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Lord Montagu of Beaulieu admits he is bisexual
Lord Montagu has been talking about the time he was convicted by a jury of homosexual offence.
IT was Hampshire's trial of the century and it ended with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu being jailed for a year - convicted of homosexual offences at Winchester Assizes in 1954. The outcome of that trial was a seismic shift in public attitudes and a change in the law to legalise sex between gay adults.
Now, more than half a century later, the 80-year-old peer and founder of the National Motor Museum has spoken publicly for the first time about the case that rocked the Establishment and changed the course of British history.
Lord Montagu, who has always maintained his innocence, has admitted he is bisexual.
In an interview with a national newspaper he said: "I am bisexual. To describe it any other way would be dishonest. I remember feeling that I didn't have to apologise to anybody. I am what I am."
He was convicted along with Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world and scandalised high society.
The founder of the National Motor Museum and leading member of the British aristocracy Lord M has always maintained his innocence in 1954 court case which rocked society but led to change in gay laws
While giving evidence during the eight-day trial, Wildeblood dramatically admitted that he was gay, becoming one of the first British men to make such a public declaration during a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence carrying a maximum life jail sentence.
Although he denied allegations of sex with RAF male nurse Eddie McNally, Wildeblood's bold admission on the witness stand convinced the all-male jury to find the trio guilty.
To mark the 40th anniversary this month of homosexuality being decriminalised, Lord Montagu has taken part in a television documentary about the case and its aftermath, to be shown on Channel 4 on Saturday.
He told the programme makers: "I admired Peter Wildeblood very much because he was completely honest and spoke the truth.
"Of course, at that time we had no idea what they (the public) were thinking outside, nor did we know what the attitude was going to be from other people."
When the three men were led out of the court building to start their jail sentences, a gathered crowd burst into applause, mirroring the sympathy for them across the country and the outcry over the length of their prison terms.
Wildeblood and Pitt-Rivers, who was Lord Montagu's cousin, were both put behind bars for 18 months.
In the wake of the case the Home Office set up the Wolfenden Committee to consider changing the law. Consensual sex in private between homosexuals, was approved by Parliament in 1967.
Lord Montagu, who has since married twice, said: "Peter Wildeblood did very well indeed, turning himself into a crusader to have the law changed."
Wildeblood had met 28-year-old aristocratic socialite Edward Montagu, Third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, through a publicity agent and they became friends.
Lord Montagu invited him to stay at his isolated beach hut in Beaulieu in August 1952, along with 23-year-old Eddie McNally, with whom Wildeblood had developed a relationship, and Corporal McNally's RAF pal John Reynolds.
In January 1954, police launched simultaneous dawn raids on Wildeblood, Montagu and Pitt-Rivers, who had also been staying at Beaulieu that weekend.
Lord Montagu said: "I will never forget being woken up at 7am with the police banging on the (bedroom) door, and I was in bed alone, may I say.
"Then I was carted off to a local town and I was charged in Her Majesty's court."
The trio were charged with several indecency offences against the two RAF men and also conspiring with Lord Montagu to commit them.
Their arrests were part of a crackdown on homosexuals by Churchill's Government amid the height of Cold War paranoia, following the defection of gay spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union.
McNally and Reynolds turned Queen's Evidence and testified for the prosecution against the three defendants in court.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: "Part of a season marking the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this film tells the extraordinary story of the high society court case that scandalised society, electrified the nation and changed the course of British history.
"Mixing drama with documentary testimony, including that of Lord Montagu, this moving film brings to life the extraordinary events of the trial and paints a vivid picture of gay life in 1950s Britain."
A Very British Sex Scandal will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm on Saturday July 27.