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Alan, born 1947


In this interview Alan talks about his early sexual experiences and forages onto the gay scene. He later talks about his involvement with the Nightingale Club, of which he was the chairman in the late 1970s and early 80s.


Cottaging – 10 20
Gay bars in the 1970s – 30 50
Guys - 40
How the Gale came about - 60
Moving to Witton Lane - 70
Opening at Thorp Street - 80
Looking for new premises - 100
Women’s access to the Nightingale - 110
Court of Campania - 120

10 Early sexual experiences

Alan is from West Bromwich, he became sexually active around 13 but never considered himself gay (late 1950s). He considered it just messing around, and did not kiss a guy until he was 19, which confirmed for him his sexuality.

20 Cottaging on Snowhill Station

Alan, who still considered himself straight in 1966, remembers cottaging as a way of meeting other men for sex. He began questioning his sexuality after an experience in a cottage. “I used to make it a habit to pop to the cottage at the old Snow Hill Station on my way home. It was downstairs between platform twelve and seven with Victorian tiles. Someone had drilled a little hole in the wall between the cubicles and you could see what was going on, occasionally someone would pass a note through. On one particular night this guy came into the same cubicle as me, and before I could tell him I did not kiss we were kissing, I enjoyed kissing him and began to question my sexuality, until then I had always considered myself straight. I was nineteen and he was seventeen. Cottaging was very risky but it was the only way I knew how to contact men, it was also very exciting which may have been because it was so risky!”

30 The Viking

Alan met a guy and they started to go to pubs, a friend of theirs was a barman in the Viking, a small cellar bar on Smallbrook Queensway. “The barmen were a gay couple who effectively ran the bar as it was owned by a straight man who owned a hat shop on the Hagley road. It was a popular bar with the younger crowd in the early 1970s”

40 Guys

Alan recalls seeing his first colour TV in Guys nightclub. “My first gay club was in 1973, Guys on Bromsgrove Street. After a strange encounter on New Street I was invited back by a member of staff when club was closed. I was more interested in the colour TV, it’s the first time I’d seen one, than the lad I went back with”

50 The Trocadero

Alan states in the early 70s “The Trocadero tended to attract very effeminate men and sightseers. At this time gay men and lesbians did not mix very often socially.”

60 How the Gale came about

Alan, who is a former Nightingale Club chairman, recalls “The Nightingale came about through chats in bars, people like Laurie Williams, Peter Scott-Fleeman and other people who had parties at home. The straight bars held gay nights and the prices were always higher on these nights.”

“They used a club called the Queen Victoria Club in Victoria Square; the owner did a bunk and took their money. The location was a circular building, where the ‘Floozy in the Jacuzzi’ fountain is now situated. The people who went to that club were fed up of being pushed about and they got together in 1969. They were going to open a club and call it the Queen Victoria 2 International.”

Alan remembers being told, “Laurie Williams said he had found a backer, Derek Pemberton who put in £600 and he had found a dilapidated Indian Restaurant/Nightclub called the Nightingale Club owned by a Pakistani man called Mr Isaac Butt. The club opened as a members club still owned by the Butts and eventually the members bought the club. It was at 50 Camp Hill from 1969-1975.”

70 Moving to Witton Lane

Alan, a former Nightingale Club chairman recalls, “When Camp Hill was subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order to make way for a road widening scheme, the club purchased 10 Witton Lane, Aston. We paid £16,000 pounds for an existing club, the Aston Sporting Club. When the club first opened, the owner of the Holt Public House over the road and local residents were unhappy about a gay club in their area, the club tried to break down fear barriers by inviting him over and he became a regular customer.”

“Witton Lane hosted famous visitors to the city such as Elton John and Freddie Mercury”.

80 Opening Night at Thorp Street

Alan, a former Nightingale Club chairman recalls, “The club stayed at Witton Lane until 1981, then moved into the city centre, as we knew it was only a matter of time before someone decided to open a rival venue in the city centre and we knew this would affect trade. A club did open in an old church on Inge Street, called the Venus Club, this club managed to stay open until 3:00 a.m. and when we questioned the Police they told us not to make waves! The club was connected to the infamous Gary Owen Club in Small Heath”

The Nightingale was re-opened on Thorp Street in 1981 by Quentin Crisp, on the opening night a canister of chemical was released in the club. The gas was found to have been manufactured in West Bromwich, and was the odour added to natural gas to make it smell. The club was evacuated and it was suspected someone from the Venus Club was behind this.

90 Women’s access to the Nightingale

Alan notes, “The campest and most effeminate men were usually the most anti-women and resisted women being members of the club.” He says there was a move to make the club formally men only in the early 80s. “I was elected as Chairman of the club in 1982 and stayed until 1985 but then in 1987 I returned as Chairman as I was upset that there were things going on in the club, particularly anti-women, anti-transvestite. Transvestites were being refused membership. From the outset the club had never discriminated and if you look at the original members list, some of them were women! It was a battle I fought and won, taking on the chairman at the time, Gary Wilkes.”

100 Moving from Thorp Street

Alan, a former Chairman of the Nightingale Club recalls the search for new premises, and why the Digbeth Institute was turned down. “We looked at lots of locations, some were very good, some were bad. The furthest location from Thorp Street was The Institute, on Digbeth, a big premise which would have been fine even though it was right on the edge of our search area. We thought we could have carried the crowd with us. The problem was it had preservation orders on it, previously being Digbeth Town Hall, a protected building. We knew whatever we chose to do in the future would be difficult to obtain planning permission for.”

110 The Court of Campania

Alan talks about the ‘The Royal Court of Campania’ and how it came about, “Peter Scott-Fleeman and Laurie Williams met one New Years Eve in the 1960s and they were talking in a camp way about the honours list, they joked that the gay scene, although it was called the homosexual scene then, should have its own honours list. They were making jokes about what the country should be called and they named the country ‘Campania’. The country was ruled by an elderly Queen, called Sophie, she was mentally ill and had been carted off to a nunnery or a mental home run by nuns. So they needed to appoint a Prince Regent, he was gay and everyone in the country of Campania was gay. They could not rely on an hereditary system so they devised an appointed one. Where people making contributions to the gay community would be given titles from Baron to Duke and if they made Royal Prince they could become Prince Regent.
If I remember correctly the first Prince regent was Laurie Williams and it all came about as Peter Scott-Fleeman, who was a commercial artist, went home the same New Years Eve night and drew up a coat of arms modelled on the peerage system. They liked it and gradually those within the group became Princes of the Country.”

Once the Nightingale has gotten underway they took it very seriously and viewed it as a secret society. “They would offer peerages to anyone doing services to the community, without anyone knowing. They were invited to join the group. It was just a bit of camp really.”

“The coat of arms of individual members were usually based on where they had come from and the motto was based around what Peter Scott Fleeman saw as things that were a credit to them or sometimes against them.”

Alan describes his own coat of arms. “My motto, which was in Latin read ‘Honey to the favoured and stings to the opposition’, as whilst working on the Nightingale committee I was viewed as a very busy bee. My coat of arms was based on Worcestershire, as Peter mistakenly thought West Bromwich was in that county at the time, it should have been based on Staffordshire. I went straight to a Duke, along with Derek Whittam and Mark Curtis, but I don’t think many of them are alive anymore.”