John’s review of A Class Apart by James Gardiner

Monty (1)A Class Apart

By James Gardiner

1999

A Class Apart is a selection of photographs and letters culled from the archive of Montague Glover (1898-1983) documenting the intimate, rarely recorded lives of gay men in Britain from the First World War to the 1950s.  The book features Glover’s three obsessions: the Armed Forces, working-class men, and his lifelong lover Ralph Hall. (Blurb)

There is so much in this book that is resonant for men who grew up well before liberation and well before the easier availability of homoerotic visual material. For younger people, it is a valuable and insightful document into the not-so-distant past.

Montague Glover was an archetypical middle-class Englishman coming from a comfortable family background and a Public School Education, pre-war reserve and active military service in WWI as an officer who was awarded the Military Cross. Post-war he took up training as an architect and practised with mild distinction for 30 years.

There were, however, two things that set him apart. He had a strong interest and capability as a photographer and he was a lover of men who found love for himself. These two combined to produce a remarkable photographic and textual record of his time, something that was, and remains, unique – a treasured record of an unspoken and unremembered time.

This book uses only a portion of his photographic material as well as extracts from his frank diary and other sources to document his initial interest in all kinds of ‘rough trade’ including servicemen on the loose in London (the somewhat notorious Guardsmen feature) and all kinds of “manly” working class men and some cruisers or prostitutes.

The photographs from this period include outside cruising shots as well as interior posed shots taken in his flat featuring a parade of men often dressed in his favoured fetishes.

The love of his life was Ralph who came from a working-class background and had all the much-desired external attributes. This proved not to be just a physical match for both but a lover affair that endured over thirty years till Monty died in 1983 while Ralph followed four years later. The photos, diaries and letters that cover that period are a genuinely loving and touching insight into a relationship which must have occurred in other instances but about which we will never know.

Do you remember the old days when we first started darling. I went back all over it again last night. What a time we had in them days and I am sorry to say I am crying I canot hold it back no more my Darling. I love you my old Darling. I do miss you ever such a lot my dear as you know my dear.” This was Ralph writing to Monty while serving in the RAF in 1940.

This is a book to savour and enjoy and not just for grubby reasons!

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