My First Love and the First Love I Lost

Screenwriter and writer Gavin Lambert tells of the intimate relationship with his teacher that started when he was 10 years old.

Taken from the collection Positive Memories, compiled by T. Rivas.

Source: Mainly about Lindsay Anderson – A Memoir, by Gavin Lambert, London/New York 2000.

Gavin Lambert (1924-2005) was a British-born screenwriter, novelist and biographer. In his book Mainly about Lindsay Anderson he includes an account of the personal relationship he had from the age of 10 with a teacher from his so-called preparatory school.

“As I showed an early talent for the piano, my parents decided I was ‘musical’, and like them I was sublimely unaware that the word had a double meaning in the 1930s. Just before my eleventh birthday I won a music scholarship to a preparatory school with a ‘musical’ reputation as well as great snob value. […]

My parents couldn’t know, of course, that St. George’s School was also extremely musical in the other sense. Three (that is, half) of the teaching staff were queer, two already had ‘pets’ and the third, who taught music and had awarded the scholarship, chose me as his pet. […]

My teacher-lover made what happened between us seem completely natural, so he must have been experienced as well as handsome and kind. Nothing ‘wrong’ about what we were doing, he explained, but ‘we have to be careful because some people won’t understand’. They understood in ancient Greece, he added, and blessed me with the kind of initiation that he held up as an ideal. It not only made me feel superior to the people who wouldn’t or couldn’t understand. Having to sneak out of the dormitory to my teacher’s bedroom was exciting, and made him even more attractive.

And soon after falling in love with him, I fell in love with the movies. […]

On Thursday afternoons, when there were no classes, my teacher gratified this new appetite for movies […].

The next eighteen months are a series of memory dissolves, from The Thin Man to The Barretts of Wimpole Street to Magnificent Obsession to The Great Ziegfeld to Love on the Run to After the Thin Man – and then to a night in early December 1936, when a radio was brought into the dormitory so we could hear the abdication speech of Edward VIII.

The next dissolve is to a letter my parents received during the Christmas holidays. It announced the appointment of a new headmaster at St. George’s, and when I returned there in January 1937 my teacher-lover, his two queer colleagues and one pet were also missing. The pet’s parents, it turned out, had somehow discovered what was going on and withdrawn him from the school. Under pressure he had informed on the other teachers, but claimed not to know the names of their pets. And like all the other boys questioned by the new headmaster, I claimed never to have heard, seen or done anything ‘wrong’.

I lied with a clear conscience, and you might say out of love – as well as concealed anger at the new headmaster, who made me feel violated when he spoke of ‘violation’. […]

I felt abandoned by my teacher-lover, by then emotionally far more important to me than my parents, who never suspected his existence.

But I didn’t feel betrayed, only disappointed that he never wrote me a letter – until the other abandoned pet explained it would too risky.

For several years I had fantasies of a passionate reunion when we met again by chance. It never happened.

Perhaps he was killed in the war. Just possibly he has survived to read this after turning ninety. In any case he is still remembered, an unfaded photograph in the mind’s eye, as my first love and the first love I lost.”