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Sentimental relationships with women


Facing prejudice throughout early life
Brian Sewell Writer
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But there has been a hell of a change in my lifetime, between the way things were. I mean, when I went into the army to do my national service, the prejudices that abounded then, well, one could not let anything slip by accident. Just couldn’t. Couldn’t afford to. So I was quite adept at being deceitful. But I didn’t like having to deny it. No, that may give you the… I have never denied it to anybody who’s asked the question, direct. I have never denied it. But then, way back in the early '50s, people wouldn’t dare ask that question, couldn’t bring themselves to ask. They might nudge and wink a bit, but they would never ask direct. So…

[Q]  Well, it was, of course, illegal, wasn’t it?

Yes, it was quite easy, nevertheless. And I think Edward Montagu was unlucky. Really, deeply unlucky, rather than anything else. And it was a time when the 'then' Conservative government was witch-hunting, as it were, was determined to stamp out what it regarded as this foul disease, so…

[Q] What was the Montagu story? I can’t… I think I was too young...

Oh, it happened when I was in the army. He and a man called Peter Wildeblood, and I think there was a third person. Yes, Pitt-Rivers... had entertained a couple of boys from the air force in the changing hut that the Montagus used to go swimming in the river. And they’d then written one or two rather foolish letters to the air force boys, who were quite clearly not as innocent as they might have been. Certainly hadn’t been seduced. They kept the letters and then the air force police had some reason to break into their lockers and... for other homosexual reasons. And they found the letters. And the police in Hampshire were informed, and arrests were made. And trials were had, and they went to prison. That was the Montagu case. And it was a hell of a scandal at the time. And it was hyped by the press as, sort of, rich and idle young men of aristocratic birth seducing the honest working classes. Well, I’m not sure about the honest working classes. My subsequent experience has been that there are as many faggots and buggers amongst the working classes as anywhere else, so...

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Hampshire, Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Peter Wildeblood

Duration: 3 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 28 June 2012