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The Spiv and the Architect

Unruly Life in Postwar London

Richard Hornsey

Publication Year: 2010

As London emerged from the devastation of the Second World War, planners and policymakers sought to rebuild the city in ways that would reshape the behavior of its citizens as much as it would its buildings and infrastructure—a program defined by a strong emphasis on civic order and conservative values of national community. One of the groups most significantly affected by this new, moralistic climate of reformation and renewal was queer men, whom the police, the media, and lawmakers targeted as an urgent urban problem by marking their lives and desires as criminal and deviant.
In The Spiv and the Architect, Richard Hornsey examines how queer men legitimized, resisted, and reinvented this ambitious reconstruction program, which extended from the design of basic public spaces and municipal libraries to private living rooms and home decor. From their association with the urban stereotype of the spiv (slang for a young petty criminal who lived by his wits and shirked legitimate work) and vilification in the tabloids as perverts to the assimilated homosexuals within reformist psychology, Hornsey details how these efforts to transform London fundamentally restructured the experiences and identities of gay men in the city and throughout the country.
Providing the first critical history of this cultural moment, In The Spiv and the Architect weaves together a vast archive of sources—canvases and photobooth self-portraits by the painter Francis Bacon, urban planning documents and drawings, popular fiction and films, autobiographical and psychological accounts of homosexuality, design exhibitions about the modern British home, and the library books defaced by the playwright Joe Orton—to present both a radically revised account of homosexuality in postwar London and an important new narrative about mid-twentieth-century British modernity.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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Introduction: Social Modernism and Male Homosexuality in Postwar London

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pp. 1-38

In the summer of 1954, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Conservative Home Secretary, asked John Wolfenden to form a Departmental Committee to make recommendations on the twin problems of male homosexuality and female prostitution. During the previous half-decade, both of these phenomena...

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1. Reconstructing Everyday Life in the Atomic Age

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pp. 39-79

After the blitz had devastated great swaths of London, but long before final victory had been secured, planners, designers, and policy makers were already presenting its inhabitants with ambitious projections of what life would be like in the postwar metropolis. The reformist potential of modern...

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2. The Perversity of the Zigzag: The Criminality of Queer Urban Desire

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pp. 81-116

Warth’s presumption of an outraged readership for whose sake the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding urban vice must now be broken was a journalistic trope with a distinguished heritage. In the 1880s and 1890s, the “new journalism” associated with radical titles like the Pall Mall Gazette...

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3. Trial by Photobooth: The Public Face of the Homosexual Citizen

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pp. 117-161

In 1952, Gordon Westwood (a pseudonym of the sociologist Michael Schofield) published his book Society and the Homosexual, an “attempt to evaluate the social implications of homosexuality” for a general nontechnical readership. Deploying a similar rhetoric to Douglas Warth’s contemporaneous...

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4. Of Public Libraries and Paperbacks: The Sexual Geographies of Reading

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pp. 163-200

As the 1950s progressed, the reformist blueprint for the respectable homosexual gained an increased cultural currency within Britain. Promulgated across a range of forums, from therapeutic communities to the more “enlightened” popular media, it brought with it a significant shift in prescriptive...

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5. Life in the Cybernetic Bedsit: Interior Design and the Homosexual Self

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pp. 201-245

During the early postwar era, the private home emerged as one of the most contested sites in the concerted drive for social reconstruction and renewal. Planners, policy makers, and other public experts paid particular attention to domestic space, now presented as a formative space of national citizenship...

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Conclusion: City of Any Dream

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pp. 247-261

If the collages pasted on Orton and Halliwell’s bedsit walls were largely enabled by the cultural prominence of Do-It-Yourself in the later 1950s, then it is equally interesting that for Jane Gaskell writing for the Daily Sketch in 1966, its component images should be naturally presented as having been...

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pp. 263-264

As with many first books, this one has taken a while, so perhaps it’s best if I proceed chronologically. First, then, a big thank you to Adrian Rifkin for screening The Lavender Hill Mob as part of his M.A. module “Cities and Film” in 1995. From a small epiphany half an hour later (over a plate...


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pp. 265-291


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pp. 293-310

About the Author

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pp. 311-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673438
E-ISBN-10: 0816673438
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816653157

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2010