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OurLiverpool Story Memories of gay Liverpool

Our Story Liverpool Memories of gay Liverpool

Some interviewees have asked that their names be changed and others requested names were edited out of their interviews.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

1930’s Cottages - Yankel 1940’s Cinemas - Eric, George then Bob 1950’s ‘Scene’ - George, Eric, Brian S., Bob Coming Out - Sheila, Jan, Grace, Eric, Brian W Psychiatry - Rebecca, Sheila, Alan 1971 Diane and 1981 Gerry 1990’s to 2008 - Rebecca, Sheila, Grace

OurLiverpool Story Memories of gay Liverpool

Our Story Liverpool is a community history project managed by the Unity Theatre and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Liverpool Culture Company. We aim to uncover, record and archive the experiences of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) communities of Liverpool. The history of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people has been largely ignored and unrecorded. What little history that has been gathered in England has focused mostly on London. A social history of Liverpool would not be complete without the experiences of all Liverpool’s communities. Our Story Liverpool has made a small start over the past two years gathering written reminiscences and

oral histories - a fraction of which we include here. The interviews only represent the experiences and memories of a small number of people but we hope they offer a flavour of what it was like to be gay in the twentieth century in Liverpool. The oldest interviewee was born in 1920 and the history of the twentieth century since that date has included tremendous social and political changes for gay people. The male interviewees were all breaking the law before 1967 simply for practising their sexuality and yet by the start of the twenty-first century gay partners could have their relationships legally recognised as civil partnerships. We would like to thank all the interviewees who were so generous in sharing their most personal memories with the project. We would also like to thank all the volunteers who have given their own time to help Our Story Liverpool.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Princes Rd Synagogue c.1968

Yankel

born Toxteth, Liverpool 1920 I wasn’t aware that I was gay, we didn’t know what gayness was but I always knew that I was different. I joined the synagogue choir because I got 15 shillings every 12 weeks which paid for my clothes and when I came out of choir practice, in Park Way at the side of Princes Road, there was a down in the road toilet. Every time I went in there for a pee there’d be someone shaking their tail at me. Eventually I had sex with one of these men, I rather liked it. So that’s how I found out I was gay. At the time I was 13.

There were no clubs in those days, there were no gay bars, so the toilets were the clubs and there were boys from all ages, all different people wanting different things… some for sexual needs, some were lonely. Life was very very hard and people were struggling to find what pleasure they could get so whatever people think about that it’s unwarranted because people do things out of necessity. I, at the time, would have preferred to be in a university, I would like to have gone to a school of art but who told me about them? You’re more likely when you’re poor to find out about cottages than you are universities.

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Our Story - Liverpool

All the time you realized you were being watched and your friends would tell you, ‘there’s so and so in the corner’, there was like a secret service on how to avoid…(getting arrested)… ‘don’t go here, don’t go there, watch yourself here, keep away from so and so’. It was just as dangerous during the war as any other time. I remember having an appointment to meet somebody in Leicester Square and I was standing on the corner waiting for somebody and suddenly I was surrounded by a dozen policemen who wanted to arrest me, they thought I was soliciting. On the strength of the proof that I was working and wasn’t a rent boy, they let me go. I was never going to make a good soldier. I thought the best thing to do was …they used to call it ‘working your ticket’. When I suggested this to some of the boys they said, ‘You’ll never work your ticket’. ‘I’ve been trying for years’ the sergeant said, so I thought ‘I’ll try it my way.’ I saw a psychiatrist and I told them it wasn’t fair that all these straight men were in danger of being raped by me in the showers and that they should push

“I’d rather be a happy homosexual than a miserable heterosexual.” Yankel Feather “The Wheel of Fortune.”

me out the army. He said ‘you’d do very well in the army if you kept your mouth shut’, but I went and my war was over. My sisters, the ones closest to me, they loved me very much and I loved them so there never was a problem. We didn’t use the word gay we used the word ‘queer’ and I explained to them what it was in one or two sentences and the subject was never brought up again. If people love you you don’t have to explain to them they instinctively know what you’re on about. I never had to explain to them about being gay, they knew I would never do anything deliberately wasteful or cruel to anybody, I didn’t have to say much more, they sensed it, they felt it. You didn’t think about love and relationships, even for heterosexuals that was hard to find. How many girls married for love in the old days? Mothers used to say to girls, ‘Marry someone with something to fall back on’. Gay people didn’t look for love they looked for sex.

There was one boy, Gladys, who had a Liverpool Irish Catholic brother who hated queers. Poor Gladys, well he was a boy called Gladys, and Gladys used to live in fear of her brother killing her. He had a sort of individuality and a sureness about himself. He was so sure that on every slate toilet on the beginning of every dock where the dockers used to come out he’d write, ‘Gladys will be here at 5 o’clock’, the next one, ‘ Gladys will be here at 5.30’, all the way along the dock road. Gladys was a very hard worker, assiduous, he made very many dockers happy I can tell you. Often their wives used to wonder why they came home smiling. Nobody chooses their sexuality, it’s so ridiculous to think that, who would want to be queer? Who would want to be poor? There are poor people, there are gay people, people have got to accept it, they are what they are. But gay partnerships.. I mean Terry and I don’t want two little dogs. He’s got grandchildren. I’d rather be a happy homosexual than a miserable heterosexual.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Victoria St. Liverpool c.1936

Sheila

born Everton, Liverpool 1930 The first time I was interested in girls I was about 14. I had a friend and we used to spend a lot of time together, her mother used to work night shift because it was the war and I used to stay over at her house. All of a sudden we realised there were pleasurable sexual activities that we could be involved with that were very pleasant for both of us. I don’t suppose either of us thought there was anything particularly wrong with it. The first time I was aware that this was unusual was when another girl in my school loaned me ‘The Well of Loneliness’ and then I thought this is it, this is what I am, but I don’t know how to be like this because I didn’t know anybody else who was involved or who behaved this way. It wasn’t a lifestyle I knew, it was such an upper class lifestyle.

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Our Story - Liverpool

I began another relationship with a girl at school when I was about 16. She got married, by which time I was married and had a child when I was 19. But the relationship with this woman carried on. Her husband was in the air force and he was away and I’d go and visit her. I wasn’t aware that there was a gay world outside. I didn’t really see it as a possible way of life for me. I didn’t know other people who were living in gay relationships. I was over 30 when I began work in the social services department and there were 3 women in my office who were obviously lesbian and wore shirts and ties and tweed skirts. When I first met ‘J’ I had very strong emotional feelings towards her, but she was a young woman training to be a teacher and I really didn’t see that there was anything that would ever come of that. I was still married and we were just casual friends for a number of years.

“It wasn’t a lifestyle I knew... it was such an upper class lifestyle.” Nanny sleeping in the same bed and my daughter said, ‘that’s because they love each other’ and that was that.

I’d always gone to folk clubs. I’d gone to The Spinners and Jackie and Bridey’s but never been aware that there were a lot of gay women in the club. When I started to have a relationship with ‘J’ we went to the folk club and there were friends of ‘J’s’ and suddenly there’s this whole wide world of gay women and gay men.

I know of very few women of my age who actually came out to their parents, their parents knew and accepted it but it was never actually discussed.

We used to have lots of parties. As far as I know at that time there was no actual gay scene in Liverpool. There might have been but I wasn’t aware of it. So most gay women would go to parties at each others’ houses and dance and sing. We are now talking the 1970’s, I suppose most of those women wouldn’t have felt safe going to places like (The Lisbon), somebody would have recognised you.

People are a lot more accepting of gay people now on the television, on the radio, in the community more generally and with gay liberation and gay pride obviously it’s much easier but I don’t know that individually and personally its that much easier for people to acknowledge their sexuality. For older women and possibly for older men it’s not something that they would openly admit.

Everybody was in the closet at that time. Strangely enough my ex husband accepted There was no giving away as to who ‘J’. I don’t know what he thought but for you were or what you were. People just the last 30 years whilst I lived with her he’s didn’t disclose that sort of information to been a close friend and visited us regularly anybody and I certainly didn’t disclose it and totally accepted ‘J’ as my partner. My to my family or friends, I just left them to ex mother-in-law also accepted ‘J’ as part assume what was going on. The only ones of the family because I looked after her who ever made any comments about it until she died and it was just accepted were my granddaughters who had once that it was ‘J’ and I together. commented to their mother about ‘J’ and

Our Story - Liverpool

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Alan

born Burnley, Lancashire 1930 I wasn’t interested in boys as playmates, a lot of them were rough and they wanted to fight and that didn’t appeal to me at all. From the age of 12 onwards my sexual interest turned to boys. When I was 14 I started having sexual flurries with a small number of male school mates. My first sexual experience with another man was when I was about 18 on holiday and he made all the advances and I’m afraid he scared me off, I panicked.

able to do what I wanted until I was 50. I was an only one, my mother relied on me and I’d also promised my father when he’d died some years earlier that I’d look after my mum. She knew about my gayness and wasn’t at all happy about it. To be quite honest I don’t think she could really accept it. I think I came out to her fairly soon after my father died and I was 33 when he died. She was of that generation it wasn’t talked about, it was a taboo subject. I’m sorry now that I didn’t come out earlier before my father died so that they could have shared the knowledge together. I’d really not come to terms with it myself.

In my early twenties, more out of frustration than affection and to see if I could change, I started dating a slightly younger woman who used to go to my church, Your mother has expectations of you and if you don’t we had cubbing and scouting in common. We went to a meet those expectations you sometimes get into trouble. scouting event one evening, a social event and she met I can recall an incident when I got friendly with a lesbian, a male scout leader and she got friendly with him and I met her on the gay scene and I used to visit her a lot. She lived on her own with her mother and I lived on now they’re married and they’ve got grandchildren. my own with my mother. On a couple of occasions I invited her home to my house and my mother gave her I lived at home right until my mother died and I was tea and I remember on one occasion after Helen had 50 when she died, so I wasn’t really on my own and visited me she said, ‘Are you going to marry Helen?’

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Our Story - Liverpool

“I’ve always felt that if God intended me to be this way, that’s part of God’s will for me as a person.” And I had to say ‘no I’m not….she happens to be like me, she’s gay’. I’ve always felt that if God intended me to be this way, that it’s part of God’s will for me as a person. I had an argument with the church’s lay reader, he’d been preaching on 4 subjects, one of which was homosexuality and he was damning all 4 of them. I said ‘don’t you dare preach sermons like that again until you know more about what you’re talking about’. The Bishop of Warrington was in the process of trying to find a new vicar for the church and he called me in to see him and he said to me, ‘I can’t honestly carry on looking for a new vicar whilst you are still at this church where you are obviously not liked, not only by the curate but by a lot of people because of your sexuality’. It left me in a difficult position. To me Liverpool MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) was a life saver, it was a place where I could meet people like me, not only gay but Christians and we could have fellowship together without gayness being an issue.

I have had nervous breakdowns in the past. It must have been a subconscious thing but I can only assume, in retrospect, that it was my sexuality that was getting me down. It was in the days before I had any gay friends that I could talk to. I went to see my own GP, he signed me up to quite a lot of sessions with a psychiatrist at Walton Hospital. In the end it didn’t do me any good and I got fed up of going. So I stopped that. I think it was a bit of a nervous breakdown I had a couple of years after that and the GP put me in touch with a different psychiatrist at Walton Hospital. I found it much easier to talk to this man. I think generally people had got a bit more liberal about the gay issue, he certainly was and he said, ‘Well don’t let it worry you, why don’t you join gay associations? There are plenty around now, join them and get to know people who are like you rather than fighting it’. That lifted a whole load of worry for me. It gave me permission. I took permission and from then on I didn’t look back.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Grace

born Old Swan, Liverpool 1932 At college we had this fear put into us about what we could do as young women students with men’s passions. On one occasion the principal came in and as her car came into the college grounds some of the girls were around with their boyfriends snogging and the principal saw it. She called the whole college together and told us what terrible creatures we were by letting men kiss us goodnight because men couldn’t control themselves and that stuck, it really did, it had a terrific impression on me. We did know that some of the tutors were friendly and spent a lot of time in each others rooms. We knew one of our friends was lesbian, it meant nothing, to me it meant absolutely nothing, it was something I didn’t quite understand because I didn’t feel that way. One of the things that was said at college was that if we were found in another student’s room after a

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certain time we would be sent down. So we knew these close friendships were frowned on at college. We knew that a tutor, each year, became very friendly with a student and as that one left she got the next one coming up and we knew about that and we thought it was quite funny. I was heterosexual, I had boyfriends, I left college and started teaching. I’d had three proposals by now which I turned down but I knew one day I’d get married and finally I did. I was completely, utterly devoted to my husband. I worshipped him, I loved him to bits and I enjoyed everything about our relationship. I enjoyed being married, I enjoyed the sex and then my son came along after 3 years and after another 3 years my husband left me for another woman. I went to a folk club where I realised I was very attracted to one of the people there and I remember thinking one day ‘If I was a fella’ I’d ask her to go out with me’, but I wasn’t a fella’ so I didn’t. Then I became friendly with someone else from the club and she

“We’re not hurting anybody.We’re just living a life we want to live.” seduced me and I was completely blown by the whole business. It was nobody’s business but mine and we’re talking about 1965, I would have no more thought of discussing it or coming out than flying, it just didn’t happen. I thought if I don’t talk about it no one will know. So I kept on this relationship that lasted nearly 5 years. Once when I was in teaching a member of staff came to me and said ‘I think I need to talk to you’ and she sat down and she said ‘I’ve got to tell you I’m a lesbian’ and I sat there and I said ‘Right, OK’ and there’s no way I could ever have said to her ‘So am I’. Jan’s mother hated my guts and referred to me as ‘that woman’. But we got over that and then Jan told her about me and her aunt confronted me and said ‘It’s not true is it?’ and I said ‘No’. I couldn’t tell the aunt because it would have destroyed her, although at that stage I think if somebody else had asked me I’d have said ‘Yes, so what? We’re not hurting anybody. We’re just living a life we want to live.’ My son once said to me, ‘Nana says you’re a lesbian’ and I said ‘Nana doesn’t know everything’. He’d have been about 10.

We’ve never discussed it. He thinks the world of her (Jan). I’ve never felt the need to stand up and shout about it, ever. I never felt it was wrong, it felt too good to be wrong. First and foremost I’m a human being. My sexual orientation is lesbian if that is so important and I don’t know that it is. A human being is the way I’d like to be thought of. I always felt desperately sorry for women who got married because it was the done thing and so many people my age did that. It was the done thing, you got to a certain point, you did your career or whatever and you got married and if you didn’t there was something wrong with you. I didn’t know any men who were homosexual until I was in a relationship with a woman myself and then I did meet homosexual men and found them charming. I do find homosexual men charming, I’m not threatened by them. Most of the ones I’ve met have been absolutely delightful and I’ve enjoyed their company because I can be myself, there’s no sexual threat there at all.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Diane

born Bristol 1943 This was the fifties. Women didn’t have a sexuality of their own, so it wasn’t like, ‘she’s gay like me’ it was ‘oh we like each other’ but we didn’t have a name for it, we didn’t have a label on it, we just knew we liked each other. By the time I was 15 I was sleeping with this particular girl, she was the first proper girlfriend. The only way I could leave foster care was to join one of the services, the army, the air force or the navy. I met quite a few girls. I had two or three affairs in the two years that I was in the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service). I found myself always starting off as just mates, friends and then becoming really close with particular ones and for whatever reason I still didn’t know that I was gay because boys would come on to me as well. I’d go out with boys, nothing sexual happened with boys though because I was too scared. I couldn’t do anything with a boy because I’d have a baby - that

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Our Story - Liverpool

was your top and bottom line of not doing anything. I remember being told once that some man was interested in me but he’d been told he had no chance because I was a lesbian and I was like, ‘I’m not a lesbian. What is a lesbian anyway?’ Lesbian was a dirty word or it meant you were kinky or it meant there was something wrong with you, deviant. When this man told me that he loved me I thought ‘OK, we’ll get married then and happy ever after will happen’. So I left the WRNS in 1963 and married him, he was a man from Liverpool. I got one of my girlfriends to come along to the wedding with me and this was one of the girls I’d been sleeping with who was a WRN as well. She was the only person I had on my side at the wedding. After the ceremony we got the train up to Liverpool and I moved in with my mother-in-law. My husband was still in the navy so he was off to sea but I became pregnant straight away. In 1971 I got a job, as a barmaid in The Lisbon. I got told that you got ‘a few poofs’ in there before I went

“I found it easier being gay in Toxteth because my race or colour wasn’t an issue there.” there but it didn’t mean anything to me. I wasn’t totally aware of what that meant as far as somebody’s life. I can remember the first night being in there and seeing two or three gay boys coming in and being really effeminate and I remember being shocked because they were so different to look at and how they behaved and how they spoke. I was aware I wasn’t living the life I really wanted to live. I don’t mean about being in a family I mean about my sexuality. I can remember women coming to the bar and the women looking really butch and being bowled over at how the women dared to look so different and be different and really admiring them.

was quite well mentally, physically and everything else and I explained about being a lesbian and coming to terms with my sexual identity. He was only there 5 minutes and got off. I went for custody and got denied - the case was totally about my sexuality. My husband just kept it on the sexuality level and how wrong it was for a woman and kids and daughters. The female judge saw it exactly the same way and I was denied custody of my daughters because I might influence them but I could have custody of my son.

I found it easier being gay in Toxteth because my race or colour wasn’t an issue there. I blended in with the culture that was around me because it was quite a big black community and funnily enough quite I decided I was gay, I was a lesbian and I a lot of gay people who applied for flats, needed to live my life as such. I was still a who had to move out of home because mother and I wanted custody of my kids… they’d come out, the different housing there’s a knock on the door and there’s associations always put them in Liverpool this man who tells me he’s a psychiatrist 8. It was almost like an area where people and my husband had sent him round to who didn’t conform to society got placed. interview me because I wasn’t well and I When I lived in north Liverpool I’d get was going crazy, that was what he was queer bashed, I’d get racist bashed, I’d saying. So I told this guy I wasn’t crazy I get bashed because I was a woman.

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Rebecca

born Gillingham, Kent 1946 Like all trans’ people I have some recollection of feeling uncertain about my gender identity when I was quite young. I do have memories of feeling uncertain about my gender and speaking to my mother about this when I was maybe about 6. The next real clear understanding of that is when I got into my adolescent years and then I really did start to get confused about my gender identity. There was nobody I could discuss this with at that stage, it was a very different time then, attitudes, knowledge, all the rest of it. I didn’t know what a trans’ person was then, I felt that I was somehow unique. The GP referred me on to Charing Cross hospital to see a psychiatrist there, we are talking now about the late 1960’s, it may have been a trans’ clinic, a gender identity clinic as we call it today. That was my first encounter with the medical services, it scared me to death because what I was asked to do was to engage with a process that involved taking photographs

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Our Story - Liverpool

of me crossed dressed and then showing me those photographs mixed up with other images and every time I saw an image of myself cross-dressed they’d give me an electric shock, this was the good old aversion therapy. Having had that explained to me I fled from that consulting room and never went back, I thought ‘You’re not plugging me into the mains thank you very much’. My sexuality had been one where I’d only been attracted to women but because I cross-dressed and because I wanted to be a woman, in my naivety at that stage it led me to believe possibly I might be gay but I didn’t have any hidden desires to have relationships with men. Society’s impression of people that cross-dress often is, especially for male to female cross dressers, that they are doing that to attract male partners and I have often been seen as a gay man in a frock. My second wife wanted me to be ‘cured’ so I went through various psychiatrists and psychologists and doctors and counsellors in an attempt to rid me of this

“I have often been seen as a gay man in a frock.” ‘thing’ but of course that never worked. But my partner when I moved here (to Liverpool) was much more constructive about it and she genuinely tried to find me appropriate help.

who doesn’t usually go through with the full genital reconstruction surgery but they live in an alternative gender role, so they’re somewhere on the spectrum between male and female.

The first person to know, apart from my In terms of sexuality it makes things very partners, was my sister... my parents were complicated because the words that we both dead by this stage (1993) so I never have are very specific. The terms lesbian, had to address that, which I think would gay, bisexual all have a point of reference have been difficult, perhaps more so for which I confound. The object of my my father than my mother. I have a son by desire is female as it always has been. my second marriage and he didn’t know But whether that makes me a lesbian or anything about it and for a time I was living whether I’m still a heterosexual male living a dual identity, when he came to visit me I as a woman… it’s very complicated. was his dad. I was quite happy doing that but my sister, bless her, although she’d A sadness of my transition has been the been very positive the first time around, difficulties in forming relationships. I’ve had decided she needed to apprise him of this a relationship with a heterosexual woman fact. I didn’t have to deal with anything and I’ve had a relationship with a gay woman because he was fantastic, we had a very and both of those proved problematic, close relationship. largely around my sexual identity. I discovered that there was a group in To begin with I was assaulted. I’ve had Liverpool called The Liver Birds. Up to that windows smashed in this flat, I’ve been point you had this subconscious feeling harassed by children here, I’ve had to have that you were somehow unique and the police involved. I’ve had lots of verbal suddenly you found there were people like abuse out on the street. Whether that’s you, so that was a bit challenging. Also part and parcel of the package I wouldn’t because you still weren’t fully comfortable like to say, it’s certainly the experience with the notion of changing your identity, of most trans’ people. It reached a pitch to see people stages on was like ‘Oh no I in the late nineties when I was chased through the streets of Liverpool by this could never be like that’. gang on Renshaw Street. The term ‘transgender’ in that sense is somebody who sits outside the binary,

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Jan

born Broadgreen, Liverpool 1951 I always knew I was different. I had friends who were boys but it was always in sports and things like that. I was a football fanatic, I had my own football team at twelve. I was a terrible tomboy. I used to go to the pictures with boyfriends and you’d have a snog in the back row but I didn’t really like it.

I came back to Liverpool to go to PE college ’68 to ’71…we were just friends really but I was in love for three years (with a female student). We didn’t have a physical relationship but we were so close. I was in a dreadful state really because I knew that she was straight and wanted a family, so I disappeared, I couldn’t stay in this country. When I qualified I did VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) and went off to Africa. Most of the staff at the college were all paired off and were gay. They lived together in rooms in the college and I suppose somehow we were curious so we used to watch them and compare notes as to what they did and

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where they went and who was with who last night. You had to get married for a life that fitted in with everybody, family, that’s what you were expected to do. So this chap called David and I got engaged. I was in such a mixed up state I kept putting it off and then eventually said ‘No, I’m not going to marry you.’ I had a little flat in the Dingle, my mother wanted me to go home and find a job but I couldn’t, I needed to find out what this ‘time bomb’ ticking in me was. The only hope at that time, it would have been 1972, was an advert I saw for a magazine called Friend and I wrote to this magazine and they printed my letter. One of these women I met from Manchester was determined to find somewhere in Liverpool where she could come for the weekend and go to gay clubs. I didn’t know such a thing existed but we ended up somewhere down the bottom of Seel Street one night. Oh and it was horrible and she was one of these women who insisted on drinking pints of beer in dimpled mugs and that wasn’t quite my scene. It

“I had my own football team at twelve. I was a terrible tomboy.” was down in a basement somewhere and it wasn’t very nice so I didn’t go again. Boots and bibs and braces, that’s what I remember, great big Doc Marten boots and bib and braces. There were these particular Liverpool folk singers, ladies, who were well known on the scene, not that I ever went to the folk club, I didn’t, I wasn’t interested in folk music I was just interested in people who might be gay. The term ‘gay’ wasn’t used then, we never referred to anybody as gay. I don’t know what we said but gay certainly wasn’t a term.

telling my mother when I was in some sort of delirium state, ‘Don’t you realise that I’m a fucking lesbian’. Looking back now it’s an horrendous thing that it had to come to that for it to come out. Then after that, it was never mentioned again until one day my mother said, ‘I want a word with you. Last year you said that you and Grace were lesbians.’ And I said ‘Oh no I didn’t. I was in a bit of a state mother’. So it never actually came out. You had to know that the people you were socialising with wouldn’t go gabbing to anybody and not go spreading rumours because there was still that element of secrecy.

I just moved in with Grace, nothing was ever said. Things were difficult with your family because you couldn’t say anything. I feel now that at 57 that I’m able to say I remember one time, it must have been ‘I’m gay actually’. Grace and I...I don’t 1985, and something snapped and I had say she’s my friend I say she’s my partner a nervous breakdown and I remember because other people accept it now.

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Meredith

born Crosby, Liverpool 1953 About age 4 or 5 I wanted to be a little boy. I wouldn’t answer to Meredith, I wanted my parents to call me Paul, which they did and I wanted to wear shorts I wouldn’t wear dresses. My parents never really talked about their little girl being this way although my mum said, ‘I wanted a girl to dress up in pretty dresses and I’ve got you in your rompers and denim suits, dungarees’. They never ever spoke about what I am. I was well known in the village going around in my jeans, white shirt and a bowler hat. I used to go shooting, I hate shooting now but I was brought up with the gun. I shot shotgun from the age of 10, clay pigeons and shooting for the farmers. I don’t like titles, I’d never title myself gay or lesbian, that’s what people out there do. I’m just me and this is the way I am.

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Our Story - Liverpool

I would never have sex with boys but that was because your parents said you couldn’t have sex before you were married and you wouldn’t do that because you didn’t want children but that was quite easy because I didn’t want sex anyway. Gayness has not come into my life in the police really because it wasn’t something I spoke about or really anyone else did, I was just Meredith. I was a good copper. I’ve heard things like ‘your either a dyke or a bike’, but I think anybody will tell you that in the police, it was a saying. I don’t think the police have ever singled any particular type of person out. When we were in the task force, you did used to sit in your vans outside toilets on Stanley Street in the city centre but that was because it was central. Did we ever lock up in the toilets?...not really. I can remember in the back of my mind loads of times sitting outside the toilets in the afternoon, more often than not the lads would go down and chase whoever out rather than going to get a quick lock up.

“I don’t like titles, I’d never title myself gay or lesbian that’s what people out there do. I’m just me and this is the way I am.” Cottaging wasn’t something I knew about and the first time I heard it was when I went to work in Southport in 1983 and they used to say the toilets in Hesketh Park were actually advertised as the ‘fairy glen’ in the Pink Paper. I didn’t really know what people were talking about, as far as I was concerned there was no targeting those toilets. I think I restricted my ability (to live own life) more than the police. I think the difficulty I had was I worked for Special Branch for a time and I would have had to have gone through a positive vetting. Well I knew I would have failed positive vetting because I was gay, so I had to leave that department because I would have been open to blackmail…1979 or ’80. There was a young police officer and she spoke to me and she outed herself and I said to her, ‘Well it’s ok for you to out yourself because if you walk into a room

heads will turn, men will look at you and think isn’t she an attractive woman, you will be more accepted than if a butch policewoman goes in there’. I must say I’ve never had a big circle of friends but I’m rather insular I suppose and that’s alright, it’s ok to be insular because I look at the group of people that I have met since and everybody’s been with everybody - well that’s not really my thing. I am me, I’m not part of a group. I don’t want someone to be talking about my secrets. It’s a small world, you’ve got 20 people and 18 have slept with each other. I think it’s a bit sad quite honestly. Pride marches…why do people want to do that? I mean, we are there, we are counted, we’re normal. Why do we have to talk about it? They accept what we have, we just don’t title it. If you title it, that’s when it does people’s heads in.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Gerry

born Scotland Road, Liverpool 1962 It wasn’t me that made me aware of my sexuality it was the people around me. So, for example the first thing I really clearly remember was being told I was like a girl. I was told long before I knew what sexuality was that I was a queer, but round about 8 was when I knew that I fancied boys. Up until I left Scottie Road I was told by everyone that I was like a girl, I was very thin and very feminine looking and I did have long hair but it wasn’t because of that. I used to skip to school along Scotland Road in possibly the dog roughest area of Liverpool but I was very lucky in so much that I had quite rough brothers and so they were proper scallys and hard, so even though they would call me names they would still protect me because they had to, it was their job.

I wanted to be a priest, I became an altar boy and wanted to be a priest. I actually went to the brother in our school who was a monk and said ‘I’ve heard the calling’, I never, I’d just heard Julie Covington in Rock Follies, which is like the calling. I thought that was what was going to happen, that I was going to be a priest, I was all ready set to become one and then sex got in the way and that was better than god. I think there’s something inherent in effeminate lads where they just have to wear their mums’ clothes. I just think it happens and I don’t know why it happens and there’s lots of things about being gay I don’t know and I think it’s a lovely thing not to know. I mean there was a programme called Rock Follies when I was a kid and every gay I know who’s around my age loved Julie Covington, now how can that be? Why do we all home in on Elsie Tanner, Julie Covington and Emma Peel… there’s something rather mystical about that.

The church was somewhere you could escape because it was quiet and everywhere else was really rough and horrible and hard, the church was just solace really. The Everyman Youth Theatre was where I met gays, that’s I escaped to the church, I even convinced myself where I met my mate Brian who was so camp it was

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Our Story - Liverpool

“Why do we all home in on Elsie Tanner, Julie Covington and Emma Peel? There’s something mystical about that.” unbelievable. He was the first person I met who was camper than me, he normalised me because he was so much camper.

sisters, they’re like their mums and I love that, it’s very freeing, there’s nothing more entertaining than a working class gay.

At the end of The Masquerade they’d This city is hugely intellectual on so many put on Petula Clark (and) we’d all dance levels, it’s intellectual politically and with each other at the end of the night, creatively but it also has a feral intellect rotten drunk, that doesn’t happen now in and it’s unthought through, it’s not written gay bars and there was something about in stone, and it’s not written in books and that that made me think being gay was that belongs to the world I’m from, the amazing. I feel sad for people who go into Scottie Road end of where I’m from and a gay club now and all it is is distance and its that which I think is the very essence clothes and fashion and muscle whereas of Liverpool. in those days, 1980, 1981, it wasn’t about that. There was a sense that you were all In a very rough environment you have to in this together. I miss that camaraderie, learn quite quickly coping strategies and that sense of purpose which was what escaping strategies and a whole load of it offered. You weren’t going out just to other things that keep you alive because dance, you were going out to be part some gays don’t make it, some gays kill of something and it really filled you up. themselves because it’s so hard. Everyone wasn’t beautiful or wanting to be beautiful or trying to be beautiful, people Liverpool gays are the most animated gays I’ve ever had the fortune to witness and were genuinely and quite happily ugly. sometimes misfortune because sometimes There’s a huge difference between working they are too animated. I think that’s a class gays and middle class gays, a huge Liverpool trait anyway, I think Scousers difference… I was friends with both but are animated generally but none more so working class gays are like scally girls and than a big queenie Scouser. middle class gays aren’t. They’re like their

Our Story - Liverpool

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Queen Square showing The Stork Hotel c.1961

Stanley Street c.1979 20

Our Story - Liverpool

Bob

born Mold, Wales 1925

George

born Old Swan, Liverpool 1944

I used to think when I was younger it’ll be fun growing old because the old ones were having a great time. There was a good scene in Liverpool, this was before the clubs started. There were about 5 different gay bars altogether. There was the Stork Hotel in Queen Square that was pulled down in the early sixties and there was a really good bar in there, the Aintree Bar. Then there was the Magic Clock which was excellent, then the Royal Court Bar which was good, then the Old Royal that was another gay bar on Williamson Square next to the Playhouse, that’s where I met Eric, that’s where I worked. The Basnett Bar was on the ground floor by George Henry Lee’s, Basnett Street.

Brian S

born Ealing, London 1930

Eric

born Margate, Kent 1936

George

Bob 1947

It became gay (the Magic Clock), it was simply a lunchtime place for the people that worked round there you know the fruit market and the fish market. But there was this barmaid who was in the Aintree Bar, but she left the Aintree Bar and moved to The Magic Clock. Now we all toddled after her because she was pro gay, she liked the gays because we’re non threatening and she was a motherly figure. She moved from the Aintree Bar to the Clock and we all turned up in the Clock. I remember the manager, it was a husband and wife team in there and they couldn’t realise quite what had hit them. It would have been about 1962. In the Magic Clock there were lots of gay boys with girls names, Cherise was one of them. I had one, when I was young I had masses of hair, and I was called Pompadour. There were a lot of old gays in town years ago and a lot of them were Quentin Crisp types, it was fashionable to be like that in suits and ties with the hair all shooshed up, eyelashes put on, you don’t get that any more. The bar I worked in ‘Della’ would come in, he was a guard outside Buckingham Palace on a horse, he was a great big fella and we used to call him Della, I don’t know his real name. He’d come into the pub dressed in drag and you’ve never seen such terrible drag in your life. But if anybody was in the pub staring at him he’d say ‘who the hell are you looking at’ and the next minute he’d have your eye out. There were a few people in town like that……Sadie, I knew her in the early sixties and she worked in this bar I worked in and she was caught having sex on St George’s Hall steps and she was sent to prison. When he came out he went back to work in the Old Royal for Dolly and eventually in the seventies he opened a club of his own, the Bar Royal in Wood St.

Our Story - Liverpool

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The Royal Court c.1947

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Our Story - Liverpool

Brian W

Brian S Eric Brian S Eric

Brian S

born Wavertree, Liverpool 1938

The Black Cat in London Road opposite the Odeon, it was a restaurant downstairs, Samson and Barlow and upstairs there was this room with a bar. When I heard about it I wanted to go but I couldn’t because the woman behind the bar lived next door to us. One Christmas my sister came home and said ‘It’s Christmas Eve we want to go out somewhere clubbing’ and the woman next door says to me ‘Bring them down to my club’ and I thought ‘Great, this is one way of getting in.’ I’m thinking of the Bear’s Paw, I used to go there occasionally with my partner Ken, and we’d see other people we knew there. At one time you had the dancing in one place with the noise and you could still talk in the other bit of it. The Bears Paw was at the back of British Homes Stores and Cavern Walks. Pubs in those days closed at 10 o’clock, no beer or alcohol was available after 10 o’clock and quite often we’d go to different people’s flats for the rest of the evening. We used to go to the Adelphi because a pot of coffee cost half a crown and you could get three cups out of it so we used to sit on these settees. We’d probably miss the orchestra, the palm court bit, because they’d finish by 10 o’clock but we could go on still talking to each other. The waiters used to totter around, they were equally as camp. There were two cinemas, news theatres, and they were a meeting place for gays who knew about them. The Liverpool News Theatre was on Clayton Square and the other was on Church Street opposite where Smiths was and when you went in there, it was known in the gay scene, these were things the public didn’t know about, but if you sat in certain parts of the cinema it was a tacit admission that you were waiting for something and somebody else coming to the cinema of a similar persuasion would come and sit down by you and you’d get talking. A lot of us used to go to the plays at the Playhouse because there was quite a strong gay element amongst the cast and we used to mix with them, that was one of the attractions of the Playhouse. Eric & George 1967 Our Story - Liverpool

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Williamson Square c.1946

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Our Story - Liverpool

George

Eric

George Brian W Brian W

George

Bob

Brian W 1954

Our lesbian friends in Liverpool in the early sixties there was nowhere really for them to go to so they used to meet in houses, they’d invite other lesbians round and there used to be a magazine years ago called Arena Three and Sappho, a very good magazine and they used to advertise in that. Friends of ours used to get that and they would meet other women through Sappho and Arena Three. You didn’t get much mixing between lesbians and gay men at that time, now its entirely different but at that time they didn’t mix very well. The girls had their own networks, they didn’t have the places to go in public but they certainly had their own networks because they had these parties all over the country.

In those days they used to be what we’d call dykes. You’d swear they were men some of them. Do you remember The Masquerade on Cases Street? It was full of them (lesbians) on a Sunday, the rough ones, very threatening. (on cottages) ‘There was one right outside the Playhouse, it was a round one, The Wheel of Fortune, there was one in Tithebarn Street, there was one on The Strand which is now that main road that goes behind the Liver Buildings, that was The Long Bar and then further along there was another one which was nicknamed The Garden of Allah. Oh and there was Victoria St, that didn’t have a name. You’d go from one end of the Pier Head to the other, the two toilets there, then up to Old Hall Street, Tithebarn Street, then across to Victoria Street and then Temple Lane there was one there and you used to walk around in a circle all afternoon. You’d say to people ‘Oh there’s no use going to that one there’s no one in there.’ You’d meet a lot of married men - a lot would go there going home from work. The police then were very anti gay, very homophobic and they did ‘agent provocateur’ method and I know two very good friends of mine were caught that way and the police instigated it.

Our Story - Liverpool

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Victoria Street c.1950

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Our Story - Liverpool

Brian W Bob Eric Bob

It’s what they’d call entrapment now. They knew how to dress and how to behave. They were mimicking our behaviour and dress to fool us. Before the war they used to say a sign of a person being gay was brown suede shoes. Another one was polo neck shirts at one point, gay people wore polo neck shirts. In Byrom Street there was an Army and Navy store, this was the early fifties, and all the gays who’d been caught in cottages and had been to jail, this Mrs Coates, she was something to do with the discharged prisoners and she would get them coming out of Walton jail and give them a job because having been a guest of His or Her Majesty they couldn’t get a job. These glamorous gays were working in this tatty Army and Navy store - it didn’t look right they didn’t fit there.

Eric & George 1965

Royal Liver Building c. 1945

Our Story - Liverpool

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Pierhead c.1949

The Strand c.1966

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Our Story - Liverpool

Queen Square showing The Stork Hotel c.1961

Thanks to all the following without whom this project would not have been possible; North West Sound Archive, National Museums Liverpool, Liverpool Library Service, Liverpool Records Office, the Armistead Project, the Unity Theatre, Homotopia, Our Story Scotland, Outsiders, Heritage Lottery Fund, Liverpool Capital of Culture, Joe Standerline, Jo Stanley, Mike Homfray, Mike Howlett, Graeme Phillips, Gary Everett, Matt Houlbrook, Richard Phillips, Andy Green and Beverley Button.

Some interviewees requested that we did not use their real names and some asked that we removed names from their interviews. We will always respect the confidentiality of our interviewees. The contents of the CD, booklet and exhibition remains the copyright of Our Story Liverpool. Please do not reproduce or use this material without permission from Our Story Liverpool.

Stanley Street c.1979

Williamson Square c.1946

Victoria Street c.1950

Our Story Liverpool Unity Theatre, Hope Place, Liverpool, L1 9BG tel: 0151 709 6502 email: info@ourstoryliverpool.co.uk web: www.ourstoryliverpool.co.uk

Pierhead c.1949

Our Story Old Royal The Dart The Dive Magic Clock Royal Court Bar Stork Hotel

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Basnett Bar Bear’s Paw Masquerade Sadie’s Bar Royal Bonaparte’s Victoria Street Cottage

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