Peter Wells was 26, his partner was 18. Because this was England in 1974, when the gay age of consent was 21, Wells was sentenced to two and a half years in jail. There, he was assaulted and abused by guards and inmates alike.
On release from prison, he was interviewed by Gay News just as songwriter Tom Robinson was composing "Glad to Be Gay". He devoted a verse to Wells' case, and that inspired this biography. As a generation comes of age who are incredulous that homosexuality was ever illegal, it is important to remember our social history.
Robinson had highlighted it topically but, nearly 40 years on, this book was conceived to do it historically, illustrating injustice with a typical life story. However, like all of us, on closer inspection Peter Wells turned out to have a more complicated life than first appeared.
Beyond the man himself, the Peter Wells story illuminates not only our persecution of gay men but other dark areas of our recent past too. His early years were fraught with tragedy, losing two sets of parents before his teens, after which he was sent to the barbarity of a "training ship" for orphaned and delinquent youths. Damaged youngsters were berated rather than counselled and the Victorian brutalization of children continued well into modern times. Peter Wells was a victim of it all.
Living in an affluent Surrey village in the late 1970s, behind his ostentatious social veneer he launched an anonymous case at the European Courts of Human Rights challenging the British government's age discrimination against gay men. It was pioneering work that paved the way for eventual parity. But, scarred by his abusive background, his life veered and he would not live to taste the liberty he initiated.
Trawling archives, tracing and speaking to many people who knew Wells, including the only interview his partner has ever given, this book uncovers the man and the times.
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- Victoria Miller