Last edited: December 06, 2004

Obituary: Peter Wildeblood

London Times, November 16, 1999
PO Box 496, London E1 9XN, United Kingdom
Fax +44( 0 )171-782 5988

Peter Wildeblood, journalist, writer and film producer, died on November 13 aged 76. He was born in 1923.

In March 1954, Peter Wildeblood, then diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail, was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for homosexual offences, together with Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Major Michael Pitt-Rivers. The Montagu Case, as it came to be known, was a cause célèbre. It had a direct influence on the Wolfenden Committee, whose report in 1957 recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private be legalised – proposals which were finally passed into law in 1967. "The right which I claim for myself, and for all those like me," Wildeblood wrote, "is the right to choose the person whom I love."

Born in Italy, Peter Wildeblood came to London in 1926 at the age of three. He won a scholarship to Radley, and from there, at 17, to Oxford. However, he became ill after ten days at the university, and dropped out. He was accepted by the RAF as a pilot, and was sent to Southern Rhodesia for training, but he was grounded after being involved in several crashes. He served as a corporal in the Meteorological Branch until 1945.

He returned to Oxford for two years after the war, and subsequently "tried to get some sort of job, but it was very difficult at that time". In the end, he became a waiter.

In his spare time, however, he contributed articles to magazines, and wrote a play. Called Primrose and the Peanuts, and drawing on his experiences in Rhodesia, it opened at the Bedford in 1950 and was greeted by the Daily Mail as "a merry romp".

That same year, after some time in Leeds as a reporter, Wildeblood himself joined the staff of the Mail. He worked initially on the gossip column, and it was through this that he met Lord Montagu, who was working for a publicity company. After the death of the King in 1952 he was assigned to cover the preparations for the Coronation; his brief was subsequently widened to cover the whole social calendar. In August 1953 he became acting diplomatic correspondent.

The publicity and sympathy which the Montagu Case attracted, the briefings that Wildeblood gave in the House of Lords, and his evidence to the Wolfenden Committee together did much to help to bring about the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

In Against the Law (1955), he told the story of his childhood and schooldays, his war service and university, his life as a journalist, his arrest, trial and imprisonment, and finally his return to freedom. In its honesty and restraint, the book is eloquent testimony to the injustice in the treatment of homosexuals in Britain only a generation ago.

C. H. Rolfe called Against the Law "the noblest and wittiest and most appalling prison book of them all". It was probably the first book on homosexuality to reach a mass audience in Britain, and has just been reissued, with a new preface by Matthew Parris.

After his release from prison, Wildeblood bought a bar in Berwick Street, to fund him while he wrote. It became a haunt of all kinds of high and low-life figures, and thus a good subject for his second book, A Way of Life (1956). Two novels followed: The Main Chance (1957) and West End People (1958), which was made into a musical.

In 1959 he wrote The Crooked Mile, a collaboration with the composer Peter Greenwell and the director Jean Meyer of the Comédie Française. It was a tale of gangland rivalries in Soho, with a cast of 40 (including Millicent Martin), and a chorus of professional singers. It opened in Manchester and transferred to Liverpool before arriving at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End on September 10. "There has been no better British musical comedy for many years," was the verdict of The Times.

A subsequent Wildeblood-Greenwell musical, House of Cards, was more coolly received as "an agreeable, undemanding evening in the theatre". In 1969 they collaborated again on The People’s Jack, a musical life of the 18th-century rabble-rouser John Wilkes. It was also televised.

Wildeblood had in the meantime joined the staff of Granada as a film producer, and in 1968 he wrote and produced Rogues’ Gallery, a series about a highwayman, which he described as "a bit of 18th-century slap and tickle", though Michael Billington complained that it seemed like "a musical from which all the tunes had at the last minute been whimsically removed".

Having won a reputation as one of the most reliable of Granada producers, Wildeblood was appointed executive producer of plays at London Weekend Television in 1969, but he felt he was in a rut and so, in the early 1970s, he accepted a lucrative offer from CBC in Toronto. He spent the rest of his life in Canada, and became a Canadian citizen, retiring from television at the end of the 1980s.

He moved to Vancouver, but was paralysed by a stroke in June 1994 which left him unable to move but mentally unimpaired. He was almost totally incapacitated for 18 months, until a friend taught him to use a computer with his chin. He learnt how to communicate again, and was able to take charge of his own affairs once more.

[Home] [World] [United Kingdom]