Leeds resident JOHN MACHIN looks back to his university years and a friendship that challenged his preconceptions.

A 1950s image of a library reading room at LSE

As a naive, straight Scunthorpe Grammar school pupil in the 1950s, my knowledge of homosexuality consisted of dirty jokes and suspicions, some involving Lord Montagu during his trial in 1954.

On qualifying for a place at the London School of Economics, I discovered that there were very few Halls of Residence places, so ended up in a large South London YMCA. One fellow resident was also studying at LSE, so we naturally gravitated to each other in the Common Room.

He was perfectly open about his sexuality – in fact I think he rather revelled in the notoriety his openness engendered. One rather amusing consequence of his bisexuality sometimes came to the fore when he received a Tannoy message from the reception office. This was because he had relationships with a Terence and a Theresa: hence, when there was a Tannoy announcement that ‘Terry is in reception waiting for David Johnson’ he never knew which of his two friends would be waiting downstairs in the lobby.

I also recall that David went against the stereotypical image (then as now) of the limp-wristed gay man. He played rugby for the first XV and, in the summer vacations, was a ‘wall of death’ motorcycle rider at Great Yarmouth funfair. In conclusion, meeting David taught me to treat everyone I meet as an individual.


Some names have been changed in this article. Image from LSE Library shows the Economics Reading Room (Haldane Room) in the London School of Economics library, c.1950.