Queering the Grammar School Boy: Class, Sexuality and Authenticity in the Works of Colin MacInnes and Ray Gosling

  • Lucy Robinson
  • Ben Jones
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music book series (PSHSPM)


In 1959 Colin MacInnes published the fourth in his series of social issue novels, Absolute Beginners. In it the unnamed protagonist was constructed as the iconic teenager: slick, cool, and creative. This ‘Boy’ could be dismissed as emblematic of MacInnes as the “perpetual teenager” or indeed the object of MacInnes’s own desires (Gould, Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes, Chatto & Windus, 1983). But if you move across MacInnes work as a whole, ‘the Boy’ becomes a complex political subjectivity. We bring together MacIness’s novels, memoir, journalism and activism to map ‘the Boy’ as an autonomous, queer political agent (e.g. England, Half English, 1961). ‘The Boy’ was, of course, based on a real person, Ray Gosling. In the second part of this chapter we weave together, Gosling’s two volumes of autobiography (Sum Total, 1962; Personal Copy, 1980). We find the uneasy story of a classic ‘Grammar School Boy’ struggling to negotiate both middle and working class worlds whilst remaining true to an ‘authentic’ self. Using Gosling’s journalism and unpublished work, we will show how class and sexuality intersected to shape Gosling’s activism and his historical construction of selfhood as the political optimism of the 1960s and 1970s gave way to the gloom of AIDS into the 1980s. We argue that the teenager is, and has always been, inflected through queer masculinity and that, in turn, experiences and stories of post-war social mobility impacted the gay activism that followed.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucy Robinson
    • 1
  • Ben Jones
    • 2
  1. 1.University of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.University of East AngliaNorwichUK

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