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MICHAEL DAVIDSON IN TANGIER, 1940-48

 

The boysexual English journalist Michael Davidson first stayed in Tangier from July 1940 to spring 1941 and then intermittently in 1947-8, as appears from his autobiography The World, the Flesh and Myself (London, 1962), in which he first described his time there.  Presented here is everything in that description of Greek love interest, followed by "Michael Davidson's Misadventure in a Tangerine Boy Brothel”, a short excerpt from a secondary source with interesting additional information.

A lengthier account of Davidson’s time in Tangier was later published as a chapter of Some Boys (London, 1969), his memoir more narrowly focused on Greek love.

Tangier in the 1940s

 

The World, The Flesh and Myself

Chapter 13

Davidson moved to Tangier soon after the fall of France in June 1940 raised the prospect of imminent internment.

Tangier in 1940 was not yet entirely the international elysium for crooks, outlaws, escapists, drunks, aberrant sexual eccentrics and sedulous voluptuaries of both sexes that since the war it has been. But even then almost any curious thirst could be assuaged; boys or pubescent girls of half-a-dozen races were two-a-penny, guilty manipulators of foreign currencies and the procurers of curious pleasures or illegal commodities lurked at every cafe-table; and the sombrely sinful streets behind the Socco Chico were caravanserai with evocative names like Hotel Satan or Pension Delirium. […]

George Greaves was already one of the great characters of Tangier.[1] His Australian truculence, his power of verbal venom, the Hogarthian vigour of his satire, and his infinite knowledge of the private lives of anybody who mattered, from the British Minister down, made him a personage to be respected. For his friends he possessed an unfailing fund of kindliness; for those whom he chose to make his enemies, his ruthlessness was was-pish. George today is one of the two social pontiffs in Tangier whose good books any visitor – if he wants to avoid leaving, disappointed, by the next boat – must make a point of getting into. […]

Moroccan Bathers by François-Louis Schmied, 1936

To sit with George Greaves outside the Cafe de Paris, or on a pavement of the Socco Chi., was to become a privileged peeper into the souls of the passers-by. His great bulk hunched forward in the cane-chair, chins resting on one hand with an erect forefinger ranged along the imperial nose, trilby hat tilted over the pale eyes, he would watch the passing notables derisively. Suddenly he would explode in an expectorant noise of disgust, like the beginning of a full-blown Neapolitan gob. … His destructive eye would fall on a prosperous-looking Arab. ‘That one—used to be the kept boy of a former French Minister: now look at ‘im—wouldn’t tell you the time if he ‘ad two watches.’ watches.... Hah! There’s P.’ – mentioning a famous name. ‘In the Foreign Office, he was. Foreign Office my arse! Only diplomacy ‘e does now, ‘e does on small girls!’ So his social commentary would proceed; until, perhaps, his attention was caught by a comely calf twinkling by in the sunlight. ‘Nice drop o’ leg’, he would observe. ‘Cor – that is a nice droppa leg!’

A delightful companion: amusing, informative, generally shrewd: mouthing sardonic imprecation in his fruitily uninhibited Australian vowels; and a wonderful friend – as long as you were a friend.

 

Chapter 14

That autumn of 1947 in Tangier I met Robin Maugham. I'd never heard of him until Dean one evening told me that somebody of that name had been asking for me. I said I would come back later; and went out wondering who it could be. I knew no Maugham; I'd read some of Somerset Maugham and vaguely thought that Neville Chamberlain's Lord Chancellor had been a Lord Maugham. The newcomer turned out to be the nephew of one and the son of the other; just over 30, a writer of travel books and novels and something of a student of Arab affairs. Somebody in The Observer office had suggested he should look me up. In his North African Notebook, published about 1949, Robin describes that evening in Dean's Bar:

Michael Davidson by Robin Maugham, 1947

I was waiting for Michael Davidson, special Observer correspondent in Morocco. I imagined a squat man with a severe face and a stiff collar. Half an hour later a slender man with an open-necked shirt, a well-cut shabby tweed coat and sandals slipped into the bar. This certainly could not be Davidson. I examined him as he sat drinking. He had a lean knobbly face with a large nose and very light blue eyes beneath heavy eyelids. His lined neck was set at an odd angle on his stooping shoulders. He looked like a humorous camel. At that moment he saw me staring at him.

'I'm Davidson,' he said.

Twenty-four hours later it was all settled. We would buy a jeep and travel through Spanish and French Morocco. We had another drink to celebrate.

From there started 15 years of friendship: an association often difficult, sometimes impossible, but when neither of these quite enchanting.
 

 

Michael Davidson's Misadventure in a Tangerine Boy Brothel

The last section excerpted above might not appear relevant to Greek love, but it is for two reasons. First, Maugham, his new friend, was also involved in Greek love affairs and several of his writings on the subject appear on this website. Secondly, a very different account of their meeting was given by Bryan Connon in his Somerset Maugham and the Maugham Dynasty (London, 1997):

At the suggestion of David Astor,[2] Robin set out to find Michael Davidson, the special correspondent of the Observer, who was based in Tangier but from whom the paper had not heard for some while. [...]

Robin Maugham and Michael Davidson on Ischia, 1953

In his search for Michael Davidson he went to the notorious Dean°s Bar where one of the regulars explained that Davidson was confined to a male brothel for non-payment of his bill. The proprietors had taken away his clothes and typewriter and pawned them to get some of their money. In the meantime, they kept him locked up in the hope that someone might rescue him and pay off the rest of the debt. Robin paid and also recovered Davidson`s clothes and typewriter. He was so beguiled by this strange man who looked like a humorous camel that, over dinner, he suggested that Davidson accompany him on a trip around Morocco.

Michael Davidson was about fifty when Robin met him. [...] He was a vivid personality with an irrepressible sense of fun, always on the verge of poverty from which he was rescued by friends. Robin said: “His trouble was that he had an incurable passion for the pursuit of boys. I`ve never known anyone devote so much energy to it. He did things that I myself might like to have done but which I was too afraid or too nervous to do.“

 

[1] Greaves was to remain one of Tangier’s great characters until his death in 1984. He cropped up in the the pages of the many other foreign pederasts who stayed in and wrote about Tangier for a long-time afterwards: William Burroughs, Joe Orton and Angus Stewart, for example. His admiring comments on a boy’s leg is the nearest Davidson comes to revealing that he too was a pederast, but this was to be made abundantly clear in The Orton Diaries.

[2] Astor was the editor of The Observer.

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