|ESQUIRE CLUBS - THE BURNLEY MEETING
Esquire's denouement came about in Burnley, Lancashire where we had indicated a willingness to take out a lease on a large and central former Co-op cafe . In a first attempt to seek support from some of the opinion formers in the town, we had sought a meeting with the then Bishop of Burnley. This eventually took place in Blackburn cathedral and Ray Gosling and I went along there to meet the Bishop, who was accompanied by a woman who was Chair of the Burnley Council of Social Service.
It was she who uttered the only words which stick in my memory from a not very productive meeting when she urged that we should "seek to find a big house somewhere way out in the country." The advice was delivered in her usual foreign accent and conjured up in my mind an institution somewhere between a prison camp and a leper colony.
And anyway, "a big house in the country" - even if it could be found and afforded - would have defeated one of the central requirements of the club we envisaged, namely that it should be easily accessible to all who required it.
Our application for a lease on the Co-op premises merely indicated that they were required for a registered members' club. Most clubs in the industrial north were members clubs. They were registered by the ordinary magistrates' bench, as opposed to the licensing justices and did not require a liquor licence as the supply of intoxicants from one member to another was not regarded as a sale, even though money changed hands.
Whereas the licensing bench had wide discretion to refuse a liquor licence, the magistrates dealing with registered clubs had extremely limited grounds for refusing an application.
However, we were never allowed to get that far. The Co-op representatives had not asked who the club was intended for and we didn't feel under any compulsion to reveal this information before we had got signatures on a lease. We took the view that the emergence of the full facts at that later time would not serve to invalidate a lease and we considered that there had been no deception although there may have been, in the celebrated phrase, a certain economy with the reality.
A couple of days before the lease was ready for signing, BBC Radio Blackburn (now Radio Lancashire) got wind of what it was all about and blew the gaff, whereupon all hell broke loose.
Fr. Clayton answering criticisms at the meeting
Burnley Borough Council felt deceived because the planning application had simply been for change-of-use from a cafe to a club, that being the only information we were required, under planning law, to supply. As the Deputy Town Clerk pointed out to the Development Committee:-
The applicants were under no obligation to state the objects of the club when making their application, but even had they done so, I feel the corporation would not have had grounds to refuse the application. There was little the council could do on planning grounds.
The Burnley Evening Star ran a headline saying "Burnley 'was kidded' over club" and continued:
Michael Steed, Ken Pilling
and Ray Gosling
Burnley's proposed homosexual club came under blistering attack from town councillors last night when it was claimed they had been 'kidded' into giving planning permission for the premises.
Deputy Tory leader Alderman Frank Bailey suggested that the planned club building - which, it was disclosed, was the former Co-op café in Hammerton Street - should be bought by the corporation to stop it being used for this purpose.
He told the development committee that when the council gave planning permission there had been no indication that it would be used as a meeting place for homosexuals.
Council leader Alderman Thomas Gallagher said the Co-op management had been deceived in the same way as the council. "The person came from Manchester and there was nothing to say how the club would be used. This application has come from higher up. This club cannot function on what there is in Burnley alone. They will come in from all over the area," he said.
Alderman Gallagher warned that if the club did open, two things would happen: Youngsters would show interest in the premises, get involved and "become one of them."
And secondly, he said, skinheads would move in and "beat up" the homosexuals. "These people will put themselves in such a position which will force the police to close them down. We should show them that this club is not desirable for this country though."
However, Alderman Gallagher described as "utterly ridiculous" the suggestion that the premises should be bought by the corporation. It would, he said, create a precedent. "I don't think we have any right as a corporation to buy up property to stop this unwanted club."
Councillor R. Baldwin disagreed: "I think the ratepayers of Burnley are prepared to pay a little bit to keep them out of this town." Councillor J. Bradley believed that the pressure of public opinion would itself be enough to stop the club opening.
Councillor Sydney Blackston felt the introduction of a homosexual club in Burnley would produce the biggest protest petition the town had ever seen.
The prospective landlords shared the council's horror at the terrible prospect before them and the Burnley Express, under a banner headline proclaimingCO-OP STOP CLUB TALKS reported:-
Plans to use premises in Hammerton Street as a club for homosexuals have broken down. The weight of public opinion against such a club in Pendle Co-operative Society premises has resulted in the society ordering its agents to break off negotiations for the lease with those wishing to form the club.
This news was released yesterday to a Burnley Express reporter by Mr. W. Cornfield, chief executive officer for the society. He said: "Our agents were negotiating to lease off premises we own in Hammerton Street. They were told that the premises would be used as a social club. I saw this adverse publicity, and it gradually came out that it was likely that this particular club was the one our agents were negotiating about.
"My board - purely and simply in view of the adverse publicity that this project was getting in the Press, and that it would seem quite a number of the population of Burnley were against this sort of thing - has decided to ask our agents to cease negotiations with these applicants.
"The board did not go into the morals, principles, or any other objections. They ordered negotiations to be ceased purely and simply on the public relations image. We don't want the society involved in any controversial subject such as this."
Burnley was featured in ITV's Newsday programme on Wednesday night, when commentator Michael Parkinson chaired a discussion on the proposed club.
Both the Burnley Express and the Burnley Evening Star were by this time being besieged with readers' letters. Those published were fairly evenly balanced, but it was later reported that of those received, rather more were in favour of the club than against.
However, the forces of darkness were grouping in order to further frustrate the project and the journal New Society reported under the headline IT'S NO GAY IN BURNLEY!
Notes from the unpermissive society. The Burnley and District Christian Group are campaigning vigorously against the proposed establishment in the town of a club for homosexuals and lesbians. A statement of the group refers to "a spontaneous expression of outrage" and claims that "young persons and immature members of our society would be faced with a further moral danger to those already existing by being tempted into experiment or even prostitution by promiscuous persons who may use the club.
What's more "the club premises themselves could present a danger to public order by becoming a target for the more violent elements of society."
The Burnley and District Christian Group was an ad hoc outfit put together for the particular purpose of opposing the club. It was inter-denominational, but under the leadership of Father John Neville, a local catholic priest whose removal from the town shortly afterwards by the Catholic hierarchy was not, he insisted, in any way connected to the club protest.
Its formation was reported in the Burnley Star under the headline: "Burnley drive to halt club scheme."
A campaign is being launched in Burnley to fight plans for a homosexual club in the town. The campaign organisers think the club will be a bad influence on teenagers and children. They aim to mobilise public opinion in Burnley to back their fight.
A committee to co-ordinate the battle against the club was formed during a protest meeting in the 110 (Catholic) club in Yorkshire Street, Burnley.
Attending the meeting were local churchmen, teachers, doctors and, in an individual capacity, several magistrates and town councillors. In the chair was Mr. Dennis Macauley, a teacher at St. Theodore's School.
Father John Neville, parish priest at St. Mary's RC church said today, "The meeting was very representative and organised very quickly. It speaks volumes for the anxiety which is now being felt in the town.
Fr. Neville in the Burnley debate
"We realise that these people have a problem, and on other occasions we would shout out in their defence. But at the meeting we were merely questioning the advisability of opening a club in this town. Just because they have a problem they should not be allowed to do things which would influence people in a bad way.
"There is evidence to suggest" continued Father Neville, who read a paper on tolerance to the meeting, "that today's 'in' jokes in the school playgrounds are about this club. Children, having seen this club publicised on television, are already being influenced."
The Rev. J. L. Sullivan wrote to the Burnley Express emphasising that homosexuality was "Abnormal i.e. not the norm or rule of human sexuality." He continued:-
Nonetheless it does occur, and because it does occur we must face up to it; we cannot banish what is the result of genes and chromosomes in a particular person. But it is still abnormal, and normality is the ideal in sexual behaviour as in any human behaviour.
It is the aim of the medical profession to achieve the ideal, to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and where they find this impossible they strive to make life as normal as they can for the person concerned. To abandon a man to his blindness is ethically irresponsible. To abandon a man to his homosexuality is ethically irresponsible.
A blind man may be content in his blindness, but he has a right to see. A homosexual may be content in his homosexuality, but he has a right to sexual normality and should be led there where possible - that possibility of course, depending on the physical or psychological roots of the case in question.
However, it is on the supposition that "homosexuality is a normal and viable alternative to heterosexuality" that the Committee for Homosexual Equality base their claim for a club in Burnley. It is on the supposition that homosexuality is an abnormal and non-viable alternative that the Burnley and District Christian Group oppose it. The latter feel that to grant a club on the above grounds would be precisely to abandon the homosexual to his homosexuality in the mistaken belief that it would be to his human advancement.
As a part of the human family of Burnley, they must not be permitted the self-imposed asylum of a club that emphasises their difference, and gives credit to the lie that the homosexual is humanly complete and fulfilled in his homosexuality.
This was followed by a letter from a T. Butler, President of the Burnley (54) Circle Catenian Association:-
We, as a group of Catholic business and professional men, would like to add our voice to the protest about the formation in Burnley of "the first club for homosexuals and Lesbians in Britain."
In agreeing with moral objections which have been well aired in your columns by other correspondents, we would again stress the dangers to which younger elements of our community would be exposed if such a club were to be established.
Without doubt many of the sensible youths of our town are themselves aware of the dangers inherent in the situation and indeed they are represented among those who have already expressed their concern, but the notoriety and curiosity which such an establishment would arouse is bound to have some adverse influence and attract to the town an undesirable element.
Already we have heard Burnley disparaged on the radio while the club's formation has only been under discussion. One can easily visualise the effect on the town's image if the proposition becomes a reality. This is a "first" that Burnley must do without.
It soon became clear that the Burnley and District Christian Group was not the only ad hoc body put together to o oppose the club when there appeared a group of doctors pursuing the same objective. Pail Temperton, the then secretary of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, responded with a press release:-
I am shocked, horrified and disgusted by the Burnley Local Medical Committee's announcement that it strongly opposes the proposal to open a club for homosexuals in Burnley.
This so-called medical committee, claiming to represent the general practitioners of the town, states in a letter to the Burnley Express (6/8/71) that "such a club is not in the best interests of the town OR of the prospective members."
It is high time the myth that ordinary doctors know everything was well and truly exploded. Homosexuality is NOT a medical matter and this group of GPs is no better placed to comment on the issue of homosexual clubs than any other member of the community - particularly since medical training at the moment includes almost no balanced information on homosexuality and the average doctor's knowledge of the subject is therefore based largely on his experience with the highly unrepresentative minority of homosexuals he sees as patients.
For the Burnley Local Medical Committee to dictate what is best for the homosexual men and women of Burnley is an act of the most appalling arrogance. Whether or not there should be a homosexual club in the town is a matter for the homosexuals of Burnley, and nobody else.
Confrontation at the Burnley meeting
Furthermore, The Medical Committee's statement that "A majority in our society regard homosexuality with repugnance, and have little sympathy with its adherents" is not only quite irrelevant but is in any case is not borne out by our own experiences in Burnley, where it is becoming increasingly clear that a large number of the townspeople do not share the bigoted intolerance of some of their priests and doctors.
Burnley was he third town in which our every effort to establish a club had been thwarted and in Burnley the opposition had been more bitter and more widely based, particularly among the people who regarded themselves as either moral leaders or opinion formers.
And so it all ended - almost. Frustration, disappointment, lack of progress, misrepresentation. All were sapping our strength and resources. Maybe those who had preached at us with the Doctrine of Unripe Time had been right all along.
But then you never know when the time is ripe if you don't keep pushing at the boundaries. However, with heavy hearts, we reluctantly decided to put the clubs project on the back burner until another day. Esquire's Chairman, Colin Harvey wrote a final newsletter for supporters. Colin had been co-founder of the North-West Homosexual Law Reform Committee (which became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) and was senior social worker for the C.of.Es Manchester Diocesan Board for Social Responsibility. Soon after his final message he moved to Glasgow, where he and his wife, Rosemary, helped to establish the Scottish Minorities Group.
In September 1970 he wrote:-
Dear Esquire Member,
I am writing as Chairman of Esquire Clubs to tell you about the company's present position and to explain how the board propose to develop the work of the company in the future.
First, however, I want to thank you for your support and your membership in the past and express the hope that once you hear of the board's present plans you will want to stay with Esquire in the future.
Esquire Clubs has successfully pioneered the idea of clubs for homosexuals in Britain on a non-profitmaking basis. Although the benefits which members received, for example, membership of the Rockingham Club and Matthew's in Manchester could not be extended into the second year as was originally agreed with the owners, nevertheless the experience which the management of this scheme involved has been extremely valuable to the homosexual community as a whole.
No-one knew before this experiment by Esquire exactly what was involved in setting up and running such clubs along lines which were not primarily commercial. This is a field fraught with legal and other difficulties. Relations with police, with brewers and with local authorities from whom planning permission has to be obtained, and with the public, require the utmost skill and diplomacy on the part of promoters of clubs. On several occasions - at Eccles and Swinton, for example - the obtaining of suitable premises was only held up at the last stage when all the tedious business of vetting location, checking on car parking and fire regulations, and sounding out breweries had been successfully completed. You will recall that the objection to proposals at Swinton came not from the Town Clerk, who approved the idea, but from local councillors who feared the clubs might lead to the corruption of young people at a nearby youth club.
Our most recent plans to open a club in Burnley were once again set back inn July this year when the people who owned the premises backed out of a verbal agreement to give Esquire a lease on excellent premises in a town where police - thanks to good liaison work - were known to be co-operative.
Finally, the sudden illness of your tireless and indomitable secretary earlier this year has made the board realise that without a paid executive who can be available full time, or at least part time, the task of getting a club off the ground is virtually impossible.
The present proposals. Since Esquire started its campaign to set up clubs, several new bodies have joined us in the fight to obtain basic social amenities for homosexuals. One of these - the Campaign for Homosexual Equality - which already has close links with Esquire and which has established itself on a national basis with groups in London, Bristol, Liverpool. Nottingham and west Midlands, and at the universities of Oxford and Sheffield, and proposed groups in Cambridge, N.E.Lancashire, Southampton, Leeds/Bradford, Tyne/Tees, Chilterns, Hull and Manchester and at the universities of Bristol and York, has offered a year's free membership to members of Esquire who wish to join. This offer is open only to Esquire members and your board strongly recommend all member to claim this most advantageous benefit. This can be done by completing the attached tear-off application form.
A second major development is the proposal to set up a federation of homophile organisations. This proposal resulted from a national conference held at York in July attended by representatives from all known homophile organisations (for men and women) in Britain.
In the light of these developments it seems that the most effective role for Esquire Clubs in future is to work with any national bodies which exist to further aims similar to those of Esquire. All the funds which Esquire has will be made available to the new national body for any developments which involve the setting up of clubs. In this way the aims of \Esquire to which members have subscribed in the past can continue to be furthered in the future. At the same time Esquire Clubs can retain freedom to act locally should the possibility of establishing a suitable club arise and should this be in line with national policy.
Conclusion. Over several years Esquire has led the way in the promotion of clubs and despite criticism from some who maintained that the time was not ripe has continued to press for action.
It is, your board is assured, in the best interests of the homosexual community as a whole that Esquire should seek now to work as closely as possible with other who are now seeking to follow along the same path towards improving the provision of basic social amenities.
However, we decided that if we were to go down again, we would do so with all flags flying. The moral right in Burnley had denied us our club and were no doubt full of smug self-satisfaction, but we were determined that they should not imagine that they had crushed us.
To this end we called a public meeting in the town's central library. The meeting was intended primarily to question the motives of Burnley Town Council's request to the Home Office and the Association of Municipal Corporations for more powers to deal with proposed clubs for homosexuals and lesbians. A proposal to this effect by Councillor Mrs. Roberts had been passed by the town's General Purposes Committee on 23 June 1971 and had been supported by all sides of the chamber.
The meeting, on the theme of "Homosexuals and Civil Liberty," co-sponsored by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the National Council for Civil Liberties, was widely advertised, not only in the press, but also through window bills in all the local buses. On the Saturday preceding the meeting, students from Manchester and Leeds universities had distributed thousands of leaflets to town centre shoppers advertising the meeting, protesting against "oppression of homosexuals in Burnley." and claiming "we know there are at least 4000 homosexual men and women in Burnley - many of whom are forced to hide because of the prejudice and hostility shown by the public.
One of the students distributing leaflets was quoted in the Burnley Star (26/7/71) as saying "we were attempting to counter some of the hysterical remarks made by opponents of the club. This was the first time that a club like this one had been attempted in a fairly small town in this country, and it was met with bigotry, and intolerance. Today, however, no-one has been hostile or insulting. On Friday (at the public meeting) we are hoping to put our side of the case."
Speakers were announced as including TV broadcaster Ray Gosling; Burnley RDC councillor and national field officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties, Councillor Ivan Limmer; lecturer Michael Steed; and Blackburn licensee Ken Pilling, chairman of the committee of the proposed club.
The meeting took place in a packed assembly hall on a hot and sweaty summer evening amid a degree of tension and acrimony which has probably never been exceeded in Burnley either before of since.
The meeting attracted reporters not only from the local papers, but also from the nationals, both tabloid and broadsheet. The Burnley Express ran a six column report with pictures under a sub-heading "Tempers fly at 'club' meeting:"
Two Burnley priests were accused at a public meeting held in the Central Library of being "Fascists" and "Paisleyites" when they condemned proposals to open a club for homosexuals in the town. It was yet another round in the furore that first erupted two months ago when the organisers of Friday's meeting. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality, announced plans to open a club in Hammerton Street.
Homosexuals of all ages, both men and women, were there, some wearing the badge of the Gay Liberation Front - an organisation formed to promote the cause of homosexuality. Mixed among them were councillors from Burnley and District, magistrates, social workers and a senior police chief. One JP sat incongruously dressed in a bow tie in the middle of a vociferous group of tee-shirted liberation front members.
The Burnley and District Christian Action Group clearly accepted the organisers' challenge to debate the issue in public. Father John Cayton, of St. Catherine's Church, and Father John Neville, of St. Mary's RC Church, both spoke from the floor, as did group secretary, Mr Fred Evans.
There was no reply from any town councillor to allegations that Burnley Town Council, by asking the Home Office for special powers to deal with the club application had moved towards Fascism. The council came under attack from two of the speakers, Burnley Rural Councillor Ivan Limmer and lecturer Michael Steed, of Todmorden.
Tempers flew higher as Father Neville was told by one youth: "You'll have trouble getting to heaven, man," but other youths shouted: "Let the priest speak." In one dramatic confrontation, a Southport man challenged Father Neville to advise him how to live as a homosexual.
One of the least conspicuous groups was a number of skinheads, seated near the rear of the hall. Police outside relieved them of steel-pointed umbrellas and heavy "bovver boots." After that the youths settled down quietly to listen. At the end of the meeting police ushered them out of the building and ordered a group waiting outside to disperse.
Noticeable in the audience, said to consist of 60% Burnley people, were many who quite openly sympathised with the organisers. One blind woman told the audience how she felt sickened by the intolerance shown by those purporting to be Christians.
Earlier licensee Ken Pilling, a native of Burnley, denied suggestions made by the Labour leader on Burnley Council, Ald. T. E. Gallagher that if a club was opened "queer bashing" would disrupt law and order in the town. He said: "It is ridiculous to suggest skin heads would move in and beat us up. Skin heads are quite decent lads."
Mr Pilling slammed the methods of the Christian Action Group in fighting the proposed club. He claimed the group had canvassed outside bingo halls. "Where does the word Christian come into this?" he declared.
Counc. Limmer, a newly appointed National Field Officer for the Council of Civil Liberties, claimed that "If civil liberty is threatened in Burnley it is threatened all over the world." Turning to criticise the town council in asking the Home Office for special powers, he said: "This is taking away from people what they have a perfect right to do."
Mr Steed supported this line and claimed the club was "a step towards a sane tolerant society in Burnley."
Ray Gosling, a writer and Granada TV personality, who chaired the meeting then threw the debate to the floor. It was to his credit that order, precarious at times, was preserved.
Father Cayton, an Anglican, was the first of the two priests to speak. He said he was against the club because of the effect it would have on teenagers. He said youngsters would go to the club out of curiosity. He exclaimed: "If a club were formed we would see what we have seen in London."
Father Neville reasoned that a club would corrupt youngsters passing through a vulnerable age; that it was against the interests of homosexuals themselves to be cut off; that the club might be a focal point for violence against them. He pointed out: "I am not against homosexuals as persons, indeed it is my duty to help them, but I am against the establishment of this club."
Mr Fred Evans was less moderate. He repeated his view that "homosexuality is a filthy practice." There was immediate uproar and a woman threatened Mr Evans before being restrained by friends.
It was a stormy two hours. By the end most views had been put. Judging at least from what Father Neville said, the critics of the club left unconverted and still convinced they were right. Elements in the audience were from outside the area, but enough Burnley people were there for it to be considered a local affair.
(Burnley Express - 3/8/71)
The Observer ran a very serious double column report about the meeting on the following. Sunday The Daily Mirror, by contrast, tried to inject a little levity into its report, which appeared under the headline: "THE PERMISSIVE SOCIETY STOPS HERE……."
Ken Russell could make a torrid film about it. Next year, perhaps, when feelings have cooled a little, it would make a Brian Rix farce. And in 20 years, it will have all the ingredients of a musical. But right now, the story of how the citizens of a smoky Northern town fought off a fifth column in their midst hangs somewhere between the wildly funny and the rather sad.
It was about the time of the annual Wakes holidays that the Burnley ratepayers, their pallor varnished from a week in Whitby or Majorca, returned to realise the full horror of what was happening to them.
Homosexuals were planning to open a club in the middle of town. In the old Co-op. Now Burnley is not a prudish town. Oh no. It has its share of hanky-panky on a Saturday night. But what they call homosexuals in Hampstead are still nancy-boys in Burnley. Nancy-boys they do not want. So far they had gone along with society's new freedoms. Saucy bookshops? Certainly. Strip shows? Why not. Nancy-boys? Burnley held up one hand firmly: the Permissive Society stops here.
The final act was a confrontation that made the OZ trial look like a dummy-run. In the hall of the Central library, the forces of progress and reaction (or filth and decency, depending on how you look at it, lined up.
On your right, councillors and JPs, churchmen and bowls players, and ladies in cashmere cardigans. On your left, the dark-suited, socially aware pioneers of freedom, and the boys from the Gay Liberation Front. In the middle, perplexed policemen and a bunch of de-booted skinheads
As a meeting of minds, it was not a great success. The citizens were branded as Fascist pigs. The homosexuals emerged as corrupters of children. The skinheads restricted themselves to a sly "Whoops dearie" when the police weren't looking.
But victory went to the town. The Co-op backed down. For the moment there will be no queer goings-on in Burnley. "If you ask me," says Frederick Evans, a citizen "most of 'em weren't genuine homosexuals at all. Homosexuals are attracted to men, aren't they? Well, one of these fancily-dressed fellers was kissing a girl. A girl! Now that's not normal. Nor for them anyway."
Mr Evans is secretary of the Christian Group which formed hastily to rally opposition to the plan. He is 45, a father of two, works in a town hall, and - in his own words - is everything these so-called liberals can't stand. Middle-class, dark-suit, semi-detached house." He is a decent, likeable, and tolerant sort of man, who makes a poor sort of Fascist pig as he sips tea in his natty little lounge with a piano opposite the hearth and the best china in a display cabinet.
In principle he was against the club because he thought homosexuals were making civil licence out of a civil right. "If I wanted to form a wife-swappers club or an adulterers' club" - he paused as his wife delivered more tea - "it wouldn't be allowed. So why should they be allowed to?"
Mr Evans is not against homosexuals. He is not a prude either. He enjoys a mini-skirt with the rest. But he says: "They were extravagant in dress and language to say the least. One was wearing a ladies' hat. Just the sort of thing for a Tory ladies' meeting."
He was shouted down at the meeting. They called him a Paisleyite That hurt. He is a Roman Catholic. And he says one lady councillor was so frightened by the whole performance she fled to the back of the hall. At the other extreme, there was a woman who said she would put a brick through the window of any club the homosexuals opened.
From the citizens, indignation, disgust and bitterness. From the homosexuals, a sort of cool disappointment.
(Daily Mirror - 11/8/71)
Looked at again after the passage of thirty years, Burnley still has no gay club. The one Burnley pub which manages to make it into the gay guides attracts a gay clientele hardy any greater in number than the total of those who used to assemble (admittedly in a lower key) in the three or four Burnley pubs which enjoyed - or tolerated - a gay coterie in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Gay clubs are now, almost without exception, commercial ventures; predominately city-based, youth-oriented, noisy, expensive, late-night/early-morning enterprises which remain largely inaccessible or unacceptable or both, to the vast number of gay men and lesbians who are not city dwellers.
The possibility of a string of member-owned clubs in the smaller towns, operating in the spirit of the original working men's Club and Institute Union seems destined to remain what it always was - a dream.
Was it all worth it? Since Esquire's primary objective was never achieved, was it all a waste of time and energy? Not at all. The Daily Mirror's assessment that the backlash in Burnley had marked the limits of the Permissive Society was mistaken.
Commenting on the Burnley meeting in his book Coming Out, Jeffrey Weeks wrote: "…a contingent from GLF attended. The result was a dramatic example of coming out. When a member of GLF asked the gay people there to stand up, over half the audience did so. The impact was muted on the town, which never saw an 'Esquire Club' (nor, indeed, did anywhere else); but this type of public solidarity was vital in building up a new homosexual consciousness."
The Esquire exercise in fact marked the first step in the onward march of gay rights following the flawed law reform of 1967. Remember that the beginning of Esquire preceded the formation of the Gay Liberation Front by three years.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson to emerge from it was the realisation that the forces which had opposed the implementation of the Wolfenden Report's recommendations, and lost, were not prepared to go away, but were reorganising themselves to carry on their war against gay men by other means, since total legal suppression was no longer viable.
They have had their victories, most significantly the imposition of the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988, but also a largely successful war against men who have sex in what the gay health professional call PSEs - Public Sex Environments.
That is the reason why, as Peter Tatchell has pointed out, prosecutions of gay men didn't go down after the 1967 reform, but actually increased. That deplorable development, of course, gave further ammunition to the many gay people who had urged me, during the long law reform campaign from 1957 to 1967 to "let sleeping dogs lie" and to "stop rocking the boat" but, in defiance of their demoralising influence and despite all the setbacks, I remained, and remain still, totally unrepentant.