RACHEL LAMB talks exclusively to the third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu as he breaks his silence on his fascinating life and talks for the first time about his sexuality

DURING the 1950s homosexuality was not only severely frowned upon but also illegal. Anyone who had "come out" as openly gay was shunned and often prosecuted for acts of gross indecency. Many who expressed gay tendencies were forced to conduct a secret life, expressing their true sexuality at underground parties and clandestine liaisons.

In 1954 a 27-year-old hereditary peer fresh from Oxford and a member of the Grenadier Guards, was one of those who was forced to hide his attraction to men.

"My attraction to both sexes neither changed nor diminished at university and it was comforting to find that I was not the only person faced with such a predicament,'' said Lord Montagu.

"I agonised less than my contemporaries, for I was reconciled to my bisexuality, but I was still nervous about being exposed."

But, as careful as Lord Montagu was to hide his sexual tendencies, a dramatic development, which was to change his young life, took that decision out of his hands.

He was charged and committed for trial at Winchester Assizes. Firstly in 1953 for allegedly taking sexual advantage of a 14-year-old boy Scout at his Solent beach hut and then, when they could not make those charges stick, he was arrested again and charged in 1954 with performing "gross offences" with an RAF orderly.

Speaking today in the grandeur of his Beaulieu library, which he tells me was once a bedroom when he was a child, he is reluctant to go into too much detail about that period in his life; reluctant despite it being only a few weeks to the launch of his autobiography in which he talks candidly and honestly about the arrests and his subsequent prosecution.

"I'm not prepared to talk about all that business," he proclaimed. "It's all in my book, I don't want to make a big thing of it."

But, when a Peer of the Realm maintains a dignified silence about such a cause clbre for 45 years, both he and I know that it is going to be the focus of many interviews, much debate and even more speculation.

There was no way Lord Montagu, a rather theatrical-looking figure - almost shy and retiring on first impression - could avoid the subject of his arrests and prison term when the main reason for him writing his autobiography was to deal with that period in his life; a key part of his history about which he has never spoken, and to prevent an unauthorised biographer cashing in on his story and embellishing it beyond truth.

"It is but a small part of my life and I have said what needs to be said and will not dwell on it any more,'' he added.

Yet, when asked why, after all this time, he has decided to relive his memories of that time and reveal, on the record, the fact that he is bisexual, he inevitably comes back to that time in 1954 and cannot avoid explaining the reasons for his calculated actions.

"I have not said a word since 1954 and I've known of several attempts from people trying to write a book about this subject and, quite frankly, wanted to get my word in first.

"Several times people have tried to get me to talk or comment and certainly after my death a book would inevitably emerge, so I thought it would be terribly good to put the record straight while I was still compos mentis.

"Also, the work I have done establishing and making a success of the motor museum, which today is world-renowned, and my work for the Historic Houses Association and English heritage I also believed were of interest.

"It was never my intention to become a martyr for the 'gay' cause . . . nevertheless, recently there are increasing signs - an essay in the pink press here, a university thesis there - that the 'Montagu Case' is beginning to take its place in homosexual lore and in the history of sexual legislation.

For more of Lord Montagu's story get the WEEKEND Magazine - free with tonight's Southern Daily Echo

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