• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Why was "vice" and sexual scandal a public worry in 1950s London

Extracts from this document...


Why did "vice" become such a significant focus for public anxieties about London during the 1950s? Introduction There was a significant increase in public anxiety towards "vice" in post-war Britain. In London and Britain there was a widespread perception of a moral and ethical decline. "Vice" was very much a part of this observation. It is necessary to define "vice" as a concept in terms of 1950s London, before a thorough analysis of the increase in public anxiety. "Vice" in terms of 1950s London was the increased prevalence of both the prostitute and the male homosexual. Mort describes 'London's notoriety as the "vice capital of Europe" centred on transgressive sexuality.'1 The prostitute and the male homosexual were the embodiment of London's unsavoury reputation in the 1950s. There are particular characteristics of sexual London in terms of public anxiety which this essay will address. Firstly, the emergence of a sexual geography of London is important for an understanding of the increase in public anxiety in the 1950s. The concept of "vice" and its invasion of public space was an enormous public worry during the period. Urinals, alleys and parks all became a stage for sexual transgression deemed an unacceptable "vice" in the capital. Secondly, the development of sensationalism in the popular press heightened public anxiety of "vice" in the 1950s London. Notable cases of homosexuality and prostitution became a central element of social culture in the post-war capital. Such cases included Lord Montagu, Peter Wildeblood, Michael Pitt-Rivers, Sir John Gielgud and William J. Field, all of which were convicted of committing homosexual acts in the 1950s. Not only did the press seek to out sexual scandal; they actively attempted to define the male homosexual, often in a derogatory way which exacerbated public anxiety in London. Finally, it is also important to consider the impact of both the Wolfenden committee and its subsequent report on prostitution and male homosexuality. ...read more.


Homosexuality is an unpleasant subject, but it must be faced if it is ever to be controlled'.10 Cudlipp, The Daily Mirror, and the Sunday Pictorial represented the unsavoury face of public anxiety in the 1950s metropolis. There were however, certain sections of the popular press which condemned the view put forward by Cudlipp and his publications. The Guardian and the Observer took a more progressive view of homosexuality. These newspapers were far more appreciative of academic research which was undertaken in post-war Britain. Chris Waters has highlighted both the development of tabloid sensationalism and scientific definitions of homosexuality; the 1950s witnessed not only the crystallisation of a tabloid discourse of homosexuality but a parallel expansion of an alternative, scientific discourse, one that battled in the marketplace of ideas for both popular and state acceptance.11 Waters' argument is extremely important in considering public anxiety over "vice" in the 1950s. Scientific definitions of homosexuality as well as the tabloid version of "vice" generated much public interest in the 1950s. Medical explanations for homosexuality did become more common during the period; however, they did not immediately eradicate the problem of public anxiety. The press was also responsible for another representation of "vice" which increased public anxiety. Sex scandals dominated tabloid newspapers throughout the 1950s. The tabloids targeted celebrities, politicians, actors and servicemen as a means to sell papers, and there was no better way to do this in 1950s London than an invasion of private sexual spheres. The most notable case in the 1950s was that of Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and two young RAF servicemen. Wildeblood, Montagu and Pitt-Rivers were all convicted of committing homosexual acts and the trial was extensively covered in the newspapers.12 Patrick Higgins argues that the arrests of the men were purposefully timed to gain maximum coverage; Whoever planned the arrest appreciated that the Sunday papers would provide much more space than the dailies. ...read more.


Word count- 3137 1Frank Mort., 'Mapping Sexual London: The Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution 1954-57,' in F. Mort and L. Nead (eds.) Sexual Geographies New Formations, no.37 (Spring 1999) pp.92-93 2 Gordon Westwood, Society and the homosexual, (London, 1953) p.104 3 Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, politics and society: the regulation of sexuality since 1800, (London, 1981)pp.240-241 see also Chris Waters, ' "Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social": Peter Wildeblood and the Making of the Modern Homosexual', in Conekin, Mort, Waters (eds.) Moments of modernity: reconstructing Britain, 1945-64, (New York, 1999) p.137 4 Mort, Mapping Sexual London, pp.100-101 5 Weeks, Sex, politics and society,p.239 see also Jeffrey Weeks, Coming out: homosexual politics in Britain from the nineteenth-century to present (London, 1990) p.157 6'Vice in London "A Racket" ', The Times, Friday October 31, 1958, p.7, Issue 54296, col.A 7 Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: perils and pleasures in the sexual metropolis, 1918-1957, (Chicago 2005) p.46 8 Waters, Disorders of the body social, pp.139 9 Quoted in Weeks, Coming out, p.163 10 Quoted in Patrick Higgins, Heterosexual dictatorship: male homosexuality in post-war Britain, (London, 1996) p.291 see also for more on Cudlipp's attitude towards "vice", Hugh Cudipp, At Your Peril, (London, 1962) 11 Waters, Disorders of the mind, p.140 see for a 1950s theory of homosexuality, Westwood, Society and the Homosexual, (London,1953) 12 Frank Mort, Captial Affairs: London and the making of the permissive society, (Yale, 2010) pp.84-85 13Higgins, Heterosexual dictatorship, p.242 14 Weeks, Sex, politics and society, p.241 15 Peter Wildeblood, Against the Law, (London, 1955) pp.2-3 16 Weeks, Sex, politics and society, p.240-241 17 Weeks, Sex, politics and society, p.241 18 See for Sir John Wolfenden's personal analysis of public anxiety about homosexuality and prostitution, Sir John Wolfenden, Turning points: the memoires of Lord Wolfenden. (London, 1976) pp.130-131 19 Mort, Mapping sexual London, p.100 20 Mort, Mapping sexual London, .p.101 21 See Leslie Moran, The Homosexual(ity) of Law, (London, 1996) pp.91-102 22 Weeks, Coming Out, p.166 ?? ?? ?? ?? HIST30101- Prof. Frank Mort 7334419 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree 1950-1999 section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree 1950-1999 essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Did Britain become a Classless Society after 1945?

    4 star(s)

    The main initiative of social mobility instigated by the post-war governments was that of the reformation of educational institutions and policies. These were introduced by Rab Butler in 1944, which created a tripartite system of secondary education, which was

  2. The Causes of the Korean War in 1950

    The attention now has to focus on the Soviet leader at the top who passed this decision and consider the factors in light of Moscow's stake in the war. First of all, one can notice the shift in Stalin's mindset towards Northeast Asia as a fountain of opportunities, hence an

  1. A study into how much John F. Kennedy was responsible for the ...

    Additionally, the plan was revised so often that military planners did not see it in its final form until the day of the invasion.[35] It can be seen that the argument blaming the JCS does not have a solid foundation to argue, the CIA should have formed an open relationship

  2. Change in an Indian Village. Analysis of Charlotte and William Wiser's "Behind ...

    and M.A. degrees and most were literate including women. Increased education for men meant more opportunities in the cities for work which meant more money to provide for families back in village. Those who stayed in villages chose to be intermediates between the Brahmins and the government officials in matters of the village.

  1. Banning public executions was hailed by the Daily Telegraph as an end to 'a ...

    Act by Parliament in 1965.[5] Between 1868 and 1965 over six hundred condemned prisoners were executed in England and Wales.[6] It is also important to note that these executions were mostly carried out through hanging the condemned prisoner. So while executions were moved within prison walls, prisoners were still executed

  2. When and Why did British Decolonisation begin?

    forces of the colonies were able to handle unrest, albeit in a controversial manner, but as one can see, with the independence of the Gold Coast, marked by the creation of Ghana in 1957, it appears that during the period of decolonisation, there was an effort on Britain?s part to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

  1. Examine the emergence of 'urban African Culture'

    majority,?[8] and so it is clear that racist attitudes were just as potent as sexist ones in twentieth century South Africa. The position of black women was, of course, far worse. Black women in South Africa suffered first and foremost because of their race, but their triple oppression also hinged on their sex and their class.

  2. The 1954 CIA Coup in Guatemala and Comparisons to the Bay of Pigs

    Fidel Castro had just come to power in Cuba and brought with him the beginnings of a Communist government. Again fearing a Soviet staging ground in the hemisphere, this time even closer to the United States, the United States and the CIA decided to act.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work