In March 1982, onlookers in Court 1 of the Old Bailey were treated to one of the most extraordinary exchanges ever to have taken place in a British courtroom. The case had been initiated by the moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who claimed that during the National Theatre’s production of Howard Brenton’s play The Romans in Britain, two actors had committed gross indecency by simulating an act of buggery. The crucial witness was a man called Graham Ross-Cornes, a solicitor who had been sent by Mrs Whitehouse to observe the offending scene for himself. As Jeremy Hutchinson, the defence barrister, began his cross-examination, observers realised they were in for a treat.
As rapidly became obvious, Ross-Cornes did not go to the theatre much. He had never seen the blinding scene in King Lear, and did not know that homosexuality had been far from unknown to the Romans. Above all, as he freely admitted, he had been sitting in the back row, some ninety yards from the stage, from where he claimed to have clearly seen the tip of an actor’s erect penis. On the spur of the moment, Hutchinson dropped his hand to his groin and stuck out his thumb, which protruded