In the run-up to Christmas of 1932, two plain clothes police officers were welcomed into a drag party at 27 Holland Park Avenue, London. Introduced to their fellow party-goers as ‘camp boys,’ and posing as boyfriends, they chatted, kissed, and danced the night away.
Hospitality would not run short. Yet these same police officers would later return to arrest their new acquaintances – men sporting ‘ladies’ evening clothes,’ who were introduced as ‘Queenies’; men sporting lounge suits, who were introduced as ‘Kings’ – on grounds of ‘divers lewd, scandalous, bawdy and obscene performances and practices.’
The official accounts given by these two police officers, PC Labbett and PC Chopping, are held at The National Archives (CRIM 1/639). And at the Queer and the State workshop, hosted by The National Archives in collaboration with the London Metropolitan Archives on Saturday 19 November 2016, I was invited to share my reflections on these captivating accounts of queer, criminalised life in 1930s London.
The extent to which PC Labbett and PC Chopping were prepared to implicate themselves intimately in the events of the evening is striking. They might have dedicated themselves to observing what other men were doing at the party, resolved to maintain something of a professional distance. Yet their accounts suggest that they were charming and warm, and that they kept close body contact with their new companions. Continue reading »