Quite rightly, there is a shocking quality to his picture of British anti-Semitism, trumpeted unabashedly in the smaller newspapers and an idée fixe for a certain sort of older politico. As early as 1932, returning from Germany, Bernays wrote that he was in “no doubt that the drive against the Jews is increasing in ferocity” as Hitler’s support base spread. Many at home would take some time to come around to this view. By then, of course, it was too late. Equally shocking is Bryant’s reminder of the pressures faced by gay men in this period, the very real dangers of discovery in a harshly unforgiving climate. Bryant invests his forgotten cast with heroism, proof of the grit, determination, bravery and resourcefulness lurking behind exteriors frequently written off as “flamboyant”.
The Glamour Boys focuses on MPs such as Ronnie Cartland, Jack Macnamara, Harold Nicolson, Bob Boothby, Victor Cazalet — all homosexual or bisexual, albeit generally discreet — who took on the Chamberlain machine from the backbenches, and the ministers Philip Sassoon and Robert Bernays, who opposed appeasement from within. Many of them were long suspected of harbouring musical inclinations. When Cazalet reminded everyone that he was a bachelor in a speech in 1930, the gossip magazine Bystander miaowed that “as a matter of fact, his double-breasted beige waistcoat told one that”
Nevertheless this speculation opens up rich areas for future research. It’s tantalising to think what caches of love letters and diaries might yet turn up (Barbara Cartland is said to have destroyed her brother’s papers, but you never know). It feels like there’s much more of this period in queer history to come, and that this groundbreaking book is just an important start.
he has done them honour, reminding the world that gay people are every bit as various as heterosexuals. He has handled the difficult form of group biography skilfully, using a great deal of never before published material, and introducing us to a number of little known figures, notably Cartland and the gallant and dashing Macnamara. The one thing Bryant is unable to explore is the intimate lives of these people, because they avoided at all costs confiding their emotional and indeed carnal experiences to paper, so neither letters nor diaries give us even glimpses of their deepest feelings.