28 July 1967

Homosexuality decriminalised

Royal Assent was given to the Sexual Offences Act on this day in 1967, effectively decriminalising private homosexual acts between consenting adults over 21 years of age. This was the culmination of a process begun ten years previously with the publication of the Wolfenden Report.

The predicament of male homosexuals was publicised by the 1961 film Victim, which dealt with the problem of blackmail. As well as facing legal discrimination, homosexuals were also frequently harassed by members of the public and persecuted by the police. By 1967 many people in authority had reached the conclusion that the law should no longer be used against these men. Home Secretary Roy Jenkins summed up the mood when he declared that ‘those who suffer from this disability carry a great weight of shame all their lives’. He saw no reason to punish them further.

Shortly after the Act was passed, the BBC broadcast an ‘investigation into the world of the homosexual’. This proved to be more controversial than the legislation itself, as the report below shows…

Dirk Bogarde (right) played a homosexual victim of blackmail


From the Guardian, July 1967

Hundreds of listeners complained to the BBC yesterday after a ‘live’ radio report went disastrously wrong.

The report, for the People and Places programme, was billed as ‘a candid investigation into the world of the homosexual’, and featured a visit by the MP Jonathan Marlowe to a private party in West London.

From the start it was apparent that drink had been taken in liberal quantities, and a debate about social attitudes soon turned into a frank discussion of personal habits.

One man said that Mr Marlowe was not qualified to pass judgement on something that he had not himself experienced, and jokingly challenged him to ‘give it a go’. This was a clear reference to the infamous occasion on which the MP smoked cannabis in a similar spirit of inquiry.

‘Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it,’ cried another voice, to general laughter. To everyone’s surprise, Marlowe agreed, whereupon a BBC sound engineer was heard to ask if he was serious. ‘Yes, perfectly serious,’ came the reply.

There then followed the first sexual act ever to be performed on air in the United Kingdom.

With customary professionalism, Marlowe kept up a running commentary throughout, although at times he struggled to achieve his usual fluency.

‘I am now being buggered vigorously by a dark-haired man of medium height,’ he announced at one point, adding that ‘the experience is not wholly unpleasant’. He spoke later of ‘an enormous feeling of wellbeing’.

The programme was heard by a relatively small audience, and is unlikely to be repeated, yet it has already achieved widespread notoriety. Mrs Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association declared herself ‘sickened and defiled’ and has requested a tape and full transcript. Mr Marlowe’s constituency party will meet later this week to discuss his future.

Marlowe told journalists that he had not set out to participate in any sexual activity, but insisted that he had no regrets. When asked if he intended to continue his investigations, he replied that he had no plans to do so, and admitted that he couldn’t explain his behaviour.

‘I don’t know what came over me,’ he said.

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