Raymond Warwick: Full Interview

Duration 39:10


Raymond Warwick

Interviewed by Rachel Larman

8th July 2015

RL: Rachel Larman, Queer Stories Project, the 8th of July 2015. Interview with Raymond talking about CHE politics, campaigning, his sexual development.

RW: Right. I’d better first say off that me parents never talked to me about sex at all. The first time I had a sex talk of any kind was when I was at school. Because some of us weren’t good at woodwork, we stood around and some of us talked about sex. It did take me – it says how good I was at woodwork – it took me a full year to make a teapot stand. [Both laugh].

By this time, though, I had – me sister had been married, and I went over there for holidays, and she moved to Blackpool. I was sent across there by me mother, usually with me two aunts and two uncles, because they were staying in Blackpool as well, and when they went back to Leeds, I stayed on for the rest of the holidays. And one time I went out for a walk, which I used to do, but when I came back I needed to go to the toilet. I remember a toilet not far from north pier; a man in a raincoat took me into a toilet, into the cubicle, and – to put it mildly, he masturbated me till I came, and that was the first ever time I’d had sex with somebody. After that, I used to go on the same walk that I used to do, and went into the toilets, and had sex with quite a few men over the period of time.

After that I came back to Leeds, and because I found I could go to certain places and knew there were toilets there, and went looking round. I also went to the Plaza Cinema in the afternoons, because I knew for a fact on the left-hand side of the stalls, that there was a whole load of men sitting round there, changing seats, et cetera, and you had a fumble in the dark. To a certain extent, it also happened in the Tower, but not as much. And, of course, just down from there, there was another toilet, open air toilet, so this is why sometimes you went to the cinema to get out of t’ rain. But also from there, there was a gents’ outfitters on the other side of the road, which was quite a big shop, so sometimes you could stand inside there, and look through their windows, and you could see what was going on – in and out.

At that time I’d heard – not the New Penny – because it was still called the Hope and Anchor, (and had a nickname of the Grope and Wanker). And some people said, ‘You don’t really want to go in there because you get a lot of people---straight people that you would have been in those days – coming in to have a look at the men.’ Who’d have see… white see-through trousers. And also there was money stuck on the floor, but that was stuck so you had to bend down; and the thing was, you were supposed to get groped, or weird with, so that put me off going there for a very, very, very long time, because, you know, even when I came across gay people, they were just like ordinary people, but on telly they were people who you didn’t really want to be associated with. You laughed at ‘em, but you didn’t really want to be associated with them.

RL: What kind of programmes?

RW: Well, Are You Being Served?, Hi-di-Hi, – in all this you got camp people. And there was quiz shows on. You got Hilda Baker with her friend Cynthia, which was always a man dressed up, and you got other people who dressed up as well, like Mrs Shufflewick, and it wasn’t ‘till I started reading Gay News and things like this that I realised that Mrs Shufflewick was actually a man. So it was quite a difficult time. For a few years I even tried dating girls, as well as seeing men as well. But in the end, it never really worked out, and because I was – believe it or not – very, very shy, I used to get a magazine called Matchmaker and you could look through it, and if there was somebody in your area, you could write to ‘em, and sometimes you’d meet some of ‘em just once or twice. And others – one of ‘em – well two of ‘em. One was Geraldine. I met her for about three months, till she chucked me, and the last one was Christine, when I met her for about seven months, and in the end she chucked me as well because I wasn’t, I guess, sexy enough, or romantic enough, or too shy with her. And I was really upset. That really, really upset! But then, when I was half way to town, when she told me, I thought, ‘Thank goodness! I don’t have to pretend to go with girls anymore.’

And that’s when I was still looking through Matchmaker and met people through that. One of ‘em helped me quite a lot, because he lived in London, and he took me to – even though I was pooing meself – into a club. I’d never been to a club before and again I was nearly pooing meself, waiting on the pavement for him, while he went to a newsagent’s vendor – open stall type of thing – so he could buy a Gay News. That’s how scared I was. But when I came back to Leeds, then I started buying Gay News, but then before I bought it, I made sure that they had the Gay News in, and also had to make sure I’d got the right money.

RL: But where was it? Where did you buy it?

RW: That was at the Corn Exchange, where the bus stops are [RL acknowledges]. And it’s still there. [Pause] I’d met a lad from Bury and I’d known him off and on for seven months, and I thought, ‘He’s the one.’ But it turned out that Bury and Leeds were too far apart, so he found somebody in Bury.

And in one of the Gay News that I picked up, it says, ‘Join your local CHE group for three pounds instead of five pounds.’ So, being a Yorkshireman, I sent off, and, because I was desperate to meet people, I said I’d do anything. And I didn’t realise what that was going to mean. So mainly the group met on a Friday evening, but me being different, I met them on a Sunday, where they went out to Jervaulx Abbey and Middleham Castle. And again I was maybe pooing myself thinking what kind of freaks – gay men, semi-female men – am I going to meet? And the first person that turned up was a bloke called Geoff, who at that time was the convenor. And when I thought of all the stereotypes of gay men, when I opened the door to Geoff to get in his car, to go on this trip, it went out of the window.

So I had a really enjoyable time there, and like I said, I didn’t realise what I was letting meself in for, because about three or four months before I joined the group, that one of the committee members said that he didn’t want to belong to the group any more, and looking back at old newsletters, it kept saying this person had given his notice. So on the 15th October, 1979, I went to my first committee meeting. And as this is now 2015, I am still a committee-meeting member. And on the Sunday evening the 13th of January the next year, I had the first committee meeting at my place, where I lived, up Roundhay way. And I was given the job of being minute secretary of the committee meetings, and for some reason, probably my bad luck, I did that for five years. I then came off for two years, and then found myself there for another two years doing these minutes, which I didn’t like. And at that meeting, we had a hell of a lot more than four people on the committee, because that’s one reason why they were crying out for another committee member, because if it went down below four committee members, the group was going to have to fold, even though the membership was roughly about forty, but nobody in their right mind – I mean nobody wanted to volunteer to be a committee member.

One of the people who came on was somebody called Clive S, and he was appointed Women’s Secretary. Now looking back on committee meetings and newsletters, there had been quite a few women on the committee, and in the group. But by this time in the ‘80s, there was only one female who was a member of the group, and she wasn’t a lesbian, she was a friend of Dorothy’s. [Rachel laughs]. So of course, seeing as we had a full committee, Clive got appointed as women’s secretary. And unfortunately for us, because we had our AGM at that time in January, and probably about February or March, some lesbians came to our meeting. We’d invited them along to the meeting to speak to us, and they got hold of one of our newsletters, and said with horror, ‘Why have you got a man as women’s secretary?’ And when it was said as to why we’d only got one female and she wasn’t a lesbian, and actually the next year, when it came round to doing our committee and AGM, we took out the women’s secretary role.

As well as meeting Clive there, I also met Clive as well with a friend from Gay News where I’m still friends with him to this day, but it never turned out to be romantic, and that was with a Colin J. But he suggested that we’d go along to this meeting in Wakefield that was run by Clive, and this is where I saw Clive more often, and he ran the group in Wakefield in his house, but then like everything else, it mushroomed quite quickly and it became we had to meet in the centre of Wakefield. I think it was the Labour Rooms. Also amongst this group there came a sub-group as well which was run by a nurse who was friendly with two of the men who were also male nurses, and she had a – what I shall call ‘an encounter’ group – where you had to commit. I think it was for twelve Sundays. And what we used to do is meet up at Clive’s house, and sometimes other peoples’ houses, and talk around gay things [RL: Like what?], like your feelings, how you came to be, you know, what you liked, what you didn’t like, you know, how you were as a person and of course through that you had to go through certain phases, which included quite a lot of people didn’t wanting to belong to the thing, because it was getting too emotional and too personal.

So with this joining CHE, with Clive’s group, and the encounter group, it brought me to a stage where I was coming out, and Clive – borrowed one of his buttons that said, ‘How dare you presume I’m a heterosexual?’ and I started wearing that at work. Now at work, it was quite a large supermarket, which is no longer around in this country. We went out. Sometimes we went out for a leaving do, and I wore my badge, and a girl who I worked with there said, ‘I know what a homosexual is, but what is a heterosexual?’ [Rachel laughs].

And of course, coming up to Christmas, I wore me badge across to me sister’s, with her family there, and looked at the badge and said, ‘Oh! I don’t know why you’re telling us, we always knew’. So I said to her, ‘In that case, when I left home, why did you keep ramming down me throat, “I’ll meet the little woman soon”.’

This bit is about Leeds CHE, which is Campaign for Homosexual Equality. The group started off in 1970s and it came from an advert – I don’t know how it got through the Yorkshire Evening Post – that this man was setting up a men’s group. Now whether it was because it just said ‘men’s group’, and for quite a while it belonged to there. I’m not sure exactly when they joined the National CHE, but they started off in Manchester, and they were the North West Law Reform Society, and then we spent quite a few times [stutters] years in Manchester, and then the move to London, because we thought it would be easier, and there they changed the name to the Committee of Homosexual Equality, and they realised it would sound better if it became Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and that lasted quite a long time.

The group then started meeting, because we got it so big, it used to meet in the Swarthmore Educational Centre, which was all right to a certain extent, but because it was an adult education, it closed at holiday times. To this day, we still have a closure from about the middle of July to September, but what we do then is we just meet in people’s houses for coffee and chat – no business at all. So it meant when we were at Swarthmore, it closed at Easter, it closed at May – it closed at whatever it was the schools closed. So in the end, we had to move from there because it was getting more expensive, and MESMAC [sexual health organisation based in Yorkshire] was starting up a place in Cross York Street, and this is where we started meeting, with MESMAC’s places [MESMAC started in 1990]. But in 19, late ‘70s/early ‘80s, national CHE decided they weren’t doing enough campaigning, because at one point they had something like ninety-plus groups, so doing all the paperwork for just that meant they had no time, and they decided that in the early ‘80s, they were going to just be a campaigning group.

So this is where from Leeds CHE – Campaign for Homosexual Equality – turned out to be Leeds Gay Community, and in the early 1980s [stutters] in 1982, this is where we had our last CHE – GCO Committee, our last meeting. And from there on, we dropped the CHE bit, and we just became Leeds Gay Community, which might sound slightly pompous, and it is to some people, and it is, because we’re not no community. But then there was supposed to be a National GCO – National Gay Community Organisation. Before I go onto that, that some of us in the Leeds CHE/Leeds Gay Community, decided that we wanted to carry on doing campaigning.

RL: What kind of campaign?

RW: But it came down to just five of us, plus somebody called Joy, who used to be on the phone lines – a friend, and in case you don’t know it, ‘Friend’ was an off-shoot from CHE, as a telephone helpline, mainly ‘Parents’ Friend’. She did mainly Parents’ Friend, she did that for an awful long time, to the day husband died, and she got – she was getting old like everyone else.

But in some ways it didn’t work out like that, because in 1984, no, 1983 – the 16th of March, one of our members went to a meeting down in London – surprise, surprise, all the meetings were down in London – for this new, national thing, and he went to another meeting, but then couldn’t go to the February meeting in ’84, and for some reason I had a week’s holiday down in London, and said I would go along. And there wasn’t that many people there, and they were talking about things, and I went to another meeting as well, and I was appointed – onto the committee for the north of England, which meant anything from Watford upwards.

I also committed Leeds Gay Community to hold, at the Swarthmore, an AGM for the National Gay Committee Organisation on 18th and 19th of May. Now when I went to a meeting in February, as soon as I walked In I was told, ‘It’s not going too well. You’ve come a bit late, so there’s already fractions in the groups’, because one wanted to be – I think one of them was Bexhill, and I can’t remember the other one, or I went to the meeting in Bexhill. But when they came to Leeds, because I was working on Saturdays, I was told it ended up in just an almighty row. And on the 5th August 1984, there was an emergency meeting about the future of gay community organisations, and on the 5th November, 1984, was the final nails going in the coffin of National Gay Communities’ Organisation. To me personally, I think because CHE didn’t have anything to do with them, and didn’t really give them the backing, you know, how to go about setting up. I think this is some reason why there was such a falling out amongst the southern groups.

Leeds’ Gay Group, or Leeds Gay Community, as it is known, has been around for over forty years now. Because, like I said, the first group came in 1971, so it’s coming up to nearly forty-five years next time, as a group, and as far as I know, we are one of the longest surviving. And in some ways, compared with some other groups, it’s quite structured, because we have people in West Yorkshire, of course, North Yorkshire, and occasionally other places as well. So we had to be more organised, and as we met – we started meeting ten times a year as a committee, and then we organised what we were going to do in that time, what the Friday evenings were going to be. We brought in dining out and coffee mornings in, or organisations. In the summertime we’d go away for days out, but as we have roughly between thirty and forty members at any one time, and not everyone can come to a group meeting, so we had to have a newsletter out, and it means we could be planning anything up to six weeks in advance.

These days we only meet eight times a year, but it never seems to last less than three hours, ‘cos we’re there planning – you know – that newsletter that came out last week was going into the middle of September, so you’ve got to come through July, August, so it takes a lot. We have to have a convenor, we also have to have a deputy convenor, a treasurer, and that’s the only three pros we have to have, but then we have people like who do the minutes. So like I say, Joe Soap, aka Raymond Warwick, got that for seven years in a block, not altogether, but seven years altogether. We have, like I said, a deputy; we also have different roles for each person.

Going back, what we had in 1980, we had a convenor, deputy convenor, an odd job man, secretary which was me, a treasurer, because you need somebody to look after the money, a membership secretary, a newsletter editor, and at that time, rather controversial, a women’s secretary, ‘cos we did have some women coming along. So that meeting had looked at our newsletter and said, ‘How dare we have a women’s secretary?’, because at that time in the 80s – I don’t know if it’s round the country, but certainly in Leeds, the lesbian section of Leeds were more interested in other women’s things, because they used to think that all men – gay men – were interested in, is in dicks, because, you know, quite a lot of things were about cottaging, and things like this, and quite a lot of people were getting arrested, including a certain well-known actor, who got done in London.

Because we were called CHE, we were also supposed to do campaigning, which we did do. And at one point, CHE had what was known as a ‘Tape Slide Kit’ that we were supposed to get together, and decided on writing letters to schools. Needless to say, if we sent out say twenty letters, we were lucky if we got one reply back, and usually it was saying ‘No’. Other things we were campaigning, was again the age of consent, because in those days it was still twenty-one. Also writing to MPs about certain politics in the House. When we became Leeds Gay Community, all that stopped, but some of us – about five of us, plus someone called Joy from Parents’ Friend – we met to do campaigning, and because some of the people who belonged to that campaigning immigrated a few years later, that the CHE group a few years later finally closed because, a) if you got about six people it’s a hell of a lot of work to do, and you can’t really – you’ve got to have the time, which people were finding less and less thin.

Occasionally – we were supposed to be there just as a social group – but we also brought things in occasionally. It didn’t work at first. We were going to have something structured every other week, but on alternate weeks, we were just doing coffee and chats, and we found out that didn’t work, that we got less people coming to ‘em. So then we put something in, coffee and chat plus special, and then people wanted to know what the special was? And sometimes that worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

But in these days, we only very rarely do a coffee and chat, because we found out people more like to come to some thing, but we still do serious stuff as well, like I do a thing called ‘Topics out of a Hat’, though it’s never been a hat, it’s usually been a small plastic bag. At the moment, it’s a Harry Potter plastic bag from Warner Brothers’ thing in London, and that can be a mixture of either serious, ridiculous things, embarrassing things, but it also brings out gay things as serious things.

Because one of ‘em I brought out the other year was on about AIDS, because it seems news-wise it’s gone really down, there’s not a lot said about it. And then, funnily enough, after that custom [?], that question came out; that actually there was quite a few articles coming out about AIDS. But then it was really quiet, and, of course, when we were at CHE, of course, there was that campaign about AIDS, because, you know, you had the horrible adverts on telly, which I don’t know if people remember ‘em. But it’s like ‘A’, ‘I’, ‘D’, ‘S’, came down like stones, and said about AIDS. But I mean AIDS had been going on for quite a long time before that, and it was said in one book, that somebody didn’t want to die with red tape – because of red tape. [Pause].

I mean, lucky enough, I got rid of the minutes’ secretary – thank goodness, because at that time I didn’t have a computer at all, so it meant I had to scribble it down at committee meetings, and then write it up longhand; not joined up writing, so they could read it. But then I became the contact number and again for about between twenty and thirty years I have been the contact number of the group, which means I’m virtually on the telephone, or could be, 24/7, because Switchboard [Lesbian and Gay Switchboard] – they only worked for about three hours a night – and that, as far as I know, that was about seven o’clock till about half-past nine. That was Wednesday to Monday, because again Tuesday night was lesbian night, and, of course, anybody male who rang up on a Tuesday, really got short-shafted, and said, ‘No, it’s women tonight – not men’.

Over the years, it has changed in Leeds, and the lesbians at that time in the 80s, they were harnessing more to the women’s feminist groups, because they thought men were only about bringing down the age of consent, which, of course, women have never had that problem, ‘cos in case you don’t know, that Queen Victoria didn’t recognise that women could do anything with each other [generally seen as a historical myth]. Men could, I don’t know how she knew that, but women couldn’t.

So I have been the contact number for that many years, and less than two years ago, one of our members passed away, quite suddenly, and he was – took the minutes, he also did the newsletter, he also looked after the web-site, he also looked after the emails. So when he passed away, we were in deep poo-land for quite a while, but then we got ourselves together. We have now got a web-site, we’ve got somebody now looking after the emails, somebody called Joe Bloggs, or Raymond Warwick, so now I’m doing that as well. So it means anybody who gets in touch with the group by email, I am the contact person. Because of when this person died, we were left up a creek without a paddle, so it was difficult to get into the website, it was difficult to get into emails, so when I took over the emails, it is not my personal email. We go through MESMAC for the simple reason because if I – lucky enough, someone runs away with me with loads of money, I’m still waiting, or if I still played the lottery, you know, or if I went early sick, that somebody can step in, take over the password, and the contact number, and they could carry on with the emails.

And, lucky enough, because the people on the committee, some of ‘em don’t have time to do MESMAC and, lucky enough, for we had a meeting last year with MESMAC – somebody from MESMAC, and they helped us to get the website up and running again, because one of the places we used to advertise very, very regular was Shout. And for some reason, it went only internet, and after that it just folded, and we couldn’t get in touch with ‘em at all. But that was one of the places we advertised quite a lot. Some people thought it was a load of wasted money, but others was there saying people saw the adverts time after time after time, and even some people have said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were still going, till I saw the advert’. So it was a good way.

RL: So what about the age of the group?

RW: Well, when we started off we were, of course, all virgins of about twelve or eleven, maybe that’s in mental age; some of us have gone down since then. But as we’ve been going a long time, some of our members have been going a long time, so the group has got smaller, because, I’m afraid, some of ‘em have disappeared from the group, mainly because we’ve gone further upstairs, and I don’t mean into the attic. So these days? When we started off doing it, we’d say, you know, we’re thirty plus, now then it went up to forty plus, now we say fifty plus. But we’re there as a group, and we like to welcome anybody in, male, and it’s just down to gay males, or bisexual males, because it’s ridiculous advertising for females when we don’t even have the token female any more.

The trouble with some gay people these days? That there’s nowhere inbetween from – there’s either young groups, young teenagers, and there’s us. But if you’re there in your twenties, thirties and forties, you’re way too old for the youth group, but you might think you’re too young for this group, but then some of us were young once, and it is just a social group, not a dating agency.