It was Chapman Pincher who opened the can of worms about Maurice Oldfield, the former chief of MI6. THE MAIL ON SUNDAY (19 April) ran an extract from Pincher’s new book making the revelation that Oldfield was gay. This—much to the delight of the tabloids—was subsequently confirmed by Mrs Thatcher.
Mr Pincher’s original article was a classic piece of money-inspired humbug. It was riddled with innuendo and assumption and shot through with the kind of hypocritical moralising that newspapers revel in. He claimed that he had known of “Oldfield’s staggering duplicity for several years” yet had been “diffident about revealing it because he was a friend.”
Yes, it seems Mr Pincher is all heart and nothing if not loyal to his ‘friends’. Nobly keeping his mouth shut—until, of course, publicity was needed for the new book and then the ‘friendship’ could go to hell—and the ‘friend’ can be slandered up hill and down dale because he isn’t around anymore to contradict.
In the article Pincher has to admit that Oldfield’s sexual exploits (and we’re all entitled to those, surely?) had “led to no harm” and that “there was no evidence he was compromised”. Yet he still manages to say, “this case highlights the dangers of having homosexuals in such sensitive positions.”
Dangers? What dangers? Nothing happened, for God’s sake!
Mr Pincher makes rather large assumptions about Maurice Oldfield’s character and motivations, which not even a ‘friend’ is entitled to do. He speaks of Oldfield’s “charity” towards others who were in trouble. “Such magnanimity, which came naturally to Oldfield, may well have been intensified by the delicate appreciation of his own secret weakness. And the knowledge that there but for the Grace of God, went he.”
What does all this boil down to, then? Yes, Maurice Oldfield was gay. No, it did not interfere with this work in any way. So, what was Chapman Pincher’s motivation in betraying his ‘old friend’ in such a squalid way?
One possible explanation was offered in THE OBSERVER (10 May). “When he retired from the Express in 1979, Mr Pincher says, he did not expect to have anything more to do with spies. But he was short of money. Now, presumably thanks to the spy books, Mr Pincher’s circumstances seem perfectly attuned to his requirements. He lives in a cul-de-sac in a Georgian house next to the church in the charming village of Kintbury, adjacent to Sir Terence Conran, Lord Howard de Walden, and other nobs. Excellent fishing and shooting is available nearby.”
Amazing what kind of a lifestyle can be had if you’re prepared to sell your ‘friends’ down the river.
But once Mr Pincher had given the green light, the other papers went crazy. For days the tabloids were filled with lurid tales of Oldfield’s supposed exploits. If you took it all at face value, there wasn’t a single “sordid sexual encounter” that Sir Maurice hadn’t had. Everything from child sex to ‘rough trade’ to transvestism were reported to have been his forte. Vikki de Lambray was disinterred and given the kind of publicity he would have adored when he was alive. It also gave THE SUN the opportunity to use dehumanising terms like “poof” “pervert” “poofter” and so on over and over again in ever more censorious headlines.
What with this supposed ‘scandal’ and the attempted crucifixions of Elton John and Freddie Mercury, the newspapers’ unhealthy obsession with homosexuality reached such a pitch that week that THE LONDON DAILY NEWS carried a cartoon showing a man at a paper shop having to buy ‘Gay News’ in order to find out what is happening in the non-gay world.
But come the weekend the angle changed. Suddenly it dawned on the commentators that perhaps Sir Maurice hadn’t been such a bad old duffer after all. “Why living a lie is the biggest crime” was the lead feature in TODAY (25 April). It asked whether Roy Jenkins (who guided the 1967 Sexual Offences Act through Parliament) would be dismayed to see “his SDP colleague, Dr David Owen … declaring unequivocally that no practising homosexual should have been allowed to reach a position such as the head of MI6.”
“Why not?” asked TODAY, not unreasonably, and then answered: “Many homosexuals lead perfectly respectable lives, in stable relationships, and if they are frank about their sexuality there is no reason why they should be any more susceptible to blackmail or any more of a security risk than anybody else. There is, after all, no shortage of heterosexuals who have found themselves either susceptible to blackmail or compromised into resignation.”
A fair enough point, and one that was made repeatedly. “The terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘security risk’ are not synonymous,” editorialised THE TIMES, “and there is too much of a tendency to treat them as such.” Tim Foskett in a letter to THE GUARDIAN (28 April) said: “There is something wrong in a society that sets up conditions such that someone who is gay is not protected against blackmail or wrongful dismissal. There is further, something quite immoral about a society that then seeks to negate the lives and work of prominent lesbians and gay men on the grounds that they might have been a ‘security risk’.”
There then followed a spate of articles, mainly, I would guess, written by heterosexuals, trying to make sense of the hoo-ha over Oldfield. Although they were trying to be fair, some of the background pieces were laughable. Paul Barker in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (26 April) told its readers that they should “keep the revelation of Maurice Oldfield’s sexual inclinations in proportion” and then there followed an article by Norman Stone which “shows that many homosexuals are predisposed to be servants of the state.”
We already know this, of course, but Mr Stone gave us a half-baked “psychological” explanation calling on Freud and Jung as justification. (It couldn’t have anything to do with having to make a living, could it, or am I being simplistic?) Never mind, the feature told us all about famous gays from history who were (in Mr Stone’s terms, anyway) heroes. Lord Kitchener, Cecil Rhodes, General Trotha, Napoleon, Mountbatten, Richard the Lionheart, Frederick the Great and maybe even Beethoven! The following week, John Montgomery used the correspondence column to add to the list: Gordon of Khartoum (who apparently “liked to give baths to poor boys he picked up”), Kaiser William II, Krupp the munitions king, Alexandra the Great, Petronius, Plutarch, Horace, Virgil, Julius Caesar, Tchaikovsky, E M Forster, Lawrence of Arabia, W Somerset Maugham, Ronald Firbank, John van Druten, who “all faithfully served the public”.
Matthew Parris, who has a more intimate knowledge of the subject, wrote in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: “Why persecute homosexuals willing to serve the state?” He put the whole hyped-up foolishness into perspective: “The small voice which whispers: ‘Gosh! The head of our intelligence for all those years was a homosexual, and did a splendid job!’ is scarcely heard beneath the calls for more vetting, stricter tests, clear guidelines. Why? ‘He could have been blackmailed’ people will say. Well, there is a simple way of ensuring that he could not have been blackmailed, and it lies within the hands of the superiors who fear he might have been. They could have told him that homosexuality was no disqualification from office.”
The Government reacted to this oft-repeated and totally uncontestable argument by suspending a young man from his job at GCHQ because he is a homosexual (OBSERVER 26 April). It seems that to the security services being gay is roughly the equivalent to being a member of the politburo. On this issue the Establishment has a real problem: common sense tells them that their policy is crazy, but homophobia dictates their actions.
PROTEST can work. Along with many other readers of THE DAILY MIRROR, I wrote to complain about the reactionary rantings of George Gale. Lo and behold—the nasty old git has been sacked! Editor Richard Stott explained: “The idea of providing an ‘alternative voice’ was not one that worked and certainly not one that you and many other readers appreciated. Let me assure you that the Daily Mirror will continue its aggressive and virulent attacks on the Thatcher Government …”
Which proves that those letters to the editor aren’t always the waste of time they seem to us. Mark one up for our side.
Elton John and Freddie Mercury have both been given ‘the treatment’ by The Sun and The Star over the past month. Full details of their private lives were paraded for all to see.
There is a school of thought which says that ‘public figures must be prepared to have their foibles exposed to the world’ and there is another that contends that when we close our bedroom door, the world should keep out. Of the latter persuasion is Norman Tebbit, the gruesome chairman of the Conservative party, who told YOU magazine (10 May): “I think people in public life both deserve and ought to have a private life as well. Of course, if you don’t talk about your private life, people make it up.”
Disagreeing with this view is arch-scandal-monger Nigel Dempster (who is well-versed in the art of apology for lies told in print). THE MAIL ON SUNDAY (19 April) carried a piece by him about: “the healthy, human, simple wish for ordinary people to be informed when extraordinary people misbehave. What we are talking about is democracy itself.”
I would agree with this argument in the case of a crooked politician, a corrupt businessman or a dangerous criminal. We need to be protected from such people. But who needs to be protected from Elton John? What crime has he committed that will either bring down society or which involved an unwilling victim?
THE STAR (20 April) justified its hounding of Elton by saying that its readers are “interested in the truth.” (Why they are reading the Star, then, is anybody’s guess). They say that: “It is nonsense for people in public life to think they should be immune from publicity in their private lives.”
Excuse me, Mr Leader-writer, if you could get off your high horse for a moment, I’d like to know exactly why it is nonsense. If Elton John had chopped up a journalist and flushed him down the toilet for sexual kicks there might (and I say might) be grounds for investigation. But surely a few consensual sexual encounters are nobody’s business but Elton’s? I would think that even paragons of virtue like the editors of the Sun and the Star must have sex lives of some kind. Would they consider them to be of legitimate interest to their readers?
I, for one, would be fascinated to know what such perfect specimens get up to. If they live as they write, though, then I’m afraid it wouldn’t be very much.
Good News Corner: THE LONDON DAILY NEWS reported (8 May) that “Our Aids survey shows clearly that it is the doctors and not the priests who have won the debate about how we will deal with the disease … Our poll makes it clear that the public, in London at least, have reacted with coolness and calm and a surprising lack of moralising.”
In THE LONDON STANDARD (16 April): “A dramatic drop in the number of new Aids cases has been reported in San Francisco because more people are practising safe sex. A report … showed last year that only one per cent of those studied had the deadly disease, compared with 12.4 in 1982.”
Coming Out Corner: Welcome out of the closet disc jockey Paul Gambaccini who described himself in THE STAR (6 May) as “predominantly, but not exclusively homosexual.”
Loony Corner: From THE DAILY MAIL (9 May): “The ‘gay’ revolution encouraged in classrooms by ‘loony’ left councils could threaten the future of human life … if the promotion of homosexuality is allowed to flourish in schools it could mean the end of civilisation, Local Government Minister Rhodes Boyson told MPs.”
From DAILY EXPRESS (27 April): “I am considering setting up a fighting organisation of people of the same name as myself to explore all legal possibilities of hitting back at those people who have popularised the word ‘gay’ for homosexual.” This was in a letter from a Mr A W Gaye. My reply to Mr Gaye (for some reason unpublished by The Express) suggested that he change his name by deed poll to Mr Bent or Mr Poofter or Pansy or Queer or Fairy. We’ve finished with such terms so please help yourself.
An article in the science magazine OMNI (April issue) concerned the research of a scientist called Gunter Dorner, who is convinced that homosexuals are “born, not made”. He asserts that there are certain hormonal factors which can be pinpointed during pregnancy which can indicate whether a child will be born homosexual or not. He also has a theory about how that can be corrected. It’s too complicated to go into here, but very few people in the scientific world seem impressed by Mr Dorner’s ideas.
Inspiration for his work came in quite a bizarre way. Apparently, he was watching ballet on television and thought that the male dancers (who were mostly homosexual, he asserts) were “behaving more like females than heterosexual men” and performing “gestures that couldn’t be performed by heterosexual males.” Seems they were all far too graceful to be straight.
A very alluring theory for those with little knowledge of what they are talking about, but unfortunately there are a lot of gay men who are clumsy, cack-handed and elephantine in their movements. They’d never make ballet dancers in a thousand years. So where does that leave Mr Dorner’s theories?
But much more important, why is he pursuing this line of enquiry in the first place? The German Society for Sex Research has no doubt about his motivation: “It becomes particularly evident how closely all Dorner’s experiments on the subject of homosexuality collude with the social prejudice that demands the restriction and control of homosexuality.” The Society accuses Dorner of advocating “endocrinological euthanasia of homosexuality” and indeed, Mr Dorner seems to be advocating some sort of “final solution” for the gay problem. And there are a lot of people who’d be only too pleased to help him out with that.
“The Sun has never been hostile to the gay community,” said an editorial in THE SUN (6 May). (I’ll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor before I remind you that this is not such a surprising statement when you consider that The Sun seems literally incapable of telling the truth.)
They were blathering on about the publicity stunt organised to promote a gay conference in London. Protestors went to the Norwegian Embassy to make a symbolic request for asylum. The Sun said they would pay for a one-way ticket for any gay person who wanted to leave the country.
Day in day out The Sun does its best to whip up hostility against us. Its hateful persecution of gay public figures and its cynical distortion of our lives to promote its political ideals continues unabated. Its slanted ‘news’ stories blame us for everything from child abuse to ‘spreading Aids to innocent’ people.
But no, The Sun isn’t hostile to the gay community. And what’s more the moon is made of green cheese.
On the same story we have Julie Burchill (MAIL ON SUNDAY 10 May) writing in her classic Glenda Slag style (“But to go because of persecution under British law? Come off it!” and so on.) Ms Burchill says that gay people should be pleased to be arrested because we would find ourselves handcuffed to “a hefty brute in uniform—a frisson in anyone’s parley.”
I’m not sure whether Ms Burchill has genuinely gone round the twist or whether she’s having a convoluted laugh at the expense of her nodding readers. Or perhaps she’s really George Gale in drag.