The son of a retired colonial officer, Driberg was educated at Lancing and Christ Church, Oxford. After leaving the university without a degree, he attempted to establish himself as a poet before joining the Daily Express as a reporter, later becoming a columnist. In 1933 he began the "William Hickey" society column, which he continued to write until 1943. He was later a regular columnist for the Co-operative Group newspaper Reynolds News and for other left-leaning journals. He wrote several books, including biographies of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook and the fugitive British diplomat Guy Burgess. He retired from the House of Commons in 1974, and was subsequently raised to the peerage as Baron Bradwell of Bradwell juxta Mare in the County of Essex.
Driberg made no secret of his homosexuality, which he practised throughout his life despite it being a criminal offence in Britain until 1967; his ability to avoid any consequences for his risky and often brazen behaviour baffled his friends and colleagues. Always in search of bizarre experiences, Driberg befriended at various times the black magic practitioner Aleister Crowley and the Kray twins, along with honoured and respected figures in the worlds of literature and politics. He combined this lifestyle with an unvarying devotion to Anglo-Catholicism. After his death, allegations were published about his role over many years as an MI5 informant, a KGB agent, or both. The extent and nature of Driberg's involvement with these agencies remains uncertain.
On 16 February 1951 Driberg surprised his friends by announcing his engagement to Ena Mary Binfield, née Lyttelton, the common law widow of Joe Binfield, who had died in 1948. A former Suffolk county councillor, she worked as an administrator at the Marie Curie Hospital in London. She was well known in senior Labour circles, and had met Driberg in 1949, at a weekend party given by the government minister George Strauss. According to her son, she was fully aware of Driberg's sexual preferences, but looked forward to some political excitement, and "thought they could do a useful job as Mr. and Mrs." Driberg's motives are less clear, but he told his friend John Freeman that he needed someone to run Bradwell Lodge, to which he had returned in 1946 after its release by the RAF.
At Driberg's insistence Binfield, a non-practising Jew, was baptised into the Church of England before the wedding at St Mary the Virgin, Pimlico, on 30 June 1951. The bride entered to a chorale arranged from the Labour Party anthem "The Red Flag"; this was followed by a nuptial mass described by Driberg's biographer Francis Wheen as "outrageously ornate". Four hundred guests then attended an elaborate reception at the House of Commons. In the ensuing years Ena tried hard to adapt to Driberg's way of life and to control his wayward finances, but with little success. He continued his frequent travels and casual homosexual liaisons, and was hostile to her efforts to control or change any aspect of his life. In 1961 she wrote to him: "I have tried for ten years to make a compromise with you in your extraordinary mode of life and have now given up." Thereafter they often lived apart, though they never formally separated. Even after a final breach in 1971, they remained legally married.
Hampered by age and declining health, Driberg became less active politically, and in 1972 was voted off Labour's NEC. The sale of Bradwell Lodge to a private buyer removed his main burden of debt, and he rented a small flat in the Barbican development in the City of London. In February 1974, at the age of 68, he retired from the House of Commons with the intention of writing his memoirs. Still short of income, he first completed a biography of his fellow-journalist Hannen Swaffer, which was indifferently received—"a feeble potboiler", according to Driberg's biographer Davenport-Hines. Friends organised an elaborate 70th birthday party for him on 21 May 1975; "one duke, two dukes' daughters, sundry lords, a bishop, a poet laureate—not bad for an old left-wing MP", Driberg observed to a guest.
In November 1975 he was granted a life peerage, and on 21 January 1976 was introduced to the House of Lords as Baron Bradwell of Bradwell juxta Mare. On 14 April he tabled a motion in the Lords calling on the government to consider the withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland, but won little support. His health was failing, though he continued to work on his memoirs. His final contribution to the House of Lords was on 22 July, in a debate on entry vouchers for the dependents of immigrants. Three weeks later, on 12 August 1976, while travelling by taxi from Paddington to his Barbican flat, he suffered a fatal heart attack. The funeral was held on 19 August at St Matthew's, Westminster; he was buried in the cemetery attached to St Thomas's Church, Bradwell.
Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society) by Matt Houlbrook
Paperback: 398 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 15, 2006)
Amazon: Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957
In August 1934, young Cyril L. wrote to his friend Billy about all the exciting men he had met, the swinging nightclubs he had visited, and the vibrant new life he had forged for himself in the big city. He wrote, "I have only been queer since I came to London about two years ago, before then I knew nothing about it." London, for Cyril, meant boundless opportunities to explore his newfound sexuality. But his freedom was limite: he was soon arrested, simply for being in a club frequented by queer men.
Cyril's story is Matt Houlbrook's point of entry into the queer worlds of early twentieth-century London. Drawing on previously unknown sources, from police reports and newspaper exposés to personal letters, diaries, and the first queer guidebook ever written, Houlbrook here explores the relationship between queer sexualities and modern urban culture that we take for granted today. He revisits the diverse queer lives that took hold in London's parks and streets; its restaurants, pubs, and dancehalls; and its Turkish bathhouses and hotels—as well as attempts by municipal authorities to control and crack down on those worlds. He also describes how London shaped the culture and politics of queer life—and how London was in turn shaped by the lives of queer men. Ultimately, Houlbrook unveils the complex ways in which men made sense of their desires and who they were. In so doing, he mounts a sustained challenge to conventional understandings of the city as a place of sexual liberation and a unified queer culture.
A history remarkable in its complexity yet intimate in its portraiture, Queer London is a landmark work that redefines queer urban life in England and beyond.
“A ground-breaking work. While middle-class lives and writing have tended to compel the attention of most historians of homosexuality, Matt Houlbrook has looked more widely and found a rich seam of new evidence. It has allowed him to construct a complex, compelling account of interwar sexualities and to map a new, intimate geography of London.”—Matt Cook, The Times Higher Education Supplement
Winner of History Today’s Book of the Year Award, 2006.
A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Praeger (June 30, 2007)
Amazon: A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages
The book explores the changing ways in which male-male sex and love have been perceived and experienced from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the present. Celebrated figures, such as Richard Lionheart, whose love for Philip Augustus of France was so well-documented, Oscar Wilde, gubject of the most explosive scandal of the Victorian period, and Derek Jarman, the great artist and chronicler of the age of AIDS, are examined alongside little-known figures: Eleanor/John Rykener, a cross-dresser in Chaucer's England, the mollies of eighteenth-century London, the habituants of underground gay bars and cafes in 1930s Manchester and Brighton, and the newly-confident gays of contemporary Britain, who marry, adopt children and command the increasingly powerful 'pink pound'. Drawing on a fabulous wealth of research, the authors - each an expert in his field - have worked closely together to deliver a powerful, highly-readable and eye-opening history of love and desire between men in Britain.
Tom Driberg by Francis Wheen
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Pan Books (April 10, 1992)
Amazon: Tom Driberg
A mysterious, influential and often extremely dubious man of affairs, Tom Driberg embodied many of the contradictions and ambiguities of his time. At Oxford, he was the friend of Auden, Betjeman, Hugh Gaitskell and his old school-chum, Evelyn Waugh; working on Beaverbrook's Express in the Thirties, he invented the modern gossip column; a close friend of Burgess and Maclean, he was widely suspected of being a double-agent, working for both British Intelligence and the KGB. As Chairman of the Labour Party, he was closely involved with the Wilson government, and an intimate of Nye Bevan and Richard Crossman; a keen High churchman, he was even better known as a "cottaging" habitue of London lavatories; a stalwart socialist, on the far left of the Labour Party, he was also an ardent socialite with a Georgian mansion in Essex.
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