Born in London in 1926, Kenneth Williams was the son of Louisa (“Louie”) Morgan and Charles Williams, a barber and strict Methodist. He had an older half-sister, an illegitimate child of his mother’s born before she met his father. Although interested in acting from an early age, his father absolutely forbade it and refused to encourage him. After school, Williams apprenticed as a draughtsman for a mapmaker instead of pursuing his dream. (more…)
Polari is a form of cant slang adopted by the queer subculture in England throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries. Its origins are murky, although there’s evidence at least some of it dates back as early as the 1500s, where it was used by a number of socially marginalised groups, including actors, circus showmen, merchant seamen, prostitutes, and petty criminals, as well as queer men. Punch and Judy street performers also have a strong association with it. (more…)
Born in Preston, NW England, in 1935, from an early age John Inman exhibited a tendency towards camp which would become a hallmark of his later success. His mother ran a boarding house and his father was a hairdresser, but Inman was always determined to become an actor, no doubt influenced by his parents’ move to Blackpool when he was twelve. His parents supported his ambition, paying for him to take elocution lessons at their local church hall. As a child, Inman was also noted for his love of dressmaking. (more…)
Wikipedia describes camp as “a social, cultural, and aesthetic style and sensibility based on deliberate and self-acknowledged theatricality.” It is all those things, and more besides, but it’s difficult to pin down. Nonetheless, we all know camp when we see it.
Camp is effete, it’s garish, it’s hyperbole and exaggeration, it’s shameless, crude, funny, and sexless. Camp appeals to the masses, yet is intrinsically associated with queer men. (more…)
Yes, I know. I’m including Robin Hood as biography when we have no idea if he actually existed or not. In my defence, I offer Jesus 😛
Actually, the legends surrounding Robin Hood almost certainly have their origins in the life of a real figure. A number of men have been suggested to have been the source of the legend. Robert, the Earl of Huntingdon is a favourite, for this inscription on his grave at Kirklees Priory: (more…)
Class is a peculiarly English phenomenon. Which isn’t to say other countries don’t have class systems, because of course they do, but whenever one thinks of “class” one can’t help conjuring up images of English lords and ladies juxtaposed against ruddy-faced farmers, sooty coal miners, and Dickensian street urchins. (more…)
David Leavitt’s 1993 novel, While England Sleeps, is an ambitious inter-generational, cross-class, multi-national story about love and loss.
Set in England in the 1930s, it is narrated by Brian Botsford, a young man from a privileged background who wants to be a writer. Brian meets a young working-class man, Edward, who is employed on the Underground, itself the subject of a play Brian is writing. The two strike up a passionate relationship, living together in Brian’s small, one-bed flat. (more…)
In the 1950s, during the height of the first Cold War period, Britain was rocked by the uncovering of a Soviet spy ring which reached to the very heart of the establishment.
Kim Philby was born in India in 1912. His father was a famous author and convert to Islam who worked for the Indian Civil Service and later as advisor to King Ibn Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia. Kim (the nickname came from the Kipling book of the same title) was educated in England, attending Westminster College before going on to Trinity College, Cambridge to read History and Economics. He graduated in 1933. (more…)
Ever since the law criminalised homosexual acts and identities, it has been open to abuse from blackmailers. When I examined the Burney Collection, almost a quarter of complaints concerning sodomy related to blackmail, the threat of “swearing sodomy” against an innocent party. If discovered, the blackmailer was subject to the same punishment as somebody convicted of the crime they claimed (generally standing in the pillory up to three times, and paying a fine of 50l, or £10,000/$15,000 in today’s money). (more…)
Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in July 1967 with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act. At least, that’s the common perception. Actually what this Act did was define an exemption from prosecution for private, consensual sexual contact between two males over the age of 21, excluding army and merchant navy personnel. Anything else covered by the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which criminalised buggery and “gross indecency between men” remained illegal. (more…)