Thursday, 27 February 2014


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Naomi Jacob (1884-1964) was an English author, actress and broadcaster.

Although not well known nowadays, in her day Naomi Jacob was a well loved and respected figure despite her eccentric manner.

Her relationships with other women were an open secret but never publicly disclosed during her lifetime. No-one could dim her enthusiasm for her work nor the kindness that many saw in her.

She started her working life as a student teacher in Middlesbrough, but soon left that to become an actress in revue. About that point she unfortunately contracted tuberculosis, which affected her for the rest of her life. As physical activity had become more difficult, Jacob channelled her creative efforts into writing - novels, non-fiction, biographies and newspaper columns.

Britten (left) and Pears (right).
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945).

His personal and professional partner for almost 40 years was Peter Pears, the English tenor. Togethey they founded the Aldeburgh Festival in 1947 and the Britten-Pears School of music in 1972.

It was in honour of the centenary of his birth that music was chosen as the theme for LGBT History Month 2014.

Brewed in celebration of the centenary by Adnams of Southwold
(a few miles along the Suffolk coast from Aldeburgh)
A recording of an informal concert of traditional English songs given by Britten and Pears in 1964 to an audience of friends at the Riverside Studios, London, is available on BBC iPlayer.

James Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York City, in 1924 and died in 1987. He offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of 9 children, his stepfather was a minister. At 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. After he left high school, he moved to Greenwich Village. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), his first novel, is a partially autobiographical account of his youth. His essay collections [Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961) and The Fire Next Time (1963)] were influential in informing a large white audience.

From 1948, Baldwin made his home primarily in the south of France, but often returned to the USA to lecture or teach; in 1957, he began spending half of each year in New York City. His novels include Giovanni's Room (1956), about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country (1962), about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community. Eldridge Cleaver, of the Black Panthers, believed that Baldwin's writing displayed an "agonizing, total hatred of blacks". However, Going to Meet the Man (1965) and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968) provided powerful descriptions of American racism.

As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people. - Includes a video 'mini-biography' and a few other video clips. - In a clip from Take this Hammer (1963), Baldwin considers the question, 'Who is the nigger?' - In this film (c. 44 mins), Baldwin's Nigger, from 1969, James Baldwin and Dick Gregory, US comedian and activist, speak at the West Indian Student Centre in London on the Black experience in the USA and how it relates to the Caribbean and Great Britain. There are some interesting questions from the audience.

Sir Alan Bates CBE (1934-2003) had numerous homosexual relationships throughout his life, including those with actors Nickolas Grace and Peter Wyngarde, and Olympic skater John Curry. In 1994 Curry died from an AIDS-related illness in Bates's arms. Even when homosexuality was partially decriminalised in Britain in 1967, Bates rigorously avoided interviews and questions about his personal life, and even denied to his male lovers that there was a gay component in his nature. Yet, in his acting, he took on a number of roles with an aspect of homosexuality or bisexuality. - Abridged extract from Otherwise Engaged: The Life Of Alan Bates by Donald Spoto, 2008

WH Auden (Wystan Hugh) (1907-1973) As a young man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, his ability as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

He is admired for his technical virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form and for his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. He often mimicked the styles of other poets such as Dickinson, WB Yeats and Henry James.

He visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and in 1939 moved to the US, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and became an American citizen. His own beliefs changed radically between his youthful career in England, when he was an ardent advocate of socialism and Freudian psychoanalysis, and his later phase in America, when his central preoccupation became Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant theologians. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist, editor and essayist. Generally considered the greatest English poet of the 20th century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.

WH Auden was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973, and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York City and Austria.

Thirty years ago on 10th April 1984, HM Customs & Excise set Operation Tiger in motion. This involved a raid on the premises of Gay’s The Word, the UK’s first (and now only surviving) lesbian and gay bookshop. They also raided the homes of the shop’s directors.
They seized all the shop’s imported books, as well as retaining thousands of pounds worth of other imported books at their ports of entry.

The Customs & Excise used the Customs Consolidation Act 1876, clearly determined to avoid the much more realistic provisions of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

The 1959 Act allows for the defence of publications on the grounds of literary or artistic merit. However, it only applies to documents published in the UK. The Customs Consolidation Act, on the other hand, does not allow such a defence to be applied to imported material. - Gay’s The Word’s website

Derek Jarman, the English artist and film director, died on 19th February 1994 of an AIDS-related illness. Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights, and his personal struggle with AIDS.

He was diagnosed as HIV+ in 1986 and discussed his condition in public.

About his garden:

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