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Meriel Bloor nee Monsell

Meriel Bloor nee Monsell, born 1934


Meriel is a 72 year old heterosexual woman from Redditch, she discusses her experience of gay Birmingham from 1954-1959 whilst she was training to be a teacher at Birmingham university. Her friend from university was gay and took her to many bars and places frequented by gay men, who were quite open for the time. She also talks of people she knew who were gay and married or had gay partners and the misery this caused.


Public hostility, private acceptance in 1940s – 10 20
Gay Godfather - 10
Imperial Hotel - 100
Trocadero and Murder – 80 90
Terminology – 30 70
Prison - 140
George Melly - 130
Pressure to get married –150 160
Gay men in 1950s – 10 20 40 50 100
Khardoma Café – 60
Fashion – 1950s – 100
Lesbian bar in 1950s Digbeth 120
Married gay men 160

10 Public hostility, private acceptance in the 1940s

“My godfather Timmy was gay. When I was child in Redditch, my mother was a widow and he was her best friend, also a teacher. He played the organ in church and it was known that he was a homosexual, although people were openly hostile to homosexuality in public, in private gay men were accepted by neighbours and friends. Meriel did not realise he was gay at the time; she just knew he was what her mother called a ‘confirmed bachelor’ and would never marry. Timmy, used to go to Birmingham every Thursday night and this was accepted as part of his lifestyle; this is before and during the Second World War.

20 Meriel also recalled a story of a gay man who was pub pianist in a Staffordshire mining village, all the men would come to listen to him in the bar and were very fond of him, they would make jokes between themselves about who was going home with him. But he was accepted as part of the village and as one of them. Whereas in a public forum if they were talking about the idea of homosexuality they would be completely against the idea and opposed to it, but lived with it.

30 Terminology
Meriel reports that her aunt referred to her gay godfather as a ‘pansy’, which was the terminology at the time. “I think gay people were known and accepted at the time as friends, but it was all hush hush and (heterosexual) people had a surreptitious way of talking about it, such as ‘Pansy’; gay men used to refer to themselves as ‘queer’ at this time’

40 Meeting Gay students in Birmingham

Meriel came to study at Birmingham University in 1954 and met a good straight female friend, Katrina who was singer in Jazz clubs. Together they moved in theatrical circles and knew a lot of art students also. “There was a college in east Birmingham called St.Peters, which was a male college, we went to some theatrical performances and met some students there who were gay. The one man became a very good friend of mine. He was training to be a teacher and he was a fantastic dancer. Meriel says that at first he was bisexual and had an affair with her friend but later became more overtly gay”.

50 Open about homosexuality

“The interesting thing about my friend was that he was very open about his sexuality, in those days (1950s) it was strictly illegal, but he and friends like him did not try to pretend they were anything than what they were. In a way they were daredevils and non-conformist. We had been exposed to many accounts of homosexuality through literary discussion, we read about Oscar Wilde and certain French novels”.

60 Khardoma Café in the 1950s

A group of students, mostly gay and gay friendly met at the Khardoma Café on New Street on Saturday mornings. “It was strange, it was before coffee bars and cappuccino, they came later. It was a large room with tables laid out, like a cafeteria, not at all trendy but it considered itself upmarket. There was a bar at the end where you went up to buy coffee, awful coffee made in a percolator. They used to sell tea and cakes. But it was the sort of place you could go in and sit and talk for a long time.”

80 The Trocadero

In the 1950s a group of artists and writers used to meet in the Trocadero, it had a number of bars stretching between Temple Street and Bennetts Hill, and you could walk right through from one street to the other. “We used to meet in the back on the Bennetts Hill side; on one occasion on the Temple Street side some gay men were asked to leave”.

90 Murder on Temple Street (1950s)

The body of a man was found on Temple Street, outside the Trocadero, everyone was talking about it “a man had been murdered, and people said he was homosexual”.

100 The Imperial Hotel

My friend took me to the Imperial Hotel Bar “He said ‘I will show you what a gay pub is really like, we don’t want to go in the Troc(adero)’. The bar was predominantly gay and the men used to ‘camp it up’ in there. The first time I went I was the only woman in the bar and an older gentleman appeared in a black cape with red lining and swished it around him and said ‘Just call me Madam’. The men were really advertising themselves as gay”.

110 Mermaid Bar

Meriel talks about the old Birmingham University campus in the city centre and the Mermaid bar in the cellar, which was a student bar. She reported that gay students were quite open in this environment.

120 Lesbian-friendly Bar, unnamed, Digbeth

She also mentions a rough Irish pub at the top of Digbeth, near to where Selfridges is now. She said women were not supposed to go into bars alone or in twos in those days, but she went to this pub, and women were in there quite happily in quite large numbers. Meriel says lesbians used to meet here and tried to pick her up several times.

130 George Melly – 1950s

The Old Crown in Digbeth used to have jazz nights upstairs during the 1950s. Meriel recalls “I remember people saying ‘you must go to this one, this guy called is coming’ and he was beginning to make a name for himself in London. He came and he gave this performance, I did not enjoy the music very much but he was incredibly outspoken for the day. In a public performance he talked about having gay relationships and he did a dance where he took his shirt off and put his arms around himself as if someone was feeling his back and made jokes about sleeping with other men. He was one of the first to come out and be open about his sexuality.”

140 Prison for being gay

In 1957 a friend I met through other people had just come out of prison for being gay, he was a salesman and came across as absolutely straight and a really nice guy, he was sent to prison for soliciting in a park in Bearwood (1955), probably Lightwoods, he was on a bike and went with a younger guy. As he had done it before he was sent to prison. He became the godfather to my eldest daughter”.

150 Pressure to get married 1957

Meriel says “I think this gives an insight into some of the terrible problems that occurred because of the law. I know that a number of gays and lesbians got married and it must have had a devastating effect on them and their partners. When I was at college two days before graduation, a girl I knew reasonably well came to my room very late at night, she was very upset and said could she talk to me. She came in and she told me she liked girls and had fallen in love with girls and was not attracted to men at all, she had got herself in the situation where she had a boyfriend back home, not in Birmingham, and they were getting married on Saturday. She wanted to know what to do, she did not want to break her mother’s heart. I don’t know what happened”.

160 Married gay man

“Much later when I was teaching at Aston University in the 1970s, I worked with a woman who had recently broken up with her husband, they had been married for fifteen years. She had married a gay man, although she did not know this, she was a very naïve woman, They had no sexual relationship before they got married which she thought had meant he respected her. They were perfectly happy but had no sexual relationship at all. She was a very attractive woman but thought there must be something wrong with her, she was a nervous wreck. Finally he admitted to her he was gay and had been leading an active gay life, he still never came out at work and he kept his sexuality very much a secret.”