Michael Smith

Issue 7 . Winter 1999

Michael Smith, who died in his sleep on the 10th of February, had been a supporter of Ourstory's work for the last couple of years.

Born in Brighton in 1935 into a Jehovah's Witness family, Michael made a precocious debut on the town's queer scene. Aged 16 and still living at home, he was whirling in the glamorous orbit of Tilly Taylor, Petshop Nell and Betty Lou, attending drag balls, making a fourth at all night canasta parties and holding the ribbon for the annual opening ceremony of the Brighton Season on the men's beach. He was caught in the infamous raid on the Regina Club in North Street

'you can imagine the horror, they say they found enough make-up down the backs of the settees to start a shop off'

and was fined, with his name published in the Argus.

Following an argument with his father, a bookmaker of no great camp sensibility, over a red lampshade which 'made the house look like a brothel', Michael left home. A series of jobs as a barman took him to London, to the Windmill Tavern and Les Ambassadeurs in Park Lane where he served Lady Docker. At Cheltenham he worked at the cocktail bar of the Twenty Club and was astonished to see the mayor cottaging with impunity.

An RAF boyfriend's gifts from Cyprus and Malta gave him the travelling itch and in 1958 he joined the Merchant Navy. With a suitcase full of gin, zhooshy clothes, gramaphone records and his own cabin curtains, he worked his way round the world on different shipping lines. In 1967 he chucked up the sea and went as an assistant to Simpsons of Picadilly and then to Selfridges as a staff superintendent.

An arrest for cottaging heralded a long period of great unhappiness. He moved back to Brighton but had little contact with the gay world. Lately Michael's natural giggling exuberance reasserted itself and found him new friends. Last summer saw him spending long chatty days on the beach at Shoreham. 'Like the phoenix,' he said, 'I've come back again'.


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