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Robin McGarry


Robin McGarry b1941, age 66 at interview  


Childhood and teenage years

“I was born on the 28th July 1941 in Blackheath in the Black Country.  We moved to Oldbury where I lived for the next twelve years.  Four sisters and four brothers, I’m in the middle. Fairly ordinary childhood, I never liked mother, from the time when I felt I could like or dislike, I never liked her.  And finally, of course, when I grew up and met John McGarry, she didn’t like him so, of course, we parted company and I never saw her again; she's dead now.”  


“In 1951 we left Oldbury under an enormous cloud of one of my mother’s divorces and moved to Quinton and I used to be coached over the hills to Northfield School for Boys for two years because the school at Quinton was still being built when we arrived. I finished school in Bartley Green. In 1955 I finished school on the Friday, my fifteenth birthday was the Saturday and I started work on the Monday.”


Developing feelings for boys

“In 1951 I started having feelings for members of the same sex, probably about ten, but certainly preferring men to women or boys to girls but very rarely sexual feelings.” 


“I don’t think (I worried about it). I had a couple of brothers who I was very fond of.  Raymond, who was two years my junior, was my soul mate, I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without him.  It was quite amazing, certainly for four or five years we were totally inseparable and to me it was a most natural thing to have these sort of feelings for guys and I didn’t know about the intricacies of what the law thought or what they didn’t think at that time.”


“By 1955 I don’t think I ever went through the stage where I thought I was the only one, the only gay, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, because there were school friends, who were obvious in what they wanted and what they needed. I don’t think I was camp, I developed that later on, but quite a few of my friends were camp and they stood out at school. That was a good lesson for me not to be camp because they were bullied and called names, and that’s where ‘poof’ and everything else came in, words I wouldn’t allow people to use nowadays but now we have some form of defence where we didn’t in those days.”


“So as an older teenager I never had any doubt at all that there was a life to be had out there, whereas a lot of my friends had gone through their early life thinking they were the only one in the world, that they were the odd one.”


“From 1956 from around fifteen until I left home (at 18) I was (having sexual contact with a particular boy a couple of years younger) I would go all out to please him before I was pleasing myself.”


“By 1959 I was eighteen. I was rather a late starter, I didn’t come to fruition (orgasm) until I was eighteen so I had no idea what these guys were screaming and jumping about at so I used to say ‘what does it feel like?’. I was a later starter anyway so a lot of the excitement and the fun of being at school, any suggestions of sexual contact with quite a few of the people I went to school with went completely over my head because I was such an innocent.  There’s the odd couple that I had schoolboy crushes with but it never went more than a sort of romance, not deep physical sex.”


Meeting other men

“Homosexuality was not discussed in the 1950s.  It was ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ and, therefore, God knows how some of us used to meet but meet we did because in those days there were less bars but there were more what we would now refer to as ‘cottages’ which were meeting places for gay guys and I also used to go to colleges to meet gay guys.”


Meeting men through the hotel trade


“In 1959 I left home to go into the hotel world at 18 and that’s when my life changed. I worked at the Saracens Head at Balsall Common on and off for five years. Being a good-looking lad I would be propositioned by the customers or diners at the hotel.  I think the fact that a man had spent time talking to me for a start off would give me an idea – or in-depth conversations or someone would twig that I was gay and, therefore, play on that but only because they were gay, it was very rare I was talking to someone and they said, ‘Are you gay, are you queer?’  So there would be the odd guy who would come more than once and want to take me out to dinner and invariably I’d go, I was a young man and why not -  if I liked the look of him or his car, and I developed quite a nice group of friends who were gay, directly or indirectly, sometimes married, sometimes not. I’ve very rarely had any negative reactions in my life and, of course, the hotel world is very transient, you know, people come and people go. I was doing my hotel training at Saracens Head and I was under the protection of Mrs Watt, the owner.”  



“I’m not sure we used ‘gay’ (in the 1950s) quite as much as we do these days.  It’s one of those mean, spiteful words that I, again, wouldn’t allow anyone to use with me now, they’d get their face slapped.” 


Growing acceptance and awareness of homosexuality by society

“I think a lot of (the growing acceptance and awareness of homosexuality) was education.  Indirect education, of course, it was never spoken of as being a positive thing but people on television had become to be a little more open.  Not necessarily wide open but open enough - Liberace, for a start, however gay and camp, he was a great help, I think, to us.  He was a very good pianist, but he was accused in the British papers of being a fag and suing the newspaper and winning the case that he was not a fag but, of course, he was a fag, he was an old fag.  But I’ve had very little problems with anti-gay over the years and if I have, the bit I’ve had I’ve dealt with in my own way.”


Family’s reaction

“I don’t see my family.  Once my mother took against John – this was in ’65, I really stopped seeing any of them because I needed to develop my life with him.  There was one sister I used to see fairly regularly but that faded out and Raymond had got married in the meantime and that faded out and the others I had no real kinship with.  They were all tarred, as far as I was concerned, with the same brush as my mother and I didn’t like her.”


“There were several incidences - I must have been ten or maybe eleven when I realised, ‘Who is this bloody awful woman who is knocking me about all the time’?  She used to hit me, whatever was nearest.  If we were sitting here she’d pick up that chair and hit me with it.  That was just the way she was, always, there was very little let up to the extent if I looked at her I’d get a smack because I’m looking at her arrogantly or questionably and I got fed up with this.  She used to say about me playing with girls, ‘Stop playing with girls,’ she said ‘Go and play with the boys like your brothers do’.  Well, I did, didn’t I, I started playing with boys.  I was only a boy myself then obviously.  So I gave up the girlies so who knows what might have happened if it hadn’t have been that.  She made me wear one of my sister’s dresses one day as punishment for something, I’m not quite sure what, probably being a feminine boy and I never forgave her for that. That was the turning point, although I don’t dislike women, I have very few in my life.  I may come across as bitter but I’m not really bitter.  The best thing I did was to cut her out of my life when John came along.  I should have done it earlier but I didn’t, I used to keep going back because it’s family and give her half my wages and the crazy things I would have done in those days. There’s not another gay in the family.  There’s four boys and four girls and Robin, or John as  I was in those days of course.”


Working in the hotel trade

“I worked for Mrs Watt (in the hotel trade) for about five years, but on and off because I went for some training at Chadwick Manor near Knowle.  That was a big hotel run by an RAF pilot, Captain McKay, and I did a lot of my hotel training there and then I would go back to Mrs Watt in between times and having several friends around that area, several wealthy friends by then, home owners who lived in the villages around Knowle and Warwickshire generally. I worked in hotels until about ’66, I gave it up then because of meeting John.”


“When I worked at Chadwick Manor all the staff lived in, from the girls who ran the laundry to the gardeners and waiters and chefs and cooks.  We lived in the stables and it was all converted into staff quarters and we had meals on duty but I had a few love affairs between various waiters.  There was one chap who had just been demobbed from the Army and he had to share a room with me because the waitress’s room he was going to have she hadn’t left and the poor bloke didn’t stand a chance, did he, with his military uniform on and all that.  We had a brief liaison which was rather nice. I said to him, because we’d got twin beds obviously, ‘If you’re cold in the night come and sleep with me’.  That was the sort of brassy person I was and I was bold enough and I was rather beautiful when I was young, really, even by today’s standards.  So, yes, there were always nice lovers, nothing terribly deep until John came along, but a few important nice things.”


“I remember once I’d got a spot and I’d put something on to cover the spot, not powder exactly but I’d put this thing on and one of the customers saying, ‘Oh, you ought to have done the other side because it looks quite good this side’, but I’d done it because it was a spot and from then on she knew that I was gay.  So little things but I was never, ever short of lovers.  Never, ever, never.  I didn’t have to fight them off and I very rarely had two at the same time but there was never a shortage of blokes who wanted to take you out.”


“Some of them were married - fifty fifty, I would think.  Like today, the majority of people who talk in the bars, there are people who are married, of course they are, they’re leading a double life which is a bit sad really.”


“I’m not aware that I ever had major discussions with these men about their likes and dislikes and their family’s dislikes but I’ve gone out with lots of married men in my time especially since I’ve been divorced from John McGarry, the last sixteen years, most of my lovers have been married guys because I like married guys.  I like the steadiness of it and the fact that they can go home after they’ve take me out for dinner or whatever.”


Society’s attitude to homosexuality in the 50s and 60s

“Because of the authority’s attitude (to homosexuality), I mean, there were agents provocateurs and there were entrapments all the time right through the fifties and sixties.  It was monstrous some of the things they got up to. I’m aware of whole cruising areas being emptied, a bit like the Jews and the Nazis, and put into vans and taken off and, of course, publicly shamed because all the names are always mentioned by the newspapers, they used to love that.  When the Wolfenden Report was sorted out and it became legal for two guys, I wish we could have had some sort of reprise where a lot of these people could have been brought up in front of the authorities because I feel that they were doing their job a bit like the Nazis were in the prison camps, and I think a lot of them should have been brought to task especially as a lot of them were outright gays anyway. I still feel bad about that, nobody was ever brought to task and these police used to run around rubbing their hands because they would get their stripes for so many prosecutions and so many arrests and I feel that a lot of them should have been brought up in front of the beak and told to explain the way they made a living and I feel bad about that even today.”


Using the health services, early 60s

“I remember having to go to the special clinic once when I was about twenty (1960s) and this guy telling me quite clearly, ‘You do realise that homosexuality is illegal’, whatever it was they called it then, and, therefore, he should be reporting me. This is in Birmingham behind the Children’s Hospital, down quite close to where the Queensway Tunnel comes out now, and this is me, at 20, and I’m going, ‘If you’re going to say this to every queer guy who comes in here then we’re not going to come in and, therefore, we’re going to carry the disease with us so it isn’t really right, is it?’  I don’t remember what answer he gave me.”


“I was very headstrong then and I always have been.  But, yes, there was a lot of really -carrying out the rules and regulations really, without any thought about the human side of things, the human touch.  I think I’ve always been open with my doctor.  I’ve only had about four doctors in my entire life but my doctor now is back in Birmingham and, of course, he knows but I never hid my light under a bushel, I was always open about it.  And never to my detriment, sometimes you can skirt around these things.”


Cottaging and socialising

“I used cottages before John and during the end of my relationship with John but not in the middle, no.  I didn’t, I was part of a couple so I didn’t cat around, no, for a long time, that was later on. I was 24 when I met him (1965), 25 when we really started living together. I left the hotel business because I met John, because it didn’t suit us for me to be going out to work at night where he was coming home from the office.”


The pub in those days was the Victoria Arms, which I think is gone now, quite close to the Smallbrook Queensway, and nearby was the Silver Slipper which was this cottage down below the street, quite close to New Street Station.  Everybody went down there.  Oh gosh, the things that went on there would make your hair curl.  Generally some of the liaisons there would be absolutely outrageous with very little care about who might not be coming in because it wasn’t all gay guys that went down there, there were some straight guys as well.  The Silver Slipper had two entrances and absolutely palatial marble stands and marble tiles but occasionally it would get raided by the cops and emptied into vans and then, of course, everybody would come rushing into the bar. ‘The Slipper’s been raided’ so nobody would go there for a couple of days.  Most of the little cottages around Birmingham would be very busy, very busy indeed because it was where we met, we had the odd bar but we didn’t have many bars and the landlords were making money, that was all they were interested in but, the moment there was any threat to them or their licence, they would pull out and they wouldn’t be gay anymore.  So you could go one week it would be gay and the next week it wouldn’t.  It was as flexible as that.”


“In the cottages, we’d do everything, oh everything, yeah, everything, every single thing. AIDS hadn’t raised its head by then but there was VD, of course.  That’s why we’re mostly what we are now.  It’s getting less now, of course, but – yes, sex in toilets was from masturbation to full blown sex, lurve if you like, and everything in between.”


“We’d use lube or saliva but I think the more gentlemen amongst us would probably carry a lube of some kind, probably Vaseline because although I think KY’s always been around, it was rather expensive and still is.  But, yeah, it would probably be Vaseline because of the little tins.  The police search your handbag and they find a tin of Vaseline in there.  You can’t always have cracked lips, can you?”


“The places would get raided, I think probably mostly through hetero complaints or if somebody had been arrested somewhere else and they’d say where else do you go and they’d say we go down the Silver Slipper down behind the Station and, therefore, it would be watched.  Because they took great delight these people, as I’ve already said, Gestapo tactics were the norm and they were pretty awful people the majority of them.  They were coppers by default, I would have thought.”


“I was never arrested, touch wood, but my partner was, and several of my friends have been over the years.  I’ve had friends who have committed suicide because of being found cottaging and then the families don’t know anything about it.  That’s pretty ghastly.  But, no, I was tarred with the same brush, I think they (the Police) were all bastards anyway and I think they probably still are but they’ve got less power as regards gay, I mean, now.  They still arrest us for cottaging, of course, but it’s not a really practised thing these days because cottages have all been closed and they've gone into restaurants now, haven’t they? Shops and restaurants didn’t have to supply public toilets anyway so it was a public convenience thing to have these places and it was very convenient to a lot of us.”


Meeting John McGarry

“I was working at the Royal George down in Digbeth, it was then a really superb restaurant and bar and I was in charge of the cocktail bar downstairs and John used to come in as a customer and stand there for an hour watching me and I was aware of him but I wasn’t going to go out with customers, it’s not something I would have thought about. There was a little coffee bar up at Five Ways at Edgbaston and late on a Saturday night it would have a few gay people in there, maybe twenty, thirty people in this coffee bar, and I went in there one night with a guy, Tony, and saw John standing at the coffee bar with a chap.  We sat down and I said, ‘Who’s that chap over there?’ ‘Oh, that’s John McGarry, you want to stay away from him’.  ‘Really? He comes down my bar’ and anyway he spotted me and his friend vanished, he came across and Tony said that he was going home. He said, ‘Do you want to come home, can I give you a lift home?’ to me and I said, ‘No, I think I’ll stay for a little while’ and John said, ‘Would you like to come back for coffee?’ and I said, ‘No, the first night we’ve met, I’m not going back to your place, no’.  He said, ‘Would you have lunch tomorrow?’ on the Sunday and I said, ‘Yeah OK’ and I never left him until 1990.  I never left him except when he left me for a short while, and he proved to be a great partner, I had a wonderful life with him. He fell for me as well, so we had no eyes for anybody for a while.  We were certainly still going to the only gay bar which was up in Camp Hill, the only gay in the village that was, and that was the start of the Nightingale (1969). It’s moved three times now, but we were amongst the first customers going and it was only a little shop with a store room at the back and that suited us.  We used to go over to Wolverhampton to visit some friends - a gay couple living together - about once a month and we’d have a gay meeting at their house, and we used to do collections to send money to the Law Society who were helping with the Wolfenden Report. We’d do little parcels and little bring and buy things, have a table and you’d buy something for pounds and pence in those days.”


Political awareness

“We knew we had to fight, we did indeed.  Lots of the men were politically aware, but I think only the slightly older ones, the ones who had been through the war and lived all that bloody nonsense and put up with all that because it was more or less ignored during the war because it suited the authorities and then it was all brought back again in full force in the late forties and fifties.”


Social life

“There was no generation gap thing for me, because I’d got my boyfriend, I wasn’t really looking at guys whether they were old or young, they possibly would become friends and the circle that you build around you.  It's like waves or like ripples, you have inner circles and outer circles and people come and people go but the majority, if you like, the nucleus were with us until they either passed away or separated or moved on or took sides when one’s in a divorce like John and I were.”


“We lost quite a few friends between us because they wouldn’t sit on the fence and they had to come one side or the other.   Much better to sit on the fence sometimes.  So we lost a lot of friends but that is further on.  Certainly we had some jolly good parties in private houses and there was a fabulous old mansion opened up on the Hagley Road called the Grosvenor House Hotel with parking for about twenty cars and a swimming pool, tennis courts (1971).  It was strictly controlled, it was quite expensive to join and it only opened on Fridays and Saturdays as gay but it was a hotel during the week, but they didn’t take bookings except for gay people at the weekends, swinging.  You used to have fetes and there was an enormous ballroom where I taught John to dance, taught him to waltz, in fact, because he could only do the quick jiving but, of course, I wanted to teach him ballroom dancing. Occasionally they would get raided because at one stage the very suggestion that you were gay was enough for you to end up in jail, you know, because you were homosexuals.  I don’t mean we were all thrown in prison every night but the very suggestion that you were gay could be enough. I have no personal experience of this but I think the fact that gay was against the law, therefore, you were breaking the law being gay, end of story.  I think by the time you’d gone to a known coffee house you’re half way there anyway and there were a lot of people like me, bloody minded, who would not put up with it.”


Prosecutions of hotel/ bar owners

“Over the years some of these places have been prosecuted for keeping boarding houses, like bed and breakfast at the seaside.  They all had to be open to straights, to heterosexuals, you couldn’t have a strictly gay one, not until I would have thought the seventies but somebody would probably argue on that because we very rarely went to seaside hotels.  John’s parents lived at Plymouth so we’d go down there for our holidays.  I feel that there was an awful lot of injustice in the name of the law and the Wolfenden Report was the Mecca in a way although we couldn’t come out because it was still illegal.  Two guys having sex together in a house was fine but if there’s somebody in that room at the front it was against the law because there’s three of you, therefore, you’re breaking the law.  So they got around that until people, a bit like Peter Tatchell, would fight the law because of the stupidity of it, if you like, it didn’t apply to heteros.  He earns every accolade he could possibly be given, Tatchell, because he’s a very brave guy.”


Wolfenden Report and the Sexual Offences Act 1957

“In the three years building up to the (publication of the) Wolfenden (Report) (1957), there was an anticipation then of homosexuality being legalised between consenting adults. He took his time over it because he was going through smoke and mirrors. I don’t think the reaction to Wolfenden was an overnight thing, I don’t think it changed people’s opinions really to a great degree and we’d lived under the shadow for such a long time that it wasn’t coming out, we didn’t come out.  We didn’t suddenly all go gay and running round the street with hula skirts on.  It was a slow process really that you had some sort of right.  I mean, cottaging was still illegal, of course, and so was cruising the heaths and the woods the way we used to.  I really feel that it was a start and then, of course, the societies were started up like the Oxford Campaign for Homosexual Equality.  We started up when we were battling for ages for acceptance and then there would be - the bars in London, if you like, the Mecca of everything would get bolder and bolder with drag shows and camp shows and television got camp.  Television went through this very camp stage, it seemed that every other presenter was gay in one way or another and so it opened like a flower almost, slowly but surely.”


“To be quite honest, I don’t recall a great deal of overt reactions to it (Wolfenden) because there were the fors and againsts.  There were MPs, in fact, who stood out as being totally anti the Wolfenden Report but none I really would care to bring to mind.  Gerald Nabarro was a pompous old sod, I think he was an MP for Bewdley, he was totally against any let up at all on the gay scene but he was outnumbered by so many others and, of course, there were so many queens in the government anyway, and still are.  There’s a lot of that hypocrisy which I can’t abide, I can’t abide it with my best friends so I’m certainly not going to abide it with people I hardly know.”


Life with John

“We started off in a flat in Hagley Road (1966), six pounds a week - I think the gas and electric was about a pound a year in those days, and then we heard that there was a house to rent in Handsworth so we decided we would go and see the old girl - Miss Jones - and she was one of these wonderful old spinsters whose boyfriend had got killed in the First World War so she’d just reached spinsterhood being 50, 60 when we met her. She lived next door and the house we were going to rent was her family home.  There was quite a lot of Victorian furniture in there so we decided all our furniture we were going to buy would be Victorian which you could buy for ten pence in those days, all this Victorian stuff.  So we furnished the whole house Victorian and we had a wonderful three years there whilst we were saving up – that’s where my love of gardening came because they had a garden and we brought the garden back to life.”


John’s prison sentence

“About three months after I met John he didn’t go to work one morning and I was in the hotel trade, I didn’t have to go in until ten, and he said, ‘I need to talk to you. Before I met you I met this boy and I had sex with him and because he was sixteen, I’ve got to go to court today’.  I said, ‘Why haven’t you told me? We’ve been living together for three months.  What happens if you go to jail, I can’t afford to keep six pounds a week for rent’.  It was a bad time for us but he went off to court and the solicitor phoned me at the pub where I was working, the Royal George, because we couldn’t afford a phone at our flat and said he’d got nine months and lucky because he could have got nine years, that was what the argument was because it was such a young lad.  But this young lad had been picked up cottaging and in his wallet was John’s telephone number.  He didn’t come back for six months, because of good behaviour he got off, he only did six months.  So when he came back he lost his job because in those days you are gay, you’re ostracised, your job’s gone, you’ve gone off for six months, you’ve gone to jail for being queer and you lost your job.  Nobody protected us at all.  Can you imagine it happening now?” 


Protecting identity by changing name

“John came back, he couldn’t get a job and we were having some difficulties living together because we’re two single guys, so I said ‘Should you change your name to mine or shall I change my name to yours?’  Well, because he was an adopted son he was reluctant to give his name up so I took his.  We went and saw a solicitor and changed it all in deed poll and I changed my name to John’s (McGarry), my original name was John Robin Marriott when I met John but I was always called Robin in the profession, because there’s just too many Johns in the hotel world. I changed my job that same weekend – I’d given up the hotel world then, I’d actually started working for Dunlop - I was with Dunlop for four years and became the Assistant to the Traffic Manager and they had absolutely no idea.”


“Anybody who wanted to believe it could believe that we were brothers because we were dark, he was six foot two and I was two foot six but that was the only difference.  Our inner friends, of course, knew.  In fact, it was: ‘This is John McGarry, my partner’ and he was always my partner even up to 1990 when we divorced but we had a great time.  He’s a very outspoken man.  He just goes on and on and on and on, but he’s all there.”


“When we moved to Handsworth we were saving madly to buy our own house, we needed to get on what we call now the ladder.  Our first house was two and a half thousand pounds, that’s what it cost us, and we sold it for six.  Anyway, we were in a flat and then we were in the house with Miss Jones living next door.  This is a four storey Victorian house with a garage underneath.  When wewe bought a house in Sutton Coldfield, we had no trouble at all, we were the McGarry brothers.  The fact we may have had some odd friends arriving at all sorts of odd times in the night and odd friends staying the weekends, couples, we never had any problems, really.”


“I was quite happy to (change my name), it was protection for both of us because two blokes living together in the sixties, maybe not the late sixties, by the late sixties we were getting a bit blasé about it all but we never experienced any problems whatsoever.  In Oxford I met a guy and he said, ‘You don’t remember me’ and I said, ‘No’.  ‘We had our boat moored next to you’ – because we had a boat on the Thames you see, a gin palace it was, and I said, ‘How old were you then, about thirteen?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, we knew you were gay’.  ‘Did you? Well!’. I met him in a bar anyway and it turned out he was gay.  But at thirteen we wouldn’t have even thought about this little whippersnapper looking at us and thinking, ‘Yeah’.”


“I remember when we were living in Sutton Coldfield John’s parents used to come up for their holidays, they’d come up and stay with us for a fortnight. We went out one day and I’d got a suit or something to either take or pick up at the dry cleaners and she says, ‘Name?’ ‘McGarry’.  Well, his mother didn’t say anything but she went home and said to John ‘He’s using our name you know’ so we had to confess that I’d changed my name.  Because they found out about John through this awful case, they’d had no idea, he was their beloved.  She came from Cornwall and his father came from Northern Ireland and they were only about five foot something.  Well, this adopted cuckoo, John, ended up six foot two and intelligent and Head Boy at school and a really, really bright chap and still is, of course.  He was their golden boy, they were absolutely totally in love with him.  Of course, over twenty five years I was their other son, if you like, they were the mother and father of John and Robin.  But we never discussed gay with them, they wouldn’t have understood.”


Being discreet

“We had to be discreet, but that’s a built-in thing but it didn’t last very long, because we were out and open, if you like, we wouldn’t tolerate anything in our lives that caused us any great stress, they would have to go, and quite a few of John’s old school friends would come up and would suss out how many bedrooms are there and might take umbrage.  It didn’t happen very often but occasionally it did that they would just slip off the edge of the shelf, which is unfortunate.  We did lose a few, some very close people, they were fine with John being gay but John being gay and having a partner was an added thing they didn’t want but we soon sorted it out and we had a wonderful circle of friends and had a wonderful time in Birmingham, of course, because the bars then were opening.”


Birmingham bars in the 50s and 60s

“At the time the bars were fabulous - in the fifties and sixties, all the bars were fabulous.  There were still a lot of American bars, still a lot of people who drank cocktails in those days, gin and tonics I suppose.  There was the Imperial up Temple Street, it had an American cocktail bar, fabulous bar, really super and the bar stewards were sympathetic, to say the least, but just occasionally there would be unpleasantnesses.  Opposite there was an old black and white building, the Trocadero, that was very gay and the Temple Bar in Temple Street where the front of the old New Street Station used to be. Wonderful hotel, fabulous hotel.  It was favoured by the reporters, press people, and us, of course, and we graced the premises and those went for ages and we used to go between the three. The Temple Bar was quite an elegant bar, it was full of lively intelligent people not like reporters today who just think up an answer rather than investigate.  “I did wander between the three of them during the course of a Saturday evening and then go up to the Grosvenor, the hotel and the private club on the Hagley Road. I think the whole quality has changed now – and I haven’t been in these bars since I came back, I keep promising myself I’ll go. It was all pulled down for these concrete things they call the Bullring Centre now.  The Bullring Centre, in fact, St Martins, there used to be a great sweeping road that went right around up into New Street.”


“When we were courting that (the Bullring) was just being built because we walked along this road which was just sand and gravel.  I’m not sure we shouldn’t have been on it but we walked over this road being built up to go and see My Fair Lady which had just arrived in Birmingham at one of the big theatres and I remember walking, forty years ago.”


“Jimmy’s bar had got to be one of the nicest bars. Jimmy’s was a subterranean bar with leather sofas and nice pictures on the walls and a fabulous bar, of course.   In those days, of course, we called it a piano bar because invariably it had a grand piano in it with a pianist who would come in for perhaps an hour every evening and play whatever tunes.  My friend was one of the pianists, Tony, and he would play in maybe three or four venues in one evening and make quite a nice living doing it five nights a week, as well as having drinks bought for him. I was very fond of Tony but I’d then become one of a couple so I couldn’t act on it; I wouldn’t have done anyway in those days.  Jimmy’s was well staffed with Tony playing the piano in the corner but it was a mixed clientele but there was no mistake when something young and pretty went down there, it was well and truly looked and at categorised. There were even in the late sixties, heterosexuals going to place which they knew gay people frequented and vice versa, of course.”


“They were all very discreet and in those days even the mid sixties, we all used to dress to go out not like the rag bags you see about these days but we used to dress to go out and we’d have wonderfully polished shoes.  I would polish my shoes and go out in shoes and a suit and a tie maybe - or a twin set even, if you make yourself stand out a bit without being one of the herd.

Probably you could tell gay people because they were smarter than the average but that probably applies today as well.  But I’ve no recollection at all of any anti-gay from businesses or, in fact, from these bars because it was their living.  It was pre ’65 when they were a bit tetchy about the odd police raid, I would say.


“Gay men did drink pints, of course they did, but I never did.  I might manage a half of lager but it was that period when lager was a little bit suspicious, it was a new fangled thing, quite frivolous, yes.  So you’d ask for half a lager but sometimes you’d get a  long look which was very peculiar, now you wouldn’t think about it, would you?  It’s the way of the world.  No, I used to drink cocktails, I was very posey in those days and I do recall everybody smoked, everybody including me, everybody smoked.  So some places if they weren't maintained properly, some places would be very smoky”.


Laurie Williams

“I recall Laurie Williams, he was a great character, a great Brummie character, very flamboyant and very gay.  Laurie was a bit like Quentin Crisp because he was flamboyant and I remember him coming into the Trocadero one night, in this fabulous white mac, the sort that Harold Wilson used to wear, with a belt and epaulettes, brilliant white, and him standing there talking about his lovely white mac and a blodge of sweated tobacco juice coming off the beams in this pub and falling right down the front of his white coat.  Of course, we all went into hysterics, he was not amused at all.  But he was a great character.  I think he died about three, maybe four years ago.  I know there was a big funeral here, a gay funeral for him.  I didn’t attend because I hadn’t come back to Birmingham then, I’ve only been back to Birmingham for nine months, I’d been away in California for two and a half years but there was a fairly big funeral for him.  I think it was marched with a gay flag in front of it in the town centre so maybe – if they honoured all the bars he went in, of course, it would still be taking place now because he went into every bar, more or less the way we did in the old days.  And then there was Brian Wigley, one of the founder members of the Nightingale.  I think Brian is still connected with the Nightingale and he was a great pal of ours as well.


“By the 1970s the gay bars weren’t seedy. Early sixties they were certainly behind boarded up windows, yes, and that was an unfortunate time but then we were all having a bad time before the Wolfenden Report and that was a real watershed. That helped, it didn’t help the licensing to any great degree, a JP is not going to issue a license to a gay bar, certainly not in the mid sixties.  They were coming out of all that nonsense by the seventies but I’m not proficient enough or knowledgeable enough to pass too much comment on that.”


Medical professionals’ attitude to homosexuality

“I think I did see some changes (in the medical professionals’ attitude to homosexuality) personally because I was always open about my gayness, always open; not necessarily if I was being interviewed for a job. Although I didn’t flaunt myself and make myself too obvious it didn’t take long for somebody to tune into the fact that I was probably the smartest dressed in the office and kept my private life very private.  And then a car would turn up and pick me up at the gate, all that sort of thing.  It was later in my life really, my Oxford period where I was more open with doctors although I was with this particular one at the hospital I told you about earlier, I wasn’t having any of that nonsense because that’s alienation, but my own doctor, certainly my last three doctors have been fully aware.”


Changing police attitudes

“In a way the police were actually forced to change, they were forced to sit up and take notice, very much like the Stonewall (riots).  I know we’ve gone far ahead but the Stonewall, for instance, was the next step here if it continued; the Police had to be re-educated. If only there had been the opportunity to get some of these bu**ers in court and let a few heads roll things might have moved a bit faster because they couldn’t put it down to the fact that they were only doing their job and that really bugs me that they got away with blue murder a lot of them.”


Police attitude in the 1950s

“Gay men were treated vaguely with the same sort of idea that a prostitute would be treated, that they’re the lowest of the low and, therefore, they don’t warrant any extra attention or protection.  They were queers and, therefore, they go to jail because the law says so or they’d get locked up for the night and they’d see the beak the next day, which was alarming to those employed and that’s why there were so many suicides in the early days because of the stigma of families.  And, again, John’s story, he was arrested in Oxford for cottaging - he’d been to a bar and he was coming home – I was home so the first time I ever knew about it – but we survived that but he was absolutely devastated that the Police phoned me up and said, ‘We’ve got your brother here and he had one phone call, we’ve told you where he is, will you come and fetch him?’.  So, ‘Thank you very much, officer’, I put some clothes on and drove down to fetch him from the Police.  We survived all that because that’s what life’s about.  But he’d had a really bad time and in the end we paid to have the hearing done ‘in camera’ so we never got into the newspapers.  If you’d got money you could do these things, so nobody ever heard about it except our close friends, of course.”


Acceptance, working at Fort Dunlop

“I had a great time at Dunlop.  Because I’d been in the hotel world all my earlier life, by the time I was what, 26 (1967), my hotel hours didn’t suit John and our relationship so I eventually went for an interview at Fort Dunlop in the Despatch office and had a whale of a time, a really super time, and I got to know what tyres looked like and what weights they were and how many tyres you put on a lorry so I went into the Traffic Office.  In fact, I was head of the Traffic Office in the end and in those days Dunlop had depots all over the country, every town had a Dunlop depot, so I became very good with geography and location, over the three, maybe four years, I was there. The year before I left (early 70s I was actually promoted to the Assistant to the Traffic Manager so I moved from a very busy environment to the same office as the Traffic Manager from nine to five and, apart from the odd meeting, never going out of the office which didn’t suit me at all and about that time we decided to go to Oxford to live anyway.”


“Two of my close workmates knew I was gay.  I kept my head down really in those days because I didn’t need to tell anybody I was gay and I didn’t particularly need to find out if they were gay.  I did have some nice friendships there, yes, great friendships even though I was the prettiest and the best well dressed in the office, again, you see.”


“Acceptance is a very good word because in a way they could take it or leave it but I wasn’t really that type of person.  I suppose I was rather vague when I needed to be and a lot of fairly intelligent people had their own lives to lead, they really didn’t want to be leading other people’s.”


Relationships with married men

“I found the easiest guys to chat up are married guys.  I think they get married because of convention a lot of them and then all the joys of marriage start tapering off and that’s when they start looking around, not necessarily to guys, I mean, they look around to girls but my last three relationships have been with married guys with children and I’ve not regretted one of them. I’ve only asked one how he defined himself and he says, ‘No, I’m definitely heterosexual’. ‘Are you really, what about your arms then, why have you got your arms around me?’  I said. ‘You could be bisexual.’ ‘No I’m not bisexual, I’m heterosexual.’  So, we never really pushed it any further than that, neither of us was in the mood for re-education or any soul searching.”


Living in Oxford

“That (moving to Oxford) would be about 1974/5 (shortly after) the time of the (Birmingham pub) bombings (November 1974), because John was out that night and he was late in, because he’s a steam railway fanatic, he’d been off to one of his things and I was really worried.  Taking him to the station the next morning, because he was going off to Liverpool, we were interviewed by BRMB which was new BRMB in those days and I forget exactly what I said now, but ‘My friend was out late last night and I was quite worried until he came home’.  The reporter understood exactly what I was saying.”


“We did travel back to Birmingham on a fairly regular basis and we’d reciprocate with friends coming to Oxford and me coming to Birmingham.”


Memories of early Hurst Street


“A lot of the first bars, the leather ones, the really discreet daddy ones which I wouldn’t have gone to anyway but there was a theatre bar right opposite the Hippodrome called the Stage Door or something like that.  We used to go there and we’d invariably still go to the Imperial and one or two other bars down in Digbeth.


Going to ogle the wrestlers and the divers

Digbeth had a great big wrestling building down there where all the wresting and the boxing took place, that was great fun as well.  We used to go down there to watch the guys knocking hell out of each other.  The wrestling was a zenith thing on television. We liked the guys, of course, good well built guys.  I mean, a bit like football really, wasn’t it, with their shorts.  The shorter the shorts came, the more gay people went to matches. I would say the boxers and the organisers were aware that there was a large gay contingent in the audience, yes, and they always played to the audience.  Half a dozen of us would go.  I’ve stood there with a fur coat over my shoulders, a coat that John bought me in New York and I said, ‘I‘m going to wear my fur coat tonight’ and nobody batted an eyelid. The heterosexuals were probably aware of the flamboyance because there was a lot of flamboyance around then.”


“When we lived in Sutton Coldfield, of course, as we were citizens of the Royal Borough, we had free passes to the park and the open air swimming pools and if we had people over to Sunday lunch, maybe six or eight of us, we’d all pile in the cars and go off to watch lots of divers in Sutton Park and have a jolly time”.  



Oxford Campaign for Homosexual Equality

“I think it doesn’t matter where activism takes place.  When we were trying to improve our lot, when we were battling, not to be accepted, God forbid was it ever begged to be accepted, but when we were making our statements that this is the line we want, it didn’t matter where it was whether it was Oxford or London or Birmingham because we all helped each other.  I was a founder member with maybe ten or twelve others.  I think there must have been ten on the committee when we first started the Oxford Campaign for Homosexual Equality - OCHE - and we were in the forefront.  Other societies and groups were being formed, probably in Birmingham as well. We were quite small to begin with and the university very rarely took part in any of the town (activities) it was town and gown anyway.  I was connected with the university so I saw both sides because I was also a member of the group that met at Christchurch and we would campaign and, of course, when the students did their gay walkabout of Oxford then we would join at the end as the poor relations.  That was one of the few instances where town and gown actually met because they were two separate entities and always were and probably always will be. We had one bar in Oxford and then we had another and then we had three gay bars at one stage, now it’s down to two again because there are so few people in Oxford because the university students, after the first few months of being at Oxford, tend to stick to their own bars, they’re not gay bars, or they go to London which is only an hour away”.


“Douglas, my boyfriend who caused my divorce from John, if you like, was an American tutor of English.  He’d come over to Oxford and stay for three months about June, July, August and then I’d go out there for two months when I could get away and in the end, of course, it caused a split between John and I but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I had a wonderful time (in Oxford), I wouldn’t have changed anything really, not even my divorce because it was such a splendid time to be part of it all.  Oxford is a lovely city but it doesn’t compare with Birmingham now, not now because this is an incredibly vibrant city.”


Being out working at the University

“I was out in the university because I felt it was the only way I could really do my job as Steward of the College working with half a hundreds of women, they were the cleaning ladies but they were called ‘scouts’, they’d look after the students. I slowly came out and just said to them, ‘Look, you probably already know’ and they all knew anyway so it was only an affirmation of being gay.” This job would be twelve, fifteen hours a day some days and then maybe have several weeks off because colleges closed down or whatever the reason, it was heavy work that didn’t go nine to five”. 


HIV and AIDS in Oxford during the 1980s

“There was very little I was totally passionate about (in the 1980s) because I’d got a home to run and a very heavy job I did have a number of friends who became HIV positive whilst I was at Oxford and that was sad to see those passing away around us.  And all around us, there were maybe ten or twelve of our friends being in the wrong place at the wrong time and their partners being left also impregnated or not, it was just the luck of the draw, wasn’t it?  It was like some awful raffle, wasn’t it?  Douglas, my friend, passed away although he was a married chap, and he passed away with the ‘big A’. 


Back in Birmingham (2007)

“Retirement brought me back (to Birmingham); I could sell my house at Oxford and buy this one outright and have a nice life.  Because I want to be in America three months a year so I don’t have to worry too much about finance; it was coincidental that I chose Erdington because John McGarry had moved here from Hong Kong.  When I saw this house I decided I would have it because of the conservatory and the big garden, and I realised I was only about ten minutes away from John McGarry. I hadn’t any intentions of living that close to him but I don’t see him any more now than I did when I lived in Oxford, maybe once a fortnight. I’m pleased to be back here and I want to start taking part in something, I’d like to perhaps do something for the gay community, I’m not quite sure what yet.”


Gay Birmingham needs tidying up

“There’s the ‘Castro’ here (the gay village) now, isn’t there, for a start off.  The gay quarter is quite vibrant, it needs a lot of tidying up, I think it’s a bit scruffy but perhaps the Loft Lounge is giving a bit of a nudge because that’s very smart and I have lunch parties there sometimes.  I certainly don’t do clubs but I’m quite happy to stand in a bar and try and make myself heard when we’re having a chat -  nobody should complain about the noise because immediately you add twenty years to your age - but if I have any friends coming here to stay we always go to the quarter, I’d rather our money go there but, a lot of the bar owners need to tidy up a bit. The Equator needs a bit of a facelift as well, needs some money spending on it.  That might tidy up a bit but, of course, if all these residents coming in are going to start bitching about noise at night, of course, the quarter will need to move elsewhere again so that’s got to be sorted but we need smartening up.  I think tatty, gloomy, dirty bars are no good to any of us and we’re actually lowering our standards if we allow it to happen.  I wouldn’t be averse to going and telling the bar owner that it needs tidying up a bit.  Of course, I’d probably be banned but maybe I wouldn’t, maybe he’d say ‘Find me a decorator’ and I could do that as well.  I think we need to watch standards”.


Present day vs 1950s and 1960s

“I don’t think the youngsters (now) have as much fun as we did ‘in the good old days’ (1950s and 1960s), to be quite honest, because, maybe it’s an age thing, maybe it’s just the looking-glass and the polished mirrors and what have you but when we went out on Saturday nights we would dress up to go out, we’d make a real effort and perhaps before we went out we’d go and have dinner somewhere or we’d have friends round for dinner and then we’d all three or four or ten of us would go out and I think we probably had more fun than (the younger) generation do.  But then I don’t think anything else has changed, if you don’t allow standards to drop and don’t accept second best.  If you don’t agree with something say so.”



“I would say that gay men now are more effeminate than they were twenty or thirty years ago but I was always effeminate, in fact so much so and John had grave doubts about our relationship lasting because I used to stand at the bus stop waiting for the bus to come with my hand on my hip and I always did it and I still do it now but it’s not made any difference to my life at all.  I think nowadays the youth is more one-sided really, that they’re not top or bottoms, they are both which is very good, very good.  Not just to be one.  I was one (bottom) for oh, fifteen years with John until I realised that there’s more to life than being one.”


Rising prices

“Prices in the bars are absolutely appalling.  I can’t go on about getting on the tram with a penny and fish and chips and take the girlfriend to the cinema and still have change, but I think the prices are absolutely astronomical and even more so in gay bars.  And all these gay bar owners have these fabulous palaces in Spain so they could put back; I think maybe there’s a niche somewhere where some of this money should come back because this is where the pink pound is and the pink pound is very important.  The same applies in San Francisco but in most of San Francisco, even in the Castro, the bars are clean and the toilets are clean and the standards are good.  They have as many dark rooms as Birmingham does, not that I go into dark rooms, it’s not something I do, but I think the youth is losing out a bit by accepting lower standards. That’s why you got the impression about the bars in New Street, they were elegant, mostly elegant bars, not tat.”



“I don’t think I can see myself in any of the young men I see today. I’m not alienated by anything that’s gay, anything that’s gay is my life anyway.  But anything that actually reduces the amount of work we’ve done over the last forty years has got to be frowned on really.”


Cottaging today

“I think gay men are more promiscuous now. I think the lesson of AIDS has been forgotten by a big clump of us.  ‘Have you got any protection?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh well, you’ll be alright’. Cottaging and cruising still goes on. I don’t think gay men do it purely for the thrill, they do it because they prefer not to stand propping up a bar every night or having long conversations because the same conversation with six different people in six different nights must get a bit tedious, mustn’t it? I mean, a bit like when I was young and somebody would chat me up, I could feel myself repeating”. 


Loneliness and alienation

“I think there are fewer couples now, in my experience, than there were even twenty years ago. There’s an awful lot of loners.  I think it’s sad. If you’ve spent all evening in a bar and nobody speaks to you, you must go home very depressed and what do you go home to?  Do you go home to your parents’ house, or a bed-sitter or do you go home to a house like this?  But if you do it two nights in a row and nobody speaks to you, it’s a bit depressing, isn’t it?  So you do have to be that little tiny bit pushy, for want of a better word, and say ‘Hello’ to somebody.  If you say ‘Hello’ to somebody at the bar and they ignore you, you make a mental note never to speak to that bu**er again, right”. 


No more house parties

“What you don’t have these days is parties at home.  I have parties here all the time and dancing, and I have people here to dinner at least once a week. But in the old days when it was chucking out time, about ten thirty, we’d all go off to Moseley to a party or somebody was throwing  a party and they’d buy some bottled beer – I don’t think we drank wine, it was a bit too effeminate – and we’d all chug off in various motorbikes, cars, buses, whatever to this particular house or flat and we would have a party till two o’clock in the morning, but people don’t throw parties (any more).  Probably because the gay scene is more accessible now maybe and the friendships are a lot looser.  I’m not decrying it in any way. I just feel that if there were more private ‘dos’ every now and again it makes your friendships more solid than shouting in somebody’s ear across a bar. That (fragmentation of the gay community) can be very detrimental in the future because nobody’s going to open a gay bar if nobody’s there, so you have to keep them going, you have to keep the money going in”. 


Not missing out on children

“A lot of my friends even now say ‘I think the one thing about being gay is that I never had any children’.  Well, that’s a bit of a cop out really now because gay people do have children.  I’ve never wanted a child; coming from a family of nine the last thing I wanted was kids around.  That was perhaps a bit selfish but it never came into my sphere to think I was losing out in any way.  I don’t think I have lost out in any way, I’ve been very pleased and very proud to be gay and I am proud to be gay even now.”


No regrets about being gay

“I wouldn’t tolerate one gay unfriendly remark anywhere, anywhere in Birmingham, anywhere, even my friends would occasionally make an unkind gay remark and I’ll pull them up about it and say, ‘Don’t do this, it’s not allowed here, you can do it in your own house but don’t do it here’.  And they learnt, they had to learn quickly.  I have absolutely no regrets at all, none whatsoever.  Even during my divorce because of the wonderful people I’ve met before and since. 


One more relationship?

“I didn’t want to live a sort of shadow heterosexual life pretending that I’m part this and part that, I’m not, I’m a gay bloke.  John did buy me a gold ring forty two years ago and he actually put it on my finger when were in the launch going round the dockyards and it stayed on for twenty six years but it’s upstairs in one of my jewellery boxes and I don’t wear it, of course, I took if off when we separated and it hasn’t been on since.  I’ve no regrets at all; though I’ve been single now for sixteen years. What I would like is one more relationship, I think.  I don’t mean the Paul thing because he’s a married man but one more.  To live with someone for a while would be lovely.”


Civil partnerships

“Yes, we (John and I) probably would have done it (had a civil partnership). It would have been nice.  But I haven’t lost out.  He probably wouldn’t have gone into it, he was very appreciative of my suggestion of changing my name to his because of the trouble we were having, but on reflection I think I probably got the best bargain.  On reflection, being in the hotel world, along came the Marriot chain, didn’t it?  Had I still been Mr Marriot and worked in a Marriot Hotel I’d have been Managing Director in no time but there is no paperwork except one piece of paper which is the original agreement to change my name and that’s locked away in one of my boxes but there’s no other connection with Marriot whatsoever.”


“If I went into another relationship and, God forbid, he wanted some sixty six year old bimbo, if I start another relationship and I felt strongly enough about him to go into a civil relationship, yeah.  I wouldn’t wear a white suit and a pink shirt or any of that, I wouldn’t wear a big hat with flowers on either but, yes, I would go into one. I’m going to a civil partnership with my friends at Edgbaston next weekend.  They’re going to have a civil partnership just to tidy up loose ends because they’re now fifty five and they’ve been together thirty years.”


Coming back to beautiful Birmingham

“I was brought up in all sort of areas of Birmingham, we lived in the Black Country and Oldbury and Dudley and Blackheath but I have friends who live here so that coloured my choice.  I’d been coming back to Birmingham regularly for reciprocal weekends and liked the vibrancy of Birmingham because it’s a very vibrant city, you know, and that suits me and the house prices were so good.

Birmingham is a beautiful city, really, really. For me to come back after all these years, I actually chose to live here.  Tree lined streets, beautiful parks, beautiful buildings now, of course, and all the old crap buildings have all been cleaned and even the Boulton statue has been golded.  Absolutely beautiful, absolutely fabulous.  I remember it when it was first put up, in the sixties I think it was.  But it is a lovely city and I’m pleased and glad to be back.”