TO BE OR NOT TO BE A SCHOOL TART AT ETON, 1946-7
Alexander George Thynn (spelt Thynne at the time under consideration), 7th Marquess of Bath (born 6 May 1932) is the owner of Longleat in Wiltshire, one of the greatest English country houses, and is amorously most famous for having installed over seventy “wifelets” in cottages on his estate there. However, what are presented here are the extracts of Greek love interest from Book II, Top Hat and Tails (2003), of Volume I, Strictly Private, of his memoirs, which concern his time as a junior boy at Eton, England’s foremost public school.
Chapter II and IV of this, concerning his time at Eton aged fourteen to fifteen, when he was known by his courtesy title of (Viscount) Weymouth, and flirted dangerously with becoming a “school tart”, a junior boy who acquiesced in being the object of sexual longing of his seniors, offers rich insight into Eton’s pederastic culture, always varying according to the particular boys' house and the precise time.
I had already been well adapted to the idea of boarding schools: from the age of nine in fact, and I had now reached that ripe age of thirteen. But Eton was different to Ludgrove in that it was so much larger. It was more like going to live in a town, rather than a school, but the townspeople were all related to one another - in the sense of belonging to the same community.
This was an inactive period for me sexually, from every point of view: by which I mean that there were very few homosexual opportunities for me either. When I first arrived at the house, Jaques' was notorious as a bit of a pi tutor's. (Pi being the Etonian abbreviation for the word pious, or relatively pure in its members' sexual pursuits.) That was to change during the period I was there, but not especially through any fault of mine!
The most overtly sexual experiences that I encountered over this period took place back at Sturford Mead during the holidays, and were indeed of a homosexual nature - mild enough though they were. It was homosexual horseplay similar to much that had gone on at Ludgrove, with myself and my two brothers stripping off naked in the company of Dicky Rawlings, who was Christopher's local friend, the son of a publican. I think they were pretending to be cows, with myself playing the role of stud bull. But we never really did very much to one another, although we managed to shock Dicky's father on one occasion by marching into the drawing room at Sturford wearing Mexican hats in the place of jock-straps. The fact of it all being done so openly however, was indicative of its innocent nature. And I heard Henry trying to reassure the publican that he shouldn't worry about our antics.
Something that I found disconcerting, back at Eton, was the way Old Ludgrovians in general had a reputation for `shiftiness' as it was called: meaning a propensity to indulge in homosexual activities. Coming from a pi tutor's, it took me some while to discover that we had been attributed with this characteristic, but the memory of how I myself had behaved at Ludgrove afflicted me with a certain feeling of appropriate guilt to the charge. I felt as if I had something in my past, which I hoped would remain hidden, even if my present conduct could be described as being relatively innocent.
Towards the end of my first year however, I found there were some boys in particular amongst my contemporaries at Jaques', with whom the whole subject of sex was treated as something interesting for discussion. There weren't many of them I might add. But with Iain Graham-Wigan and Michael Parker, the discussions soon became quite a regular event within our lives: usually of an evening after all items of extra work had been completed, grouped round a coal fire in one person's room, or anther's.
Parker minor was the oldest, and therefore dominant in that his views were seldom really challenged. I remember accepting that I must be talking nonsense when he had rebutted my statement that prostitutes still walked the streets of Piccadilly at night. There seemed to be no answer to his assertion that the Metropolitan police force would never permit them to get away with it. G-Wigan and myself were contending on equal terms for credibility, but we were both cautious about the knowledge we had to offer.
Something that I did begin to learn about was the way there was a multitude of petty sexual scandals taking place at Eton, involving boys whom we knew by sight if not actually to talk to. And the greatest number of these scandals involved the activities of those who were recognised as being the school tarts: boys who might otherwise be described as being the best looking members of the Lower school. There was one scandal in particular which was just coming to a head, and this involved [C], who was in fact in the same division for French as myself at the time; so I regarded him fringely as a friend. Then suddenly he disappeared from the scene, and no one would answer me straight as to what had become of him. Or not until Parker explained to me what had happened. (But this tale has to be omitted.)
There were some other tales too within the repertoire of current scandal, most of which involved the suspected activity of the school tarts. I learnt the extent of the interest which was focused upon these boys, and how all the information that we acquired about them was passed on and treasured. People would look to see what they were up to during the morning services in Lower Chapel: if they happened to be smiling at anyone, and whether they looked comfortable within their own skins. Indeed we felt a certain affection, even admiration for them, in that they furnished us with such interesting items for gossip.
I was also becoming aware - perhaps for the first time - how I myself was regarded as being good looking. Indeed, I was genuinely naïve on this subject, as I was to discover for example when, several years in retrospect, I was to learn that [D] who was just a very little older than myself, was quite enamoured of me at this time - without me having the faintest idea that he was always watching me in Lower Chapel and such places. I was to be told later how he ordered an enlargement of Jaques's house photograph, so that he could cut out the portion which contained myself, and have it framed. I hadn't the faintest idea about any of this: not even when I received an anonymous gift of a sheath knife, in a mysterious parcel that was sent to me at Sturford for my fourteenth birthday. I merely assumed that someone had been absentminded in omitting their letter of explanation. It was only after I had in fact left Eton behind me that I was teased on the subject by a friend who was in the know, because he had been in the same tutor's as [D]. And even then, the revelation came as a total surprise to me.
When learning about the scandalous activities of the school tarts however, I did find that my curiosity had been kindled as to whether I had as much of this beauty as might be required to emulate their successes - without actually sinking so low as to let any of those who wooed them to score the success of seducing me. I was aware how Etonian morality condemned such behaviour, and I wanted to be admired rather than despised. But since I was now in the period when I was fast approaching puberty, I found myself fantasizing to some extent as to what it might be like getting seduced by one of the older boys who were notorious in these matters.
Apart from my attempts to look suitably angelic in the Lower Chapel, there were fun and games when swimming at Cuckoo Weir. The Upper boys all swam in the neighbouring stretch of water at Warr's Mead, segregated perhaps for the good reason of keeping their eyes and their hands off the Lower boys. But there was still an element of homosexual display within either section of the bathing compound. And I noted how my popularity seemed to be rising, as I flaunted myself in all the games where one endeavours to evade capture from those who had already been caught, and were strung out in a long line with hands joined. I was usually amongst the last to be caught, and delighted in the way that I was thus receiving the full focus of the communal attention. And I relished the fact that they were pleased to find once again, that it was me they were virtually willing to be the catch that they were all saving up to be the last. While slithering this way and that, to outflank or wriggle through the middle of their net, I was conscious of myself as a sexual being. So It may be true to say that I was gradually developing into one of the school tarts.
But I had yet to reach the age of puberty. In my conversations with Parker minor and Graham-Wigan, the subject of masturbation was discussed - or tossing off, as it was called at Eton. But there was a puritanical streak within Parker's sexual attitude, and we never became too personal on the subject. The comments that were made however, did inspire me to have a good try after lights out, to attain a full orgasm; and it piqued me greatly that I was evidently still too immature, physically, to have this happen. I was obliged to conclude that I must be a bit of a late developer when it came to sexual matters.
4.1: Sex: a gravely traumatic period
I was now coming up to the first gravely traumatic experience in my life, which (almost inevitably) involved the question of my sexual image in the eyes of my peer group. As previously described, I had been drifting towards an inclusion within what Etonians categorised as the school tarts. Much was true in this description, plus the inner knowledge that I was guilty of homosexual practices at Ludgrove. Potentially, this was a sin which had yet to be expiated.
All of this came to a head in the summer of 1947. I had overcome my initial unpopularity within my own tutor's, and was generally rising upon a wave of popularity amongst my contemporaries within the school. But in revealing my potential as a tart, I had never quite realised what a dangerous game I was playing, to the extent that I was transgressing the codes of acceptable moral conduct.
During the previous half, the Easter half, I had perhaps reached my prime in such activity. This was the time when I was consciously attempting to look as beautiful as possible when sitting there in the Lower Chapel. But what embarrassed me was the instant success of such behaviour. I found that [E] for example was waiting for me one Sunday morning as I came out from the chapel, suggesting that he come back to my room with me. Although I had enjoyed the process of tarting, I was alarmed at its consequence - in that I had no intention of permitting anyone to make sexual advances to me. In other words I had just been cock- teasing, and was now concerned to keep others with me, so that there would be no possibility of [E] taking the initiative into his own hands.
I also became aware how [G], who had a certain notoriety in the school for his dandified appearance and for his pursuit of younger boys, was now visibly smiling at me when our paths crossed in the street. And on one occasion I found him waiting in the street outside m'tutor's, in the company of someone his own age, whose name I didn't know, but whom was later to be identified as [F]. [G] commiserated with me for having lost my boxing match in the semi-finals against [E]. He himself was the school's heavy-weight champion incidentally.
I was to learn later that [F] had crashed upon me - as is said at Eton: which is just to say that he had developed a crush on me. Being of a shy disposition however, he didn't know how to initiate a friendship with me, and I suppose [G] had been showing him how this might be done. [G] came from Wilkinson's, the tutor's which was next to mine, so that our respective windows looked out on one another's over their large garden. Too distant for him really to see what might be going on in my room, but [F] was in the Shooting VIII and possessed a telescope. Moreover he messed on his own and, as I was later to be told, he had developed the habit of sitting there with his telescope on the table, trained upon my window. For my own habit was to sit by my open window when messing with [B] and [M]. So he had plenty of opportunity to study my angelic face, without me having any idea of what was going on.
There had been one occasion towards the end of that half when we noticed, during the mess hour, that some boys at Wilkinson's were flashing a mirror across the garden so that it dazzled my eyes. I had supposed it to be someone that I knew at their tutor's, just fooling around in signalling to me. So I leant out of the window, waiting for them to identify themselves. But as I learnt later, their real intention had been an effort to get me to draw my curtain - thus depriving [F] of his view of me. Apparently it had become a big joke in their house, after they had identified the object of his amorous attention by the simple method of looking down his telescope after he had been called from his room. But the sight of me leaning out from my window, after they had been flashing their signals at me, merely convinced them that I was a willing target for his amorous gaze. So it seems that my notoriety as a school tart now began to get out of hand. And all of this was happening without me knowing about what was going on.
It wasn't until the Summer half that the scandal actually broke. I came to hear of it first, through my friend [B] who had just been told by Parker, who knew various boys at Wilkinson's. I had always been aware that [B] did possess a sadistic streak, and it was somewhat typical of him in this instance, for him to come into my room to say: "I've got news for you. Someone has C.R.A.S.H.E.D. on you!" He had spelt out the word very slowly, watching closely to see how my expression might change. Then quite irritatingly, he departed - leaving me feeling most confused. Hastily following him to another room, I found him in the company of Parker, and asked for clarification as to what he'd meant. This embarrassed him, since it became evident that he had broken confidence with Parker in passing on the information to me so swiftly. But I was eventually given the clarification that I requested.
What really confused me was that I still had no idea who this boy [F] might be. And to hear that it was being rumoured all over the school that we were lovers filled me with complete dismay. For the first time I was being told how my tarting activities in the Lower Chapel had been openly discussed, and it suddenly dawned upon me that I might never recover my good name over the rest of my time at Eton. I dreaded each chapel session, and didn't know where to look - in case I caught someone's eye. And towards the end of the half, I was made aware how public humiliation might be imminent. I didn't appreciate the laughter from those on the river bank, for example, when my shorts came down during the course of a sculling race. And when swimming at Warr's Mead, Parker came to warn me that a group from Wilkinson's were planning to come and catch me: then to fling me into the water just in front of the spot where [F and G] were sitting. I suddenly felt that the whole business was getting out of hand, and that I couldn't cope with it. I left the swimming compound immediately, in the company of Parker and [B] - not to return there again for the remainder of the half.
I upturned my cherubic face, and stole
the whole holy light falling from panes
of stained glass window, before it splintered
in the glinting hair of cheery chapel choirboys.
Spiralling nightmare, I found it viciously for real -
with limbs locked and sealed in ugly stocks;
my rocking head scarred with a sickly smile,
and styled with the mucky refuse from the school bins.
I'd `sinned', and was threatened with the dread grim plunge
into gungey waters of disgrace - watched by `lovers'.
Slovenly, in rags, I dragged my footsteps homeward,
lone-ranging, and crawling through blades of grass.
With all my popularity at start,
how come that overnight it could depart?
Michael Parker turned out to be a stalwart friend in this crisis, but [B] rather less so. I knew him secretly to be piqued that my angelic features had been preferred to his own, when it came to be known that a telescope had been trained upon my room where we were messing. We had often exchanged jokes about how we were receiving covert attention from those (like [G]) who had a bad reputation in the school. But until now, neither of us could truly claim to have evoked any sense of scandal. In a sense he was envious of me, and was secretly grudging of my new notoriety. At the same time he was concerned to punish me - just like everyone else. There was now a slight sneer in all his comments about the school tarts, and no surprise that I should be identified with them. Yet Parker perceived how I was in need of comradely support, and made it his business to defend my reputation in public: also to impress upon our friends that they should rally in support of me.
Parker major - Michael's elder brother John - may well have been responsible for his younger brother being so supportive. He was now the Captain of m'tutor's and was, incidentally, not unaware of my own charm. He had for some while been sending me on fagging errands, with sealed notes to deliver to his friends in Pop. And on opening such notes, these Etonian grandees would promptly start flirting with me: quite harmlessly, but nonetheless flirting. I was aware how John Parker regarded me as a social asset for his potential success in the school, and I think he liked me too in his own sort of way. So on hearing of my current predicament from Michael, I have little doubt that he stressed to him the need to offer me support.
This generally was the situation when the Summer half came to an end, and I had seldom looked forward to a break from school so fervently.
4.4: Sex: reasserting myself against my tormentors
Within the home environment, I had been fighting back against the spread of disrespect within the household. But I knew how I still had to contend with the question of my impaired image at Eton. I was dreading the thought of having to return there for the Michaelmas half. It would have strengthened me enormously if I'd had the kind of father to whom I could unburden my anxieties upon the whole issue, and then listen to his advice. Much as I loved Daphne, and was even quite close to her in spirit, her femininity excluded her from any intimate consultation upon sexual matters. However I couldn't feel that Henry was the right kind of person either. But I had to tell him something about it all before we finally reached the end of the holidays. I must at least acquaint him with a notion of the problems that I was experiencing - if only to ensure that, were the situation at Eton to deteriorate any further, then he would know what I was talking about when I came to write home asking him belatedly for his advice. So I took the decision to broach the subject with him.
I didn't want anyone to interrupt us while we were having this conversation, so I asked if I could accompany him when he was driving round the woods one morning, to inspect what some of the forestry gangs had been up to. I hadn't been offering to accompany him for some while now, so he probably knew that I had something special on my mind. We were driving up Longcombe Drive when I finally asked if we could have a serious talk. He stopped the car and said: "Well, what is it?" But his voice was so fierce that it almost silenced me. I realised how he was anticipating that the subject I was going to raise was his treatment of me, and he was all set to give me a further piece of his mind - to ensure that any resurgent opposition to his authority might quickly be crushed.
I hastily spilled some of the details into his ear. I said that there was a boy at Eton who had crashed on me. Himself having been educated at Harrow, Henry didn't know what I meant. Then it clicked. "Oh you mean one of the elder boys has a crush on you?" And the relief in his tone was enormous. I let that description stand, and filled in on some of the details. Henry was now in a jovial mood. "Oh you don't have to worry about that! I had the same thing happen to myself on one or two occasions. Take no notice of it. There's no need to get worried."
I knew that I wasn't getting anywhere, so I left it at that. But my relief was in fact enormous that I'd told him as much as I'd done. I could continue with any additional explanations from this point that we'd reached - if the need should arise. So I was now far happier about the whole thought of my imminent return to Eton. Once back there, I could confront my accusers with a pretence that I had a father who had been fully informed upon the whole issue, and that he intended to take the matter up with the Headmaster if they tried again to make life a misery for me.
I did in fact put this policy into practice - largely through the assistance of the Parker brothers. It was Parker minor who warned the group at Wilkinson's who were responsible for spreading the tale that there was a love affair going on between [F] and Weymouth, that if they continued with this line of scandal, then they'd have the Marquess of Bath to reckon with: a person whom he'd heard to be a fierce authoritarian, and who regarded the cane as the only adequate form of punishment. He was apparently intending to write to the Headmaster about this smear campaign involving his son unless it were promptly discontinued.
Parker brought me a message from [F] urging me to persuade my father to hold his hand before writing such a letter. [F]'s father had a weak heart I was told, and it was uncertain if the hint of such scandal were to reach him, whether it might not bring on his instant demise. Then I received a visit from two of [F]'s friends at Wilkinson's, to ask me with the greatest civility what I would like them to do to get things sorted out, to my satisfaction. I told them that I just wanted them to put an end to all this false gossip. And I believe they then took the whole question to their House Captain, Simon Sainsbury, who approached his opposite number at m'tutor's - who happened to be Parker major. And between them, they came to a conclusion that an injustice had been perpetrated upon my reputation, and I daresay that the whole group that had been seeking to throw me into the water in front of [F] were given a severe lecture by Sainsbury, with the message being that all such bullying should promptly cease.
I could not have hoped for a better response. My tormentors were now cautious about doing anything at all which might be construed as bullying, so that the possibilities for counter-aggression were tilted in my favour. Whereas previously, if I crossed their path in the street, they would be sneering in my direction, I now found their glances were averted - to an extent that they could not hold the fierce gazes I threw in their direction. I had the confidence-booster on one occasion when, following a few steps behind one of them after he'd needed to cross over the road to reach his tutor's, I could sense his embarrassment even from behind, so exploited the situation - glaring fiercely (for him to see if he so happened to turn round) and placing my footsteps firmly on the ground just behind him, in a manner that I assumed he might find menacing. After this episode, I knew inwardly that I'd won the day and that I would soon regain my feet at Eton.
It was not an instant case of finding that I was clear of the woods however. By the time that I had counterattacked, there were too many boys within my own peer group who had acquired the information that I was a school tart. The notoriety was too widespread now, for me to hope to clip every bud. Yet they were no longer receiving fresh information upon such activities that I might be making, so the general condemnation began to subside.
But the trauma did remain with me for a very long time. One might almost say perpetually. What it meant at this stage however, was that the very mention of any concept which might conceivably trigger the thought of homosexuality in anyone's mind was sufficient to send me into a fit of blushing - with my heart racing, and a feeling of inward terror that someone was going to glance meaningfully in my direction. And there were times when it did happen of course. I remember freezing in my tracks for example, when two boys from Wilkinson's who were walking a couple of paces behind me as we were coming out from chapel, and one of them murmured softly, but quite deliberately, the name '[F]!' To their sadistic delight, I was instantly blushing scarlet.
The other had me reddening on a different occasion by suggesting that it was easy enough to identify those who were going to become pansies by watching them in chapel to see where their eyes rested. "If they're developing in that direction, their eyes never shift upwards from the level of our balls!" The two of us now had our seats in the College Chapel, and were sitting on the knife-boards, on opposite sides of the aisle. So it was clearly intended that I should realise he was talking about me. And the truth of the matter is that I did find it very difficult to look my contemporaries in the eye, when I knew how they were sneering at me behind my back. My natural defence was to fixate my gaze where it wouldn't be challenged, or even examined. But of course, this appearance was always open to such mistaken interpretation.
The fear of any insinuation of homosexuality is something which has remained with me permanently. If I ever did have a tendency for development in that direction - which I would personally regard as a false diagnosis - then it was clipped in the bud at this stage in my life. For better or for worse, I was now determined to be heterosexual!
5.5: Sex: puberty at last
I was a late developer on the question of puberty. I had been endeavouring to masturbate ever since I was eleven years old, without once managing to attain an orgasm. The first time that I actually succeeded was in the Michaelmas half of 1947, when I was already fifteen years old. It was during Christopher's first half at Eton, while we were obliged to share a room together. So the whole business had to be quite surreptitious, for it would have embarrassed me if he had known what I was up to. Mind you, he was probably well aware of all that was going on, despite my whispered enquiries whether he might still be awake. But it was only after receiving no reply that I embarked upon the attainment of this novel sensation, regularly on each Saturday night - always anxious that the creaking of the bed springs was going to awaken him.
As timid and furtive as a furry beast of night,
frightened of eyes and of light, I shut my sight
in a tight box, and open the door on secret
retreats, where my body freaks in spasmic joy.
Nimbus noises mounting to mushrooms in my head,
and a red lava flowing liquid in my veins,
I strain on the tiller of each racked nerve
to deserve the swerving rush of orgasmic release.
Pleased at prowess in new physical ventures,
intent on repetitions ever higher
on the sky's star-spangled scale, impaling
visions at the back of my eye, I smile awhile.
And now when stepping out for life's parade,
I feel within a manhood's accolade.
Things became easier for me the following half when we were both given rooms of our own - thanks to Henry who had written a letter of protest to Jaques that he was receiving no financial discount on the price of two rooms, despite the fact that his two sons had been cooped up together. I was then able to indulge more openly in perfecting the art of masturbation, and it was easier to discuss the delight with those friends who had been developing a mutual curiosity about such matters. It was notable how there were some friends, whom I knew just as well as others, with whom I never raised such a topic. I might list Jeremy Thomas, Gordon Simpson, John Mander, Richard Timpson, John Ganzoni and John Wood amongst these. But there were others like Michael Parker, Iain Graham-Wigan and, more recently, [I] with whom I could talk quite openly on the matter.
It was the friendship with [I] which now led to some further instances of homosexual practices. Nothing much, but still to be noted if any truthful account of my life is to be recorded. Just two or three occasions when mutual masturbation was performed, in the privacy of my room, as the culmination to a general discussion upon the extent of our knowledge upon sexual matters. But there was always such a fear of getting caught in the act, with the inevitable retribution in terms of scandal - if not dire punishment - that such experience was barely pleasurable.
This aspect of the relationship only endured for a single half. During the holidays, the full implication of the risk I was taking with my reputation sank home to me. The scandal involved over the [F] crisis had left me severely shaken. Life could be a lot easier if one didn't transgress such moral standards. So by the time I returned to Eton the following half, I had decided to tell [I] that this aspect to our relationship must be discontinued. And in point of fact there have been no additional episodes of homosexual orgasm within my entire life.
 His preparatory school.
 L.H Jaques was his housemaster at Eton.
 His next brother, two years younger.
 His mother.
 His father, by then the 6th Marquess of Bath.
 Of the supermarket family, soon to be President of “Pop” (the school prefects), later a notable patron of the arts and a homosexual.
 At that time, only brothers were ever obliged to share a room. Later, even they were exempt.