In August 1953, the social column of The Times announced the engagement of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu to Anne Gage, a major’s daughter from Bridgnorth. The self-consciously suave and sophisticated Montagu was the quintessential man-about-town, educated at Eton and Oxford, a former Grenadier Guardsman who was no stranger to the gossip columns. But when his name reappeared in the newspaper just three months later, it was in a very different context. Arrested and charged with ‘serious offences’ against two Boy Scouts on his Hampshire estate, Montagu escaped when the trial returned no clear verdict. In January 1954, however, he was in the dock again, charged alongside two upper-class friends, Peter Wildeblood and Michael Pitt-Rivers, with indecency against two RAF servicemen. This time he was found guilty, and was sent down for twelve months.
What the Montagu case showed, J B Priestley said later, was that ‘the cultural life of London’ was now ‘largely dominated by homosexuals’, who were members of ‘a great secret society’. This jars, of course, with the popular image of the stuffy Fifties as a decade of extraordinary