I was born in Wrexham in Wales in 1946 but raised in West Kirby on Merseyside after my mother put me up for adoption.
My sexuality began to dawn on me when I was 12 years old. I began to feel different from other people, I fancied guys and not girls. I fought it — even going so far as attempting suicide at the age of 14, by taking orange-flavoured children’s aspirin. All that did was give me a very bad headache. I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be normal, whatever normal was or what we were taught it was; I wanted to be married with kids. Being gay back then, after all, was a criminal offence.
So I was fighting my sexuality, I was worried about it and I wanted to be straight. But, after I started working as a chef and eventually as a DJ in a place called the Cabin Club. I had for two very understanding bosses, who were tremendous with me and realised I was different. I’d go down to London at weekends to be who I was. I’d feel more comfortable there because the gay scene in Liverpool was very small.
In Liverpool, gay life centred around a place called the Magic Clock, which was a pub opposite the Royal Court Theatre. There was always the fear somebody wouild see you so you’d go into the Magic Clock after the audience had gone into the theatre and you wouldn’t go outside in the interval because of queer-bashers and blackmail and all that stuff.
So, I would go to London, aged 18, and I’d get off the train at Euston, drape my coat over my shoulders, put my cigarettes in my cigarette holder and be gay.
One day, my adoptive mum Hilda (who raised me and whom I always saw as my real mum) found a letter, I don’t remember who from, that made out I was gay. When I got home from work she was in bed, in a terrible state. She thrust the letter at me, and asked: “What’s this?”
I told her I was a homosexual. She was physically ill, had a breakdown, and said: “We have to do something about it.”
We went to the doctor, who said: “There is a cure.” So for the sake of her and for the sake of society, I opted to have it. I didn’t know any better; I believed I was ill.
I went to a psychiatrist who confirmed that “I could be cured”. They put me in a mental home — not on a psychiatric ward but in a mental home with bars on the windows. I went in under a false name because it was against the law to be gay. For the first couple of days I was sort of ushered about in this room with people who had mental health problems. I was very scared.
When it came to the time for treatment I sat with this psychiatrist who was a horrible man, very cold with no compassion, who used every vile word imaginable to describe sex between men and recorded it on tape.
The next day they put me in a room in a bed, naked and put the tape on. I was looking at a book full of pictures of naked men and they gave me Guinness to drink after asking me what I usually drank, and injected me with something. I don’t know what it was but it made me throw up and soil myself. I was lying in my own puke and excrement and they injected me again and again and again. That went on for three days, with me lying there still covered in puke and excrement, thinking I was going to die and wondering if anyone would ever see me alive again.
I sent for the doctor and said: “I want out.” I was freaking out so much they had to hold me down and he said, “We’ll use the electrodes now on your penis, so if you get an erection…” I was going: “I’m lying in excrement and vomit, I haven’t eaten anything, I look like I’m going to die and you’re now talking about using electrodes on my penis. Let me out of here!”
I don’t know how I managed it, but I did get out.
A mate picked me up and took me home and put me in the bath for about eight hours because I’d never felt so filthy in my life. When mum came home I told her I’d walked out. She was angry that I hadn’t finished the treatment but I didn’t tell her what they’d done because I think she’d have tried to kill herself for putting me through that torture.
I woke up one day about a week later and said: “Enough is enough, I’m going to be who I am.” Some time after that I was in The Rockingham gay club in Manchester and there at the bar was the psychiatrist. The man who tortured me was gay himself. I tried to kill him. I’d never been physically violent in my life but I went for his throat and it took three people to get me off him.
I never spoke about what I went through until I heard about a group of people who’d been thrown out of the British army for being gay and they went to the Court of Human Rights.
One of them talked about being offered aversion therapy and I was gobsmacked, so I told my story to a reporter and also eventually I did a Q&A session about it on my radio show, in Liverpool.
I know the so-called aversion therapy damaged me in some way. I have terrible depression and while I was always clean, I am now obsessively so.
I do worry that a lot of young gay people are quite ageist and don’t understand the pain the older generation went through to get them accepted.
But times have moved on, and I think it’s great that gay people are accepted now. And why shouldn’t they be?