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On This Gay Day | Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers was born

Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers was a British landowner who in the 1950’s was put on trial for buggery at a time when being homosexual was still illegal.

The case drew attention to changing community attitudes to homosexuality and led to the publication of the Wolfenden Report that recommended decriminalisation.

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He was born on this day in 1917. His parents were Captain George Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers and actress Mary Hinton.

In 1953 British peer Lord Montagu offered his friend Peter Wildeblood the use of a beach hut near his country estate. Wildeblood brought with him two young RAF servicemen, Edward McNally and John Reynolds.

Pitt-Rivers, who was Montagu’s cousin, joined the four men at the hut one night for what was later described as an evening of “abandoned behaviour” and dancing.

The following year Montagu, Pitt-River and Wildeblood were put on trial charged with a range of offences including buggery. The two airmen have evidence against the other three.

The high profile case came at the height of the cold war in the 1950’s when politicians had vowed to crack down on “the scourge of homosexuality”. At the time police officers were often used as agent provocateurs, posing as gay men to entrap other gay men.

The officers had been threatened with imprisonment if they did not testify against the trio. Those accused described the encounter as a rather boring party where there was some dancing.

All three were found guilty with Montagu sentenced to 12 months in prison, while Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood both received 18 months.

In 1957 the British government published the Wolfenden Report that led to the laws being changed in 1967.

In 1958 Pitt-Rivers married Sonia Brownell, the widow of author George Orwell. The divorced in 1965.

For most of his adult life Pitt-Rivers lived with his partner William Gronow-Davies. He sold off most of his family’s estate and the couple travelled the world.

In 1991 he began to restore the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire which has been abandoned since his grandfather died in 1900. The stunning gardens re-opened to the public in 1995.

Michael Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers died in 1999 at the age of 82, leaving his estate to Gronow-Davies.

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