all just after-school activities for the twins. They even knocked a police constable around and were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London—two of the last inmates to be locked up in the infamous facility.
In the early 1950s, the Kray twins displayed a talent for boxing as young men. Reggie was a particularly potent force in the ring. Yet a life of crime kept calling them back. So a life of crime it was.
Glamorous as they were, trouble loomed in the shadows. Ronnie was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1959, a disorder that came to haunt him in the coming years. After helping a criminal associate named Frank “The Mad Axeman” Mitchell escape prison in December 1966, the brothers struggled to keep their newly freed friend under control and allegedly had him killed. Ronnie had a thing for orgies mixed with politics and carried on an affair with Tory peer Lord Boothby. And while Ronnie was known as “The Queen Mother” in London’s gay underworld, they both had alleged bisexual tendencies. Reggie married a woman named Frances Shea in 1965, though the tumultuous relationship allegedly involved Reggie’s attempted rape of his wife’s brother.
It is rumoured that both brothers had gay sex encounters, though Reggie has been labelled more as a bisexual than a gay male. In a Mirror (UK) article dated 31 August, 2015, Deputy Features Editor, Steve Myall, headlined an article claiming that the brothers had had secret gay sex with each other. The eye-opening revelation was made by author John Pearson, who interviewed them both. “Ronnie and Reggie Kray had a secret incestuous relationship with each other (as they were growing up) so criminal rivals would not discover they were gay”, he claimed. The cruel and violent East End pair were terrified of coming out (as gay). He further revealed “They were worried that rivals would see their sexuality – Ronnie was a homosexual and Reggie was bisexual – as a sign of weakness so only had sex with each other in order to keep the secret”.
It has long been known that Ronnie was a homosexual and Reggie was bisexual but the news they had a sexual relationship with each other gives a telling insight into their close connection. John said the pair were spoilt by their mother Violet, Grandma Lee and their two aunties, May and Rose, while their father was soon dominated by the increasingly violent brothers.
He says while he knew about the the incest he waited until the brothers were both dead before revealing it for fear of retribution. John wrote: “All of which conformed, of course, to a classic pattern; and with their warm, indulgent mother, their ineffectual father, and their surrounding cast of loving women, it was not surprising that, with adolescence, the Twins discovered that they were gay“. The brothers ran a notorious criminal network in the 1960s building up an empire of nightclubs though hijacking, armed robbery and arson. As they moved from the East End to the West End they became big names, rubbing shoulders with Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and being photographed by David Bailey.
But onto Ronnie.
Veteran entertainer Jess Conrad was a young man in London and in awe of the Kray twins and recalls the fear they instilled, the protection they offered to stars like Barbara Windsor and Diana Dors and a very strange gig in Broadmoor Prison.
Ronnie Kray was a predatory homosexual who terrified young men in Soho in the 1960s so much they hid when they knew he was coming. According to legendary singer and actor Jess Conrad, who knew the Kray twins well, good looking young men used to vanish for fear of catching Ronnie’s eye and being invited back to “a party”. He said: “You had to keep your wits about you if you were a young man and Ronnie really fancied you. Word used to go out that the Krays were on their way to a certain pub and all the good looking boys used to piss off. Because otherwise if he asked you to go back to the house you had to go back and that was it“.
It’s always been known Ronnie Kray was gay with a fondness for violence but Jess’ recollection is one of the few accounts of how he exerted power for sexual ends. Jess said many men, including himself, were in awe of the gangsters and the way they dressed and carried themselves and were attracted to them.
In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated he identified with the 19th century soldier Gordon of Khartoum (Lawrence of Arabia): “Gordon was like me, homosexual, and he met his death like a man. When it’s time for me to go, I hope I do the same.” A British television documentary, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009), showed that Ronnie Kray was a rapist of men. The programme also detailed his relationship with Conservative peer Bob Boothby as well as an ongoing Daily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby’s dealings with the Kray brothers.
Ronnie Kray shocked his older brother Charlie by admitting his homosexuality and goaded his twin brother Reg into experimenting with gay sex, a new (2001) biography reveals.
Laurie O’Leary, author of A Man Among Men and a childhood friend of the Krays, says Ronnie summoned him to Broadmoor Hospital eight weeks before he died. Kray asked him to write the ‘warts-and-all’ story of his life. ‘Don’t make me into a nice person,’ he told O’Leary. ‘Just say I was nice with nice people, but a bastard with bastards.’
The biography, containing previously unpublished photographs and poems by the twins, describes how Ronnie had considered bringing an Arab boy back to London after falling in love with him while on holiday, and how he refused to hide his sexual preferences from the law or his fellow gangsters.
O’Leary, who grew up next door to the Kray brothers, was a pallbearer at Reggie Kray’s funeral on 11 October last year. ‘Ron discussed his homosexuality with only a very few people, but put simply it was a part of his nature he discovered, explored and enjoyed,’ O’Leary said. ‘He was at ease with it. It did not seem to conflict with his “tough guy” image or cause him any problems on any level.’
Ronnie Kray first admitted to O’Leary he was gay in his mid-teens, after falling in love with a younger boy called Willy. But when O’Leary told Willy, who ran an unofficial school for card sharps, of Kray’s attachment, he reacted badly.
‘He was terrified and said he would never dare go round to Ron’s house again unless I was there too,’ O’Leary said. ‘But I refused: Ron would have assumed [Willy and I] were having an affair.
‘I could easily understand Willy’s feelings, though_ [Ron] could be frightening.’
The members of the twins’ gang, known as the Firm, were overwhelmingly tolerant of Kray’s homosexuality. ‘Even if they objected, Ron just smiled at them and told them they didn’t know what they were missing,’ O’Leary said.
Kray’s mother, Violet, was comfortable with her son’s homosexuality, but his father and older brother, both called Charlie, were horrified.
‘Ron’s father thought it was degrading and disgusting, and his older brother was totally flabbergasted,’ O’Leary said. ‘But Ronnie told him that he had been like it for years and that not only could nobody change him but that he wouldn’t let them try. He said his brother Charlie just had to accept him as he was.’
Ronnie further shocked Charlie by telling him that Reggie was a bisexual. When Charlie confronted Reggie, according to O’Leary, the twin confirmed the claim, adding: ‘Don’t you think that boys are nice, Charlie? I think I could fancy a few myself.’
Despite this acknowledgment, Reggie habitually denied he was a bisexual. ‘I would say that Reg fought the fact he could also be bisexual more than Ron, but I knew of his affection for quite a few young male teenagers with whom he kept company,’ said O’Leary.
‘Ron would goad Reg when he went out with women and tried to influence Reg with his own appetite for young men.’
Although Ronnie Kray did have a number of regular sexual partners and strong friendships with other homosexual men – including Lord Boothby, for whom he obtained youths – O’Leary says he had a particular penchant for dark, clean-cut, boys with very white teeth.
During the Sixties, Ronnie fell in love with a young Arab boy on one of his many trips to Tangier in North Africa. ‘Ronnie showed me a photo,’ O’Leary said.
‘He told me that the boy loved him and showed me a letter the boy had written. It was a real love letter that said how much the boy wanted to come to England and live with Ronnie.’
Although Kray lost interest in the Arab boy, O’Leary says Ronnie was often very possessive of his boyfriends. ‘When he was sentenced, he still had many boyfriends and would do anything he could to make them happy,’ he said.
But perhaps Ronnie’s greatest claim to notoriety was his headline grabbing involvement with Tory peer, Lord Boothby.
According to BBC News, 23 October, 2015 “An association between Conservative peer Robert Boothby and London gangster Ronnie Kray was the subject of an MI5 investigation, documents have revealed. The men went to “homosexual parties” together and were “hunters” of young men, declassified MI5 files claim.
Allegations in 1964 about the pair’s relationship caused such concern within Downing Street that the then head of MI5 was summoned to the Home Office.
The government feared a scandal greater than the so-called Profumo Affair.
Rumours that notorious gangster Kray and Lord Boothby – a popular TV presenter and former MP for East Aberdeenshire – were having an affair were published in 1964.
The Sunday Mirror – which did not name the pair – claimed to have a photo of Kray and Boothby together with the bisexual peer’s chauffeur and lover, Leslie Holt.
The men were later identified in a German magazine.
Lord Boothby publicly denied having a homosexual or any other close relationship with Kray.
At the time, he said the photograph showed them discussing “business matters”, dismissing rumours about his personal life as a “tissue of atrocious lies”.
The Sunday Mirror ended up paying £40,000 in damages to Boothby.
But the papers – released as part of 400 declassified files by the Security Service (MI5), Foreign Office and Cabinet Office – reveal new information about their association.
They show how home secretary Henry Brooke was so concerned about the matter he summoned the head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, to ask what the security services knew.
Brooke feared the allegations might erupt into a scandal to rival the Profumo affair, which helped to bring down the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.
Sir Roger told the home secretary how MI5 had received reports that Lord Boothby was bisexual and had contacts with the Krays.
But, since he had no access to official secrets, MI5 concluded that Boothby’s private life was of no concern, the papers reveal.
According to an MI5 source, Lord Boothby was in a relationship with Holt – his chauffer and ex-boxer who also went by the name Johnny Kidd.
Holt told the source how Lord Boothby and Kray had “been to a couple of (homosexual) parties together”.
The report suggested the Sunday Mirror was tipped off about the “affair” between Lord Boothby and Kray by the rival Nash gang.
The MI5 report said: “Certainly the suggestion that Boothby has been having an affair with the gangster Kray is hardly true.”
Dr Richard Dunley, records specialist at the National Archives, said the story was “one of the greatest scandals that never was”.
“If this had come out in 1964 it would have been a huge scandal,” he said.
Dr Dunley said the files do not mention well-known claims that Lord Boothby had a long-term relationship with former prime minister Harold Macmillian’s wife.
“As tabloid headlines go, you can imagine what would have happened,” he said.
“The Mirror did effectively get hold of the story but couldn’t publish it, they got sued for libel.”
Lord Boothby, left, with Ronnie Kray, centre, and Leslie Holt, the former’s chauffeur and lover ( )
9 Interesting facts about the Kay brothers.
1) In 1952 after refusing to do National Service the twins were jailed and became among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London, before being transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset for a month, to await court-martial.
2) In 1960 the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman gave Reggie a nightclub called Esmeralda’s Barn in Wilton Place where the Berkeley Hotel now stands.
3) In 1964 the Sunday Mirror reported Scotland Yard was investigating a homosexual relationship between an unnamed peer and a major figure in the criminal underworld – Ronnie and Conservative MP Robert Boothby. Despite the pair not being named Boothby chose to go public with a letter to The Times in which he denied being gay and stated that he had only ever met Kray three times, always to discuss business matters and always in the company of other people. Facing the threat of a libel defeat, the Sunday Mirror issued an apology to the peer and paid out £40,000, equivalent to £500,000 today while newspaper’s editor, Reg Payne, lost his job over the affair.
4) In 2000 when Reggie died those sending wreaths included Barbara Windsor, Who singer Roger Daltry and pop star Morrissey. There was also a wreath believed to be from the American Mafia – next to a photo of Manhattan was the message: “In deep respect, from your friends in New York.”
5) Jack “the Hat” McVitie, was a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,500 contract paid to him in advance to kill a rival. As punishment McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Stoke Newington, on the pretence of a party. As he entered, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at his head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge. Instead Ronnie held McVitie in a bearhug and Reggie stabbed him to death with a carving knife – at one stage his liver came out and had to be flushed down the toilet.
6) In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ronnie’s, which prompted an investigation.It revealed the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – plus their older brother Charlie Kray and an accomplice were operating a “lucrative bodyguard and ‘protection’ business for Hollywood stars” called Krayleigh Enterprises. Documentation of the investigation showed that Frank Sinatra hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises during 1985.
7) In prison Reggie claimed to have become a born-again Christian while Ronnie got married in Broadmoor to a twice-divorced former topless kissogram girl.
8) Patsy Kensit’s dad James ‘Jimmy The Dip’ Kensit was not only a member of the notorious Richardson gang – who made most of their money from fraud and earned a terrifying reputation as ruthless torturers who nailed their victims to the floor – but was also a close friend of their rivals, Reggie and Ronnie Kray.
9) Artist Lucian Freud ran up half a million pounds in gambling debts with the Krays. The late artist confessed he once cancelled an exhibition out of fear they would demand more money if they saw he was earning.
(Image: Daily Mirror)
On this day in 1989, I was running the “Expectations” store, opposite the Oxford Hotel, in Oxford Street. It was almost like the entire gay community, and its supporters, had been waiting for this day. There was a palpable feeling of excitement – almost Mardi Gras-like – mixed with a strong undercurrent of rebellion on the strip. Watching from the 2nd floor window of my store, you could see people starting to line the footpaths early. By the time Nile’s parade participants started their march down the other end of Oxford Street, the paths were packed, and you could follow the progress of the parade from the roar of the crowd! Only for this parade, the roar was not of encouragement, or light-hearted joy, but of hate and vitriol! The communities hatred of Nile, and his constant gay-bashing was being fully voiced. As it passed by our section of the street, I notices a car load of Islanders, roped in by Nile to add bodies to his parade numbers. I don’t know what he had told them, or what they expected,but the looked cowered and terrified! As much as I didn’t feel sorry for Nile, or his cross-on-wheels, I did feel sorry for them. It would have been a very frightening situation from their perspective. Nile got everything he deserved – and then some. As far as the gay community was concerned, the parade was a great success – but not for Nile, or his supporters. He would have gone home with his tail tucked very firmly between his legs.
Queer protestors prepare to give Fred Nile and his followers a rousing reception on Oxford Street. Photograph: Terrence Bell, courtesy of Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives
Australia’s ‘Reverend’ Fred Nile has built a career out of homophobic opportunism. He is the man to whom the media could turn whenever they needed a ‘controversial’ sound-byte on topics such as decriminalisation, HIV/AIDS and anti-discrimination.
For several years he topped up his profile with his annual stunt of a prayer meeting by the route of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. As tens of thousands gathered to celebrate Mardi Gras, Nile and his small band of followers portrayed themselves as brave martyrs standing against a sea of depravity. And on those rare occasions when it rained on the night of the Parade, Nile would claim it was all the result of his prayers – conveniently ignoring the fact that Mardi Gras was held in the middle of Sydney’s rainy season.
By 1989, however, even Nile must have begun to realise that his prayer meeting was being ignored – by God and, more importantly, the media. And so it came to pass that he announced that he would lead a “Cleansing March of Witness for Jesus” up Oxford Street – Sydney’s gay ‘golden mile’ – on October 2nd. The march would end with a “Pro-decency ‘Solemn Assembly of Repentance and Intercession’”.
Never one for under-statement, Nile claimed there would be 100,000 Christians on the march. It’s most unlikely that even he believed he would attract that level of support, but it always makes good Press to come up with such numbers. But whilst he was clearly pre-occupied with boosting the numbers of his likely supporters, he obviously failed to consider the size of the opposition.
This was the first demonstration that I had attended since my arrival in Sydney the previous year and is was quite an eye-opener. It was obvious from the outset that Sydney’s queer community was extremely well-organised and that, in itself, signalled that Nile had bitten off far more than he could chew.
The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Sydney Gay Solidarity Group and the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras were three of the key organisations involved in the counter-demonstration. As we assembled in Green Park, just off Oxford Street, we were all given a cardboard mask with a caricature of Nile’s face on it. The plan, we were told, was to greet Nile and his followers, with thousands of Niles staring right back at them!
But there was more to the masks than mere caricature. They came in a number of different colours and the reason for this soon became obvious. Protestors were despatched to different areas of Oxford Street based on the colour of their masks. This ensured that there was an even spread of people along the route of the Cleansing March.
A couple of protestors in Fred Nile masks. Photograph courtesy of Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives. http://www.alga.org.au
It wasn’t long before we were all in position to greet Nile and his followers. Apparently they were all in high spirits for the first section of the march. Led by a young bearded man carrying a cross (with wheels, unlike the original) they seemed happy and confident – until they turned the corner into Oxford Street. The 1500 or so ‘Christians’ that Nile had managed to muster came face-to-face with 5,000+ vocal, angry queers. More accurately, they came-face-to-face with thousands of Fred Nile faces.
To most people, the fact that they were out-numbered four-to-one by members of the local community would be a clear sign that they weren’t welcome and that they should go back to their own neighbourhoods. But evangelical Christians like nothing more than playing the martyr and so they persisted on their inflammatory course, carrying placards with ‘Christian’ messages like “What’s so gay about AIDS?”
Counter-demonstrators responded with messages like “Repent, Relent, Re-decorate!” and chants of “Two, four, six eight. Are you sure your priest is straight?” The Christians processed dismally up Oxford Street, the queers turned their protest into a party.
At the site of the planned ‘Repentance and Intercession’, Fred Nile was drowned out by boos and chants from the protestors. Then Jamie Dunbar, a photographer from the local gay newspaper, leapt to the microphone and chanted “Go to Hell Fred. Gay love is best!”. He chanted repeatedly until he was removed by Christian heavies.
It was clear to everyone that Nile’s stunt had seriously backfired. Even the media opined that his march had been a deliberate and unnecessary provocation. Yet Nile continued to dig a hole for himself. When interviewed on one news programme he complained that counter-demonstrators had used portable toilets that had been installed for his supporters. In consequence his supporters had been unable to use them because of the risk of AIDS. His interviewer could barely believe her ears and left her audience in no doubt as to what an ignorant and bigoted remark this was. Nile never went near Oxford Street again.
I’ve had threats from people on the far left who think I’m insincere but especially people on the far right who think I’m a traitor,
A white supremacist active as recently as the start of this year says today he is publicly renouncing 40 years of hate. Speaking on Channel 4 News he comes out as gay for the first time – and admits to a violent past.
Much of Kevin Wilshaw’s life has been defined by a belief in white supremacy.
He said he had hurt people, “but not unprovoked, in defence. In a by-election in Leeds I smashed a chair over someone’s head.”
But he denied ever having approached minorities and assaulted them.
“I’d never do that, but I have seen incidents where people were singled out because they were black by a group of people. It turned my stomach, I rejected that, I pushed it to the back of my mind.”
He joined the BNP after being part of the National Front and flirted with dangerous fringe groups like the Racial Volunteer Force.
Mr Wilshaw says he remembers meeting David Copeland – the Brixton and Soho nail bomber. More recently he took to social media – and until the start of year was still speaking at rallies (2017).
When the interviewer asked Wilshaw “at what point did — well, Nazism — start to be attractive to you?” Wilshaw thought for a moment, then said “I must’ve been about 11 years old…. my father was very right-wing, and I think I took it a bit further than him.”
Wilshaw did not discuss specific dates or timelines, but according to HOPE Not Hate, a British non-profit that “campaigns to counter racism and fascism,” WIlshaw had belonged to the far right “since 1974 and even a little before.”
He admitted he hadn’t had many friends at school, and thought joining far-right groups would bring him a sense of “comradeship.” By age 18, he’d joined Britain’s far-right National Front party, and was a party organizer by age 20. He was particularly notorious (or just well-known) in Britain during the 1980s. Wilshaw’s original membership card, made out in the name of John Kevin Wilshaw, calls for “Racial preservation” and adds “Coloured Immigrants and their descendants must be returned to their lads of ethnic origin.”
Over the past 44 years, between the ages of 14 and 58, he has worked with UK far-right extremist groups peddling Neo-Nazi ideology.
His actions ranged from mundane “leafletting” to “occasionally getting involved in political violence”.
But now he claims to have put his days as a Mein Kampf-reading racist behind him to address the contradictions that have plagued him in private.
Mr Wilshaw is not only gay, but has Jewish blood through his mother.
Despite Wilshaw’s father’s “very right wing” tendencies, he married a partly Jewish woman, Kevin’s mother. “Her maiden name was Benjamin,” Wilshaw said. “We do have Jewish blood in the family on that side.”
Under Jewish law, a child is considered Jewish if his mother was. Yet Wilshaw’s own background clearly did not prevent him from joining a political group dedicated in part to the notion that this very background made him an inherent threat. This might be largely due to the fact that Wilshaw’s physical appearance has nothing in common with anti-Semitic caricatures regarding what Jews “look like.” (His mother died in 2015.)
HOPE Not Hate reports that other aspects of Wilshaw’s family life were at odds with far-right doctrines: despite the official Islamophobia of British far-right parties (he was once arrested for vandalizing a mosque in Aylesbury), he has a close relationship with his sister, who married a Muslim man and converted to Islam in 1970, and is also close to her Muslim children.
On an application form to join the National Front, he wrote about his hatred of “the Jews”.
“That term ‘the Jews’ is the global faceless mass of people you can’t personalise it, not individuals. That’s the generalisation that leads to 6 million people being deliberately murdered.
“I tended to compartmentalise things,” he said.
“I put my political life in one section and my normal life in the other.”
Mr Wilshaw was recently arrested on online abuse charges — the second time he has been arrested.
He said he quit the movement for good after being attacked for his sexuality.
“On one or two occasions in the recent past I’ve actually been the recipient of the very hatred of the people I want to belong to … if you’re gay it is acceptable in society but with these group of people it’s not acceptable, and I found on one or two occasions when I was suspected of being gay I was subjected to abuse.”
Mr Wilshaw admits that being a Nazi who is gay – but with a Jewish background – is a contradiction.
“It’s a terribly selfish thing to say but it’s true, I saw people being abused, shouted at, spat at in the street – it’s not until it’s directed at you that you suddenly realise that what you’re doing is wrong.”
“You have other members leading National Front who are overtly gay. And nobody could see the contradiction of it that you have an overtly gay person leading a homophobic organisation, makes no sense.”
“Then you have someone like Nicky Crane, one of the hardest people who would be gay.”
“Even when people found out, they’d rationalise it, ‘He’s not really gay’ or ‘gay and ok’.””I’ve had threats from people on the far left who think I’m insincere but especially people on the far right who think I’m a traitor,” he said.
“I can’t win!”.
Support has come from a fellow former extremist.
Matthew Collins was once an organiser for a far-right group and knew Neo-Nazis “who were involved in extreme violence … and did kill people”.
He turned informant and fled to Australia between 1993 and 2003 for his own safety.
Now he works for anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate, researching the state of the UK far right and trying to convince people to leave the movement.
“Is Kevin cured? No, I don’t think so … but Kevin’s on the way,” Mr Collins said.
“The work with Kevin is about socialisation. He wants to walk down the streets with another man and maybe hold hands.
“Our thing is to mix him in with regular normal people, drinking beer without dressing up like a [WWII German] tank commander, [and] having nice pictures on your living room wall, not pictures of Hitler.”
Kevin Wilshaw & Matthew Collins
“I feel appallingly guilty as well, I really do feel guilty, not only that, this is also a barrier to me having a relationship with my own family, and I want to get rid of it, it’s too much of a weight.”
“I want to do some damage as well, not to ordinary people but the people who are propagating this kind of rubbish – want to hurt them, show what it’s like for those who are living a lie and be on the receiving end of this type of propaganda, I want to hurt them.”
Fearing some level of revenge, Mr Wilshaw says “one or two would want to sort me.. they’d see it as betrayal.”
“I am going to find it difficult, granted, to fill a void that has occupied my life since childhood.”
The latest figures show right-wing extremism only makes up about 10 per cent of cases dealt with by the UK Government’s main deradicalisation program.
Anti-fascist campaigners believe the country’s extreme far right has declined significantly in recent years, perhaps to its lowest point in two decades, and some commentators have dismissed the remaining members as weird, uneducated white men with uniform fetishes.
But the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a Nazi sympathiser, just before last years Brexit referendum, showed the danger posed by elements of the movement has not passed.
Since then, three far-right groups have been banned by the UK Government and two people have been charged over a plot to kill another politician.
“We are very concerned by the number of the arrests and the nature of the arrests”, Mr Collins said, when asked about the most extreme end of the movement.
“What we are looking at are groups that look like terrorists, talk like terrorists, act like terrorists and our belief for the last 18-months to two years is that they will eventually become terrorists.”
The harsh reality is that the only people really qualified to comment on long-term survival are – long-term survivors.
Being a HIV long-term survivor is a bit like being a Vietnam veteran…more often than not you feel delegated to the sidelines of history. Like the Vietnam vets, we fought a socially unpopular and unacceptable war, and like them, our continuing presence is a reminder of things that many would sooner either forget, or just not acknowledge.
That is a harsh – and raw – assessment, and I can see hackles rising already amongst those who choose to observe it through rose-coloured glasses. The harsh reality is that the only people really qualified to comment on long-term survival are – long-term survivors.
Yesterday (June 5th) was HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day. I can’t say that I didn’t personally feel a certain…pride…not the right word, though I’m hunting for the right one…that at last there was an acknowledgement of my part in HIV history. I posted the event as a Facebook status update, and I’m truly humbled by the response from my friends, and at the same time reminded that there are others in my current social “circle”who are also chalking up survival terms equal to my 36 years. Yet despite the acknowledgement, the most telling word to me was”Awareness”! And perhaps that word, more than any other, takes us back to the start of this article. It is an important word, as it suggests – very strongly – that we are the forgotten, those of HIV “past”, and our very existence needs to have attention drawn to it; that there needs to be a reminder that we didn’t all succumb to the ravages of AIDS.
Reality hurts, doesn’t it! And that really is the reality of long-term survival. To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what to do with us, apart from just leaving us alone to muddle through. On the general overview of HIV history, and considering the numbers of those who died – and continue to – as a result of AIDS, the numbers of us who have survived 20 years or more are small. We are now a disparate group, spread far and wide by the great diaspora that resulted from HIV diagnosis in the day. We are no longer concentrated in the areas of ground zero for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in many respects that is a major reason for our being in the background of modern day HIV.
I don’t want to call this “awareness” day tokenistic…but, recognition of the sheer tenacity of HIV long-term survivors has been a hell of a long time coming! Considering that those of us with early diagnosis, who were still alive in the late 80s/early 90s were already long-term survivors…it’s recognition that is – like so much in HIV – well and truly overdue!
I have attempted to convey the harsh reality of long-term survival in past articles, and in my talks when I was a speaker for the Positive Speakers Bureau (PSB). Myself, and other speakers, whose history went back to the key points of HIV in Sydney were always in demand, as we were the living history of HIV and AIDS, the harbingers of the tales of horror, stigma, discrimination, political and religious turmoil, and the community response to the pandemic. But over time – I was a speaker for 12 years – I saw this group slowly dropping away for various reasons, and by the time I chose to retire from speaking I was one of the last of these “history” speakers. By that time, I personally felt that HIV in its modern guise was leaving me behind, lost in its dust as it moved into new territory. A HIV diagnosis still came with its fears and insecurities, but it was no longer a death sentence.
To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what to do with us, apart from just leaving us alone to muddle through.
So, who are these people who are having “awareness” drawn to them? I can only speak for myself; can only put a personal perspective on HIV long-term survival. Perhaps the reality of it has always been something I have downplayed, in an attempt to NOT come across as a victim! The true reality of the horror years was TERROR!
My CMV diagnosis in 1996 filled me with terror! It was the ultimate reality that I was now on borrowed time. But even before that time, it was terrifying to get what was a death sentence in 1985! It was truly terrifying to watch the horrendous deaths happening around me on a daily basis! It was terrifying to know that that was what could be in store for me! It was terrifying every time I visited the doctor, every time I had a blood test! It was terrifying to know that treatments were limited, and of short duration! It was terrifying to be subjected to the side-effects of huge dosages of same treatments – side-effects I still live with today! It was terrifying visiting friends and lovers in hospital, knowing each kiss could be the last! It was terrifying to find myself losing weight, and trying to hide the fact under baggy clothing! It was terrifying to find myself the figure of HIV discrimination in my workplace, and powerless to do anything about it! It was terrifying to realise I could no longer go on working! It was terrifying after a lifetime of independence to realise that I would need to go onto DSP, and housing subsidies! It was terrifying watching myself head towards alcoholism, chain smoking and life in the fast lane to deal with everything that was going on – uncontrollably – around me! It was terrifying to find myself in hospital for the first time – a collapsed lung! It was terrifying to lie there for 2 weeks, having Sandy from the Oxford Hotel visit another friend and suddenly stumbled upon me! It was terrifying to see – very briefly – the look in her eyes! It was terrifying to think I could be there for reasons of HIV – yet denying it…I would go home…life would go on…yeah…right! It was terrifying to live the 24 hours between my possible CMV diagnosis, and its confirmation! It was terrifying to know that this was a reality- AIDS! It was terrifying only hours after that, getting off a bus at Prince Henry Hospital at La Perouse, and wobbling towards admissions…and thinking…what the fuck! It was terrifying to realise the reality of your health status; 10 CD4 cells, 48kgs weight…could that be right? Chronic candida, chronic anaemia, chronic CMV retinitis! It was terrifying to realise I was dying! It was terrifying to lie again in a hospital bed with nurses, and drips, and medications…and wondering if it was all worthwhile! It was terrifying finding myself at POW the next day, having drugs injected directly into my eyes! It was terrifying that day…and every day after! It was terrifying to sit in that waiting room days later, holding the hand of another guy going through the same thing, trying to reassure him as he wept, a reassurance I didn’t feel myself! It was terrifying trying new drug combinations, not knowing if they would be successful, or in time! It was terrifying to realise I accepted my fate, and was not frightened! It was terrifying to be told the combination had worked, and I’d soon be going home! It was terrifying to realise that I felt robbed, felt that I didn’t deserve to be spared that which so many I loved had not been saved from! Terrifying to realise I was going back to a world I no longer knew! Terrifying to realise that in many respects, I was now a freak…someone who just didn’t fit in! It was terrifying to know that no one, no individual, no organisation, was prepared in any way for the return of the living dead! It was terrifying to sit at home…lost, alone, isolated, unsure, unknowing, afraid! It was terrifying to have the reality of ongoing life, of being whisked from deaths door! It was terrifying going through the panic attacks, the anxiety, the depression! It was terrifying to discover that every one was so unprepared for “us” that necessary help was not available when we needed it! Terrifying to be taking massive numbers of drugs – 3-4 medications, with anywhere from 4-6 pills for each medication, 3 times a day (with dietary and time compliances on them), plus prophylaxis, plus pills to control side effects! It was terrifying to find I needed medication compliance counselling, return-to-life counselling, peer support groups, weekly clinics, specialists! Terrifying that I felt myself useless, at a loose end, disconnected! Terrified to realise I wanted nothing to do with life as it had been – so few friends survived the ravages of AIDS, and those not infected had no point of connection with me, and where I now was. I cut back my drinking, stopped smoking, adopted a healthier lifestyle, decided I wanted my life to head off in different directions to that which it had been going in! It was terrifying to find that there was no one to help me do that, and despite being at the forefront of a needs assessment project concerning the return-to-work requirements of others like me, the reality was that help was a couple of years away! It was terrifying to have lost the sight in one eye, and a good deal of the sight in the other due to the CMV, and learning to deal with that, and its uncertainties! It was terrifying to fall flat on my face on footpaths due to lack of depth perspective; tripping over tree roots, or low street benches, or falling down steps because I could not see the edge; It was terrifying going through the surgery to have Vitrasert implants put in my eyes to negate the regular intraocular injections, then surgery to remove the cataracts caused by same! Terrifying to get the Deca-Dorabolin injections to help put weight back on! Terrifying to return to a normal job – albeit temporarily – knowing that it made access to doctors appointments and hospitals (for drugs) very difficult! Terrifying to find myself collapsing in a gift store, and unable to use my legs…and even more terrifying to find the store owner dumping me in the gutter under the illusion I was a druggie…and everyone else ignoring me – then finally managing to walk again, only to collapse in the middle of Bondi Road on my way home! Terrifying to find I was losing my ability to walk a straight line, but drifted all over the footpath…and no one knew why! Terrifying going through many tests and scans- with dire predictions of what was happening in my head – to finally ascertain that THE virus had jumped the blood/brain barrier and was resident in my brain! The terrifying wait for it to resolve itself! Terrifying to go out to a pub for the first time after an 18-month recovery period! Terrifying to know I knew no one in the pub! Terrifying to go home with someone despite a previous very promiscuous life! Terrifying to get into a relationship again!
Terrifying! Terrifying! Terrifying! I could go on and on with the lists of terrifying experiences over this period, but the word count would be astronomical! Suffice it to say – terror had a name…HIV/AIDS! No one diagnosed these days will – I hope – ever have to go through it.
Survivor guilt was something that came later, after all the pandemonium of getting my health back on track quietened down, and left me with time to think, to mull over the events just past. It felt so unfair that I was still here! Felt unfair that, having prepared myself to die, it hadn’t eventuated, and I was left to continue mourning for those gone, continuing to live thanks to the hoped for medications that others hadn’t managed to hang around for! It was unhealthy thinking, but it happened anyway! More counselling to reconcile that!
So – has the terror stopped? For me, not really! A detached retina, and complex surgery to replace it in 2013, and the removal of the blind eye -it is now a prosthetic – in early 2015 has reduced what was bad vision even further. I joke that every time I walk out onto the street, I take my life into my hands…but it is, in reality, no laughing matter! It is quite frightening! It restricts what I do in some respects, but I deal with it. However, the fears of further detachments – I had one scare recently – or anything else that may affect what little vision I do have is always there.
However, it hasn’t all been terrifying over the last 22 years. I’ve taken control of my own health, I’ve reeducated myself, and fulfilled a few frustrated ambitions. I’ve reconnected with some old mates through social media, and it pleases me to know that not all disappeared like many did. I’m in a happy place as far as everyday life goes.
I hope this gives those that bother to read it an “awareness” of what long-term survival is really about. It would be fulfilling if something could be set up to make us more visible, less confined to the sidelines of HIV. I don’t have an answer to that conundrum only to say that it should have nothing to do with sitting in a circle, knitting and discussing HIV! Now that is a truly terrifying thought!
Tim Alderman © 2018.
“Adolf Hitler was my God. He was sort of like my Fuhrer, my leader. And everything I done was, like, for Adolf Hitler.”
As part of my writing degree from the University of Technology in Sydney (2001) I studied a subject called Contemporary Cultures. Subsequently, I find the study of sub-cultures and “aberrations” within the Gay and Lesbian community a fascinating subject. However, occasionally a subject comes along that I find particularly disconcerting, and gay neo-nazi’s is one that confounds me! How a gay man could attach himself to the insidious writings and philosophies of one of the twentieth centuries greatest tyrants – especially one who condemned thousands of gay men and women to the ovens of the concentration camps – leaves me confused, and wondering…have they really studied what this movement was all about, and if they did, how could they be so dispassionate about it! Perhaps we can be reconciled to them by the fact that even they realised the contradiction, and gave up this somewhat insidious belief. However, the question remains – why? To be honest, and to be contradictory myself, I find the photo below a bit of a turn-on! Not the singlet…that is just wrong…but the man himself – oh yeah! There is an ultra-masculinity about him that is very sexy…and perhaps we should just leave it at that! The photo, and the man himself, are two different things!
Nicola Vincenzo Crane was born on 21 May 1958 in a semi-detached house on a leafy street in Bexley, south-east London. One of 10 siblings, he grew up in nearby Crayford, Kent.
As his name suggests, he had an unlikely background for a British nationalist and Aryan warrior. He was of Italian heritage through his mother Dorothy, whose maiden name was D’Ambrosio. His father worked as a structural draughtsman.
But from an early age Crane found a surrogate family in the south-east London skinhead scene. He was the British extreme right’s most feared streetfighter. But almost right up to his death, Nicky Crane led a precarious dual existence – until it fell dramatically apar
“ I hate the fact that’s cool to be black these days. I hate this hip-pop fuckin’ influence on white-fuckin’ suburbia.”
“You think I’m gonna sit here and smile while some fuckin’ kike tries to fuck my mother? […] fuckin’ forget it, not on my watch, not while I’m in this family. I will fuckin’ cut your Shylock nose off and stick it up your ass before I let that happen.” Derek Vinyard, American ing movie X
The similarity in thinking between Derek Vinyard in the above aggressive, frightening movie, and Nicky Crane has one major difference – the former is scripted.
The skinhead gang marched in military formation down the High Street clutching iron bars, knives, staves, pickaxe handles and clubs.
There were at least 100 of them. They had spent two days planning their attack. The date was 28 March 1980.
Soon they reached their target – a queue of mostly black filmgoers outside the Odeon cinema in Woolwich, south-east London.
Then the skinheads charged.
Most of them belonged to an extreme far-right group called the British Movement (BM).
This particular “unit” had already acquired a reputation for brutal racist violence thanks to its charismatic young local organiser. Many victims had learned to fear the sight of his 6ft 2in frame, which was adorned with Nazi tattoos. His name was Nicky Crane.
But as he led the ambush, Crane was concealing a secret from his enemies and his fascist comrades alike. Crane knew he was gay, but hadn’t acted on it. Not yet.
A boy stands in front of a poster featuring Nicky Crane
“When you’ve come from a tough background, when you get that identity, it’s a powerful thing to have,” says Gavin Watson, a former skinhead who later got to know Crane.
The south-east London skins also had close connections to the far right. Whereas the original skinheads in the late 1960s had borrowed the fashion of Caribbean immigrants and shared their love of ska and reggae music, a highly visible minority of skins during the movement’s revival in the late 1970s were attaching themselves to groups like the resurgent National Front (NF).
In particular the openly neo-Nazi BM, under the leadership of Michael McLaughlin, was actively targeting young, disaffected working-class men from football terraces as well as the punk and skinhead scenes for recruitment.
Crane was an enthusiastic convert to the ideology of National Socialism.
“Adolf Hitler was my God,” he said in a 1992 television interview. “He was sort of like my Fuhrer, my leader. And everything I done was, like, for Adolf Hitler.”
Within six months of joining the BM, Crane had been made the Kent organiser, responsible for signing up new members and organising attacks on political opponents and minority groups.
He was also inducted into the Leader Guard, which served both as McLaughlin’s personal corps of bodyguards and as the party’s top fighters. Members wore black uniforms adorned with neo-Nazi symbols and were drilled at paramilitary-style armed training weekends in the countryside.
“By appearance and reputation he (Nicky Crane) was the epitome of right-wing idealism – fascist icon and poster boy,” writes Sean Birchall in his book “Beating the Fascists”, a history of AFA.
They were also required to have a Leader Guard tattoo. Each featured the letters L and G on either side of a Celtic cross, the British Movement’s answer to the swastika. Crane dutifully had his inked on to his flesh alongside various racist slogans.
By now working as a binman and living in Plumstead, Crane quickly acquired a reputation, even among the ranks of the far right, for exceptionally brutal violence.
A young Crane shows off his tattoos with another skinhead
In May 1978, following a BM meeting, he took part in an assault on a black family at a bus stop in Bishopsgate, east London, using broken bottles and shouting racist slogans. An Old Bailey judge described Crane as “worse than an animal”.
The following year he led a mob of 200 skinheads in an attack on Asians in nearby Brick Lane. Crane later told a newspaper how “we rampaged down the Lane turning over stalls, kicking and punching Pakistanis”.
The Woolwich Odeon attack of 1980 was described by a prosecutor at the Old Bailey as a “serious, organised and premeditated riot”. After their intended victims fled inside, the skinheads drilled by Crane began smashing the cinema’s doors and windows, the court was told. A Pakistani man was knocked unconscious in the melee and the windows of a nearby pub were shattered with a pickaxe handle.
In 1981 Crane was jailed for his part in an ambush on black youths at Woolwich Arsenal station. As the judge handed down a four-year sentence, an acolyte standing alongside Crane stiffened his arm into a Nazi salute and shouted “sieg heil” from the dock.
Crane’s three jail terms failed to temper his violence. During one stretch, he launched an attack on several prison officers with a metal tray. A six-month sentence following a fracas on a London Tube train was served entirely at the top-security Isle of Wight prison – a sign of just how dangerous he was regarded by the authorities.
Nicky Crane’s legendary status escalated even more when he was featured in the cover of the album Strength Thru Oi! (1981), a compilation of crude songs of a popular punk sub-genre among skinheads. He appears grumbling, kicking to the camera’s direction. His violent attitude became an insignia of British Fascist movements. His image was printed on posters and t-shirts that were particularly popular among Neo-nazi followers.
In addition to his prominent membership in the brutal Nazi world, Crane was also a head of security of the band Skrewdriver, whose lyrics and music clearly evidenced their Fascist ideology. Craned developed a bond with Skrewdriver’s vocalist, Ian Stuart Donaldson, and together they founded the skinhead racist organization Blood & Honor.
Skrewdriver was founded in 1976 in Poulton-le-Fylde, a small town in Lancashire, England, by frontman Ian Stuart, who’d previously fronted a Rolling Stones cover band called Tumbling Dice. Skrewdriver began as a punk outfit, but quickly adopted the skinhead uniform: Bic-ed heads, white T-shirts, Levi’s, and “boots and braces” (steel-toe Doc Martens and suspenders). They weren’t overtly political at the outset, but they soon drew a strain of rabid fans sympathetic to radical politics, and drifted ever rightward. In the late 1970s, the group was dropped by their label, Chiswick Records, once their message became overtly violent; clubs throughout Britain refused to let them play.
But, though marginal, there was support for Skrewdriver and their ilk. The National Front, a far-right political party which was experiencing sharp growth throughout the 1970s, saw in Skrewdriver an opportunity for propaganda, and started its own record label, the cleverly named White Noise, on which the band released five early singles. Skrewdriver maintained an allegiance to a range of far-right groups and causes in the UK, including the National Front and the British Movement (BM), a neo-Nazi group founded in the late 60s and known for violence. BM wasn’t just lip service, either. The group had a trained elite, the Leader Guard, who spent weekends doing armed, paramilitary-style drills in the countryside. They regularly attacked members of racial minorities with broken bottles, clubs, or simply their fists.
Nicky began roadie-ing for Skrewdriver in 1983, and his association with the group boosted their reputation for brutality. Crane and Ian Stuart started Blood & Honour, a still-active, neo-Nazi political and social club, together in 1987. Crane, known for his temper and for leading ambushes against unsuspecting minorities (one judge called him “worse than an animal”) was living a double life, however. He was outed as gay after it was reported that he frequented Heaven, a London nightclub.
The outside world continued on without the presence of Crane. Groups against Fascism began to emerge, such as the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) and Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Without their leader, Neo-Nazis could not counteract the destabilizing attacks of these new clicks. They also weren’t prepared to learn the truth about their hero. The possibility that Crane was homosexual would have never never crossed their minds, even though he secretly frequented London gay bars. Given his savage behavior and hatred towards groups that went against Fascist ideologies, no one was prepared to accept Crane’s sexual orientation.
Unbeknown to his comrades, however, a very different side to Nicky Crane was emerging.
Crane was aware of the contradictions that he embodied and was burdened by his status as one of the most prestigious icons of Fascism. To preserve his reputation, he would make public appearances with skinhead girls who pretended to be his girlfriends. Nonetheless, Crane attended a gay pride rally on 1986 and appeared in gay amateur pornography videos.
The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight was, despite its political leanings, required reading for activists on the extreme right. Each month the publication would run gossip about the neo-Nazi scene, and fascists would furtively buy it to see whether they had earned a mention.
In April 1985 it ran a feature on Crane. It mentioned the GLC concert, the south London attacks and the jail sentences he had served. The magazine revealed it had received a Christmas card from him during his time on the Isle of Wight in which he proclaimed his continued allegiance to “the British Movement tradition” – that is, violence.
The Searchlight report ended its description of Crane with the line: “On Thursday nights he can be found at the Heaven disco in Charing Cross.”
Even a neo-Nazi audience might have been aware that Heaven was at this point London’s premier gay club. Nicky Crane had been outed. And homosexuality was anathema to neo-Nazis.
But the response of Crane’s comrades to the revelation was to ignore it.
A number of factors allowed Crane to brush off the report, Pearce says. Firstly, homosexuality was indelibly associated with effeminacy by the far right, and Crane was the very opposite of effeminate.
Secondly, no-one wanted to be seen to believe Searchlight above the word of a committed soldier for the Aryan cause.
Thirdly, on the most basic level, everyone was afraid of being beaten up by Crane if they challenged him.
“I remember it was just sort of furtive whispering,” adds Pearce. “I’m not aware that anyone confronted Nicky. People were happy for things to remain under the carpet.”
Sightings at gay clubs were dismissed by Crane.
Donaldson claimed Crane told him that he was obliged to take jobs at places like Heaven because the security firm he was employed by sent him there.
“I accepted him at face value, as he was a nationalist,” Donaldson told a fanzine years later.
For his part, Heaven’s then-owner, Jeremy Norman, says he does not recall Crane working on the door: “I would imagine that the door staff would have been supplied by a security contractor and that he would have been their employee but it is all a long time ago.”
Rumours circulated that a prominent football hooligan and far-right activist had hurled a homophobic slur at Crane, who in response had inflicted a severe beating which the victim was lucky to survive.
Word of this spread among the skinhead fraternity, too.
“My mate had a shop in Soho,” recalls Watson. “People would come in to say, ‘Have you heard Nicky’s gay?’ He would say, he works around the corner, why don’t you go and ask him? Of course they never did.”
Just as some in the gay community refused to believe that a gay man could be a neo-Nazi, others on the extreme right were unable to acknowledge that a neo-Nazi could be a gay man.
Searchlight reported in October 1987 that “Crane, the right’s finest example of a clinical psychopath, is also engaged in building a ‘gay skins’ movement, which meets on Friday nights” at a pub in east London.
Crane’s sexuality might by now have been obvious to any interested onlooker, but the neo-Nazi scene remained in denial.
While his right-wing colleagues studiously ignored the report, AFA took an interest. Its activists put the pub under surveillance.
The anti-fascists didn’t care about Crane’s sexuality, but were concerned that the gatherings might have a political objective. “Here were gay skinheads wearing Nazi regalia,” says Gary. “We could never get to the bottom of it – whether it was purely a sexual fetish.”
The gay community had, by this stage, begun to take notice of Crane, too. He was confronted by anti-fascists attending a Pride rally in Kennington, south London, in 1986.
The campaigner Peter Tatchell recalls a row erupting after it emerged Crane had been allowed to steward a gay rights march. The organisers had not been aware who Crane was or what his political affiliations were.
But now they were, and Crane must have realised he would no longer be welcome in much of gay London. The gay skinhead night may simply have been an attempt to carve out a space for himself where he would not be challenged either for his sexuality or his politics.
While his status in the far right was secure, he was being pushed to the fringes of the gay community. The double life he had been maintaining was beginning to erode.
After the Bloody Sunday march, there is no record of Crane taking part in any further political activity. He had begun drifting away from the extreme right.
Friends say he had begun spending an increasing amount of time in Thailand, where his past was not known and he could, for the first time since Strength Thru Oi! was released, be anonymous.
It was until 1992 that the ruthless Neo-nazi leader publicly accepted his homosexuality in a TV documentary called Skin Complex.
The Channel 4 programme was called Out. It featured a series of documentaries about lesbian and gay life in the UK. The episode broadcast on 27 July 1992 was about the gay skinhead subculture. Its star attraction was Nicky Crane.
First the programme showed recorded interviews with an unwitting Donaldson, who sounded baffled that such a thing as gay skinheads existed, and NF leader Patrick Harrington.
And then the camera cut to Crane, in camouflage gear and Dr Martens boots, in his Soho bedsit.
He told the interviewer how he’d known he was gay back in his early BM days. He described how his worship of Hitler had given way to unease about the far right’s homophobia.
He had started to feel like a hypocrite because the Nazi movement was so anti-gay, he said. “So I just, like, couldn’t stay in it.” Crane said he was “ashamed” of his political past and insisted he had changed.
“The views I’ve got now is, I believe in individualism and I don’t care if anyone’s black, Jewish or anything,” he added. “I either like or dislike a person as an individual, not what their colour is or anything.”
The aim of the program was to explore homosexuality in different subcultures like the skinhead movement. The revelation attracted considerable press attention. The Sun ran a story with the headline “NAZI NICK IS A PANZI”. Below it described the “Weird secret he kept from gay-bashers”.
Crane reiterated that he had abandoned Nazi ideology. “It is all in the past,” he told the paper. “I’ve made a dramatic change in my life.”
The reaction from his erstwhile comrades was one of horror and fury. Donaldson issued a blood-curdling death threat on stage at a Skrewdriver gig.His appearance turned him into the object of scorn of various Fascist groups and also people who once were his friends, like Ian Stuart Donaldson, who declared with frustration:
“He’s dug his own grave as far as I’m concern. I was fooled the same as everybody else. Perhaps more than everybody else. I felt I was betrayed by him and I want nothing to do with him whatsoever.”
But according to Pearce – who by this stage had made his own break with the NF – it was Crane’s disavowal of National Socialism, rather than the admission of his sexuality, that proved particularly painful for Donaldson.
“I think that Ian would have been very shocked,” says Pearce. “He was deeply hurt. But it had more to do with the fact that he switched sides politically.
“Nicky didn’t just come out as a homosexual, he became militantly opposed to what he previously believed in.”
British Nazism had lost its street-fighting poster boy. For the first time in his adult life, however, Crane was able to be himself.
Watson recalls catching a glimpse of Crane – by then working as a bicycle courier – shortly after he came out. “I saw him riding around Soho in Day-Glo Lycra shorts,” remembers Watson. “I thought, good for you.”
Certainly, after coming out, Crane always described himself as gay rather than bisexual.
Nonetheless, his relationships with women, coupled with rumours that he had fathered a son, allayed any initial suspicions his comrades might have had. So too did his propensity for racist violence.
On 8 December 1993, Byrne took the train to London. He had arranged to meet his friend Nicky Crane at Berwick Street market, just a few yards from his Rupert Street bedsit.
Byrne was looking forward to having “a good old chat” about skinheads they both knew. But Crane didn’t turn up.
When Byrne got home, he found out why. Crane had died the day before. He was 35. The cause of death was given on his death certificate as bronchopneumonia, a fatal inflammation of the air passages to the lungs.
He was a victim of the disease that had killed so many other young gay men of his generation.
“He didn’t tell me about his problems with Aids,” says Byrne. “He didn’t talk much about it really. I thought it was a shame.”
Word had got around that Crane was ill, however. Gary recalls his shock at seeing his one-time foe looking deeply emaciated, waiting on a platform at Baker Street Tube station. Crane’s stature was such, however, that even at this point fellow passengers were careful to keep their distance.
Those who suffered as a result of his rampages may have breathed a sigh of relief that he was no longer able to terrorise them.
But his death marked more than just the end of Nicky Crane.
It also coincided with the passing of an era in which the extreme right hoped to win power by controlling the street with boots and fists.
In 1993, Crane was dead, Donaldson died in a car crash and the British National Party (BNP) won its first council seat in Millwall, east London. The various factions of the NF had by now all but withered.
The following year, BNP strategist Tony Lecomber announced there would be “no more meetings, marches, punch-ups” – instead, the intention now was to win seats in town halls. The party would try to rebrand itself as respectable and peaceful – a strategy continued, with varying success, under the leadership of Nick Griffin. Streetfighters like Nicky Crane were supposedly consigned to the past.
The broader skinhead movement was changing, too.
Watson, like many other former skins, had by the time of Crane’s death, abandoned boots and braces for the rave scene. His skinhead days already felt like a different age.
“The skinhead stuff was washed away by rave and it’s, ‘Oh yes, Nicky’s out of the closet,'” Watson says. “It’s the story of that side of skinheads, isn’t it?”
By contrast, the presence of skinheads in gay clubs and bars was no longer controversial. Shorn of its political associations, the look was by now, if anything, more popular in London’s Old Compton Street or Manchester’s Canal Street than on football terraces or far-right rallies.
Two decades after Crane’s death, says Healy, the skinhead is “recognised as a gay man unambiguously in London and Manchester”. He adds: “If the Village People reformed today there would be a skinhead in the group.”
He may be an extreme case, but Crane reflects an era in which people’s expectations of what a gay man looked and behaved like began to shift.
“Everybody always knew gay people, but they just didn’t know it,” says Max Schaefer, whose 2010 novel “Children of the Sun” features a character fascinated by Crane. “The neo-Nazis were no different from everyone else.”
It’s unlikely Crane reflected on his place at this intersection between all these late 20th Century subcultures. He was a man of action, not ideology – a doer who left the thinking to others, and this may be what led a confused, angry young man to fascism in the first place.
As he lingered in St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, west London, waiting to die, a young man named Craig was at his side. Craig was “one of Nicky’s boyfriends”, says Byrne.
According to Crane’s death certificate, Craig was with him at the end.
Originally published in the UK Guardian, 24 June, 2007. By Geraldine Bedell.
For most people the Sixties was a time of sexual awakening and experimentation. But it wasn’t until 1967 that gay and bisexual men could share that freedom. On the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, we revisit the appallingly repressive atmosphere of the Fifties and Sixties that ruined lives, destroyed reputations and finally sparked a campaign for change.
Forty years ago in Britain, loving the wrong person could make you a criminal. Smiling in the park could lead to arrest and being in the wrong address book could cost you a prison sentence. Homosexuality was illegal and hundreds of thousands of men feared being picked up by zealous police wanting easy convictions, often for doing nothing more than looking a bit gay.
At 5.50am on 5 July 1967, a bill to legalise homosexuality limped through its final stages in the House of Commons. It was a battered old thing and, in many respects, shabby. It didn’t come close to equalising the legal status of heterosexuals and homosexuals (that would take another 38 years). It didn’t stop the arrests: between 1967 and 2003, 30,000 gay and bisexual men were convicted for behaviour that would not have been a crime had their partner been a woman. But it did transform the lives of men like Antony Grey, who had fought so hard for it, meaning that he and his lifelong partner no longer felt that every moment of every day they were at risk.
It is hard for us to imagine now how repressive was the atmosphere surrounding homosexuality in the 1950s. ‘It was so little spoken about, you could be well into late adolescence before you even realised it was a crime,’ says Allan Horsfall, who campaigned for legal change in the north west, where he lived with his partner, a headmaster. ‘Some newspapers reported court cases but they talked of “gross indecency” because they couldn’t bring themselves to mention it, so young people were lucky if they could work out what was going on.’
Antony Grey, who later became secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS), describes having to make ‘painstaking circular tours through the dictionary’ to articulate the feelings he’d had since he was nine. The one thing he did manage to pick up was that ‘there was a hideous aura of criminality and degeneracy and abnormality surrounding the matter’. Grey, a middle-class boy, fearful of breaking the law, remained ‘solitary, frustrated and apprehensive’ until he met his partner at the age of 32.
Grey is now 89 and has a civil partnership with that same man (Grey’s partner has always remained anonymous and prefers to do so now). I met them at their house in north-west London, where we talked in a room overflowing with books. Grey is tall and used to look distinguished; he has had leukaemia and is gaunt now. But his memories of the period are precise. In the early days, they tell me, living together was a dangerous business. When a drunk coach driver crashed into their car outside their house in the night, ‘the first thing we had to do was make up the spare bed. We knew from experience that if you called the police and they suspected you were homosexual, they would ignore the original crime and concentrate on the homosexuality.’
This was what happened to Alan Turing, the mathematician and Enigma codebreaker. In 1952, he reported a break-in and was subsequently convicted of gross indecency. Though he escaped prison, he was forced to undergo hormone therapy and lost his security clearance; he later committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide.
For all that the law was draconian, it was also unenforceable. As a result, arrests often seemed to have an arbitrary, random quality. When Allan Horsfall became a Bolton councillor in 1958, he discovered that a public lavatory used for cottaging was well known to police and magistrates, yet there hadn’t been a conviction in 30 years. On the other hand, there would be intermittent trawls through address books of suspected homosexuals, with the result that up to 20 men at a time would appear in the dock, accused of being a ‘homosexual ring’, even though many of them might never have met many of the others.
A case of this kind, involving eight men in Bolton, spurred Horsfall to set up the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Society (later the Campaign for Homosexual Equality). He explains: ‘In this case, there was no public sex, no underage sex, no multiple sex. Yet they were all dragged to court and a 21-year-old considered to be the ringleader was sentenced to 21 months. I wrote a letter to the Bolton Evening News. They had four more letters in support and none against and the deputy editor was visited by the local police, who wanted to know if he thought this was what the people of Bolton really thought about the enforcement of this law.’
Horsfall thought it probably was and set up his campaigning group, which would play an important role in demonstrating to politicians that reform wasn’t merely the preoccupation of a metropolitan coterie. When the objection was made, as it often was, that the powerful miners’ groups wouldn’t stand for legalisation, Horsfall was able to point out that he ran his campaign from a house in a mining village where he lived with another man and had never had any trouble with the neighbours.
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. 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.
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.
I met Leo Abse at his beautiful house overlooking the Thames at Kew where, he says, he is kept alive by his young wife Ania. He is 90 now and deaf, but mentally acute and still writing books. We talked in his first-floor drawing room as swans floated by outside. For all its shortcomings, the Wolfenden report is usually regarded as the key turning point in the fight for legalisation, the moment at which a government-appointed body said unequivocally that the law should change.
Abse insisted that its importance has been exaggerated. ‘People talk sloppily about Wolfenden, which was not by any means a key turning-point. A myth has grown up: the myth of pre-Wolfenden and after. It was only a staging post. When I arrived in the Commons after Wolfenden, the vote against it was overwhelming. Ten years of struggle came after.’
It’s true that an awful lot of lobbying remained to be done. The HLRS got off the ground in 1958, following a letter to the Times signed by 30 of the great and the good, including former Prime Minister Clement Attlee, philosophers AJ Ayer and Isaiah Berlin, poets C Day Lewis and Stephen Spender, playwright JB Priestley and various bishops. (From our perspective of the early 21st century, when the churches seem so afraid of homosexuality, it’s interesting that in this period they consistently and visibly backed reform.)
Antony Grey became secretary in 1962, using the pen name he used for any letters he had published (his real name is Anthony Edward Gartside Wright): ‘My father was dying. I didn’t tell my parents I was gay until I was nearly 30 and they thought it was some foul disease. They were never comfortable with it.’
A long campaign ensued of talks to the WI and Rotary Clubs, university debates, public meetings and letter-writing. The meagre amount that the HLRS could afford to pay Grey was supplemented by means of a Saturday sub-editing job on The Observer, offered him by David Astor, then the paper’s owner and editor, who was a supporter of reform.
The campaigning work was exhausting and often thankless and the opposition a mixture of vituperative and mad. Grey once caused consternation at a Rotary dinner when asked what homosexuals were really like, by answering, ‘rather like a Rotary Club’. An opponent in a Cambridge University debate, Dame Peggy Shepherd, asked him over a nightcap at their hotel, ‘Tell me, why are you so concerned about these unfortunate people?
Various stabs were made at bringing the matter before Parliament, but the first really promising development came with a bill in the Lords in July 1965. It was sponsored by Lord Arran, an unlikely reformer: known to his friends as Boofy, he kept a pet badger. Grey recalls going for tea with him, with the creature in his lap. He had inherited the title because his older brother, who was gay, had committed suicide.
‘He wasn’t the sort of person you’d think would do it,’ Grey says. ‘But he was invaluable. He was related to everyone and was always saying things like, “I’ll have a word with Cousin Salisbury about that.” He was a bit mad – he referred to the bill as William – and he became an alcoholic while he was doing it. He more or less had to be dried out afterwards.’
For the opposition, Lord Kilmuir warned against licensing the ‘buggers’ clubs’ which he claimed were operating behind innocent-looking doors all over London. But Arran, supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, won his third reading by 96 votes to 31.
In the Sixties, the Lords led the way, quite unlike the situation in 2000, when the age of consent was finally equalised after the government invoked the rarely used Parliament Act to overrule a House of Lords that had thrown it out three times. Like the churches, the Lords has become more conservative about homosexuality over the years. The Catholic Archbishops of Westminster and Birmingham argued for exemptions in the 2007 Equality Act which would have allowed homosexuals to be turned away from soup kitchens and hospices.
Arran’s bill ran out of parliamentary time, but its success meant the pressure was now on for the Commons. A Conservative MP, Humphrey Berkeley, tried to sponsor a bill in the lower house. He was gay and in many ways, the lobby, certainly Grey, would have preferred him. ‘He was a nice person and not as quirky as Leo,’ Grey says now. ‘Both Arran and Abse thought that having got so far, they needed to make concessions, placate the implacable. It seemed to me that most people weren’t worried about the details.’
Abse takes a different view. ‘The House didn’t like Humphrey Berkeley. He was gay and everyone knew. He was an enfant terrible who never grew up. I don’t think he could have got it through.’ Berkeley ran out of parliamentary time and then lost his seat at the 1966 general election. Back in the new Parliament, Abse gave notice in the July that he intended to move a 10-Minute Rule bill. By his own account, he was not the man the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins (who wanted reform, fought for it in cabinet, guaranteed parliamentary time and assiduously sat through all the debates) would have chosen to pilot it through. ‘We had a reconciliation before he died, but when Roy Jenkins talked to me in those days, he used to shut his eyes, as though he wanted to blot me out.’
Abse believes Jenkins would have preferred Michael Foot, for two reasons. First, he says, Jenkins wanted ‘to bog down Michael’, whom he saw as a potential rival in any leadership contest; and second, he ‘thought I was too dangerous a character. I was too colourful’. He points to a shield on the wall, given to him by the Clothing Federation for being the best-dressed MP in Parliament. ‘I used to dress up. My wife – my first wife – used to dress me up. By God, they needed some colour in Parliament! It wasn’t only my narcissism. It was a part of opening up society. But I think Jenkins found it somewhat… he didn’t feel comfortable.’
Abse’s story is that he and Foot, who were and are great friends, outmanoeuvred the Home Secretary. Foot didn’t want the job. ‘He hadn’t specially involved himself in the homo issue’ (even allowing for the fact that he is 90, Abse’s language seems a bit odd here), and when he realised what was involved, politely backed off. Jenkins did then give his support, Abse acknowledges, ‘although on the way there were a couple of occasions when he lost his nerve and I didn’t’.
Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell points out: ‘The tone of the parliamentary debate alternated between vicious homophobia on one side and patronising, apologetic tolerance on the other.’ The Earl of Dudley’s contribution in the Lords sums up the level of the opposition’s argument: ‘I cannot stand homosexuals. They are the most disgusting people in the world. I loathe them. Prison is much too good a place for them.’
But, as Tatchell suggests, the tone of the supporters is, from this distance, hardly less cringe-inducing. No one mentioned equality or love. The consistent position was that homosexuals were pitiful and in need of Christian compassion. Abse argues now that much of this was tactical. ‘The thrust of all the arguments we put to get it was, “Look, these people, these gays, poor gays, they can’t have a wife, they can’t have children, it’s a terrible life. You are happy family men. You’ve got everything. Have some charity.” Nobody knew better than I what bloody nonsense that was.
‘My inspiration was ideology. It’s a dirty word these days, but I was and am an ideologue. I am a Freudian. And I had been taught by Freud that men and women are bisexual. People should come to terms with their bisexuality, not repudiate it and become homophobic. You knew you were doing more than releasing thousands of people from criminality,’ he explains. ‘It was the start of opening up society to be more caring and sensitive. One was battling for all men and women to have a greater freedom.’
Commentators have argued over whether Abse was sufficiently ambitious with the substance of the bill, but there is no doubt that he was an adept tactician. He kept the mining MPs away from all the votes, ‘calling in my debts’. He used his friendship with the chief whip, John Silkin, to ensure there was enough time and he drew the opposition’s sting by gingering up a row over whether the law should apply to merchant seamen.
For a bit, it looked as though this arcane dispute might scupper the bill, but then Abse produced a compromise which, though patently absurd (merchant seamen could have homosexual sex with passengers and foreign seamen, but not each other) wrong-footed his opponents at a crucial moment. Right at the end, in the report stage, he managed to keep the required 100-plus supporters in the chamber all night so as to call for closure on the various amendments. On the last of these, he had 101 people there, which was all he needed but which, he says, ‘shows how precarious the bill was, and it’s why I get so damned annoyed when people say Wolfenden was a watershed. We got that bill through on one vote.’
Perhaps Abse is so anti-Wolfenden because his bill has been accused of being even more tentative than that report a decade earlier. Certainly, for those who had been lobbying, the act was a disappointment in several respects, not least in its confirmation of Wolfenden’s age of consent. ‘Of course, 21 was absurdly high,’ Abse acknowledges now, ‘but I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting it through under that.’ This does not seem to be his entire thinking though because he also says: ‘Adolescence is a difficult time and many young men go through a homosexual phase. Great care is needed in that you don’t corroborate them in their fixation.’
To make matters worse, the maximum penalty for any man over 21 committing acts of ‘gross indecency’ (which included masturbation and oral sex) with a 16- to 21-year-old was increased from two years to five years. Same-sex relations were also legal only in private, which was interpreted, as Tatchell says, as being ‘behind locked doors and windows and with no other person present on the premises’.
While sex may have been legal, most of the things that might lead to it were still classified as ‘procuring’ and ‘soliciting’. ‘It remained unlawful for two consenting adult men to chat up each other in any non-private location,’ Tatchell says. ‘It was illegal for two men even to exchange phone numbers in a public place or to attempt to contact each other with a view to having sex.’ Thus the 1967 law established the risible anomaly that to arrange to do something legal was itself illegal.
We shouldn’t think this provision was quietly ignored either. In 1989, during the Conservative campaign for family values, more than 2,000 men were prosecuted for gross indecency, as many as during the 1950s and nearly three times the numbers in the mid-Sixties.
So, is Abse right that he got as much as he could in the circumstances? Antony Grey thinks certainly not; Allan Horsfall is more equivocal. It is hard to judge at this distance, although the experience of recent years suggests there is a lot to be said for moving swiftly to consolidate positions gained, as Stonewall has done in sweeping on from Section 28 to civil partnership to protections for sexual orientation legislation. Stonewall’s chief executive, Ben Summerskill, acknowledges that in recent years, MPs with trade union backgrounds like John Prescott or Alan Johnson have been prepared to assert that equality means equality, which simply wasn’t the case in the 1960s. Other Labour ministers of the recent past have been susceptible to arguments about their legacy, where Harold Wilson’s government was mainly preoccupied with economic troubles and international crises.
Abse was disappointed in a different way by the aftermath of his Sexual Offences Act. ‘Those of us putting the bill through thought that, by ending criminality, we’d get the gays to integrate. But I was disconcerted and frightened at first because they were coming out and turning themselves into a self-created ghetto.’ Abse’s views of integration sound rather more like wholesale capitulation to majority behaviour. But, in any case, he is wrong. Horsfall says: ‘Nobody in the circles I moved in realised things had changed. It was 1970 before the Gay Liberation Front appeared and we were well into the Seventies before the Labour Party campaign for gay rights.’
Abse is disappointed that ‘the gays’ weren’t more grateful. ‘On my 90th birthday, I had lots of telegrams. I never had one word of thanks from any gay activist or lobby. When I’ve shown any reservations about the gays, they haven’t forgotten. The ghetto suggests they are not at ease. They’ve got to have a gay world. Perhaps it was presumptuous to think they would integrate and become part of society. They use the excuse of external pressure and discrimination, but really it’s not good enough.’
He is, unfortunately, taking a partial view. The single thing that more than any other has ‘normalised’ gay relationships has been civil partnerships. They could only have come about through lobbying, not by bien pensant intellectuals as before 1967, but by gay people themselves. And while it seems inconceivable now that we could ever go backwards, it is worth remembering the discrimination Abse dismisses was unchecked only recently.
Summerskill points out that recent events in Russia when gay activists, including Tatchell, were beaten up, possibly by plainclothes police, ‘were not unthinkable in Britain 20 years ago’. Those archbishops arguing for the exclusion of homosexuals from hospices in 2007 offered a glimpse of a grimy homophobia that still sits mouldering on the underbelly of some British institutions.
The 1967 act was terribly flawed, but the world changed overnight for those like Antony Grey and Allan Horsfall who lived with their partners. The law also emboldened them and others to campaign for the right for those partnerships to have the same standing in law as any other marriage and for other rights to be themselves and have the same freedoms as everyone else. Mealy-mouthed, half-hearted, embarrassed by itself as it was, the act made possible the equality that has since been so painstakingly fought for.
A 40-year journey from shame to pride
1967 Sexual Offences Act in England and Wales decriminalises homosexual acts between two men over 21 years and in private. Scotland legalises it in 1980; Northern Ireland in 1982.
1971 First ever gay march in London, finishing with a rally in Trafalgar Square.
1976 Tom Robinson releases ‘Glad to be Gay’, which reaches No 18 in the singles chart.
1979 First ever gay television series Gay Life commissioned by LWT.
1982 UK’s first HIV/Aids charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust launched.
1983 Labour Party candidate Peter Tatchell defeated in Bermondsey by-election after anti-gay campaign by tabloid press and local Liberals.
1984 Chris Smith, the UK’s first openly gay MP, comes out while in office.
1988 Section 28, preventing the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, introduced as part of the Local Government Act on 24 May.
1992 London hosts the first international Europride festival with a crowd of 100,000.
1994 Age of consent lowered to 18 from 21, despite unsuccessful campaign to lower it to 16, the consensual age for heterosexuals.
1998 Waheed Alli, one of the world’s few openly gay Muslims, becomes the youngest and first openly gay life peer in Parliament.
2000 Government lifts ban on lesbian and gay men in the armed forces.
2001 Age of consent lowered to 16.
2003 Section 28 successfully repealed on 18 November.
2005 First civil partnerships take place.
· The following correction was printed in the Observer’s For the record column, Sunday July 1 2007. The article above referred to Allan Horsfall as ‘a former Bolton councillor’. Although in 1963 he was a resident of Bolton when he set up what became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, he wasn’t a councillor there. He was, however, a councillor in Nelson, Lancashire in the late 1950s.