How Much Is Owed to People Like Peter - Issue 13 . Summer 2003
We’re sad to report the death, at the age of 60, of Peter Ludlam (pictured right), who for many years worked at Downsview Special School (for children with learning difficulties) and was a prominent member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and of Brighton Gay Switchboard. Here, Eric remembers for us some turbulent times he shared with Peter in 1979.
“I want to talk about Peter Radclyffe Ludlam, to give him his full name. I met him through CHE in the late 1970s and he stood out somewhat from the rest of us, because we were all of us, maybe a few liberals, but really ardent reds! The radicals certainly were the major part of the group and he was the only Tory. And that made him almost one of the enemy, from the campaign point of view. But he always insisted somebody should be campaigning in the Tory Party, not least of all because he said there were a great many closet gays in the Tory Party and they were just as interested as anybody else in seeing law reform.
Quite a brave man
So quite a brave man, in the sense that he no great friends within the group – although I took to him and think quite a number of people did. He always gave this self-assured image of a person that knew just what was what and how things should be done.
He was very, very active. He lived in Wilbury Villas then, in a maisonette and did quite a lot of the entertaining for CHE because he had a huge, huge lounge and frequently hosted various functions, including jumble sales in the garden. So he was very much a live wire within the group.
Word is Out
But we became particularly close after the Wagner Hall incident and that’s what I really think has to be emphasised – how much is owed to people like Peter.
It was a screening of an American film called Word is Out – part of the gay rights movement from America. It was little biographies of mostly couples – gay and lesbian – who’d successfully maintained a relationship through the difficult twenties, thirties and forties, if I remember rightly.
Word is Out:
conversations with 26 gay women and men, screened at the Wagner Hall in Brighton
23 January 1979
For example, I remember the lesbian couple who set up a smallholding in the midwest. They grew herbs and vegetables and the community in which they lived weren’t the least bit fazed. And at the other end of the scale, there was a guy who’d had a partner and who was in banking in New York.
Anyway, the thing is that the National Front attacked the event. The place was absolutely packed. We were sitting at a table at right angles to the door and taking money and suddenly all these guys rushed in and threw over the table. I remember the guy that led them said, “Right, let’s have them, lads,” or something like that.
And we jumped up and Peter and I actually grappled with them. And they realised that this wasn’t going to be a pushover, that there was opposition and they attempted to leave. And we pursued them, like fools, into the street, thinking OK, there were maybe half a dozen of them but we thought there was at least half a dozen of us – and there were only the two of us – and we ended up in hospital.
Peter and I were a little bit shaken and not least because sitting round that table had been some of the most articulate radicals from the university who didn’t hesitate about lecturing us about political correctness – things that were quite new to me. (It was enough learning about the gay issues themselves). But we thought, where were they at that moment? And there was a way in which what Peter and I had done was not made a big deal of and I think really it should have been fêted.
I was a bit taken aback that Peter could pass away in this way and nobody knew what he’d done – what a brave man he was.”