Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 1997

Who’s a Pretty Boy Then? – 150 years of gay life in pictures, by James Gardiner

reviewed by George Broadhead

This scrumptious celebration of gay life over the past 150 years follows another Gardiner book, A Class Apart, which I enthused about in the Spring ’95 issue of G&LH.

In a glossy, large-format, 224-page hardback, Gardiner brings together more than 600 black and white photographs in sections ranging from the 19th-century Oscar Wilde scandal through to the witch-hunts of the 1950s, the liberation of the 1960s and 1970s, and the Outrage! demos of the 1990s.

Photos of all the famous gays are here: white-bearded Walt Whitman, E. M. Forster (very pensive), Duncan Grant (in the nude), Terence Rattigan (in RAF uniform), Ifor Novello (in camp pose by his swimming pool), Charles Laughton (“wearing false eyelashes that Jean Harlow might have envied”), Rock Hudson (macho in a stetson), Cecil Beaton (in drag), Montgomery Clift (looking unusually relaxed), Nijinsky (delightful in turban and pyjamas), Robert Helpman, (outrageous in a 1940 revue), atheist code-breaker Alan Turing (“who by his mathematical genius did as much as any man to save his country in the war”), Joe Orton, Quentin Crisp – to name very few.

But by no means all the photos are of celebrities. There are also ones of lesser mortals like hunky Roman, a Polish sailor befriended by Douglas Bing in London during the war, and Chalky White, an electrician who was responsible for the illuminated signs around Piccadilly!

In more serious vein, a page is devoted to the campaign for homosexual law reform leading up to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. It features the letter published in The Times in March 1958 which led to the founding of the Homosexual Law Reform Society two months later, and whose signatories included the well-known humanists A. J. Ayer, Julian Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Angus Wilson and Barbara Wootton. As Gardiner points out, the 1967 Act was the result of “nine years of hard campaigning by the Homosexual Law Reform Society for much of the time under the secretaryship of Antony Grey”, and Antony, a GALHA member, is pictured in Amsterdam in 1963.

All this is interspersed with fascinating newspaper clips, nude German models of the 1930s, saucy seaside postcards, covers of gay books and magazines, and theatre posters.

Who’s a pretty boy then? is a rich treasure of homosexual history which deserves pride of place on every gay person’s coffee table.

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Created : Sunday, 2000-01-09 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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