Eric T. Smith: Full Interview
Interviewed by Tash Lyons
12th November 2018
Growing up as a gay man in the 1950s, CHE, Leeds Gay Community
TL: This is Natasha Lyons for West Yorkshire Queer Stories and I'm here with Eric on the 12th November 2018. Eric, would you like to introduce yourself?
ES: Yes, my name is Eric Smith. I identify as a gay man, and I’ve lived in the same house in Beeston, Leeds, since I was born in 1937 and... I’ve lived in Leeds all my life therefore except for the time when I was a student in Sheffield for four years, not commuting but living in digs and when I lived in Northern France for nine months, and all the other time I was working in Leeds, in a school, in North Leeds, Leeds Modern School where Alan Bennett was a pupil, but he’s older than me so I didn’t teach him and... it changed its name to Lawnswood School and it still exists in new buildings. I took early retirement when I was fifty... thirty one years ago so yes.
And I grew up gay in Leeds. Was I always attracted to other men or boys? Er, not quite. I think it’s strange when you go back and people are always sort of saying that young people must be protected from sexual thoughts as if they hadn’t and I thought, ‘well everybody is sort of a sexual person from about the age of seven onwards.’ And to ignore this point seems a bit odd sometimes. I can certainly think of girls who were in the primary school that I went to who were quite interested in what boys had and that kind of thing which was a sexual thing in many ways... and it didn’t particularly interest me but I do remember by the time I was ten, I was quite hooked on some of the teachers who taught me in the junior school which was all boys, the girls were on the ground floor and the boys were upstairs, aged eight to eleven and the other boys that I sort of fancied in some way, not sexually I suppose but you felt close to them, so it’s been there all along.
And as you were growing up, for... I grew up at a time when sex was never mentioned, absolutely not mentioned at all and I suspect that a lot of people, heterosexual people fell in love and got married and what were not particularly clued up about sexuality and how to perform sex and how... It was a complete mystery to me how babies were born and... for instance I was twenty one before I heard about menstruation and so... completely ignorant about these sorts of things and because I was only interested in men. I wasn’t all that much bothered by [laughs] the female side of things at all so I grew up at a time where I felt attracted to men, had friendships with people at school, not sexual ones, although you find out later that some of those people were having sexual encounters at ages twelve, thirteen, fourteen and there were quite a lot of boys at West Leeds High School, the building’s still there in Wing 8, it’s loft apartments these days. They removed their lovely Art Nouveau tiles and got down to the brick to make it look like a factory. So... in there they were... at breaktime, particularly in winter you were not allowed to go onto the field. You might spoil the turf if you played football on it but there was a footpath roundabout, round it and the boys round with their arms round other people’s shoulders and nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at the time.
So, I was sort of aware that I was emotionally attracted to... to people of similar age to me... and then, you came to the needs for sexual gratification of some sort and you found out that you could meet other men in public toilets and I sort of did this and I think that it was a mistake for me. Y’know these days I think it’s more open and you wouldn’t need to do it this way but that... you had sexual needs and emotional needs with people of the same sex but you kept them separate in some ways so this is all growing up in a do it yourself kind of way because you had nothing to, to talk about and the only time I can remember homosexual, homosexuality being mentioned at school was when I was seventeen or eighteen in my final year at the sixth form and there’d been quite a few new members of staff come on because people who’d been there since 1919 and 1920 were retiring and so I remember hearing the new senior English teacher talking to some group of boys at the other side of a partition that was made in the room about there were some people, homosexuals, and he didn’t know anybody who was happy being a homosexual and I was thinking ‘oh, he’s talking about me there.’ [Laughs] In some ways. So that was... that was that.
How did I learn more about being gay? I’m thinking of a time when I was at Sheffield University and in the Edgar Allen Library, a rather elegant but insufficient building. They use it, it’s in Western Park. You can visit it now, you can see it from the outside but it’s no longer the library. And they’ve got something much more grand. But I remember sorting around there and there were things about sexuality to me. There were books that were banned like Ulysses, not that that sort of interested me very much but there was books about homosexuality and I remember reading one thing saying, how anybody, how any man could be interested in... er... a man, of similar age or even a grubby school boy when there were lovely women to be with and I thought, ‘it doesn’t sound like me at all!’ So I was reading, obviously, I was trying to find out things about myself and then in French class we had a little book in the Classique la Russ series of, um, of about poems by a certain... I can’t think of the name now... a type of poetry. [ES: Hmm. Forgive me, this is going to happen frequently. The name you want, the word you want, just disappears, it’s part of the problem of growing older, getting past eighty – cut out ] Symbolists poets, that was. And our tutor Mr Juden was away and Dr Collier came instead and he was talking about the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud because there was some examples of their poetry in this little collection of Symbolists poets and he gave an account of this homosexual relationship between the two men and how sordid it was and it did sound sordid as well and I thought, ‘well, that’s me but it isn’t me. I don’t quite feel like that.’ So you kept on occasionally meeting people in what I later found out were called cottages in Sheffield sometimes. You met interesting people who were also looking for more information about how they were.
How did I find out about coming together in a more political way or organised way? I remember when I started teaching at Leeds Modern School in 1960, I had starting with me at the same time was a man who was to be head of the religious education department. He was there for several years but he was a bit of a ladder climber and moved off to a comprehensive school somewhere to, to a grammar school but he sometimes invited me to their house and they had, I think it was only one child at that time and while they were putting Margaret to bed, I was reading the Manchester guardian downstairs and there was an article which was entitled, ‘Homosexuals Very Anonymous.’ And it was about people who were wanting to change the law about homosexual behaviour and it was the great and the good, various bishops and MPs and people like that and the article was sort of saying, where are the homosexuals themselves? They should be doing something about it themselves and I felt, ‘How can we?!’ You can’t even allow it to be thought that you were one of those so that was quite interesting for me. And then, I sometimes think I was sort of guided sometimes to look in the right places. It must have only been a few months later that I was in Paris and that that time in France, there was a monthly magazine, it was a little bit like Punch was in the UK but not quite like it and it had gone through a new phase and every month they were dealing with a different topic rather than a general thing and it was called Le Crapouillot and I looked it up very recently to see what or where an earth this name came from... It sounds a bit like a joke name and it was actually the name of a small machine gun of some sort that was used in the First World War by the French army and it was called Le Crapouillot. And they had specialised on Les Pédérast [ph] which is queers or puffs in French or just Les Pédés and it was a very interesting read. And it described, towards the end, the situation in various other countries including the UK and it was a spot on description of the situation in the UK as I had read about it in The Guardian, dipping into pick ups so that was an interesting thing and it mentioned about the existence of – I knew there were some – support, not support groups, campaigning groups like The Albany Trust on the go and they also mentioned the CHE, the Committee for Homosexual Equality which was later changed to Campaign for Homosexual Equality so I read all about that in Le Crapouillot as well as useful information in France. They told you about various saunas, it didn’t give you the name of the street but it said, in the street that’s named after an engineer during the second empire who invented something or other. I suppose if you researched you could find out which street they were talking about!
And so I... I bought, I was on holiday with a German friend of mine from another exchange, I’m still friendly with the family all these years on and we were going to be going to East Germany, to Berlin through East Germany which was quite a business getting through and we had to send all the – I had to send any of this stuff for home and I sort of bought it kind of secretly so that they didn’t see what I was buying so I hoped didn’t [laughs] I got it sent home because they would have confiscated any Western stuff out of the boot of the car or wherever it had been left so it was sent home and that was in August and then...
This is 1970 and in September 1970 we get the evening post at home those days and the Yorkshire Evening Post and I looked at I don’t know why, guided to, the personal column of the Yorkshire Evening Post which I never bothered looking at. I knew it was there but I never looked to see what was in it and it was a notice to say that... they were starting up a branch in the Leeds and Bradford area of the Committee of Homosexual Equality and that was September 1970 so I wrote off and got some information about it and I got a reply from somebody called Henry Giles who’s not been with us for about fifteen years now. He worked at the Polytechnic, I think it was the Polytechnic but he was certainly in art and design and he was getting the group going. He wasn’t particularly a fast worked at getting things organised and then in the beginning of 1971, there was a long postal strike that lasted eleven weeks if I remember correctly. He got things organised and we had our first meeting at his flat off Chapeltown Road, opposite the closed congregational church which became a Sikh temple eventually and purpose built Victorian flats which are no longer there. In March 21st I think it was 1971 so I was very pleased to go to there. I think it was the first time I ever met a lesbian, knowingly a lesbian put it that way, cause there were one or two women there and other people who were... kept the meetings going socially, at Henry’s place... other people volunteered to put on coffee evenings. I couldn’t always get to them, it was a matter of thinking what will that thing... wondering how much you could do without having to sort of come out which I never did but I think he must have known and I probably remember that... They say mothers pick these things up quickly, more quickly than men. [Pause]
The meetings were occasional and social evenings were occasional too. We didn’t really have much of a meeting place. Somebody found that the Yorkshire Council for Social Services, rather than the Leeds one, a sort of umbrella things perhaps it was, were renting part of Salem Chapel in the beginning of Hunslet Road there to have their offices in it so we had one of two meetings in Salem Chapel and then somebody who had the bright idea of asking at the Swarthmore Centre in Woodhouse Square whether they would have us. I didn’t know that they were a Quaker Institution til a long time afterwards and were therefore quite open minded because the Quakers were quick on...in producing a book called Towards a Quaker View of Sex which didn’t condemn sexual activity and were quite supportive of same-sex things too. So we went there, one of our members knew that the caretaker and his wife were a marriage of convenience and that they were both gay. [Laughs] Or lesbian if you want to use the word lesbian for women. Some women, those days, liked to be called gay women as well as gay men. And that was all pretty new. It was better than all the other stuff that could be thrown at you. I first heard the word gay used in Sheffield actually and that was in 1957 when somebody I’d met in Fitzalan Square down some steps was talking to me and he said, did I know gay novels? And I have a list of them that I’d written in the pack of another Classique la Russ, [Le Jour l’amore rest apres by Marivou – unclear] that I was supposed to be revising. Heart in exile is mentioned, Finisterre and one or two others, one or two novels from the UK and America, the USA which have a gay theme so that was another, y’know you meet people and then they tell you what they know about things.
So here we are in 1971 moving on into 72 and by 73 we are as the Leeds branch of the now Campaign for Homosexual Equality but still CHE, meeting on a regular basis at the Swarthmore Centre in Woodhouse Square in other words every Friday except when they were closed for Easter and various other public holidays in the whole of the summer period and we paid a rent to go there and people were finding out about us. We’d got perhaps... some of the meetings we had about twenty five or thirty people there. These days we’re down to about somewhere between six and thirteen. But it was a lifeline to be able to meet in a no sexual way, people like yourself and I used to think this sometimes when I was in a sauna or a steam bath somewhere in Leeds or in Manchester. I thought, ‘it’d be nice to be able to talk to some of these people.’ To learn about the existence of the steam baths, I’m going back to 1958 when I met somebody in the park in Bradford who came regularly to Leeds and you could do this and you could do the other and I thought, ‘wow that sounds fine.’ [Laughs] Couldn’t wait to go and it... I went to the ones in Union Street on which is John Lewis is about on top of the site of them. Oh, that’s right it was when I was working as a train conductor and I’d been in earlier to do the first train to Crossgates which left at five past four in the morning and I did a little bit in the morning on the peak hour and then they said ‘you can go home’ so I went onto the steam bath and that was quite an interesting experience [laughs] to meet somebody the same age as me who had been delivering milk for the Co-op so that was again, an opening to some other aspects of Leeds and I’m going back to fifty eight from 1971 but I’d never been particularly keen on the scene. I knew that there were pubs where gay people went. I’d been to The Royal in Briggate in the lower part of Briggate and there was somebody there I recognised as a bus conductor from Torre Road Garage and I thought, ‘oh [laughs], who’s that?’ and somebody behind the bar was... I bought an orange juice for sixpence, two and half pence and I remember him sort of saying, ‘what’s up with you then, orange juice?’ and I thought, ‘hmm [laughs] he was speaking as if he knew me!’
So that was one of my first experiences on the scene and now I’m going back... but when... our group at CHE got going, we were able to run our own discos in the hall of Swarthmore. They’ve rebuilt their hall now but it was built in the courtyard at the back so they’ve got a posher hall than we had but it was the same principle, using the courtyard and putting some walls up and a roof. They were very pleasant occasions and a lot of women there as well as men, wouldn’t say it was fifty fifty but there were quite a lot of women did come to our discos and somebody knew a disc jockey, a straight man and his wife who were absolutely delighted to come to this very very pleasant place to put on his discs and everybody was nice and there was no drunkenness and no smashed glasses and things like that so they were very liberating and experiences, especially when on the odd occasion you got a kiss from a former pupil [laughs]. This was more or less killed off by the emergence of the scene. There was a nightclub in Briggate which had been formerly the Irish club called Charlie’s. I think the building is still there, with a very low ceiling for meeting and I never went to it but I knew... I’d been in it when it was the Irish club. It had been hired by some people who had been wanting to have a meeting. And there were various public houses that were known for the scene and apart from The Royal in Briggate and The Mitre in Commercial Street, no, yes, Commercial Street and The New Penny arrived eventually but it was the Hope and Anchor before that and people went there and there were places in Sheffield to go to too. I didn’t particularly enjoy going to them. But that’s in, that’s pre CHE. After CHE it was a matter of people feeling free to be themselves and speak because they knew that everybody else was in that sort of situation in the meetings that we were going to.
To come more precisely to the group that now calls itself Leeds Gay Community: We were CHE, we were... let’s talk about the conferences at CHE because they were good. There was an annual conference. The first one I went to was at Malvern, or Mal-vern as they would say in Leeds [laughs] except that the person who does the bus stop names in the No.1 bus says Malvern Road but everybody knows it’s Mal-vern Road in South Leeds! We went to that in 1974. There was a big one in Sheffield in 1975 which was a little bit an attempt to be hijacked by some of the more radical gays in the Gay Liberation Front who thought that CHE was a rather stuffy, bourgeois type thing. Hall full of people, in the hall where I received my degree, teaching diploma, it was quite an experience to find that all these things were there and treated as if it was part of a political thing, with a reception by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress and the Master and Mistress Cutler as well which some people thought this was a bit, a bit too snobby and shouldn’t... especially when it was found that the waitresses were being paid less than the waiters and quite rightly so, they kicked up a stink [laughs]. It got into the newspapers.
So anyway, the Leeds group, we’ve been here then since basically since 1971 although you could say 1970 when Henry first put in his notice and the group did form, a separate group for Bradford pretty quickly. There was the Halifax area, the gay group as well. There was something in York for a while, something in Harrogate, there had been attempts at something in Wakefield but we were going on and we were campaigning to some extent and then it came to the point when, yep, yes, the CHE offices were in Kennedy Street, Manchester and before that it had been the North West Law Reform Society run by somebody called Alan Horsefall who worked in the mines in North Lancashire, South Lancashire somewhere, not far from Manchester. He founded it and then changed the name to Committee for Homosexual Equality. The offices were in Manchester in Kennedy Street for quite a long time and they eventually moved to London and they got paid secretary and she, yes it was a she, it had to be those days practically, you would expect, was spending an awful lot of time administering the membership scheme rather than getting on with campaigning work and they decided that at the York annual conference in 1980 I think it was or maybe eighty one, to divide the campaigning work from the social side because they realised that lots of the people who were meeting were not particularly interested in campaigning for gay rights but as somewhere to meet people like themselves. So, they decided to create the Gay Community, national Gay Community as well as the... as a parallel to the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. So that’s why Leeds Gay Community has this rather pompous name because it was the Leeds branch of the Gay Community organisation and the Bradford CHE became the Bradford Gay Community organisation. So, we sort of split the two parts, some people continued campaigning, some doing campaign work separately from LGC as we became in September 1982 so we really were the same people who were around right from the beginning in 1971 and there was a bit of a hoo-ha in 1974 with people trying to take over, well never mind [laughs] how that went on, it happens in all groups and we’ve managed to be fairly calm since then.
We’re still going all this time. We met at the Swarthmore from 1973 to 1994 I think it was when people at Mesmac kindly invited us to meet on their premises free of charge as being outreach to the community and some people bit against this and some people said, ‘you can’t turn free meeting place down!’. Don’t want to be paying at Swarthmore all the rest and we could meet practically every Friday at Swarthmore we couldn’t. And we had developed at Swarthmore a system of meeting during the later part of July and August in members’ homes. Once we could meet at Mesmac all through the summer, people still wanted to meet in members’ homes in the summer and we stil do that. We’re not here at Swarth– at Mesmac – at the end of July and during August and haven’t been until now.
We have some members who have been members right from the very early days and a few people who are more recent. We have been over the years... membership because we run it as something that you have to pay to join and it’s twelve pounds a year at the moment if you’re a working boy or six pounds if you’re retired or you’re not working and it’s sort of a bit of commitment if you’ve paid up to be a part of it and it’s all pretty much do it yourself but we’re very grateful to Mesmac to have a nice meeting room that’s there for us all the time on Fridays. Some are there every Friday, we’ve got something on every Friday apart from sometimes at the Christmas/New Year period where it’s inconvenient to have a Friday meeting. We had last year eighty two opportunities of meeting during the year because we’ve got something every Friday and we usually have an eating out once a month and a chance to meet up for morning coffee somewhere at eleven o’clock once a month, we aim for that and occasionally we have an outing. We used to have a lot more outings, but these days there are fewer people with cars and people are getting older and one of the people who for years and years organised outings to country houses, churches with a meal on the way back, died aged eighty eight and there’s a limit to what you can do. But we’re quite pleased at our AGM, two Fridays ago that... we’d met up, have given people an opportunity to meet for social and educational and there’s another one as well in the constitution that they without us... to meet the needs of our gay men who meet with us. That’s what we’re trying to do all these years.
TL: Would you be able to tell me more about the campaigning side of things during the seventies and eighties?
ES: Hmm, yes. The campaigning was... it was mainly lobbying MPs. Let’s look back at the situation. I mean I grew up when I was completely illegal. I think if somebody, if people want to see what life was like, a good example is to view the film made in 1960 called Victim with Dirk Bogarde as the chief person in it. In it there were one or two other gay men who really were sticking their necks out at being whispered about for years as to whether they were like that or not. And who actually took part in that film and it was a film really based on the... not particularly the illegality of being gay but the... of gay... of homosexual acts between men, let’s put it that way. The... [ES: What was I wanting to say? – cut out] Oh, the blackmail side of it, that people could make money from finding out about you and making sure that other people could be told if you didn’t pay them some money and that was a real theme behind that as indeed if I can be allowed to wander back to 1919... in Germany in 1919, Magnus Hirschfeld, the sexologist was very interested in gay matters, being gay himself. Of course, the Nazis burnt all his books and everything. But they made a film called Anders als die Andern, Other from the Others... Different from the Others. Silent film, of course. And one of the people in it was Conrad Veidt who escaped eventually, in the Nazi time later on, to become a well-known Hollywood film star, and it was about somebody who was being blackmailed for being gay. There’s a nice scene of men dancing together in it as well. It’s not just in the UK where things were needing to happen.
So, it was a long struggle in some ways to get the age of cons... well first of all, when CHE really got going, sex between men in a limited sort of way had already been legalised because that was 1967 and... well the Wolfenden Report came out in 1957 and that was a double sided report on not just homosexuality but on prostitution . I think it was the same people who were looking into both aspects but they were very different remits. They got busy with the recommendations on prostitution quite quickly and something was done within about two or three years whereas they dawdled about gay men and it took til 1967 til this act of parliament came through and allowed men who were over twenty one and we’re talking about England and Wales only here. It took people from Scotland and Northern Island particularly several trips to Strasbourg to much despised for by the far right in the UK ... the European Court of Human Rights which has been a god send to gay people and to think of... actually thinking of the brexiteers to withdraw from that as the next step in their nasty campaign of scorn and hate for our neighbours. Anyway, that’s my view... As... But the, as I say, it was a limited look at things but it was a step forward but of course the straight people who had been behind it, bless em, they’d done all this work for us, wanted us to lie low and be a bit quiet and not really [laughs] frighten the horses [laughs]. They didn’t say that but it was definitely y’know, there must be no triumphalism and all that, that will of course... That really opened things up and CHE wanted Homosexual Equality more and they wanted an equal age of consent for everybody in the country and it took a while to get it done to sixteen for everybody whereas... and yet y’know this whole sort of said that homosexuality was legalised.
Well, it, we’re talking about male homosexuality here. Female homosexuality was never a crime. It doesn’t mean to say that women who were attracted to other women had an easy time of it because of social concerns and everything but at least they couldn’t be dragged before the courts for having done things with each other and so you got these terms in the acts of gross indecency and all the rest, that came through from the Labouchere Amendment in 1885 which opened the door to the persecution... haven’t really talked about that have we? About the persecution by the police of gay men pre 1967. That they would go dressed up looking very very nice and attractive and go into a known toilets where people had picked each other up and gets somebody to make an approach to them and arrest him with another policeman hiding on the roof somewhere, looking through a hole in the roof or in the ladies next door which had been locked up and it was dreadful – absolutely dreadful, that this was all taking place. And so by... That was still punishable of course... and still is to some extent... for picking up people. [Pause]
But there were marches for homosexual equality and... but eventually the gay pride took these over and it became a much more open society but coming back to Germany it’s in the 1920s life for gay people in Germany, even though they... paragraph 175 was still there it was a much open, more open life. I went to an exhibition in a gay centre near Berlin about three or four years ago and it really struck me that the Nazis only managed... were in power for a very short time before the persecution started... of gay men as well as the... [trails off] how they were treated in concentration camps and everything and minorities...
But gradually we did get the equality and the civil partnerships were a step forward for people who had actually found a partner to live with for the rest of their lives, hopefully, in harmony and then... then... marriage came along too. And so gay people have got two privileges, straight people haven’t... and should straight people be allowed to have civil partnerships too? Well, of course they should. They should be the same for everybody I think. So we live in hopes.
[ES: Ah, I’m wandering about all over the place. I don’t know whether I should say something about some aspects of life in France that I found. – cut out]
I went to... I was going to teach French and I had never set foot in France. I’d been to Germany but I’d never learnt German but I picked quite a bit up. When you’re fourteen, fifteen you’re quite receptive to other languages. I’m told if I say things in German, I’ve got the accent from the Cologne, Dusseldorf area [laughs] so that’s true probably. And I went to, to do what people who had done an honours degree always did, was to spend a year in France. Now these days you can spend a year doing lots of things, working in shops, in offices and that, but in my time it was assumed you were in education and you were going to be a teacher and so you got a job as being an Assistant or Assistante de langue étrangè, a foreign language person... a presence almost I think is the best way of putting it though the French word is usually Assistant for men, and Assistant for girls or for women. So I applied to be one. So people who did honours degrees got it automatically and a general degree [unclear from background noise] specialised in medieval French and things like that or to specialise in Latin or in biblical history and literature which was my third subject and so I was a bit fine between finishing my training to teach in Sheffield and going to teach in Leeds. I’d never would have thought about moving elsewhere! I was going to come home of course and teach in Leeds! And I did this year from October 1st 1959 to theoretically June 30th 1960 but I came home before June 30th and I... I currently get a little pension for having paid nine contributions to the French social security scheme. It’s about thirty three Euro at the moment, per month which is nice to have.
So I was... I applied for a post somewhere in the north of France, not far from Lille cause they had two [unclear] networks there but I never told me parents I’d chosen it for that reason and I ended up in a school L’école Nationale Professionnelle in d’Armentières which is near Lille. It’s d’Armentières, famous because of the first world war and the city... town was pretty much laid flat in 1916. And so I worked there for nine months. I found this strange school, this national professional school it was, big workshops with smoking chimneys and factory buzzing for changing lesson times and I found out that this was a technical high school. It’s now called the Lycée Gustave Eiffel. It was founded in 1888 to train people, shop stewards and things like that because they found in France that the industrial revolution was going great guns in Belgium and also in England that they had lots of people with big ideas and a large unskilled workforce who could be dragged in but nobody to manage the business and the shop floor and all the rest. It was quite a nice eye opener.
One day I went into the [name of shop - unclear] which was like Woolworths even in small towns like Morley used to have a Woolworths and Otley and certainly down [unclear] a [name of shop]. It was the beginning in France of the paperback book revolution there, about ten years after the UK for that one. And the new series called J’ai Lu, I’ve read it, series came out and they were promoting them in a basket... they all had lurid 1950s style covers and on the front of it was a young man bare chested propping a tree up and I thought, ‘oh, that looks interesting.’ So I picked it up and I found that it had, was by a man called Roger Peyrefitte. It was called Amitiés Particulières which is translated in English as Special Friendships but it’s really coming from the Roman Catholic Church and apparently in English that’s called particular friendships and... I read it from cover to cover because it was a story of a boy who was going to stay in school run by some Roman Catholic fathers, it was largely autobiographical too and the lower fares that were going on in the class and I thought, ‘wow in so many ways this is me at school.’ And other people were attracted although I was a bit mystified about how the... the different colours changed for this, that, and the other, it was changed into Dutch and into that too but I read it and it was positive. It has a sad ending but to read about something in a very positive manner about people aged between let’s say twelve and a half and sixteen, who were... who are... into special relationships. I was... after that, I mean, I’ve read it several times and when I was once in the 1960s I used to buy a French magazine, Paris Match, to see what was happening and there was an article saying they were making of Les Amitiés Particulières. And I thought, ‘oh wow, all open in matter of fact as anything and the famous scenes in the, as if everybody in France had already read the book and the famous scenes in the conservatory or in the greenhouses... are going to be filmed at such and such a place and that’s going to be filmed at such and such a place’. And I thought, ‘how can they?! People in the UK wouldn’t even think to have anything like this in 1964.’ And I thought, ‘well, that’s it, I shall never see the film anyway.’ But I was mistaken because I... in Easter holidays in 1965 I was in Belgium and there I went into a new shopping arcade in the centre of Brussels and the Gallery du Center which had and still had the cinema which was called, Bon Avon to those days, [current name of cinema – unclear] these days I saw it last week. And there was a notice to say that it had won a prize at the Venice film festival and in big letters, somebody well-known, I don’t know who it was and ‘le plus beau film que j’ai jamais vu’ - the loveliest film I’ve ever seen. And so I watched it and I was looking to see where they, where the bathing scene was going to be and it wasn’t and the ending was sad but it wasn’t the same as the... as the book and I expected I was a bit disappointed in it. But later on I read some autobiographical stuff about... Roger Peyrefitte he’d been interviewed by some famous well-known French interviewer and he described how he had been involved in the making of the film and he had agreed, he was with the changes... which was gratifying to know that he liked... he was alright about it. [Pause]
[ES: Where had I got to? Um... That’s right, yes. – cut out]
It was nice to see the film and there was a strange thing happened when I was in the cinema because somebody who was sitting there in the aisle kept getting up and filming the screen and I thought, ‘this is rather odd.’ And in Roger Peyrefitte’s interview all those years later he said that he had letter from a man in Brussels and he and his wife had been to every single presentation of the film. These days, you can just have it on a DVD but you couldn’t see a film again unless you so you got your full fill of it and they’d been to every presentation of it and they’d got permission from the... manager to film the screen on one occasion and I thought, ‘well, I was there when they did it!’ [Laughs] Which I thought was quite a coincidence. [ES: I’ve wandered about all over the place, would you like me to go anywhere else?
TL: So, obviously...
ES: I’m going to have to come back to it in a logical order, aren’t I?
TL: That’s fine! – cut out]
TL: So, were you involved or are you involved in any of... organisations or social groups apart from Leeds Gay Community?
ES: No, I’m not, no. I’ve gone through things at the Bradford Equity Partnership because one thing that CHE did in the 1970s was to set up a befriending arm and call it Friend because it was obvious that so many people were ringing up CHE with problems they find, found with being attracted to people of the same sex. And all the worry and concern it was causing them. And so they set up a counselling service called Friend. And I joined the one in Leeds and the one in Leeds didn’t last long. It’s like... to me, it’s sort of picking Leeds cos there’s all sorts of things not just in the gay scene but other things that Leeds tries to do. There’s never been a public fountain that’s ever worked properly in Leeds, there’s never, y’know [laughs]. That’s just one example and the group that was set up in Bradford asked if the Leeds befrienders would like to go join Bradford which I did, so for fourteen years I was on a helpline but that was something that had been set up by... by CHE. ‘Friend’ was not quite a good idea. Some people thought it was the Quakers, the religious Society of Friends, and very few and others would ring up... ‘You’re a friend, I’m a friend, I want another man tonight!’ [Laughs] And you got that sort of thing and there were also people who felt, in the early days, had to put on a bluffed voice... [puts on voice] ‘Well then, tell us where all the puffs and lezzas go for a night out.’ And you thought at first, ‘oh they’re there to cause trouble.’ But they weren’t but they had to sort of put on a macho sort of voice [laughs] rather than just to say, ‘I like men, where do I go to a pub to meet other ones like it?’ And I think... that’s a sign of the times, what it was like forty years ago.
So I have been to that as far as the other groups in Leeds, I’m very interested in what they’re doing but I do find that as I’m getting older that running Leeds Gay Community, it takes up a lot of time and effort and I’m beginning to feel a bit tired at doing things. We had a... somebody who was just a few days younger than me who died four and a half years ago who did quite a lot of work and its sort of left it to me and I’m pleased again that I was re-elected as convenor on Friday for the thirty odd time. I can’t remember how many years I’ve done it, since 1985 I think. And I like doing it and people seem to appreciate what I do but it is time consuming and I think I’ve... there’s a time when I’d like to sit down at home and look at the television or read a book and I’m afraid sometimes I sort of nod off in a chair instead. As other people might find out, as the years go by. So that’s... that’s all I’ve done but sometimes I’ve gone to... an occasional event if there’s something on at a museum or the LGC takes part sometimes so it’s... it’s nice that other things are on... on the... on offer. I have noticed over the years that if something new starts up for men you find it’s the same men that... every time that you go which is fine It gives them an extra... extra reason for socialising so that’s lovely but sometimes think that there are lots of men and women out there that we don’t reach or they too hesitant to come along to something or simply don’t think that there’s anything there for them. All this six million pounds that’s being spent on people over fifty as well I think that may be... isn’t quite reaching the... the potential of... how do people know that it’s on offer? Unless there’s some big posters up somewhere or advertisement in the Yorkshire Evening Post for example? You sort of pick it up on the grapevines somewhere but I’m sure it’s doing a lot of good work. It was sort of go back into the days when it was all do it yourself so you... I was glad to have Mesmac’s support and they do the photocopying, allow us to do the photocopying and everything like that but we really do like to have our own way of how to do it! There seem to be fifteen people there.. They were there at the AGM and just roughly half the membership and they all seem quite satisfied with what we were doing and what we were on offer, were offering.
TL: How did people find out about LGC in the seventies or the eighties?
ES: We were in the listings. I mean, I suppose if you know where to... I’m not internet connected at all but you... if I... I suspect, if you look up ‘gay’ on Google or something like that it will start you off in the right direction and there were quite a few magazines in the old days. There was the Gay Times which became a rather... well, just, I don’t know, these days, I flick through it and they seem to have photographs of young men in them and not much, much meat in it where you pick up the lesbian equivalent, Diva, it’s got loads of good stuff in it, still I think [laughs] but they always had a listings where to go county by county or maybe just dividing Scotland, England, Northern Island, Wales, into separate categories and people found out that way. We, occasionally, we advertised in The Yorkshire Evening Post but they... they were expensive and the Bradford Health line, we found... we did advertise in The Telegraph but it was an expensive business so we only put them in y’know, occasionally. And there was another publication, an independent one called Leeds Other Paper, L-O-P, that was on the go in the eighties into the early nineties I think and we did have... an advertisement in there and we could say that we, where we met as well... People at Mesmac quite rightly so have always asked us not to put in where we met and y’know, if we put it in we put ‘in a central convenient central venue whereas at Swarthmore we could, we put that in so people used to turn up and er... we were anonymous in a sense on a Friday evening. There weren’t many meetings in the building, not like where there’s education stuff Monday to Thursday and they just had a board at the bottom and it said, ‘CHE Room 18.’ And so they could come quite anonymously to that and they did, maybe they looked around to see if anybody was worth chatting up [laughs] then that would be it. But sometimes, they came and stayed so that was about... about all of the advertising that we ever did but I do remember somebody giving us, allowing his home number to be used on... and we’d say ‘ring this number on Friday, on Monday or Wednesday evenings or something like that and he... he was sometimes it would be one of us who went there and he didn’t do all the answering all the time. I think occasionally some of us got his grandmother so we were taught how to deal with [laughs] that!
TL: And what sorts of people were going to the meeting back then?
ES: Oh, a wide range of people I would say, from all walks of life. We’ve always thought that people came, came from everywhere, really. All strata of society, if... society’s still a stratified [laughs] Yes, yes, I think even looking round now with the members, they’ve come from different working backgrounds and everywhere but they’re usually people who have grown up in Leeds or in Bradford or Wakefield.
TL: That’s great, thank you very much Eric.