A Town Rife with Rumour

Introduction

A Town Rife with Rumour’ is an article which featured in the News of the World on the 25th July 1954 which tells of a court case against seventeen men accused of same-sex desire offences.[1] Although not directly targeting the pink pound, the existence of this article demonstrates a link between homosexuality and capitalism as stories of scandal are being sold as entertainment to the wider population.

Main Text

The fact that these allegations are based on ‘rumour’, as opposed to concrete evidence, stipulates that inappropriate behaviour (as determined by society) taking place between two men is a topic which ‘ordinary’ people find interest in discussing; although the reference to ‘gestures’ is vague and suggests that either witnesses have exaggerated in order to conform with a fear led ’witch-hunt’ against homosexuals, or that they are too uncomfortable to discuss such vulgar things.[2] The publication of this news story implies that the men involved have their community turned against them, as the acceptance of male-male intimate relations would have perhaps prevented such media coverage.

Whilst this is an example of a minority group being targeted by the media who are conscious of the ‘normal’ person’s intrigue, Dr Geoffrey Fisher criticised the popular press of the time for giving too much space to homosexuality.[3] Across 1953, the year prior to this feature, the News of the World included over 100 trials regarding trials over homosexual acts.[4] Fisher, therefore, was concerned that the sheer volume of these articles would normalise what he considered was scandalous behaviour as it was being brought to people’s attention. The fact that the paper was able to cover such a taboo topic on multiple occasions and reach a readership of 24 million during this decade gives us an insight into why Fisher had these fears, however these articles ultimately condemned violent and sexually outrageous behaviour.[5] The News of the World were arguably less concerned about the influence of the volume of articles revolving around sexually degenerative behaviour as their primary concern is to provide information and make a profit; much like Jeffrey Weeks, they realised sex sold.[6]

The men concerned with this trial are ‘named and shamed’ as their age, occupation, and the road they live on are listed.[7] Unfortunately, this made them easily identifiable to future employees who may have used this to refuse their service because of their known homosexual desire. Here capitalism can be blamed for the oppression of homosexuality ‘coming out’ would mean facing the same humiliating exposure which can only exist with the assistance of widespread media, such as the newspaper.[8] The News of the World generates this scandal nationwide, preventing those named from moving away and shedding their (now tainted) identity. Interestingly, of these men, fifteen are manual labourers, with the remaining two being a salesman and steel inspector.[9] These occupations identify the men as part of the working class, suggesting that this group of people are easiest for the media to exploit as the individuals involved do not have the resources, such as social status or economic funds which could be used by the upper classes to suppress a journalist or witness’s knowledge of a homosexual incident.

The article states the conclusion of the trial being all granted bail except for Hobson who was considered the influencer of the group.[10] This outcome potentially stirred public disapproval at the leniency of the remaining sixteen, in the same way that press coverage of the Gielgud case was criticised for celebrating rather than humiliating the man.[11] However, in the article regarding the seventeen accused, no emotive language is used to provide the paper’s opinion on the court’s decision. Judge Justice Lynskey believed that publishing trials and their punishments was the way forward in teaching society right and wrong behaviour, however whether the News of the World in this instance is an attempt to deter others from homosexual acts is debateable given this implies others will also get off lightly if they can blame another for their corruption.[12]

The article being in support of the corruption argument, as opposed to accepting that some men naturally possess homosexual desires, is typical of media coverage of the time as an article featuring in the Daily Mirror during the same year speaks of homosexuals influencing the young.[13] This implies that the press were either being used to, or were themselves rallying dislike for homosexuals as they were able to reach a wide audience – particularly with the News of the World.

From the point of view of fellow homosexuals reading these articles however, this is inadvertently making them aware of an identity and social group to which they belong and potentially increasing the strength in the movement as more gay men are being identified down to their street of residence and potentially increasing others confidence to ‘come out’, despite the paper’s warnings, as there is strength in numbers – as proved in this case of sixteen men who were without legal punishment. This article therefore raises questions about who the queer consumer is: the heterosexuals intrigued by homosexual scandal with voyeuristic intrigue, or the homosexual reading about people facing issues they can identify with; although it is important to note that readership statistics will not tell us whether the consumer has read this article or ignored it. 

Conclusion

Ultimately this article proves that homosexual scandal was a topic sold widely to the public which potentially has repercussions in the workplace for those identified; although inadvertently and over time, widespread exposure to the behaviour may have reduced stigma around the subject due to its normalisation in the public eye.

Bibliography

Books:

Higgins, Patrick. ‘The Press,’ in Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain, (London: Fourth Estate, 1996)

Weeks, Jeffrey. ‘Capitalism and the Organization of Sex,’ in Homosexuality: Power and Politics, ed. Gay Left Collective (London: Allison and Busby, 1980)

Articles:

‘A Town Rife with Rumour’, News of the World, 25 July 1954

‘Amazing Figures Show Growth of An Evil’, Daily Mirror, 4 December 1953

 


[1] ‘A Town Rife with Rumour’, News of the World, 25 July 1954, n.p.

[2] Patrick Higgins, ‘The Press,’ in Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain, (London: Fourth Estate, 1996), p.273.

[3] Higgins, p.277.

[4] Higgins, p.275.

[5] Higgins, p.278.

[6] Jeffrey Weeks, ‘Capitalism and the Organization of Sex,’ in Homosexuality: Power and Politics, ed. Gay Left Collective (London: Allison and Busby, 1980), p.11.

[7] ‘A Town Rife with Rumour’.

[8] Weeks, p.14.

[9] ‘A Town Rife with Rumour’.

[10] ‘A Town Rife with Rumour’.

[11] Higgins, p.270.

[12] Higgins p.274.

[13] ‘Amazing Figures Show Growth of An Evil’, Daily Mirror, 4 December 1953, n.p.

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