Queer 1950s pp 115-130 | Cite as

Warm Homes in a Cold Climate: Rex Batten and the Queer Domestic

  • Matt Cook
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


‘Home’, writes Richard Hornsey, was ‘one of the most contested sites in the concerted drive for social reconstruction and renewal’ in Britain in the 1950s.2 As a material place and as an ideal, it represented what could go right for the nation. It alluded to a companionate and nuclear form of family to which men and women brought their respective and highly gendered skills, and to a coming generation reared with a clear set of values aligned with respectability and good citizenship.3 The new welfare state was based on presumptions about the tight form and functioning of this unit, further ingraining it as the obvious and ideal base for domestic life.4 Home had long held this pivotal status in British culture, but it was given a fresh impetus in this period in ways that we can trace through novels, films, the media, popular psychology and the words of politicians, lawyers, medics and more.5 Those without a home, those who did not take care of it, or who took care of it a little too frivolously, meanwhile, boded ill. The upsurge in discussions about the homosexual, the prostitute and the immigrant conjured these figures especially as the threatening ‘others’ to the ‘normal’ home and ‘normal’ family. Whilst the latter were figured as intrinsic to a civilised, modern and forward-looking culture, this threatening triumvirate was an apparent link to primitive realms and/or to earlier scandals borne of a supposedly very different city and era.6


Cold Climate Domestic Life Pivotal Status Social Reconstruction Fresh Impetus 
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  1. 1.
    Cited in David Kynaston, Family Britain, 1951–1957 (New York: Walker & Co, 2009), 54.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard Hornsey, The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    On these points, see especially, Deborah Cohen, Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  4. Sophie Leighton, The 1950s Home (Oxford: Shire, 2009);Google Scholar
  5. Shirley Echlin, At Home in the 1950s (Harlow: Longman, 1983).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Rex Batten, Rid England of This Plague (London: Paradise, 2006), 95.Google Scholar
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    See Matt Cook, ‘Domestic Passions: unpacking the homes of Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts’ in Journal of British Studies (forthcoming (2012)).Google Scholar
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    See Matt Cook, ‘Homes Fit for Homos: Joe Orton, Masculinity, and the Domesticated Queer’, What Is Masculinity? Historical Dynamics from Antiquity to the Contemporary World (Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Horney The Spiv and the Architect; and Matt Houlbrook and Chris Waters, ‘The Heart in Exile: Detachment and Desire in 1950s London’, History Workshop Journal, 6 (2006), 142–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Court cases involving sodomy, gross indecency and indecent assault had risen from 719 in 1938 in England and Wales to 2,504 in 1955. Jeffrey Weeks, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (London: Quarter, 1977), 158.Google Scholar
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© Heike Bauer and Matt Cook 2012

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  • Matt Cook

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