H. Montgomery Hyde, the Ulster Unionist MP (Part I)

H. Montgomery Hyde, the Ulster Unionist MP (and author of The Other Love) who led the 1950s Westminster campaign for homosexual law reform and his struggle for political survival [i]

It will be surprising to many, and perhaps distressing to some, that the Member of Parliament who led the campaign to have the House of Commons debate the Wolfenden report – let alone implement it – waSean Ulster Unionist MP, Harford Montgomery Hyde. He was to pay a heavy political price for his bravery.

The debt owed to him has gone largely unremarked, although he would be recognised by many as the author of that, still fresh, history of homosexuality in Great Britain and Ireland, The Other Love [ii], perhaps his most memorable and long lasting work. With its rich and detailed narratives, fusing legal knowledge with illustrative anecdotage, [iii] it is still the best book on the subject, if phrased in the somewhat polite style of the time. Interestingly, Antony Grey, [iv] secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) provided case historieSeand cuttings from the Albany Trust files for its contemporary section.

Hyde was to be the author of nearly fifty books. [v] Although he wrote rapidly he was a consistently thorough and accurate historian. Some of his biographies were written to order but it was those works on a spying or sexual topic to which he devoted most attention and effort. His publications on intelligence and defence matters however nearly outnumber those with gay themes. He also wrote innumerable articleSeand reviews.

There iSeanother anniversary to be celebrated this year, related to the Wolfenden report, and that is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Northern Ireland Order in Council in 1982 which brought the Ulster law into line with the then 15-year-old England and Wales reform of 1967.

I must be one of a now, small number of people who actually attended some of the parliamentary debates at Westminster from 1965 to 1967, actually in 1966, in the House of Lords, when I waSean eager 20-year-old wishing to meet other gays, not knowing where to find them, and very afraid to ask. This was despite being happy in my homosexuality. I have ruefully gathered since that supporters of the HLRS were also present in the public gallery but I had not conceptualised the Trust was manned by other gay men, nor did I notice them.

This year, 2007, is also the so far unmarked, centenary of Hyde’s birth. Born on 14 August 1907, his background was Belfast merchant class while his secondary schooling was in England [vi]. His father James Hyde was a Unionist Councillor [vii] although his mother [viii] came from a more liberal, home rule, Protestant background. He attended Queen’s University, Belfast where he gained a first class history degree, and then Magdalen College Oxford and a second class law degree. So why did Hyde take up this deeply unpopular struggle? Did he have a political death wish? Indeed who was he and what happened to him?

Married three times, he was on the surface an unlikely champion of homosexual law reform so why the exceptional interest in the matter? And how was it that what is now reported [ix] to be the most homophobic place in the western world, and was then certainly, highly conservative, produce, elect and tolerate such a public representative?

The further question in most minds must be: Did he have gay relationships? His own words on that subject were, My feelings were always distinctly heterosexual. [i] He certainly knew gay people, particularly at Oxford, as he recorded, although he was older than most of his fellow students. There he occupied Oscar Wilde’s rooms which apparently concerned his father who feared he might follow in his footsteps. He later even shared a room in MI5 with Guy Burgess, the Soviet spy and defector, whom he described as a thorough going homosexual and hard drinker with a distinct dislike of washing. Antony Grey believes the notion of any gay affair highly unlikely but describes him as a highly-sexed man and interested in all aspects of the subject.

When first in London, Hyde had a regular Belfast correspondent, Ronnie [ii], who had been at Queen’s University with him. His letters reveal something of their lifestyle, love affairSeand modern outlook. For example, Ronnie wrote in May 1930 of a girl he had frightened, with talk notably of sapphism and v.d. of which she knew enough to be mortally scared. On 27 March 1931, he asked archly of (I presume) condoms: If you want some more merchandise let me know. The last lot must have done yeoman service by this time or else your laundry is very kind to the washable variety. I hope they never starch them by mistake.

As to religion, Hyde wrote, For a time, I admit I was greatly attracted to the Roman church, especially the ritual, so much more appealing to my aesthetic sense than the dull Protestant services. But already at Queen’s I was beginning to have doubts about all religious beliefs.” [iii] This lack of religious belief enabled Hyde to break from many related conformities. In the House of Commons, he always affirmed, instead of taking the oath but this, he said, was never noticed back home.

He looks like a matinee idol in his 1930s studio photographs, yet earlier, at his graduation, more of a young fogy [iv]. He was 5′ 7″ tall and appears to be a classic 1920s person; somewhat louche, having lost his virginity to a prostitute in Italy, according to his own memoir. He seems to have been influenced and shaped politically by his upbringing in that brief decade of prosperity and freedom between the wars.

[end of Part I]


 

[i] None the less, all the classic markers of gayness were there; an interest in history, archives, genealogy and spying (he was nicknamed Monty the Mole’), an affection for aristocracy, the ownership of two ginger marmalade catSeand a tendency toward Rome. Only church music was absent.

 

[ii] PRONI D.3084/B/B/2/1. Ronnie wrote to Hyde from a house named Royton in Marlborough Park North, Belfast. His surname is not given in the letters.

 

[iii] PRONI D.3084/A/5B

 

[iv] PRONI D.3084/A/3 and D.3084/B/A/2


 

 

[i] Confusingly, Montgomery‘ was his second Christian name (and mother’s maiden name). Increasingly people took it to be his primary Christian name although it seems designed aSean ersatz, double-barrelled surname. In the manner of the times, Hyde only used H’, his first initial, on publications, not Harford’ which was the name his family and friends called him.

 

[ii] The Other Love: A Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality in Britain, Heinemann, London 1970. It was published in the U.S. under the title The Love that Dared not Speak its Name. Another, far less substantial work by Hyde on some of the same themes is A Tangled Web: Sex Scandals in British PoliticSeand Society, 1987.

 

[iii] Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) entry.

 

[iv] Antony Grey is the pseudonym of A.E.G. Wright, b. 1927. The Albany Trust was a charity set up alongside the Homosexual Law Reform Society to promote psychological health in men through research, education and social action.

 

[v] Other books in the Hyde oeuvre include those on T.E. Lawrence, entitled Solitary in the Ranks; Edward Carson (thought by Dr Ian Paisley to be the best of the three Carson biographies); British air policy between the wars; Bloody’ Judge Jeffreys; Strong for Service (on Lord Nathan, Attlee’s Aviation minister); and Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquess of Reading, Viceroy of India, and the Lord Chief Justice who presided at Roger Casement’s trial.

 

[vi] Hyde won a scholarship to Sedbergh College in Yorkshire having earlier attended Mourne Grange preparatory school in Kilkeel, Co. Down.

 

[vii] James Hyde, an auctioneer and linen merchant, was a councillor for Belfast Corporation’s Cromac Ward.

 

[viii] Mrs Isobel Hyde died in 1966.

 

[ix] Love Thy Neighbour: How Much Bigotry Is There In Western Countries? Vani K Borooah, University of Ulster and John Mangan, University of Queensland; January 2007. Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of bigoted people in the western world ”Homophobia was by far the main source of bigotry in most western countries: over 80% of bigoted persons in Northern Ireland and Canada and 75% of bigots in Austria, the USA, Great Britain, Ireland and Italy would not want homosexuals as neighbours. The dubious nature of this poll’s results is exemplified by the fact that Canada equalled Northern Ireland in the level of homophobia of its bigoted people. Perhaps the respondents here and there are just more honest.

 

[x] None the less, all the classic markers of gayness were there; an interest in history, archives, genealogy and spying (he was nicknamed Monty the Mole’), an affection for aristocracy, the ownership of two ginger marmalade catSeand a tendency toward Rome. Only church music was absent.

 

[xi] PRONI D.3084/B/B/2/1. Ronnie wrote to Hyde from a house named Royton in Marlborough Park North, Belfast. His surname is not given in the letters.

 

[xii] PRONI D.3084/A/5B

 

[xiii] PRONI D.3084/A/3 and D.3084/B/A/2

 

[xiv] Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, who still resides in Mount Stewart, has recollections of Hyde.

 

[xv] Lord Castlereagh, Robert Stewart, the 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, b. 1769, was Foreign Secretary from 1812 until he committed suicide in 1822, due to depression. It was suggested he was being accused or blackmailed for homosexuality, as he put it himself, the crime of the Bishop of Clogher’. Percy Jocelyn, a son of the 1st Earl of Roden was charged after being caught in a compromising position with a guardsman, John Moverley, at the White Hart public house in Westminster on 19 July 1822 and deposed as Bishop in October, after fleeing to Scotland. Hyde also wrote The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh.

 

[xvi] Count Joachim von Ribbentrop, later German Foreign Minister was then Ambassador in London. In 1935, he negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. He was hanged in 1946 in Nuremberg for war crimes.

 

[xvii] Sir William Stephenson’s biography was written by Hyde and published in 1962 as The Quiet Canadian.

[xviii] The four books were Oscar Wilde (1975); Oscar Wilde: the Aftermath (1963); Lord Alfred Douglas (1984) plus the aforementioned Trials of Oscar Wilde (1948).


 

[i] An abridged version of this paper was given at the Wolfenden50 conference (28-30 June), King’s College London, on 30 June 2007.

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