1971-1975: Ivor Street, Icebreakers and PIE

Ivor Street, Icebreakers and PIE

A key clique to emerge out of the explosion of energy and activism created by the Gay Liberation Front during 1970-72 was The Counter-Psychiatry Group, emulating US West Coast groups formed in reaction to gay men and women treated as if they had a medical or psychological condition which could be expunged or made heterosexual with ‘treatment’ such as aversion therapy. Icebreakers, a gay counselling/befriending group would emerge from the Counter-Psychiatry group during 1972, under the leadership of 35 year old sociologist and lead Housing Development researcher at the Department of Environment, Michael J Burbidge.

One third of the founding twelve members of the NCCL Gay Rights Committee established in September 1974 already knew one another through Icebreakers:

  • Micky Burbidge (PIE Manifesto co-drafter);
  • Keith Hose (first PIE Chairman);
  • Nettie Pollard (NCCL Gay Rights Officer responsible for PIE and PAL’s affiliation with NCCL and PIE member); and
  • Anna Duhig

“In London the group formed around Elizabeth Wilson, herself a psychiatric social worker with previous experience of the anti-pysychiatry theories and writings of RD Laing. The original lists of GLF members interested in the group survive and show twenty-eight names including Elizabeth, Mary, Jeffrey Weeks, Micky Burbidge and David Hutter, all of whom were to be centrally involved in its writings, actions and spin-off groups.” [No bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power, p.42]

“Version therapy (usually electric shock treatment) was such a major issue because it was the publicly accepted way of dealing with homosexuality. I knew that I was gay in 1962 and decided that I didn’t want to be. I read an article about a man who did aversion therapy for homosexuals and I wrote to him asking for therapy. He had a long waiting list, so nothing happened. Then I read a story in the paper about a man who had aversion therapy to make him fall out of love with the wrong woman and I suddenly realised that it was awful to think of switching off loving feelings by shock treatment. There had to be another way of dealing with it. That totally changed my mind and I decided that I wanted to be what I was, after all.” (Micky BurbidgeNo bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power, p.93)

Nettie Pollard and Micky Burbidge

“I was in the Counter-Psychiatry Group with Micky and others. I helped to organise a conference at the London School of Economics in Autumn 1971 — Homosexual Oppression?  Freedom? Mary McIntosh spoke on abolishing the age of consent and people from outside, like doctors, came along.” (Nettie Pollard, No bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power, p.97)

“My best friend who was called Jake read about it in the Daily Mirror in April 1971 and we went along. It was in Middle Earth. I was straight then. Bruce Wood was there and Ted Brown, Micky Burbidge. Elizabeth Wilson got up and told everybody about the Women’s Group and what they were doing…The second week I went, there was an argument about intergenerational issues. It was seen as an issue of solidarity — people wanted to help anyone oppressed by the state. I felt that I could identify with it even as straight, because it was about sexual liberation and not gay rights, it was involve with women’s liberation and gender roles and so on. There was lots of debate about what gay meant — did it conclude transvestites and transsexuals, anyone who didn’t fit in.” (Nettie Pollard, No bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power p.69)

“I knew some other gays through cottaging. People I met this way would ask ‘are you active or passive’ and there were a lot of self-denigrating attitudes. I was very relieved when I finally found out that you didn’t have to be one or the other. I saw a poster in Compendium for the first meeting and I thought it was incredible, I wanted to go but I was afraid to walk into a room full of openly gay people. It was Jeffrey [Weeks] who insisted I go to GLF, we were friends.” (Micky Burbidge) [No bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power p.24]

During 1971, at the height of GLF’s wave of liberation, Micky Burbidge could fill the neo-gothic rafters of All Saint’s Church Hall in Notting Hill with an outraged crowd, sickened to hear of electric shocks and chemical castration.

By 1972 the Counter-Psychiatry Group had become a regular Sunday evening meet-up at 24 Ivor Street, Camden, NW1, where Micky shared a house with a 24 year old Scottish soon to be drama student Angus Suttie and 27 year old Jeffrey Weeks.

“Counter-Psychiatry Group later after long vicissitudes went in different directions. Mary got involved in the Manifesto Group, so that was like the theoretical bit of the group. Some us, myself, David Hutter, set up a small group who produced the pamphlets…Another wing moved in to what became Icebreakers. We worked on Psychiatry and the Homosexual from September 1971 into 1972. The group moved around and part of the rota was Ivor Street where Micky, Angus and I lived at the time. One particular meeting, I remember, we discussed the way forward and I suggested the pamphlet. One subgroup formed to do that, another talked about the helpline which became Icrebreakers and we just evolved in different directions and went on meeting separately. The group as such faded away and its energies went into the subgroups.” (Jeffrey Weeks No bath but plenty of bubbles: An oral history of the GLF 1970-73, Lisa Power p.99)

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On occasion the Counter-Psychiatry Group would meet elsewhere, as when Nettie Pollard (who 2 years later would become a founding member of NCCL Gay Rights Committee alongside Micky Burbidge; and PIE member #70) hosted it at her home, as on Sunday 8th October 1972:

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In line with the Counter-Psychiatry Group’s thinking on and rejection of medical experts’ opinions on homosexuality, a new counselling/befriending group called Icebreakers began to emerge who believed there were no better or additional qualifications necessary to counsel gay people other than the counsellor being gay and out themselves. This put the group’s attitude to counselling at odds with the Albany Trust’s more conservative approach and Antony Grey’s emphasis on professionalism and concern to associate himself professional counselling bodies.

On Tuesday 7 March 1972 the first few members of a proposed Ice Breaking Group gathered at Micky Burbidge’s address at 24 Ivor Street to discuss how best to help the most isolated gay people to come out.

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1973-74: Phoney Bishop of Gleaves once housed Icebreakers

During 1973-1974 the Icebreakers crystallised into a collective of just over 20 gay men and 2 women on a rota answering a phone every evening between 7.30pm and 10.30pm. Keith Hose [PIE’s first Chairman] became a ‘prominent member of Icebreakers‘ and Anna Duhig, another founding member of NCCL Gay Rights Committee also joined Burbidge’s Icebreakers.

Surprisingly, considering Icebreakers had formed out of the GLF, the Icebreakers phone wasn’t at the GLF centre on Railton Road but instead was installed at one of the Bishop of Gleaves’ hostels on Branksome Road in Brixton [see further on the murder of Billy Two-Tone and TV documentary Johnny Go Home, Gleaves’ associate Malcolm Raywood as co-defendant with Charles Hornby in the Playland Trial].

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Gay News

However, it soon became apparent that Gleaves was answering the phone himself and directing teenagers and young men looking for support from Icebreakers to come and stay at one of his hostels. Lambeth Council had started asking questions about a ‘male brothel run by priests’.  Only 3-4 years previously in November 1970 had a group of men been found guilty of prostituting and sexually abusing children in a flat on Solon Road, moments from Branksome Road. Gay News reported Icebreakers had swiftly severed links with Gleaves and moved in to the South London Gay Centre on Railton Road, Brixton instead.

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Gay News No 76 p.4 [1976]

By Icebreakers 3rd year it reported it had received 4, 417 calls –

1 in 7 were women; [631] 14.2%

1 in 11 married or divorced; [402] 9.1%

1 in 9 were under 21; [490] 11%

Just under 1 in 20 were transvestites; [220] 4.9%

19 calls were from transsexuals; 0.43%

52 calls were from paedophiles = 1.18%

March 1975 Ivor Street, Camden: PIE’s London Inauguration

Three years after Icebreakers’ first meeting, the first official London meeting of PIE also took place at an address in Ivor Street. Michael Hanson resigned and a young graduate from Hull University who had led the university’s Sexual Liberation Society, Keith Hose, was elected as Chairman.

During autumn that same year Micky Burbidge and Keith Hose would work together swiftly to produce the Paedophile Information Exchange’s response to the Criminal Law Revision Committee consultation. Together Burbidge and Hose would propose the abolition of the age of consent and the decriminalisation of ‘consensual’ sexual activity with children. Despite deploring the trauma of courtroom appearances for children as a reason for decriminalisation, the civil system of injunctions they proposed to replace it meant children (with no distinction made for pre-verbal and non-verbal children in their lack of ability to voice consent) would still be required to give evidence in court, the only difference being that it would a civil court rather than a criminal court.

It is unknown whether PIE’s London inauguration gathered at Micky Burbidge’s address at no 24 on Ivor Street in Camden or whether there happened to be another house on this short street where a gathering of pro-paedophile activists would have been welcomed.

“It was Martin also, who along with Keith Hose presided over the PIE gathering at London’s Ivor Street in March – with the object of initiating London PIE meetings.”

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PIE Newsletter (No.6) 1975, p.4

In just 2.5 years Micky Burbidge had nurtured Icebreakers into a small clique who met regularly for consciousness-raising sessions in between taking calls from mostly men and boys aged 14 to 70.

Within six months of Keith Hose’s election as PIE Chairman and PIE’s inaugural London meeting at Ivor Street, Burbidge wrote into the Guardian to defend Hose against John Torode’s London Letter column of 28 August 1975. Torode had obtained a copy of the PIE leaflet circulated by Hose at the Campaign for Homosexual Equality’s 3rd Annual Conference in Sheffield and commented:

“In short we are talking about poor, sad, perverted adults who take pleasure in having it off with children too young to know what they are doing and why. People who need medical treatment rather than sneering persecution, no doubt. But above all, people who need to be kept away from your kids and mine.”

The suggestion of paedophiles as needing medical treatment conflicted with Burbidge’s belief that the categorisation of paedophilia as a psychiatric disorder was as wrong as homosexuality’s categorisation as a psychiatric disorder and should be campaigned for alongside homosexuality under the umbrella definition of ‘sexual orientation’. Instead, Burbidge argued,

“The ‘harm’ which sometimes is associated with paedophilic (sic) relationships is real enough: it stems from the bigoted reactions of adults, from the hounding and interrogation of younger partners by the police and others, and from the intense feelings of guilt and anxiety which distort relationships.”

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The Guardian, Letters to the Editor Sep 3, 1975 p10

On 3rd January 1976 Keith Hose, when writing to Mary McIntosh (a Home Office policy advisor) to offer an early copy of the PIE Submission to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure he and Micky Burbidge had drafted, emphasised that mutual friends Jeffrey Weeks and Nettie Pollard had advised him to get in touch.

In spring 1976 Angus Suttie, Burbidge’s housemate at Ivor Street, wrote an article for Gay Left (launched as “A Socialist Journal produced by Gay Men” the previous autumn): “From Latent to Blatant: A personal account”. Suttie’s partner and housemate Jeffrey Weeks, [then Chair of the Charing Cross Branch of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff (ASTMS)] had co-founded the journal.

'The branch and Tony Kelly' by Jeffrey Weeks, Letters to The Guardian

‘The branch and Tony Kelly’ by Jeffrey Weeks, Letters to The Guardian ” 5 May 1976 p.12

In his personal account of coming out, Suttie wrote of the ambivalence he felt towards his sexually predatory scout master who molested him when he was only 10 years old; “to be gay or paedophile was to be a pariah and delight would be taken in making one aware of one’s outcastness”. For Suttie, despite recognising he’d felt no sexual attraction towards the scoutmaster as a 10 year old and that the experience was not ‘mutually pleasing”, the iniquity of society’s treatment of gays and paedophiles was suffered side by side.

“I at this time hadn’t reached puberty yet and all that was involved was tickling and stroking one another’s genitals, but on every occasion I felt dirty and guilty, so much so that I left the scouts and joined another troup. I had received enjoyment from the contact but I felt no attraction from the scoutmaster and I would think longingly of some of the other scouts with whom I would have much preferred a mutually pleasing sexual relationship.”

Perhaps for Weeks, it was the combination of his lifelong friendship with pro-paedophile activist Micky Burbidge with whom he lived for many years and his romantic relationship with Angus Suttie, which blurred his vision when writing of paedophilia ‘and its controversial, if contested, overlap with child sex abuse.’

Paedophiliac ‘relationships’ were only ever contested as not abusive by pro-paedophile activists arguing for the abolition of the age of consent and the decriminalisation of sexual activities children had ‘consented’ to. Unfortunately those activists or apologists never really got round to explaining how non-verbal or pre-verbal children could consent, or indeed, prove that they hadn’t, without a statutory age of consent to protect them.

Sexuality by Jeffrey Weeks, p.76, first published in 1986

Sexuality by Jeffrey Weeks, p.76, first published in 1986

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