Trinity’s Queer Episodes

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One of the 20th century’s most popular dramatists, Sir Terence Rattigan (1911-1977), studied History at Trinity from 1930-1933 although, as an act of defiance against his father, he never took his final exams. Rattigan initially occupied room 18 on the second floor of staircase 6 on the Front Quad at Trinity (he subsequently moved into digs in Canterbury House, King Edward St). At Oxford Rattigan embraced the aesthetic tradition in all its queer glory, and had a string of love affairs with men (the idea that 1930s Oxford was in any way less gay than the ‘Brideshead’ era which preceded it—an idea that can even be found in official histories of the University—is utter nonsense). His close associates included Peter Glenville, Frith Banbury, Bunny Roger, and Angus Wilson.

Rattigan also became a film and theatre critic for Cherwell and became deeply involved with OUDS. In Feb 1932 he appeared in a minor role in a production (directed by John Gielgud) of Romeo and Juliet at the New Theatre. It was at Oxford that Rattigan worked on his first significant play, Episode, first staged at Kew in London in Sept 1933 and then at the Comedy Theatre, as First Episode, in the West End the following year. Rattigan’s career was set and subsequent plays such as The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954) are now standards in the British theatre canon. At one point Rattigan was also the highest paid screenwriter in the world, writing screenplays for popular movies such as The V.I.P.s (1963) and The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964). Autobiographical nuances, including coded references to his homoeroticism, have been detected in many of Rattigan’s works.

Further Reading:

Michael Darlow (2000) Terence Rattigan: The Man and His Work (London: Quartet Books).

Sean O’Connor (1998) Straight Acting: Popular Gay Drama from Wilde to Rattigan (London: Cassell).

Geoffrey Wansell (1995) Terence Rattigan (London: Fourth Estate).

http://www.terencerattigan.com/

 

Journalist, writer, and campaigner Peter Wildeblood (1923-1999) attended Trinity after attending Radley, a public school near Oxford. Through his involvement in a notorious court case (during which he was imprisoned for 12 months), Wildeblood became one of the first men in the country to publicly declare that he was gay. This defining episode was explored in the Channel Four drama-documentary A Very British Sex Scandal (2007). After his release from jail, he addressed the Wolfenden Committee and the House of Lords, proceedings which eventually led to the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex acts in Britain. Wildeblood’s autobiographical account of gay life in mid-20th century Britain, Against the Law (1955), is an important document in LGBTQ history.

 

Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe (1929-2014) studied Law at Trinity. Whilst at Oxford he was Chairman of the Liberal Club and the Law Society as well as a President of the Oxford Union. Thorpe was leader of the Liberal Party from 1967-1976. He lost his post and his seat in Parliament as a result of charges brought against him of incitement and conspiracy to murder an alleged former male lover—charges of which he was subsequently acquitted. Controversy surrounding this shadowy episode still rages today. Thorpe never made any public statements regarding his sexuality.

 

Image: Terence Rattigan in Radcliffe Square, c. 1930. Photograph V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum. Reproduced with permission. Photographer unknown.

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