Ruling Passions – Tom Driberg

RP 2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The real life labour politician discovered anglo-catholicism and cottaging during the same weekend. He was well-know to the police but the establishment covered everything up so that he never got prosecuted.

This book was published posthumously and disclosed the conflict between the three passions that drove his life: his homosexuality (he pursued casual and risky encounters compulsively, going cottaging and using rent boys), his left-wing political beliefs, and his allegiance to Anglo-Catholicism.

The Sunday Telegraph claimed that it set “a new low which is unlikely to pass unnoticed by the rest of the world“, and The Sun called it “the biggest outpouring of literary dung a public figure has ever flung into print“.

He was educated at Lancing College, whose chapel he found depressingly moderately high church and uninspiring. He made friends with another pupil, Evelyn Waugh, but was required to leave following sexual advances to other boys. He studied classics at Christ Church, Oxford but failed to take a degree.

In the autumn of 1935 he gave two unemployed miners a place with him in his bed, but when his hands began to wander the men went to report him at the local police station. On 12 November 1935 Tom Driberg ended up in court at the Old Bailey on a charge of indecent assault, but he was found not guilty. His boss at the Express, Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken), ensured that there was no press coverage, although Tom Driberg had to go to see the editor of The News of the World. Despite rumours on Fleet Street the story never made the papers.

He was prepared to proposition any man, no matter how securely heterosexual they might appear, with the notable exception of men with beards, which may explain why so many Labour party MPs had beards.

Winston Churchill described Driberg as ‘a man who gave sodomy a bad name’

Evelyn Waugh, in Brideshead Revisited, may have had Driberg in mind when the novel’s protagonist Charles Ryder is warned on arrival at Oxford to “beware of Anglo-Catholics… they’re all sodomites with unpleasant accents”.

Tom as he was known to his friends, was a charming and likeable man. A very ‘clubable’ man, in the language of the day, who spend his leisure hours at sundry Soho drinking dens, in particular spending his time at the aptly named Gay Hussar his favourite restaurant. He included within his circle of friends such names as Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, and Evelyn Waugh, in addition to many of his fellow left wing MPs such as Michael Foot. A regular guest, at the homosexual orgies run by the East End gangster Ronnie Kray (where some allege he was joined by his friend Robert Boothby), he once entertained the idea of persuading Mick Jagger to head a new leftwing party with ‘youth appeal’ (”Oh my, Mick, what a big basket you have!”).

Towards the end of his life, he surprised everyone by getting married (to the equally devout socialist Mrs. Ena Mary Binfield).


(Of his home town) “a place which I can never revisit, or think of, without a feeling of sick horror”.

chronic, life long love-hate relationship with lavatories“;

“enthusiastic apostle of the doctrine that there is no such thing as a heterosexual male, but some are a bit obstinate”,

(Of Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson) “deeply prejudiced puritans

“The passing of the sexual offences act, welcome though it was, really made no difference to the problems of the lonely and the promiscuous…(For them, the best solution would be licensed male brothels, “run by respectable persons, with charges strictly controlled … such as I have occasionally patronised in New York and San Francisco”.

”Only sissies like women”.

Only a few hours after I had been introduced to the House, when I was still wondering about in a daze, and lost, Chips kindly showed me round the most important rooms – the Members’ lavatories. This was an act of pure, disinterested, sisterly friendship, for we had no physical attraction for each other.

The thrills were twofold. First came the exhilaration of danger: the permanent risk of being caught and exposed. Second was the sense of superiority that a double life could give. What bliss it was to enter the House of Commons, bow to the speaker, and take your seat amid the trappings of lawmaking, having five minutes earlier fellated a guardsman (and on one unforgettable occasion, a policeman) in the crapper in St. James’ Park.

sex was only enjoyable with someone you had never met before, and would never meet again

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