12 November 2017



Peter Wildeblood: I shouldn't be here. This shouldn't be happening.
Prison psychiatrist: You broke the law.
Peter Wildeblood: Well then, the law is wrong...!

Queer. Faggot. Pervert. Deviant. Fairy. Nancy Boy. Homo. Arse-bandit. Uphill gardener. Shirt-lifter. Pillow-biter. Hershey highwayman. Pansy. Batty-boy. You can add as many more of your own as you like, but the real-life gay men featured in this excellent BBC docu-drama have heard every derogatory term for describing the homosexual male that have ever been invented, and probably a few more choice ones besides.

They've heard it all, and their stories will literally break your hearts. I would say that it would take a hardened gay-basher indeed not to be moved by their terrible stories, stories that almost seem more suited to Hitler's Germany than civilised old Blighty in the second half of the twentieth century. Let's take a look at the film and hopefully you'll see what I mean.

Peter Wildeblood (what a fabulous but also sadly ironic name, given what happened to poor old Oscar Wilde in the early 1900s under what I imagine was the same archaic law)) is the central character here. He was a journalist for an English newspaper when the real-life events that made him something of a household name occurred in Britain in the early-to-mid-'Nineteen Fifties.

A homosexual male in an era when it was still illegal to be so, Peter had a love affair with an RAF Corporal called Eddie McNally. They had full-on homosexual sex with each other but there's no doubt in the viewers' minds that the two men loved each other too, in a way which, if it were to happen today, would raise very few eyebrows and might even lead to a civil partnership and a plethora of loving photographs across the length and breadth of social media.

Unfortunately, something of a witch-hunt that was taking place in Britain at the time against homosexual males in public life caused the police to investigate Wildeblood for 'gross indecency and buggery (horrible words, aren't they?),' along with his two posh chums Lord Montagu and Michael Pitte-Rivers.

The investigation led to a prison sentence of twelve months for Lord Montagu and eighteen months each for Wildeblood and Pitte-Rivers, under what I'm guessing were the same laws that, as I mentioned previously, had convicted Oscar Wilde for the same offence over half a century ago. This gives us some idea of how outdated and draconian these laws were.

The police had put pressure on Wildeblood's lover Eddie McNally to 'fess up about the affair and also to provide them with the letters and documentary evidence which helped them to gain a conviction for Wildeblood.

In the film, we see a devastated Wildeblood saying: 'How could Eddie do this to me?' The police threatened him with severe jail-time, that's why. I don't blame poor Eddie, who clearly didn't want to do any of the things the police made him do and who only did them to save himself from a hefty jail-sentence. Which one of us wouldn't sell out our own grannies to spare himself such a grim fate...?

Prison was indeed grim for Peter Wildeblood, whose only 'crime' had been that he loved another man. He would have preferred not to be gay, he tells us, because of all the fear, loneliness, self-doubt and self-loathing it caused him, and all that's perfectly understandable. He could no more change what he was, though, than he could suddenly fly to the moon, and that's about the size and height of it.

The scene in the prison psychiatrist's office has to be seen to be believed. Peter is willing to be 'cured' of his homosexual tendencies, until, that is, he hears about the 'cures.' Electric shock therapy seems to involve being 'shocked' whenever you have an illegal sexual thought about a member of your own sex. Well, forget about that, for a start. Feck that for a game of soldiers.

Aversion therapy seems to be about being injected with a certain substance which no-one in the film could remember the name of, and which causes every morsel of food and drink to leave your body one way or the other. Then you lie in your own vomit, shit and piss for several days, without being cleaned up or assisted in any way, until the authorities decide you've had enough.

That's supposed to put you off being gay? Jesus wept. It might make you really ill for several days, but I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't stop you from being gay. Nothing can really do that, can it, as Nature can't be denied.

The drama bits of AGAINST THE LAW are inter-sliced with real documentary footage of real-life elderly gay men, who actually lived through these awful times, describing their experiences. One elderly man who underwent this so-called 'aversion therapy' said that these were the worst two or three days of his entire seventy or eighty years on this earth, and that's really bloody saying something.

Another elderly male featured in the documentary was a male nurse who'd facilitated at some of these aversion therapy sessions back in the bad old days. With tears in his eyes, he apologises profusely to the men he'd forcibly put through such a barbaric practice.

Other gay men, all elderly now and pitifully frail-looking, describe their own experiences of fear, loneliness, the threat of imprisonment and the hostility from family, friends, total strangers and society at large that were all part and parcel of being a homosexual male from that era.

The old man who described being cripplingly lonely his whole life for fear of anti-gay backlash and repercussions had me bawling into my cushion. That shouldn't have happened to anyone. Life is a tough enough journey without being condemned by society or by the law to go through it alone. I wanted to hug this sweet old geezer so much and tell him that I'm in awe, literally in awe, of his tremendous courage.

Anyway, after his imprisonment, Peter Wildeblood (1923-1999) gave evidence to something called the Wolfenden Commission, which looked into the question of homosexuality with a view to changing the punitive laws which had landed Peter in prison in the first place. Peter was the only openly homosexual male to do so.

The law was changed after several years to allow homosexual males to be gay, as it were, with other homosexual males above the age of consent and behind closed doors. I'm not sure if any other changes to this law have taken place since then, but it certainly looks like it could do with some amending, doesn't it, to remove the awful stigma altogether?

Peter gives the Commission his definition of the 'three categories of homosexuals.' According to Mr. Wildeblood, there were the 'pansies,' the openly gay men who were effeminate and feminine, bitchy and gossipy, and who called each other luvvie and duckie and who referred to each other as 'she' and 'her.'

The flaming homosexuals, in other words, as Homer Simpson from THE SIMPSONS would probably call them. Remember the episode about John the Gay Guy, in which Homer is openly homophobic to John Waters's gay character, an antique shop owner who's also called John? 

By the end of the episode, Homer has reconciled himself to the fact that not all gays are bad eggs and all's well again in 742, Evergreen Terrace...! Real life isn't quite so 'pat' though and doesn't always wrap itself up neatly after thirty minutes with time for three sets of commercials.

The second 'category of homosexuals' are the pederasts, the paedophiles, and the third and
final 'category' contains men like Peter Wildeblood, gay men who don't necessarily 'flaunt' their gay status but who want to be left in peace to choose a life partner and love him as they wish. It's only what the rest of us are automatically entitled to, after all.

I liked the choice of James Gaddas (Vinnie from Coronation Street) as the Guv'nor of the prison. He's well-used to this kind of role as he was the Guv'nor of Larkhall Prison in fantastic women-behind-bars television drama series BAD GIRLS in the 'Nineties and the 'Noughties. I loved that show...! So many bad girls, haha, including a few celebrity faces like Stephanie Beacham from glamorous prime-time television drama serial THE COLBYS.

This marvellous docu-drama was broadcast as part of BBC2's GAY BRITTANIA season that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. It's described as 'a powerfully emotive factual drama of the court case that led to a review of the laws regarding homosexuality.'

It's available to buy now on DVD courtesy of NETWORK DISTRIBUTING. It's a wonderfully thought-provoking film that I think everyone should watch, but don't just take my word for it. Watch it for yourselves and you'll see what I mean.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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