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three pairs of lovers with space

OUTSIDER
BY BRIAN SEWELL

 

Brian Alfred Christopher Bushel Sewell, originally surnamed Perkins (15 July 1931 – 19 September 2015) was an opinionated English art critic whose autobiography, Outsider always almost: never quite, was published by Quartet in London in 2011. Presented here are all the passages of Greek love interest.

 

Chapter 3

Stepfather

On his step-father Robert Sewell:

Horobin Sir Ian
Sir Ian Horobin, the former MP who settled in Tangier after imprisonment for sex with boys

It was his interest in organ music that generated mine and pushed me literally into the arms of Alan Harverson, a young rising star of these great instruments in the 1940s, who taught me all I know of them and also took me to his bed.[1] I cannot imagine, had Robert known of this, what he would have done, if anything, but — though we had never spoken of what schoolboys might do together — I knew of his views on homosexuality from the disgust he expressed when cases of importuning were reported in the Daily Telegraph. A little later, when his frend Ian Horobin[2], Warden of Mansfield House University Settlement in the East End, was tried for homosexual offences — it seems that he urged bigger boys to bugger younger while he looked on and masturbated — Robert seethed with a sense of betrayal by a man whom he had known so long and yet been duped by his dissembling.

After describing how his stepfather ended his wish to smoke by offering him full freedom to try it out:

On discovering my wayward sexuality he could hardly have employed a kindred stratagem; besides, I was determined that he should never know; nor should my mother.

 

Chapter 4

School

In September 1942, Sewell began at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hampstead School. On the extra tuition in maths he received, through his stepfather’s arrangement, from J. F. Cooper, deputy headmaster of the Lower School, during hs first term there:

Extra maths continued until the end of my first term when poor Cooper had to admit that I had shown not the slightest improvement. I had, nevertheless, enjoyed the lessons, for Cooper, a neatly constructed little man, had sat close, his left arm about my shoulders, though often wandering lower; he seemed warm and affectionate in a way that my stepfather was not, and I liked it. I liked the hand on my bare knee and I liked too Cooper’s standing behind me, close, after some errand that had taken him from the desk. There was nothing overtly sexual about these contacts, but they were, in today’s jargon, inappropriate.

I did not betray Cooper. His moustache bothered me a bit, but to a boy who was at the beastly school only because a newly-acquired and dour stepfather compelled it, Cooper’s warm touch was appealing. I sensed — as children do, for they have surprising canniness — that what he did put us both in peril, and said nothing, and it was only my continuing failure to raise the level of my marks in maths that brought an end to our association. The contact did me no harm — I was, I am certain, already queer — but I am convinced that had I told my homophobic stepfather, the consequences would have been appalling, with me, no doubt, consenting to words put in my mouth, the consequence an abiding sense of guilt about sex, my sexuality and my betrayal of a man who gently taught me something about the pleasures of my body, lasting to this day.

Sewell Brian. Outsider

Nor did I betray Horace a year later. For a man as hostile to homosexuality as my stepfather to put me into the care of a professional footballer too old to be in the army, was an act of astonishing naivety. I was twelve and showing neither interest in, nor aptitude for, the abominable game of soccer that was compulsory in winter in the Lower School, and I spent most games afternoons either in goal where I froze with inattention and the weather, or enraging the little know-alls in my team by invariably being off-side. Where the hell, I wondered, was on-side, and why was it never where I chanced to be? I was always among the last to be chosen for these ad hoc teams, and the games began with ignominy. School reports betrayed me and my step’s response was the same for soccer as for maths — extra tuition. Having found a maths master with embracing arms, he now found a footballer with wandering hands, all too willing to explain some unexpected rules and show me how to play a different game.

This was at a stage in the war when Londoners had become blasé about air raids, were hungry and ill-clad, and our motor cars were all standing on piles of bricks in locked garages, their essential parts removed so that, in the event of a German invasion, they would be useless to the enemy. Horace, however, a red-haired and wiry player for Spurs, collected me every Saturday morning in a Ford Ten Tourer of 1934, for professional footballers, it seems, were among the very few non-combatants allowed a petrol ration. The Ford was a blandishment quite irresistible to a small boy; never mind the privilege of sitting on the touchline (if that is the term in soccer), and of witnessing the manly mysteries of jockstraps, communal bathing, massaging and horseplay after the games — it was the journeys to and fro that I enjoyed, for the Ford’s flapping hood was almost always down, and to rattle windblown from pitch to pitch through the bleak environs of London in that puny little car was exquisitely seductive, even thrilling, for I had to play a part in driving it — without a roof it was subject to extreme flexing over bumps and the potholes that were many and deep as a consequence of the Blitz, and I had always to be ready to grab the passenger door and slam it shut; this, in turn, gave Horace and [sic] excuse for grabbing me.

I do not know what happened to Horace after that winter. I dare say that school reports indicated no improvement in the game and that my step thought his pound notes better spent elsewhere. I dare say that Horace became disenchanted with ‘my little toff’, as he invariably introduced me to his mates, their ribald responses beyond my comprehension; perhaps he found a boy less toffee-nosed and innocent, happier to make mutual the pleasures that he offered — I missed his car more than I missed him. In a subsequent winter Haberdashers’ introduced me to the ecstatic pleasures of rugger, a game then mercifully unencumbered by obscure and restrictive rules, fast, furious and indelicately physical.

Haberdashers Askes Hampstead School 1930
Haberdashers' Ake's School, Hampstead, 1930

If other boys had such contacts with adults, they did not speak of them, but in my second year at the school, in the Third Form there was an abiding atmosphere of, at first latent, and then active sexuality, curiosity urged on by changes in our bodies, but cruelly ill-informed by feeble and evasive attempts to instruct us. We were urged to keep ourselves pure for the day when we got married and, above all things, to eschew self-abuse, for the consequences of this evil were blindness, debility and early death, to say nothing of moral turpitude. If one boy knew that the erect penis must enter the vagina to make babies, then swiftly all boys knew — but then what? Adler, the boy who told us this, could only suppose that we then had to pee; we were appalled by the thought. Harry Claff, a handsome curly-haired Jewish boy, nearer thirteen than most of us, was the first to ejaculate and solve the mystery of what really happens when men and women conjugate, for spunk — then the word for it — had never been mentioned in lessons that dwelt on the role of bees in the pollination of plants. Harry could demonstrate several times a day until other boys caught up with him and curiosity in his oddly purple penis waned; then he gained supremacy again by bringing to school the first — and in my day, only — pornographic paperback, from which I recall the mystifying phrase ‘the love juices streaming down her thighs’. From then on it seemed that almost every boy was obsessed with the idea and practice of mutual masturbation in the air raid shelters (from which we used to remove the light bulbs), behind the fives courts, in the loft above the school hall, in the swimming-bath cubicles (though they had no doors), in the communal bath after rugger or cross-country running, and at the summer harvest camps some boys knew enough to take matters a great deal further, shading into sexual sadism and bondage, even genital bondage, all of which seemed to come about by instinct rather than instruction.

I am convinced that nothing of this did harm and that if any of us in adult life identified ourselves as homosexual, the many happenings at school were not to blame. When, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our leaving school an old boy invited me to dine with a dozen or so of my contemporaries, they were all contented married fathers, whose prinked, perfumed and appalling wives spoke of nothing but their university ambitions for their brats, most of them at Haberdashers’. When conversation turned, by chance, to homosexuality, the condemnations of the husbands were as shrill and vituperative as those of their wives, and, the hypocrisy intolerable, in one of those hushed moments when mutual outrage has exhausted company, I heard myself say, my voice perhaps rather too intentionally audible, “There is not a man at this table with whom I did not have sex when we were boys,’ and left the house. It has always puzzled me that heterosexual men have the ability to haul down the shutters on their adolescent sexual experiences and utterly deny them; to me they were unforgettable adventures in revelation, instruction and self-knowledge, too important ever to be denied.

On what happened when his stepfather decided that it was too dangerous for him to remain in London during the long summer break of 1944, when lethal bombs were dropping there:

11 17 Four brothers 1940 d3

My stepfather explained with some gravity his decision that, for my safety, I should spend the summer in a pub he knew near Mentmore where there was a family of boys. Off I went to learn their country ways. They were far more advanced than young Haberdashers. In the wooded hills above a nearby airfield, watching the movement of planes was varied at the wish of the eldest, at seventeen, waiting to go into the Navy; at will, he buggered his brother of fifteen who, in turn, buggered the next, of fourteen, but that poor boy was allowed only to eye his brother of eleven and mutter ‘See what you'll get when the time comes.’ I was allowed, indeed encouraged, to watch, but absolutely forbidden to touch or be touched, for this was family business. Do they remember this, I wonder, as they mingle with their sons and grandsons? Newly knowing what could be, intrigued and fascinated by my knowledge, back I went to school, knowing too about scrumping apples, putting my ear to a railway line to tell if a train was coming, and what could be written and drawn in a pub lavatory. […]

Mutual masturbation had at first been entirely random, urgently performed with any boy or boys willing to join in, but soon selection began to limit it as we became aware of the particular attraction of this boy or that. For some terms Davidson, my closest friend, and I made a common list of desirable partners and, sworn to honesty, compared our respective tallies on the last day to see which of us had had whom and how many times. The third phase was when fierce affections beyond our understanding began to develop, as well as more sophisticated practices. A German- Jewish boy — there were several in my age group who had escaped the Nazis in the later Thirties — for whom I wrote essays and poems in exchange for help with maths, astonished me with an unhesitatingly unsqueamish demonstration of fellatio when we were both fourteen. A year later I was jealously in love with Michael Jessett, a tall athletic boy, and on the night of my sixteenth birthday learned a bitter lesson when he buggered me. My willingness to please him, my romantic wanting it to happen, did little to ease the pain of my inexperience and his urgent clumsiness, but what really hurt — and permanently — was what immediately followed; I was lying on my belly, he withdrew, lit a cigarette, patted my bottom and said “Gosh that was good — if you were a girl I’d do it again.’ It was the end of our friendship. Love, if that is what I felt for Michael, froze; later that summer, at harvest camp, when other boys were holding him down and boot-blacking his scrotum for some perceived offence, I could have helped him, but I simply stood and watched. As mawkish as the silly girl he wished I’d been, I had given him the last remaining shred of my virginity and he had thought it a poor alternative. A successful musician, he married early and had children — what we had enjoyed, almost monogamously, for many months, had not the slightest effect on his adult sexuality. For me, however, this was a turning-point. I knew that I was irrevocably queer, and so did other boys for whom our common sexual activities had been nothing but a step on the way to hetero-sexual maturity; I had friends at Highgate, UCS and St Paul’s, and these too, once all willing partners, were changing, drifting steadily in an adult sexual direction that had nothing to do with boys or men. Occasionally they might oblige, but there was little joy in their grudging consent to these comfort wanks for past time’s sake.

On his final year at Haberdashers’:

Sewell Brian back row far r. in rugby teamaberdashers 1947
Sewell (back row, far right) in a Habershaders' rugger team, 1947

I was hopelessly in love with a younger boy, and had been with another, who had left school suddenly; to neither of them did I show my hand though it was obvious enough to boys of my own age, two of whom, Trask and Gaskell, mean-minded twits affecting an attitude de haut en bas, mocked me for it publicly and with sickening frequency, ‘re-fuelling’ their euphemism for my supposed sodomy — re-fuelling aircraft in flight, was one of the technical achievements of the day, and in photographs it looked remarkably sexual to those who chose to see it so. It was also a pun identifying the younger boy. I knew, however, as well as they, that I had not ‘grown out of it’ — the only reassurance ever offered in our rare instructions on matters sexual — knew that it was not a ‘phase,’ and knew that I could never control it (unless with the help of God), yet, at eighteen, I vowed that I would never again have sex with a boy.

 

[1] The organist Alan Harverson (1922-2006) took Sewell to his bed when the latter was aged about seventeen to twenty-one. The passages about their affair are not included here since it does not sound much like Greek love. Sewell already knew himself to be “irrevocably queer”.

[2] Sir Ian Macdonald Horobin (1899-1976), a former M. P., was in 1962 sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for “sexual assault” of boys under sixteen. On release, he moved to Tangier.