London: Terence Rattigan and Wartime nookie

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Terence Rattigan | NNDB | 17061

Playwright Terence Rattigan’s greatest secret wasn’t his homosexuality, writes Robert Gore-Langton in The Spectator. It was his wartime service for his country: he was a tailgunner in the RAF.

After basic training, Rattigan was assigned as a wireless operator and airgunner to a squadron of Sunderlands, hunting enemy submarines in the Atlantic. One moment he was banking nice fat royalties from West End hits such as French Without Tears. Next thing he knew, he was patrolling the Atlantic on 13-hour missions.

His 1942 play Flare Path was written while on active service. He completed the first act during repairs after a Heinkel had shot up the tail end of his aircraft. Then, flying 1,200 miles on to West Africa, the starboard engine died. Luggage, loo seat and every fitting they could hack off with an axe went overboard in a desperate bid to stay aloft. Rattigan was about to sling his kitbag when he realised that his manuscript was in it. He ripped off the heavy cardboard covers but shoved the pages up his jacket.

The article goes on to lift a dust cover off life in London during the war. Actor Kenneth More, who appeared in many war period films, always thought that his best job in the theatre was being a stage hand among the nude girls at the Windmill Theatre. Instead of hunting enemy submarines, as he did in the navy, More used a peephole to scan men in the stalls who had newspapers concealing their laps and relayed their position. He’d whisper, ‘Wanker, Daily Mail, C17.’ Offenders would then be ejected.

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/03/terence-rattigans-greatest-secret-wasnt-his-homosexuality/


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Anne Lister

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Anne Lister’s portrait | Calderdale Cultural Services | 17055

The life of Anne Lister is being dramatised by the BBC and HBO networks.

Anne Lister was born on 3rd April, 1791 and was educated at home, in Ripon and in York. She lived in the 15th century Shibden Hall near Halifax, Yorkshire, now a listed property.

In 1806 she began a diary of her life, which she wrote in code using zodiac signs, punctuation marks and mathematical symbols; the diary, which amounts to more than four million words, detailed her social and sexual life as well as local events during her life and provides a unique insight into life in the district during the late Georgian and early Victorian periods.

She was privileged to be a wealthy land owner who could afford to go travelling and mountain climbing.

Her neighbours called her “Gentleman Jack” while her lovers called her Fred.

She died in 1840 aged 49 from a fever which she caught from an insect sting while travelling in Russia with her partner Ann Walker. The pair even got married, but it was not legally recognised.

Her diaries were decrypted after she died by relatives, who had the diaries – number of quarto volumes – hidden behind a panel in Shibden Hall, and they were rediscovered in the 1980s and published as “Anne Lister’s Secret Diaries for 1817”. The diaries were added to the register UNESCO Memory of the World Programme.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/0/meet-britains-first-modern-lesbian-scandalous-life-anne-lister/

http://www.examiner.co.uk/whats-on/sally-wainwright-write-new-yorkshire-12698139


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The Raid on the Caravan Club

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Inside the Caravan Club | Police Photo/UK National Archives | 17049

The Caravan Club in Soho, London was a lesbian and gay friendly members’ club that billed itself as “London’s greatest bohemian rendezvous said to be the most unconventional place in town”. The club, at 81 Endell Street, was one of many mostly temporary venues at a time when being openly gay was perilous, often resulting in prosecution and imprisonment.

The club was run by Billy Reynolds and a former strongman and escapologist called Jack Neave, known as “Iron Foot Jack” because of the metal platform he wore to compensate for a shortened leg.

After a series of complaints about the behaviour of the customers, the Metropolitan police put the club under surveillance from October 1933. Police seem to have watched the comings and goings from unused offices at the Shaftesbury Theatre opposite.

In August 1934 they raided the club, with plainclothes officers easily entering by pretending to be visitors.

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Inside the Caravan Club | Police Photo/UK National Archives | 17050

The officer in charge of the raid was Inspector Clarence, who noted : “The room inside was very badly lighted and the atmosphere was awful. … Men were dancing with men and women were dancing with women, a number of couples were simply standing still, and I saw couples wriggling their posteriors, and where I saw men together they had their hands on the other’s buttocks and were pressing themselves together. In fact all the couples I saw were acting in a very obscene manner.”

A policeman on the raid reported: “Two men were standing in front of each other dancing and moving their bodies close to each other. One had his hand on the other’s flies and the other one said: “Oh, darling.””

One policeman was shocked to enter the bathroom and find two men applying mascara and rouge to each others’ faces.

One regular customer, Cyril, had written a letter to Billy Reyolds, which was found and seized by the Police. “I have only been queer for about two years because I knew nothing about it until I came to London.” He was married and had a daughter. He ends the letter: “Billy, please be a dear boy and destroy this note.” The note is kept in the National Archives.

103 men and women were arrested and taken to Bow Street police station. Many of the young men there were working class. The majority were found not guilty in court on condition they never frequented such a club again.

History does not record whether they complied with that instruction.

Reynolds and Neave were given sentences of 12 months and 20 months respectively hard labour in prison.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/27/revived-1930s-london-gay-members-club-caravan-club-raided-by-police


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