An article in The Daily Telegraph on July 31 mentioned that a number of well-known people—including Benjamin Britten, John Gielgud and Kenneth Williams-- “who contributed so much to our national life in the last century were homosexual. Not gay, note. That is a modern term.” These comments prompted a letter from Alistair Lexden which was published in the paper on August 3.
SIR--British homosexuals started to be gay rather earlier than Michael Henderson realises (Notebook, July 31). All the famous post-war names he mentions might well have used the little word.
In his book Against the Law, published in 1955 and the basis of a recent television film, Peter Wildeblood, recounts a meeting immediately after the war with a naval officer who had served in Ceylon. “He said that most of the officers at the station had been gay, and looked at me as though this was some password to which he expected me to reply. I had not heard the expression before. He was of course gay himself, and took it for granted that I was too.”
The term began to be quite widely used, Wildeblood explains, in conscious rebuke of the “many people who had written about homosexuality in a spirit of self-pity and shame”.