Cambridge and homosexual harassment

When I went up to Cambridge in October 1960, I found myself, for the first time, in the company of public schoolboys. My college (Corpus Christi) boasted – if that’s the word – a higher proportion of them than most, about 90%, I would say, all fitting in perfectly naturally to the ethos of the place, which I, at first, found strange and rather wonderful. They were all very pleasant to me, despite my ‘Estuary’ accent and the fact that I had lived at home during my school years, and I made close friends of a number of them. But there was always this barrier – of adolescent experience – between us. They knew things that I didn’t.

One thing was the proclivities of one particular Fellow of the college, the Rev E Garth Moore; who was obviously notorious in public school circles as a sexual predator: a fact that they felt they needed to warn me of, as a (comparatively) plebbish ingénu. ‘If Garth invites you to tea in his rooms’, one of them told me on my first day in college, ‘don’t go. We know about him. You won’t understand.’ I think they were trying to protect me from embarrassment, rather than from any worse fate. It was kind of them. Anyhow, I did get the invitation, and politely turned it down.

After that first tea party I was filled in on what had gone on. The conversation had turned to art, and in particular the art of the nude. Garth had a theory, that the ideal of the male body differed in Greek and mediaeval times. It rested on proportions. He then got his guests to strip to the thighs, and measured each of them ‘from nipple to nipple, and nipple to crutch’, to determine whether they conformed to the Greek or the Gothic ideal. My new upper-class friends were right; I would have been embarrassed. He also used to walk naked in our college gardens, among the students there.

Garth was a tutor in Law, his first specialism before he became ordained in the Church of England. He had high-up positions in the Church hierarchy: as ‘Chancellor’ of various dioceses, whatever that means; as well as being the part-time vicar of a London parish. His main published academic work – possibly his only one – was a slim guide to Canon Law. Later, when I became a Fellow of the college, I got to know him better, and instinctively took against him. He had extreme right-wing views; but it was his general air of polite but sinister creepiness that alienated me. He was one of the reasons – though not the main one – why I resigned my Fellowship two years later, to take up a Lectureship at Hull, where I felt far more comfortable. Cambridge, as I say, was a different world. Or was I just unlucky in my choice of college?

Garth Moore died in 1990. But yesterday the Guardian ‘outed’ him on its front page as the perpetrator of ‘a sadistic assault’ on a 16 year-old boy named ‘Joe’ in his London flat in 1976: (In fact he was originally outed by the Church Times last December, but I somehow missed that.) That was in connection with the Church hierarchy’s ‘covering up’ of complaints such as Joe’s. All very Spotlight. But I’d have thought responsibility rested equally with my college, acting – as universities were supposed to then – in loco parentis. Garth had young men in his care. I was only three years older than ‘Joe’ when I came across him. They might at least have warned me.

Of course it’s a big jump from an interest in young men’s bodies to full-scale rape. I very much doubt whether Garth assaulted any of my friends at Corpus. (Consensual sex, possibly. Some of my friends were clearly up for it.) And perhaps one should not be too judgmental of men afflicted with urges from which, mercifully, onesself is free. Then, of course, there’s the time and place to take into account. The atmosphere was different in the 1960s. From what I gathered from my public school friends, these things were accepted among their class then. For them, it was all a part of growing up; a bit like girls having to learn to cope with heterosexual harassment.  Garth’s ‘nipple to crutch’ fondlings were just a bit of fun.

Perhaps they were. It was only the lower orders, with their stiff morality, who objected. Or were embarrassed, like me. And the upper classes had pretty fool-proof ways then – mainly their tribal loyalty – of hiding it from them. It’s this, I think, that repelled me most: the subterfuge and conspiracy that surrounded them. (Certainly not the homosexuality per se. Though its illegality at this time will have been largely responsible for the secrecy.) Later, when I began researching into the history of MI5, that made a lot of sense to me.

I notice that the Guardian report doesn’t mention Garth Moore’s role at Cambridge. I don’t suppose that, back at Corpus, they’ll thank me for this exposé (if they get to see it – here or on the LRB blog, where I’ve also posted a version: There goes my invitation to the next reunion dinner! But those are pretty ghastly occasions anyway. The upper classes don’t seem to improve when they grow up. (Apart from three or four like-minded old friends I met last time. You’re exonerated.)

I hasten to add that I was never importuned personally at Cambridge. I probably wasn’t attractive enough. Or Garth suspected (without checking) that my nipple-to-crutch ratio was wrong. In fact I was very happy there. Until I joined the Fellowship, and was forced into the company of the likes of him.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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3 Responses to Cambridge and homosexual harassment

  1. Pingback: Edward Heath | Porter’s Pensées

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  3. Since this post first appeared, I’ve had confirmation of GM’s awfulness from a number of my old college friends – one tells me he used to give Law tutorials lying naked in the bath – and similar stories, featuring other predatory dons, from other Cambridge colleges, attached as comments to my LRB blog. I imagine that young women students experienced much the same thing, but they were far fewer – the ratio in my time was about 1:10 – and in separate, female-only colleges, one of them (Girton) deliberately built far away from male harassers, at any rate. Did you get the same from elderly lesbians?


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