Peter Wildeblood

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Peter Wildeblood (19 May 1923 – 14 November 1999) was a British-Canadian journalist, novelist, playwright, and gay rights campaigner. He was one of the first men in the UK to publicly declare his homosexuality.

Career

Cover of the first edition of Against the Law (1955)

Peter Wildeblood was born in Alassio, on the Italian Riviera, in 1923. He was the only child of Henry Seddon Wildeblood (b. 1863), a retired engineer from the Indian Public Works Department, and his much younger second wife, Winifred Isabel, née Evans, the daughter of a sheep rancher in Argentina. He was brought up in his parents' cottage near Ashdown Forest.[1] His mother was considerably younger than his father, and Wildeblood later wondered if the fact had affected his development.

Wildeblood won a scholarship to Radley College and then went to Trinity College, Oxford in 1941, but almost immediately volunteered for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and trained as a pilot in Rhodesia, However, after a series of crashes he was grounded and instead became an RAF meteorologist, still in Rhodesia. After the war he resumed his place at Trinity College where he gravitated towards a homosexual circle in the theatre and arts.[2]

After Oxford Wildeblood turned to journalism, writing for the Daily Mail's regional office in Leeds, then in Fleet Street itself, first as the royal correspondent, then as its diplomatic correspondent. At this time Wildeblood began a passionate affair with an RAF corporal called Edward McNally and had written him a series of passionate love letters. It was these letters which proved a crucial part of the evidence leading to Wildeblood's later conviction for conspiracy to incite acts of gross indecency.[1]

In the summer of 1953, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu had offered Wildeblood the use of a beach hut near his country estate. Wildeblood brought with him two young RAF servicemen, his lover Edward McNally and John Reynolds. The foursome were joined by Montagu's cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers. At the subsequent trial the two airmen turned Queen's Evidence, and claimed there had been dancing and 'abandoned behaviour' at the gathering. Wildeblood said it had in fact been 'extremely dull'. Montagu claims that it was all remarkably innocent, saying: 'We had some drinks, we danced, we kissed, that's all.'[3]

Arrested on 9 January 1954, in March of that year Wildeblood was brought before the British courts charged with 'conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offences with male persons' (or 'buggery').[4] Wildeblood was charged along with Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers, and during the course of the trial he admitted his homosexuality to the court.[5] Montagu received a 12 months sentence, while Wildeblood and Pitt-Rivers were sentenced to 18 months in prison as a result of these and other charges, which led eventually to the Wolfenden Report, which in 1957 recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Wildblood's testimony to the Wolfenden committee was influential on its recommendations.

He published a significant work, Against the Law, in 1955: an account which detailed his experiences at the hands of the law and the British establishment; brought to light the appalling conditions in Wormwood Scrubs; and encouraged campaigns for prison — and homosexual — reform. C. H. Rolph wrote in the New Statesman that it was "the noblest, and wittiest, and most appalling prison book of them all". To Wildeblood, "it was merely part of the story which had been implicit in me from the day when I was born".

After the trial and his subsequent imprisonment, Wildeblood became a television producer and writer and was involved in a number of productions (notably for Granada Television and then CBC Toronto) throughout the 1960s and 70s.[6] Wildeblood wrote the book and lyrics, to Peter Greenwell's music, for the London musical The Crooked Mile, an avant-garde piece of 1959, set in the Soho underworld. He also chose to campaign publicly for the rights of gays by testifying before the Wolfenden Committee and the House of Lords.

His role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality which occurred in 1967 was explored in the Channel Four documentary 'A Very British Sex Scandal'.[7]

In 1994, Wildeblood suffered a stroke which left him speechless and a quadriplegic. Wildeblood moved to Canada becoming a citizen in the 1980s[8] and died in Victoria, British Columbia in 1999.

References

  1. ^ a b Matthew Parris, ‘Wildeblood, Peter (1923–1999)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 21 June 2010
  2. ^ [1] Obituary: Peter Wildeblood in The Independent 25 November 1999
  3. ^ [2] 'Lord Montagu on the court case which ended the legal persecution of homosexuals' Daily Mail 17 July 2007
  4. ^ Peter Wildeblood Against the Law, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999 pp.50–52
  5. ^ "Lord Montagu of Beaulieu admits he is bisexual". This is Hampshire. 16 July 2007. http://www.thisishampshire.net/display.var.1547701.0.lord_montagu_of_beaulieu_admits_he_is_bisexual.php. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  6. ^ "Peter Wildeblood". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0928399/. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  7. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g3RTZ-XvCw&feature=related
  8. ^ http://www.glapn.org/sodomylaws/world/united_kingdom/uknews04.htm

External links