The Pink Past.
Between the wars and
The A & B Club and Mark Fleming
I have spent a very enjoyable afternoon glued to your
site. Such memories coming back, but no mention of the A & B
Club in Wardour Street.
Its full title was the Arts and Battledress Club,
as Geoffrey (with the hats), would say 'for artists and servicemen and
look at the place full of poofs'.
Any memories of Mark Fleming, which is how I came
to find the site in the first place ? A drag queen, sadly departed
now in the late 70's who used to go handgliding with the Queen Mother and
used to do the Sunday lunchtime slot with Mrs Shufflewick at the Black
and 40's London
As an avid gerontophile many of my friends
have been about in London before the gay scene took off. Also my ex partner
has his older gay friends from whom he heard stories of the scene in the
30s and 40's..
One in particular was a squadron-leader
(nicknamed "Baggy") who flew bombers. He used to take his crew into the
Queens Head in Tryon Street, which, I believe, qualifies it for a place
as the oldest continuously gay pub in London. I was told that if his crew
weren't gay on take-off they were by the time they landed! In those days
the pub had sawdust on the floor and a piano in ne corner where a
Scotsman in a kilt would belt out songs.
After being demobbed he worked for BP
in fuel research and would be required to drive long distances in luxury
vehicles - it was on one of these trips that he picked up his boyfriend
hitching on a roundabout. When he retired from business he took over a
pub in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds with his boyfriend and would
make "friends" with the local farm boys while sitting at the bar drinking
whisky from a bottle which would be permanently topped up from any left-overs
in the optics.
Apparently one evening a visitor got
drunk and started making comments about the landlord and his boyfriend
and the loyal locals picked up the accuser and threw him out. He
was quite a character by all accounts but sadly I never met him as he died
just before I met my partner (now 72) although we did go to the pub in
the Cotswolds only to find the boyfriend had done a bunk! It later transpired
he wasn't really gay although fiercely loyal to Baggy when he was alive.
I also heard about another pub in Soho
from the 50's which was run by an elderly Jewish couple who made generous
donations to police benevolent charities to avoid getting raided. They
made a collection in a hat every night and would take the collection, wrap
it in tissue paper with a drawing pin inserted and throw the whole lot
up to the ceiling where it stuck - until it was removed once a year to
give to the charity
Good Old Days
1953, I was just
sixteen and while I knew what my feelings were about sex, when I looked
around I didn't see anyone else at all like me, except in the pages of
the News Of The World.
There I could
read every week about men having sex with other men and being cast into
prison, a warning indeed to less adventurous souls such as myself.
It is interesting
to look at some statistics from that year taken from the Home Offices own
In 1953 5688 homosexual
offences were known to the police
2166 men were
sent for trial for various homosexual offenses (in 1950 it has been 1635.)
An indicator of the increasing effort being made by the authorities to
harass gay men
1277 people were
found guilty in trials at the Assizes and Quarter session of which 510
received prison sentences. Over half these sentences were for 6 months
to 2 years but 136 gay men received sentences of between 3 and 10 years.
courts, 718 men were charged of whom 650 were found guilty. 154 were fined
but 188 also received prison sentences of up to 6 months. The rest were
placed on probation or given conditional discharges. 21% of the men accused
were under 21 years old.
It is worth noting
that anal intercourse was classed with having sex with an animal and carried
a maximum of life imprisonment.
to commit an act of anal sex or having the intent to commit such an act
carried a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
It is incredible
that these draconian sentences existed into the sixties and even the modest
changes introduced in that year did not prevent men being prosecuted and
sent to prison.
As an example
to a sixteen year old boy, the message was clear, keep well clear of sex
or you will end up in jail. This of course was exactly the message the
establishment wanted to send out to ordinary people. Many were brave enough
to ignore it but too many paid a high price with many committing suicide
before their cases were heard, others suffering loss of jobs, families
Good old days
? Not from where I was looking.
LORD MONTAGU SCANDAL
In 1954, Lord Montagu and two friends
were tried and convicted of having sex with young men in a boat house on
the Lord's estate. The case changed lives !
The scandal involving Lord Montague
occurred when I was just 17 and aware of my sexuality and very, very scared.
I desperately wanted to know all the details of what the men involved did
together and it did not seem to me that anyone involved deserved the sentences
the press and even staid old BBC radio
made a meal of the case. Comedians made constant jokes about watching you
backside even on family radio shows.
newspaper published cartoons.
One year later I had a medical for
National Service and was sure that the doctors would know in some way I
was homosexual even though I had never had penetrative intercourse. I had
read that admitting being homosexual could get you excused from National
service but you would always be labled in offical records as a pervert,
an invert, a security risk, a health risk, a potential child molester and
god knows what else.
So I said nothing and kept my head
down in the straightest sense of the word. But there is no doubt in my
mind that had the Montague case not exploded when it did, my life may have
been different. It did focus attention on homosexuality and it's suppposed
evils in a way which at 17 I could not cope with.
PUBS AND RESTAURANTS TO REMEMBER !
your favourite venues from the prewar and pre 1967 period. E Mail us now.
also our page on forgotten venues
Behind cinema off the Fulham Road. Small yard to which barman had key !
A & B Club in Wardour
ELEPHANT, off Leicester Square
DOUCE, D'arbly Street, Soho
POT, Berwick Street
LOUNGE, off Picadilly Circus
OTHER PLACE, Kings Road
be pleased to have your memories of gay life before and just after
the war. Contact us using the E:Mail link below. Photos would also be of
interest. (If sending photos mail us first at
During the thirties and even
right up until the early seventies, one of the best places to meet men
in London must be the Lyons Corner house. The one in the Strand was one
of the most popular.
Smart waitresses known as 'nippies'
served you at the tables which were quite crowded together giving a chance
to chat to people at the next table. The fare was fairly unimaginative
and cakes with tea was one of the most popular orders.
It was the sheer business of the places
which provided a perfect cover for chatting to strange men and making assignations.
Sharing tables was quite normal and seeing an attractive chap alone at
a table, one just asked if he minded sharing and then if he was agreeable
taking things from there. A bit like the cubicles at the sauna's in Amsterdam
in fact !
In the sixties, the magazine Film and
Filming which was serious magazine which reviewed films especially those
which were generally called 'Arty' was very popular with gay men. Of course
gay men loved 'arty' films especially those where a bit of male flesh was
allowed to get past the censor. the main attraction however lay in the
personal ads where chaps advertised for other chaps to share their enjoyment
of the cinema, theatre, dining and of course sports.
No one could be in any doubt what was
really being sought but the magazine continued it's invaluable work for
many many years
series of articles about our past (Other pages in this section)