Life for gay men in austere 1950’s Britain was grim. Homosexual relationships were illegal and the country had a buttoned-up moral and social atmosphere.
One way to escape was to join the merchant navy, where gay flamboyance was tolerated, even welcomed.
Now the Merseyside Maritime Museum is hosting an exhibition, entitled Hello Sailor! documenting these hidden gay lives.
There is also an exploration of life on the passenger lines, where gay men were welcomed in catering, but had to keep it buttoned down if they were engineers or officers.
“There was a fascinating gay culture on ships which was very different from life on shore,” says Dr Jo Stanley, co-author of Hello Sailor: The Hidden History of Gay Life at Sea.
“For a camp man a place such as the dining saloon was his stage, cruising place, playground, club and theatre for informal entertainment throughout the meal.
“Gay dining room stewards minced, flirted with passengers and made a camp show of waiting at table.”
“When camp seafarers came ashore, particularly in the 1950s and early 60s, they were like colourful butterflies in a drab world.”
The exhibition features a recreation of a steward’s cabin featuring a flamboyant dress of the type worn during camp crew shows.
Film clips of shows from the 1950s and 1960s feature interviews of seafarers who appeared in them.
There are photographs and other ephemera from the period such as hand-made posters advertising shows.
Gay seafarers talk about their lives in taped interviews.
There is also film of the gay wedding of two former seafarers who have been together since 1974.
Some former sailors have drawn maps for the exhibition from memory showing where they could find gay bars in ports around the world.
There are examples of Polari – a secret language used by gay men in public places.
Hello Sailor runs from tomorrow until the 25th March 2007 at the Merseryside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool.
LGBT singles night to be held at museum!
National Museums Liverpool is hosting a fabulous opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender singles to soak up culture while meeting new people between 6 and 8pm Friday 1 September 2006 at Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Single in the City’s first LGBT singles night includes tours of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s latest exhibition Hello Sailor! plus music, entertainment, a complimentary drink and entry to an exclusive after-show party at the Pan American bar.
Tickets to the event cost £5 each. Places are limited so please book in advance is advised.
For more information or to book your place call 0151 478 4616 or email firstname.lastname@example.org