Sex scandal peer opens up about being bi

Divya Guha July 16, 2007
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Lord Montagu, who was jailed after a notorious trial for homosexual offences in 1954, has said that he is bisexual and that to describe his sexuality any other way would be ‘dishonest.’

He will appear in a Channel 4 documentary about the case and its fascinating aftermath, when the public and press unexpectedly began to question the law which criminalised homosexuality.

A Very British Sex Scandal will be shown on Saturday as part of a series to mark the 40th anniversary this month of homosexuality being paritally decriminalised.

Lord Montagu, a distinguished member of the British aristocracy and founder of the National Motor Museum, has had two wives since the trial and has maintained his innocence since the guilty verdict.

He was imprisoned along with Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers, Montagu’s cousin.

Wildeblood had met the 28-year-old Edward Montagu, Third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, through a publicity agent.

Lord Montagu invited him to stay at his isolated beach hut in Beaulieu in August 1952 along with his then lover, 23-year-old army nurse Corporal Eddie McNally, and his RAF friend, John Reynolds.

He recalls when he was woken up at 7am the fateful morning, ‘the police were banging on the (bedroom) door, and I was in bed alone, may I say.’

In January 1954, police launched simultaneous dawn raids on Wildeblood, Montagu and Pitt-Rivers, who had also been staying at Beaulieu that weekend.

Wildeblood had dramatically told court during the trial that he was gay and consequently the jury saw fit to send the trio to jail.

He also pioneered the cause by writing Against the Law and openly discussing what it was like to be a homosexual. He was famously critical of the furtive behaviour of other gays.

Lord Montagu on his part has continued to crusade for gay rights ever since.

In the wake of this case, British Home Office set up the Wolfenden Committee to consider changing the law.

Consensual sex in private between homosexuals, was parlially decriminalised by Parliament in 1967, but the age of consent was set at 21.

The 1950s are remembered as a period when anti-gay sentiments were strong.

The Churchill government is alleged to have started a gay witch-hunt after the spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, both gay, defected to the Soviet Union.

In a way, homosexuality was seen as being as punishable as communist tendencies and both were considered left-leaning and dangerous.

Peter Mandelson’s grandfather, Labour Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, is also remembered for leading an anti-gay crackdown in the same decade which saw veteran actor John Gielgud and Conservative minister Ian Harvey being sent to jail.

Orlando Wells plays Lord Montagu in the Channel 4 drama A Very British Sex Scandal, to be broadcast on Saturday 21st July.

Also in this series are drama Clapham Junction (Sunday 22nd) and documentaries How Gay Sex Changed the World (Tuesday 24th) and Queer as Old Folk (Thursday 26th).

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