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February 2008

Fred, born 1931


Fred is a 76 year old gay man. In this interview he talks about the bars of 1950s in Birmingham and also Walsall and Stratford. He discusses relationships and difficulties being openly gay in the 1960s. He later talks about finding love again in later life, the gay scene today and the Mature Gay Men’s Group he attends.


1940s bars - 10
1950s bars – 20 30
Vinegar Tits - 20
Stratford Bars - 70
Walsall Bars - 80
Police Harassment - 40
Straight toleration of gay people in bars - 50
Lesbian access to bars - 60
Family and relationships – 90 100 110 120 160
Being out at work (or not) - 100
Involvement with a married man - 160
Gay politics - 150
Gay scene now – 180 190
MGM group – 170
Licencing laws – 30
Cruising/picking up men for sex – 50
Music in bars – 80, 180, 190
Gay men and lesbians mixing – 140
(Lack of) options for older LGBs – 170, 180, 190
Not great to be gay in the fifties quote - 200

10 First ‘Gay’ bars

His first visit in the late 1940s was to the Hope and Anchor, it was a gay bar, he was about 18. From there he went to Paradise Street to the Woolpack, which wasn’t as gay, just a second bar they used to go to.

20 The Imperial Hotel : Vinegar Tits

He went out much more in the 1950s to the Imperial Hotel, “a great big square bar, open every night, usually full of gay people. There were two bar maids, Molly, and Edith, who was a misery, they used to call her Vinegar Tits”.

30 A typical fifties night out

Fred and his friends used to congregate from 8pm; closing was 10pm then. You might go back with friends for coffee afterwards. They might start at the Imperial, go across the road to the Trocadero and then up the hill to the Clarendon, which was not very nice, all spit and sawdust.

40 Police Harassment in the 1950s

“We used to get considerable harassment; the police would leave us alone for a period and then visit the bars. They would come in plain clothes, clear everyone out, and for a while that bar would be dead as we would find another bar to go to.
They didn’t arrest people, but let it be known they were there to clear the place. I don’t remember them saying anything, it was a strange situation, you would know they were plain-clothes policemen and everyone would drift out, I don’t remember them harassing anyone.”

50 Straight people tolerated gays in certain bars 1950s

“Straight people in the bars didn’t harass us, but people used to go cruising to urinals, toilets, some of the gay people were a bit over the top, normal people would take the mickey then, but no-one got hurt. It was so under-cover that the gay congregation were quieter then; they couldn’t advertise the fact that they were gay.”

60 Nowhere for gay women 1950s

“I seldom saw any gay women, I knew a couple during the fifties and they didn’t go out drinking, there didn’t seem to be anywhere for them to socialise”.

70 Trips to Stratford 1950s

“I used to go to Stratford at weekends sometimes, that was gorgeous - to the Dirty Duck, the bar at the Shakespeare Hotel and the bar at the Falcon Hotel that was a little bit quieter and it was wonderful. Quite a lot of Birmingham people went, and it was a lovely, lovely evening there”.

80 Trips to Walsall 1950s

Fred recalls “Some Brummies would go to Walsall on the bus, some had cars, but I used to go to Aunty’s Bar in Walsall in Tarantella Street, we’d catch the bus, which was absolutely packed of a weekend. They were purely pubs, drinking, no dancing, no music, which was wonderful, no singers, nothing. I used to go to the Wheatsheaf at Walsall, that was Hilda Bent’s, someone called Bent owned that, and his daughter was Lisa Williams, who won the Miss United Kingdom. That was great there, and we used to go to the George Hotel occasionally, and they had a piano player in there, playing easy listening music”.

90 Relationships 1960s

“In the sixties I got into a relationship (with Tom) for twenty years, until he died. It was a good relationship, he was a good guy, but we seldom went into town, and we lost track of all the bars, and clubs, that happened after that date”.

100 Partner not out at work 1960s

“I was a dancer and my partner was a manager of a jewellery shop in Birmingham and then he went into an office job in an electrical shop. No one knew he was gay at work; he was the most normal person you could possibly see. That’s what he was always so concerned about”.

110 Not out with family 1960s

“Tom lived with his mother, who was bedridden, and I lived here, because I was the youngest of twelve, and I had my mum and dad when they were ill, and as they became elderly I seemed to have the looking after of all my brothers and sisters to do, being the youngest, and it still goes on, I still have one now. It was never mentioned, and it’s such a shame, my father and I were so far apart because of the situation of me being gay, he could never accept that, we never talked about it, but I could tell. I had a great closeness with my mother. With my brothers and sisters I always felt they could have been a little more understanding”.

120 Out to one sister 1960s

My one sister that lived with me here, the others married, but Harriet, who was in a wheel chair, I took her everywhere, to Canada and all over, she passed away fourteen years ago, and she was wonderful. She met my partner, she loved Tom, but people didn’t accept you being gay then, in the sixties, you just couldn’t mention it because that was the way it was.

130 Hobbies

“Being a dancer, I would have loved to have gone to the clubs and danced, but now I find they are going out when I’m coming home to go to bed. So I didn’t go out in the 70s, 80s and 90s. For entertainment I write music and play the keyboard, I love it.”

135 “I’ve built dolls houses, the dolls, the clothes, about five or them, upstairs. No children have ever seen them. It seemed a funny thing for a man to be doing! I read a lot, I’ve always had so many hobbies. I like gardening”.

140 Friends now

“When I go out, now, I go occasionally to the films, with my new relationship, but I go and see my gay lady friends a lot, they live in Chester Road, Chris is 61 and Pat is 51, so they are a generation younger than me. We have great times, we do dinner parties. Tomorrow is a birthday celebration so they don’t want me to cook; it’s fish and chips tomorrow!”

150 Not part of gay politics

“Regarding gay politics, sitting at home, I’ve seen stuff about people ‘coming out’, but I didn’t think a lot about it, I didn’t feel part of it, I was wonderfully happy with the life I had, I’d go out dancing, Irish dancing, line dancing, anything, I’d go out and do, that was my hobby.” (Referring to 70s and 80s)

160 Finding love with a married man 2006

“Then of course love has come along again and disrupted my life again. I met this guy and because he was married and all the appendages that come with it, and also, there were other reasons, anyhow, because of his family life I don’t see him very often, it’s wonderful when I do see him, but what do I do when I don’t see him, which could be a few days. Because of his outlook, when he leaves me of a night time, he never says, ’I’ll see you soon’, so I spend my life on hold. My difficulty is my disinclination to do my hobbies - my life’s been on hold for 12 months while this is going on and sometimes I think is it worth it, was my old life better?”

170 Mature Gay Mens Group 2006+

“I do now go to venues in town, I go because what else is there for me to do, I can’t stay looking at four walls every night, it’s the nighttimes that’s the worst, I went to the MGM last night, the Mature Gay Men’s Group, which meets once a month at the Wellington, in Bristol St. There is a committee, and they have events, e.g. a garden party a fortnight ago, and there’s about 40 or 50 members, they’ve done holidays together about ten went to Benidorm, a day in London, Blackpool, various different things, but I still feel an outsider, perhaps because I’ve been a loner for so long, I don’t feel part of it. I feel although they are around my age (76) or a lot younger, and it’s not me, I don’t want to hear what they are talking about, past experiences and gay talk, frivolous talk. When I was 18 I knew hundreds of people, where are they now? The MGM group doesn’t include those people I knew. I don’t feel I have anything in common. I’ve not worried about what will happen as I get older until I started this relationship. I’m used to being in control and I’m not in control of this situation.”

180 Scene for the very young

“I don’t go to clubs in town because I can’t stand the music, conversation is impossible, I like the Loft Lounge, a fairly new bar, its nice, not loud music, more for the youngsters, and lots of women, they do meals, but it’s nice in the day and the early evening. It’s the only bar of its kind, anyone can use and feel comfortable, and decent bars are sadly lacking. Missing and the Fountain and Glamourous are geared for the very young. Where are the bars for older people?”

190 Younger men

“Younger men sometimes try to pull me but I don’t talk to them in general, they’re a little bit in awe, they’re a bit interested in my life experiences, but like any place that youngsters go to be it Hurst St or Broad St, it’s the clang bang music.”

200 Not great to be gay in the fifties

“I’ve personally not experienced harassment, being gay was comfortable in the theatre, it wasn’t a pleasure to be gay in the fifties, it was awful, it wasn’t nice at all because everything had to be undercover. I never experienced anything (harassment) myself, perhaps because I was very careful.”