'Sailor Ted' and the defrocked clergy

By Mary Kenny
Irish Independent
August 9, 2015

Keen boatman: As British Prime Minister, Ted Heath was often assumed to be asexual

It has frequently been pointed out that attitudes to sexuality were different in the 1960s and 1970s: and this has been especially stressed when personalities from the past - like the late British prime minister Edward Heath - are retrospectively suspected of sexual abuse.

Attitudes certainly were once very different: an individual's sexual conduct was generally considered to be something private - unless it emerged in a sensational divorce case, or a major sex scandal like the Profumo affair.

In the Westminster village - which extended to Fleet Street - there was plenty of casual gossip, and loud guffaws of laughter in the various watering-holes about the sexuality of certain personalities, but it wasn't regarded as a public issue.

If (the late) Tom Driberg, ennobled as Baron Bradwell - a crony of Labour prime minister Harold Wilson and one of the grandees of British politics of the time - liked to engage teenage rent boys for his entertainment, well, he was sensible enough not to get caught, wasn't he? Driberg, strong socialist and High Anglican, once explained to a colleague of mine in El Vino that he found the best protection against any member of the constabulary collaring him in a compromising situation was a handy £50 note in his breast pocket. This was met with chortles of laughter, as I recall. Wise old Tom!

As Driberg was on good terms with the Soviets, there was rather more speculation as to whether he might be a spy or a double-agent. Funny that the Russians had never blackmailed him.

Certain MPs were known to be sexually "dodgy" - there were always rumours about the late Cyril Smith, MP for Rochdale, and the boys he seemed so interested in: but those who raised such questions, like the late Geoffrey Dickens MP, were dismissed as "moralisers" - and "Mary Whitehouses".

It was known, in those days, that the best proof-readers on The Times were unfrocked clergymen. They were valued because they usually had a classical education, and were meticulous about spotting printing errors that might occur. What, I asked, had they been unfrocked for? "Oh the usual - interfering with a choirboy," I was told lightly.

They tended to be Anglican rather than Roman Catholic (ie, posher), but though they had been unfrocked from priestly duties, I don't recall any case where they were actually prosecuted. When, later, the Catholic church tried to deal with paedophile clergy within the institution - they sent Brendan Smyth to a shrink six times - they were following in a tradition of virtually all other institutions.

We now know that this led to great injustices, where children and young people weren't believed about deplorable incidents of abuse: and the Jimmy Savile scandal finally brought about a complete volte-face in attitudes to dealing with crimes of abuse. Since then, the various British police forces have been keen to address, root out, and if necessary to trawl for, historical episodes of sexual crimes.

And thus has the name of Ted Heath emerged in a historic investigation of child abuse this week when the Independent Police Complaints Commission appealed for anyone who might have been abused by Sir Edward to come forward. This was prompted by a claim, previously not followed up, that Heath had raped a 12-year-old boy in 1961, when he was a Kent MP. Five police forces from England and the Channel Islands are involved, and it was reported that dozens of allegations were subsequently received about Ted Heath (who died in 2005).

This disclosure stunned Heath's friends and those who had worked with him. His biographers, the meticulous Philip Ziegler and forensic John Campbell, had found no evidence of any sexual activity in Heath's life. Yes, there had been plenty of speculation about 'Sailor Ted's' - as he was dubbed " by Private Eye - personal life, but the rumour-mill always had it that he "batted for neither side". Ted was asexual, and uninterested in intimate relations. Or he was a homosexual who chose to remain celibate.

Nowadays, there is a theory that anyone who affirms celibacy is more likely to be pervy in some way. If Ted Heath had paedophile leanings, it could be because he repressed his sexuality, it's suggested. He'd have been healthier out of the closet.

A thorough investigation there must be - even if some of those associated with this case, like the brothel-owner Myra Ling-Ling Forde, who has served a prison sentence for procuring teenage prostitutes, do not wholly inspire confidence. But in a drastically changed sexual climate, Edward Heath's may not be the last name to figure on a historic sexual abuse investigation.




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