Having written the short piece about Anthony Grey,  I recalled writing the following about the Albany Trust Archive .

It  is the ‘Preface’ to Gay Activism in Britain from 1958: The Hall Carpenter Archives. Gale Group. 2002. You can find the full archive at: http://www.gale.cengage.com/pdf/facts/gm5.pdf

Here is my little bit of it:

Introduction: The Albany Trust Archive 

Ken Plummer

Professor of Sociology, University of Essex.

 

 My first encounters with the Albany Trust were between the years 1967 and 1971, during what might be seen as ‘a middle phase’ of its work. I approached it as a young graduate who was both a little worried about his emerging sexuality at the same time as pondering the idea of doing a Ph.D. on how the legal changes of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 might impact the gay community. I met Anthony Grey, the Director, along with Doreen Cordell (the counsellor) and Joy Blanchard (the office guru), who, together welcomed me into their small group of supporters and volunteers. For several years I was a frequent visitor at their slightly ramshackle offices in Shaftesbury Avenue – where a rickety old lift would take you slowly to ‘their floor’, often accompanied by seemingly strange looks from porters. As a volunteer, my main task was doing some work on the massive press cuttings files which they had been collecting since their inception and which lay somewhat disorganised. My other main involvement concerned various conferences and researches. Occasionally I would glimpse important people in the corridor: the Canadian Professor of Politics at the LSE, Bob McKenzie or the eminent Cambridge criminologist, Donald West, whose book  Homosexuality was my bible at that time. And as I went to various meetings and conferences I was thrust into what I can only say now was a genteel world of closeted gayness: Bishops, priests, social workers, professors, and politicians. All wanting change but none wanting to rock the boat too much. Caution was the byword of that time. And as a working class lad, I learned to sip wine.

The Albany Trust was one of a number of international movements of that period who were pushing for change. It was nowhere near as developed as comparable groups in the USA  (such as the Mattachine Society and the Society for Individual Rights) documented in W.Legg Dorr..), or in the Netherlands. But the Trust (along with the H.L.R.S.) nevertheless played a crucial role in changing the climate and environment and gaining itself as a firm place in history as the key early group involved in legal, educational and social campaigning around homosexuality.

Indeed, in many ways, the Albany Trust (AT) may be taken as emblematic of the many major reform and pressure groups of post war Britain.[1] Formed in 1958, initially it was the H.L.R.S. which was the dominant wing of the organisation. This was not a grass roots activist movement, but one spearheaded by ‘worthies’ who campaigned to implement the proposals of the Wolfenden Report as best they could. Their work culminated in the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 and the history of that Act has been well documented elsewhere. [2] After that time, the Albany Trust came into its own for a short while. Indeed, its prime roles- Counseling Services, Public Education and Research – became extremely important. Much of the work of the AT and its allied organisations is documented in these papers.

The formation of the HLRS was a brave moment and an exciting time. I was too young to witness that (my time came with excitement of GLF), but it appears that at an early meeting  at Caxton Hall near Westminster, over 1000 people turned up as it went public. The frisson of excitement is caught by someone who was there:

I went with a friend of mine.. and we went early, feeling very self conscious. It was packed out. By going to a place like that, you were proclaiming in a blaze of lights that you were one of the se hundreds of homosexual men… they were mostly men — meeting , not in the usual situation, cruising the place, but going there to talk about law reform… On the platform was a man called Anton Grey… I was very excited by the meeting, so I went up to  him and told him that he had given a marvellous speech and I was very interested.. He gave me his address and I joined the society…[3]

The AT stood at a critical juncture in the history of lesbian and gay relations in the UK. Before its birth in 1958, homosexual relations had stood on the shadows of sickness and crime. A messy sordid affair; a blackmailer’s charter; a horror. The 1963 film Victim with Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms captured these tragic days well. But shortly after the passage of the 1967 Act, a new vibrant gay world developed that symbolically and seismically was transformed with the arrival of the new GLF movements in November 1970 at the London School of Economics. As has been well documented, a change in language, politics, but most of all a change in mood came about. Nobody in the old AT had ‘come out’ but in GLF it was a sine qua non. The language of the AT was shaped largely be religious leaders and educators, whereas those in GLF were flamboyant politicos – and proud of it.

I do not wish to sound unfair, but it was a very radical shift. The AT symbolized the old, elite pressure group and welfare model with its traditionalism, its deep liberal conservativism, its religiosity and pastoral leaders, its doctors and genteel men (and overwhelmingly they were gentlemen). The GLF signaled the new social movement in the making: radical, fiery, anarchistic, colourful.  The one held conferences at the Southwark Diocesan Conference Centre  – where I recall learning to play croquet for the first time; the other held public drag balls at Kensington Town Hall and took to the streets to proclaim its outness. That the Albany Trust’s earlier work was held in disdain by the latter movement is revealed in a highly polemical pamphlet published in 1973 called The Joke’s Over. It is an almost unintelligible anarchist document, and it aims to both publish the Albany Trust’s Social Needs Survey [4]and at the same time critique it. ‘Fuck you, Albany Trust’ it proclaims.

All of which is a pity, because the AT was composed of brave individuals in its day who were busy making serious legal challenges in a time of smothering hostility and shame. This was the early ‘queer world’ and one far removed from its late twentieth century counterpart. This collection of papers is probably far from complete, but it is nevertheless a highly valuable collection from a period of significant change. It is one which will be of use to researchers, archivists and activists for many years to come.


[1] The Abortion Lobby was the comparable movement of the time, and all this is discussed in a rather odd book of the time by Bridget Pym Pressure Groups and the Permissive Society 1974, David and Charles. More critical is the approach in National Deviancy Conference (eds) Permissiveness and Control MacMillan, 1980.

[2] See especially Antony Grey’s own accounts in Antony Grey Quest for Justice London: Sinclair -Stevenson, 1992 and  Antony Grey Speaking Out: Writings on Sex, Law, Politics and Society 1954-1995  London: Continuum International, 1997. See also:  Stephen Jeffery -Poulter  Peers, Queers and Commons : the Struggle for Gay Law Reform from 1950 to the present. London Routledge, 1991.

[3] Bernard Dobson: quoted in  Walking After Midnight, 1989 London Routledge. This was an oral history produced by the Hall-Carpenter Archives themselves.

[4] This was a large scale survey distributed to a thousand or so lesbians and gays about how their social needs and how they would like to see the gay world changed. It was never published, but did galvanize a major conference at York University on the Social Needs of the Homosexual.

Comments are closed.