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three pairs of lovers with space


Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten of Aldeburgh (22 November 1913 - 4 December 1976) is the best-known of all British composers.  Never married or a father, he had a series of loving friendships with boys aged around thirteen.

The story of these friendships and the benefits that a number of talented boys in their formative years felt they got from them has been the subject of a fine book Britten’s Children by John Bridcut (London, 2006). Nobody who knew Britten has doubted that his passion for boys was erotically inspired, but how far any of his affairs with them were sexually expressed has been contested.[1]

David Edward Leslie Hemmings (18 November 1941 – 3 December 2003), one of the most successful of them, was an English choirboy who evolved under Britten’s mentorship into an actor, and later became a film director.

The story of their special friendship is given here as recounted by Hemmings in his memoir, Blow-Up and Other Exaggerations (2004), followed by additional remarks made in an interview with Bridcut, the accounts of witnesses and letters that shed light on it.




3  An A3 Boy 1941-53

It was while I was singing at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, North Wales, in the summer of 1953 that Lisette Brooks[2] came to the conclusion that I was getting more attention than was good for a boy of my age and it was perhaps time to test me by throwing me in among the professionals of the real musical world.

My father was against the idea from the start, but I’d already realised that his attitude to my singing – and me – had been utterly soured by resentment at being left out of the picture. My mother, however, stood by me and supported my every move with love, attention and sensible strictness. She had the advantage, I feel, of being slightly, if pleasantly, mad, which helped her bridge the gap between these hard divided loyalties with never a cross murmur.

4   The Turn of the Screw 1953

Towards the end of 1953, Lisette Brooks heard that Benjamin Britten had put out a call across the music world to find a boy treble to play the part of Miles in his new opera, The Turn of the Screw. The English Opera Group, who were to perform the work, had been holding auditions up and down the country, […]

Granted an audition:

My memory of the audition is of a vast stage in the middle of which stood a small boy, very conscious that in the audience sat Benjamin Britten, arguably the finest living British composer. Beside him, as always, was Peter Pears.[3] […]

I sang ‘Where E’er You Walk’, recited Robert Browning’s poem, and it was over.[4] From the auditorium there came a brief ‘Thank you,’ but the words carried such unmistakable overtones of congratulation that I knew I’d done well. I’d found that I could tell my mark at a festival, almost to a percentage point, by the tone of those words from an adjudicator. Children in particular can judge tones to a whisker. Their security level or even their survival in a family structure depends on it. It’s a shame we most of us lose a skill that should be nurtured for life – the art of listening.

Several days later, to Lisette’s astonished rapture, we were called to be told that I was being offered the part of Miles. I’m sure now that it was the ability to sell a song, which I had used to such great effect in the Goldsworth Arms, in the Chapel Royal and in not a few competitions since, that had persuaded Benjamin Britten I might be right for Miles in his new opera. However, this would be confirmed only after I had met the composer himself and had a session with him.

Hemmings as a choirboy, before he met Britten

Today the suggestion that I should have a ‘session’ with Benjamin Britten would be a questionable way of putting it, and eyebrows would be raised. But then, without any cynical overtones, it was a source of pure delight to me. My schooling was, for all practical purposes, to be abandoned for the foreseeable future. I was to sing professionally with the English Opera Group, no less, and move to Aldeburgh to live with the great man himself while he wrote the final opera around the voices he had cast.

My father listened moodily to all the excitement surrounding the arrangements. He uttered only one observation: ‘He’s a homo.’

From this distance, it’s not easy to imagine what a sudden induction like this into the rarefied world of opera might mean to a twelve-year old from Tolworth.[5] To me it didn’t only mean a move away from home, into what my father averred was a distinctly sinister environment; it also meant that I was now surrounded constantly by adults, not by my contemporaries, children to play with who might have become friends for life. I didn’t even have any friends back in Tolworth to whom I could write about the curiosities of my new life. It was one of the many strange aspects of my father that he never let me have friends of my own. Our neighbours were almost always ‘not good enough’ and not allowed in the house.

To a maturity that was already some way beyond my years was added the discovery of a world that neither my parents nor friends like Peter Goodchild in Woking could even contemplate. Because of the demanding nature of the role, the pressure of rehearsals and the delicately balanced finances of the English Opera Group, I was considered to be one of the players. I was thus encouraged to demonstrate a responsibility far beyond my experience; to behave like an adult and to expect to be treated like one.

I had my session with Britten, as agreed - a full day in his flat near Regent’s Park. He crouched over the piano and played the outline of what was to be Miles’s aria, ‘Malo’. It occurs in a lesson with the Governess, a scene which has sinister undertones and was to be the centre-piece of the Miles section of the opera. It would also be reprised to great effect in the final moments of the story.

I sang tentatively, reading over his shoulder the pencilled notes from the score in front of him (rather badly, for I was never a good sight reader), and began gradually to learn its tricky phrasing. Britten would change the odd note, rubbing out a previous thought, and we would sing on, interrupted only by tea and crumpets in mid-afternoon. Peter Pears was there too - looking on, I suppose, in consternation, though he was polite, generous and funny. Their relationship appeared quite natural to me and the atmosphere cosy and elegant in a cluttered way, with books and sheet music carelessly strewn about on every available surface. After the session, my part in the opera was confirmed without it ever needing to be said.

Benjamin Britten and a boy

My mother had virtually to abandon me for the time being, leaving me with her normal peck on the cheek at St Pancras to make the journey alone to Saxmundham. Ben, as I was to call Britten always, met me at the station in a big old convertible Alvis which smelt of leather, like my father’s Riley. We set off along the country lanes to the coast with the top off and the exhaust purring gently. We didn’t talk about opera or singing, but about tea and trains and fishing and East Anglia. Ben loved to laugh and joke and talk, like Nigel Molesworth, of ‘chizzes’ and ‘whizzes’ – ‘A chiz is a swiz or swindle, as any fule kno.’

With my parents’ approval, Ben had adopted the role of my guardian, there to protect me and – as he assured them – to keep me out of harm’s way. This, to silence all rumours to the contrary, he did with a gentle affection that I’ll never forget.

He drove me to Cragge Cottage, on the sea at Aldeburgh. It was a small blue-and-white house at the end of a terrace that faced directly out over the North Sea. It was just along from the wobbly Moot Hall, which stood alone and dark brown in the middle of its own curtilage. The long pebbled strand in front of both the hall and the house was littered with fishing boats and fishermen, mending their nets with long ‘perrocks’, kind of net-needles that were shuttled between gnarled fingers with a deftness that was guaranteed to deliver arthritis upon them in old age. I would sit on the side of a boat, watching and trying to help when they let me.

I look back on my months with Ben at Aldeburgh with great affection. I still love the place, the uncompromising broad, lofty skies and grey, blustery coast. Most days I would walk up to Marks Tey, captivated by the way the sun lit the Moot Hall in the evenings and the early mornings. The village itself didn’t then sparkle with the trappings of tourism. It was a working place, hard on its men and women, with the sea unwilling to yield up its bounty without a fight; the lifeboat resting on its chocks and sliders up on the beach would willingly attest to that.

This was truly the country of Peter Grimes, an opera which had been extremely successful for Britten and captured the flavour of the Suffolk psyche to perfection. I had heard a recording of the opera – in fact, all of Britten’s works – as part of Lisette Brooks’s insistent preparation. I had read the libretto too, a stark and worrying work about the isolation and damnation of a lonely spirit and the foibles of prejudice.

Misunderstood, Peter Grimes was left to perish by his own hand at the whim of merciless waves while the village folk, in a sudden fit of repentance, clambered across the headland, torches flickering in the night, calling for him across the sound of the oncoming storm.

‘Peter Grimes!’ they call. ‘Peter Grimes!’ A melancholy air whisked away on the wind, so beautifully described in Britten’s urgent and poignant score. Listening to this powerful opera affected me in many ways, perhaps most because even then I felt I understood it. Peter Crimes delivers you, after all, the four ‘Sea Interludes’, extraordinary pieces of evocative music that sound as if they themselves had come humming on the wind, straight off the Suffolk sea, thrashing this minute, calm and sublime the next. The libretto and the music moved me considerably and, short though the opera is, I often come back to it and I never hear of Suffolk without the tale crossing my mind.

Britten at work in The Crag House, Alde-burgh (which Hemmings called "Cragge Cottage" & where he stayed with him), 1949

I loved the cottage too, confined as it was, with the Alvis parked on the street outside because there wasn’t a garage. It was much like the atmosphere of the Regent’s Park flat: cosier, perhaps, with more rural furnishings, but still with the clutter and the casual air of the creative soul who needs everything close to hand, in case inspiration should suddenly strike or, worse, fail. If there are two things that evoke memories of the place itself, they are the metronome and the baton, both conspicuous on the piano and both much cherished. I never saw the metronome operate, for some reason, but the baton was always in use, until its end was broken off on the edge of a music stand while we rehearsed in the beautifully gilded, tiny Grand Opera House in Schwetzingen. Ben later gave it to me and it has had pride of place in my collection of musical instruments, where it sulks, no doubt, through lack of a sure hand to guide it through the air.

The cottage became the central rehearsal room for some weeks. I had live-in quarters in a blue-chintz bedroom at the end of the first-floor landing with a chess set underneath the window and a set of Molesworth books by the Malvern water on the bedside table. Others of the cast were in hotels or staying in rented cottages nearby.

Once during my months at Cragge Cottage my parents came to see me. I was very conscious of my father’s antagonism towards Ben, and I could only hope, desperately, that it would not surface too obviously. I wanted Dad to see what a kind and funny man Ben was. The four of us went for a walk together along the pebble strand, and at one point, showing me something – I can’t remember what – Ben emphasised his remark with a gentle pat on my head.

My father’s outrage was palpable. I turned to see him tight-lipped and shaking his head in bitter disapproval. Ben saw it too, and for a moment his own eyes flared with affront at the suggestion that he should in any way take advantage of his position. After that I was in no doubt that Ben thought very little of my father – although, of course, he never told me so – and I couldn’t blame him.

Aldeburgh then was already famous for its festival, the product of Britten’s own efforts. It’s much busier now than in earlier years, but there is still something timeless about it, the Jubilee and Moot Halls and the Suffolk wind, ever prompting one to bring a spare sweater.

If I was frightened when the winds were howling off the North Sea and it was easy to imagine Norse demons prowling across the churning grey waters, I would patter along to Ben’s room and creep into his bed for security. I slept with him often, to be sure, when the dark got the better of my sense of reason. It never occurred to me that there was anything untoward about this. Britten had quickly become an important and considerate father figure, making up, perhaps, for the lack of warmth in my own father; certainly he was more interested in my singing and, for that matter, my general well-being.

There was no question of anything that these days would be called ‘inappropriate’, but I have to say that it’s a measure of the cynical, prurient world in which we live now that everyone would assume the worst of him. And I say this after I learned in later life that Ben, who was without question a homosexual, was for a while infatuated with me. Since then there have been many suggestions that our relationship was untoward, that Peter Pears was furiously jealous (he was, but I didn’t know that until almost forty years later) and that Ben had cast me more for passion and personal favour than for talent. That may have been true, but if so, he was never to show it in any physical way, although there are those who have tried to imply otherwise over the years.

Frankly, I’d been mildly assaulted several times before then, as choirboys will be, and I was very clear about the difference between those odious moments and my closeness to Ben. The seamy man on the 137 trolley bus to Hampton Court Palace, pressing my palm into his groin until a damp stain appeared on his thigh, was a very far cry indeed from anything I remotely encountered at Aldeburgh. (My mother dispatched Mr Bullion, as his name turned out to be, into the hands of the police in a most dashing display of bravado.)

Britten himself stood tall, with a mass of curly, close-cut hair and an anxious frown, from which would sometimes appear a cheeky grin, sometimes a sharp burst of temper, always regretted. […]

5 Venice and a Little Learning 1954-1958

Having returned home to Tolworth after the premiere of The Turn of the Screw in Venice that November:[6]

Hemmings in St. Mark's Square, Venice, September 1953

It was decided, despite my father’s previous misgivings about the composer’s sexual proclivities, that I should carry on working with Britten. With the English Opera Group I sang in several more of his works: Ceremony of Carols, Saint Nicholas and Let’s Make an Opera (The Little Sweep).

While beginning a career in straight acting and having his first amorous experiences with girls,

I also continued to perform in a sporadic tour of The Turn of the Screw through several other European cities, until, in 1955, on the stage of the opera house on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, my voice broke, mid-aria, and my career as an operatic treble was over.

I’d been thoroughly briefed that this would happen, of course, but even shortly before my fourteenth birthday it came as a shock to have to face up to a new set of responsibilities. Ben wanted me to carry on singing. He was sure that I could make the transition to operatic tenor, provided I had the right training. Such was his faith, he was prepared to sponsor me through an English public school and the music academy in Florence. But I had already recognised that I didn’t find the atmosphere of the opera world entirely congenial and, while Benjamin had never attempted to take advantage of me, there was no question that he and his partner, Peter Pears, and many of their friends lived in a world where homosexuality was the norm. I declined his offer, much to my father’s chagrin, curiously, and, as a result, alienating him almost completely. I’ve never really understood why he was so distressed by my decision, though I’ve since concluded that he saw it as the final rejection of his earlier influence over me as a boy singer. And no doubt he liked the idea of having a son at a public school and felt he would have derived some vicarious social uplift from it.



The interview from which the following excerpts are taken was conducted by Bridcut for his Britten’s Children and published in it, pp. 199-210. It elaborates on various points in Hemmings’ memoirs:

Bridcut. Brittens Children

Asked whether he had any reservations about his friendship with Britten:
He was not only a father to me, but a friend - and you couldn’t have had a better father, or a better friend. He was generous and kind, and I was very lucky. I loved him dearly, I really did – I absolutely adored him. I didn’t fancy him, I wouldn’t have gone to b . . . - well, I did go to bed with him, but I didn’t go to bed with him in that way.

After admitting that Britten was infatuated with him:
Everybody asks me whether or not he gave me one, whether or not it was a sexual relationship. The answer to that question, as I have often said, is: no, he did not. I have slept in his bed, yes, only because I was scared at night[7] . . . and I have never ever, ever felt threatened by Ben at all because I was more heterosexual than Genghis Khan!

Asked whether he felt Britten's feelings for him had been those of a father for a son:
That's a very good question, but I think both are entwined in one. If you are in love with a young man, certainly you can consider him your son. He certainly wanted to bring me up, he certainly wanted to send me to an appropriate school where I could learn music and learn to play the piano, and, yes, he loved me, he did, he did. But he loved me like a father, not like a lover.

Describing how he had been warned about Britten by his father before leaving home for Suffolk the first time:
strangely enough in Leicester Square men’s lavatory. He told me - his exact words - “You know he’s a homo, don't you?”  [But in the event, Britten was] as clean as kingdom come in that regard – I couldn’t fault him, not for one single second.

Asked whether his parents had not been concerned about their son moving to Aldeburgh for several months to live with Britten:
No, they weren't, really! I think that’s quite extraordinary now, I really do - because they weren’t. They thought I was well out of the home. I wasn’t a great kid, you have to understand: I was not what you might call a “come home at night” kid and I’m talking seven or eight years old. I’d be in the alleyway and I’d be up little girls’ trousers – I’m serious - and always it was my mother that would come storming down the alleyway and say, “Why aren’t you at home?” And I’ve continued that life really ever since.

On the connection between the doubtful innocence of Miles, the character Hemmings was chosen to play, and Hemmings’ own character:
I wasn’t exactly what you might call a “prior-boy“ myself - choir-boy yes, prior, - boy no. Did I know Miles? Yes I did. He was me. And I think Ben saw that in me. He saw the wickedness in me, he saw that evil sense of countenance about me. He thought I was naughty, and that’s why Peter Pears was afraid of me, because he thought I was naughty too!

On the end of their time together in 1956. The English Opera Group had taken The Turn of the Screw to Paris, to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. In the middle of his keynote aria, Malo, David's voice suddenly broke. A mortified Britten brought the orchestra off, waved his baton at David in a fury, and put it down on his music stand as the curtain was lowered:
I was Spanish-archered immediately (got the El Bow). As I walked off the stage, I passed Robin Fairhearst (who'd been my understudy for two years) walking up the stairs. I thought, “You little bugger, you’re going to be playing this for weeks”. [But, he added with glee,] his voice broke the following night!

Remembering it was the last time he had any dealings with Britten, and asked whether this father-figure whom he so adored had said anything to him:
No. No, he didn’t. That was a bit sad, I have to say, but from that moment forward, I was history. . . Sad isn't it? The idyll was all over.“


The following letters written between September 1954 and January 1955 were published in Bridcut’s Britten’s Children, pp. 208-9.

Hemmings David in Venice between rehearsals of The Turn of the Screw
David Hemmings in Venice, September 1953

Sent with the gift of a horseshoe charm soon after the premiere of The Turn of the Screw in Venice:
For Ben, with best wishes and good luck for future performances of the “Screw”. With love, David xxxxxxxxxxxx

The end of a letter of November 1954 thanking Britten for the gift of a leather belt:
I would like to spend a few days at Aldeburgh with you, the first weekend after Christmas, or whenever it is convenient with you. Please give my best regards to Peter (Quint you devil![8]), and all at Aldeburgh. Lots of love to you! Yours always, David xxxxxx

Following the stay with Britten at Aldeburgh that he had proposed:
Dear Ben,
     Thank you, Thank you for the lovely game “Dover Patrol“. I enjoyed playing it so much at Aldeburgh with Richard, that I have been trying to get it (in vain chiz.,), therefore you can imagine my joy at receiving your parcel. This is also an opportunity to thank you for my lovely stay at Crag House, I don°t think I have ever enjoyed a holiday so much – even Venice. It was so good to have somebody you were fond of with you all the time and for this Ben, I thank you indeed. I most certainly will - if it’s all right with you, stay with you again sometime. [. . .]
     Yours, with all my Love, David xoxoxoxoxo (1,000,000 times).




Charles Mackerras

Sir Alan Charles Maclaurin Mackerras (1925-2010) was an Australian who conducted at Aldeburgh in the mid-1950s and thus saw the friendship at first hand.

“David Hemmings was an extremely good-looking young chap and he also very much played up to Ben’s obvious adoration of him, and drank it in. You know how a person looks at someone if they’re in love with them - their face lights up when he or she comes into the room, and they give them precedence in everything. Ben's behaviour was so much that of the besotted lover that one thought that maybe he might have behaved improperly with him eventually. But if we can believe David Hemmings (and I do), there was no ‘hanky-panky’ at all. Obviously it was a sexual attraction but I’m sure that it was never actually fulfilled.” (Bridcut’s interview of Mackerras quoted in his Britten’s Children, p. 197)

Basil Douglas

Basil Douglas (1914-92) managed the English Opera Group and arranged David’s academic tuition for the two or three months of 1954 that he lived with Britten in Aldeburgh for voice training and learning his part in The Turn of the Screw:

Britten “loved David – he was in love with him.” (Interview by Donald Mitchell 1987, Britten-Pears Library, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, quoted by Bridcut, op. cit., p. 197)

He admired Britten’s self-restraint, because he was “really smitten and didn’t David know it!” (Benjamin Britten: A Biography by David Carpenter (1992) p. 356)

Basil Coleman

Basil Woore Coleman (1916-2013), who directed the premiere of The Turn of the Screw, was another house guest during the later stage of rehearsals.

David Hemmings during the filming of The Rainbow Jacket, his first cinema appearance, 1954

“Ben got very fond of him, of course. But it was more than that - it was the need to make sure the boy trusted him completely. There was a rapport between the two of them which gave him confidence, and would ultimately draw out a brilliant performance from the boy, because he was safe, as it were.” Coleman says everyone in the cast was devoted to David, and insists that it is wrong to exaggerate the attraction Britten felt to children. He rejoices in the devoted friendships Ben had with boys, friendships that he feels would have been hard for him to sustain in today”s more censorious climate. But he does admit that one singer, in particular, was concerned that the composer was getting too fond of David. Asked if he felt that was a risk, Coleman paused for a while before replying: “Not really. No - I trusted Ben . . . No. And I was staying in the house too, so I would have been aware of anything untoward.” (Bridcut’s interview of Coleman described and quoted in his Britten’s Children, p. 198)

Cynthia Jolly

Cynthia Mary Jolly (1922-2016) was a professional soprano who knew Britten well at the time of his friendship with Hemmings. Here she was reminiscing about Britten and his lover and professional partner Peter Pears:

Peter was jealously possessive about Ben's close friendships with boys, and it could be the cause of fearful rows between them, as she once witnessed for herself on going backstage after a performance of The Turn of the Screw

“Peter was incandescent with rage.

Ben and David Hemmings had both disappeared somewhere backstage and he discovered them in a dark corner amorously entwined in each other's arms, mouth to mouth in a deep loving kiss. Peter exploded, shouting out in fury ‘You utter shit Ben, I'm sick of you and your bloody boys, you give them more attention than you do to me!’

Ben was shaken and tried to justify it as a natural and affectionate expression of his appreciation for the boy's wonderful performance on stage, but Pears had seen and heard it all before and stormed off trembling with indignation.”

Jolly had never seen Pears so furious, though her feeling was that this was as much because of all the trouble that could have ensued if someone ill-intentioned had come across them as because he was jealous. (Conversation of May 1994 reported to the present editor in 2018 by John Stephen Delabere Nicholson (1957-2020), a then deeply-impressed fellow-musician)[9]


Maureen Garnham

Garnham was secretary to the aforementioned Basil Douglas at the English Opera Group.

“No one could have doubted the innocence of the relationship who, like me, was on Aldeburgh seafront one day when David, just arrived from London, spotted Ben among the many people enjoying the sunshine, ran to him, and with a shout of greeting took a flying leap into his arms. He received in return a laughing kiss on the forehead before Ben set him down. The audience had recently emerged from a concert in the Jubilee Hall, so there must have been several dozen ordinary Festivalgoers looking on, and clearly they were amused, not shocked.”

“Ben loved and understood children - all children, girls as well as boys - and frequently composed for them. Much has been made of his physical attraction to boys, which undoubtedly existed but which he always had under firm control.” (Maureen Garnham, As I Saw It: Basil Douglas, Benjamin Britten, and the English Opera Group, 1955-57 (St. George’s Publications, 1998) p. 20).

Colin Graham

Colin Graham (1931-2007), later a stage director of opera, was assistant to the above-mentioned Basil Coleman at the time described.

As the first rehearsals of the opera progressed, Colin Graham came to realise that, although the character of Miles still had “an underlying innocence, because of who he is and the age he is“, he had been “got at”. This was where there was an awkward crossover between the fictional part of Miles and the real boy they were working with, David Hemmings. David's horizons had certainly been expanded by the romance of spending weeks on the Suffolk coast as Ben’s favourite. The production team had come to realise why Britten had chosen the cherubic Hemmings to play Miles, and why that decision was so shrewd. There was a knowingness in him that worked. “There sure was”, says Graham. “David was years ahead of his own age. The way he behaved with young women was quite louche and suggestive. I don’t know where he’d learnt it from, his Dad or something, but it was pretty advanced for a boy of his age.” (Bridcut’s interview of Graham described and quoted in his Britten’s Children, p. 204)



Hemmings as Milo in The Turn of the Screw, 13 October 1954

Piper was Britten’s librettist, with whom he had discussed the sexual undercurrents in the story they were making an opera of, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, in which David Hemmings was playing the role of the boy Milo, of questionable innocence.

Letter of January 1954 referring to Milo’s saying to his governess after his rendez-vous with the sinister Quint: “You see, I am bad. I am bad, aren’t I?“:

I like Miles’ last remark because it is clear, bright, and in short phrases, which I think is right for the boy’s character and his manner of singing.

Letter of 26 April 1954 referring to Piper’s draft, which at the time said the sinister servant Quint “made free” with Miles:
This is “too suggestive. James merely says ““Quint was too free with the boy”. I think the sexy suggestion should only refer to his relationship with Miss Jessel, don’t you? Incidentally, it may help to avert a scandal in Venice!!”[10] (quoted by Bridcut, op. cit., p. 204)


[1] Other boys loved by Britten besides Hemmings have denied any sex took place between them and Britten. The only person ever to claim otherwise was 13-year-old Harry Morris, who told his disbelieving mother that he had reacted with horror to what he took to be a sexual  approach from Britten in 1936. This story of Britten’s  “one friendship with a boy that came to grief” is recounted by Bridcut, Britten’s Children (London, 2006) pp. 46-53. Bridcut thinks “It is possible (though unlikely) that … the boy misread the situation”, but, if not, Britten learned from it, so that it never happened again.
     But what about the many boys who adored Britten?  In a country such as Great Britain where a public revelation of man/boy sex entailed life-ruining consequences, a strong objection to guessing that unrecorded sex did not take place between a man and boy who loved one another is always that neither were likely ever to mention it to anyone else unless they were somehow caught. Moreover, under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that former boys like Hemmings should have responded to suspicion with public denials even if sex had in fact taken place. Nor would it be surprising if any loyal friend said he believed Hemmings despite knowing otherwise.

[2] Hemmings’ voice coach and accompanist.

[3] Britten’s lover since 1937, and his professional partner. (Bridcut, op. cit. p. 41)

[4] Hemmings “looked so tiny -- I can remember clearly”, says the opera producer Basil Coleman. “He had a small voice - a nice, sweet voice. He was nice-looking, and he made an impression.” Coleman's assistant at the time, Colin Graham, adds: “He had such zinging personality, even at the age of eleven - such self-assurance on the stage. And yet he had this sweet look in his face, and this beautiful sound.“ (Interviews of Coleman and Graham by Bridcut quoted by him in his Britten’s Children (London, 2006) p. 194.

[5] His home town in Surrey.

[6] Bridcut, op. cit., p. 207 says the premiere was in early September.

[7] Jean Maud noted in an interview (transcribed at the Britten-Pears Library) that, when the Maud family was staying at Crag House in the late 194os, the children were often frightened at night because of the noise of the North Sea waves crashing on the beach only a few feet away, and needed to be comforted. (Footnote by Bridcut in his quotation of the interview). But Hemmings explained this better himself in the excerpt quoted above from his memoirs.

[8] These words are Miles's final utterance in the opera. [Footnote by Bridcut, op. cit., p. 208)

[9] Nicholson added: “Everyone in the music world was (and is still) convinced that far more went on than David Hemmings admits and that he was protecting his own reputation as much as Britten’s.”

[10] Bridcut observes here that “In the final version of the libretto, the distinction is all but invisible: ‘Quint was free with everyone, with little Master Miles [. . .] Hours they spent together [. . .] He made free with her too, with lovely Miss ]essel [. . _] He had ways to twist them round his little finger. He liked them pretty, I can tell you [. . .] and he had his will, morning and night.’ The music achieves the same result, with its claustrophobic sense of encroaching evil.”



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Helen,   08 February 2020

Can anyone enlighten me as to the meaning of the phrase "prior-boy" (in contrast to "choir boy") in Hemming's description of himself? Thanks!