When I went up to Cambridge in October 1960, I found myself, for the first time, in the company of public schoolboys. My college, Corpus Christi, boasted – if that’s the word – a higher proportion of them than most, about 90 per cent, I would say, all appearing to fit in naturally to the ethos of the place, which I, at first, found strange and rather wonderful. They were all very pleasant to me, despite my ‘Estuary’ accent and the fact that I had lived at home during my school years, and I made close friends with a number of them. But there was always this barrier – of adolescent experience – between us. They knew things that I didn’t (and vice versa? perhaps).
One thing was the proclivities of one of the fellows, the Rev. E. Garth Moore, notorious in public school circles as a sexual predator: they felt they needed to warn me, as a comparatively plebbish ingénu. ‘If Garth invites you to tea in his rooms,’ one of them told me on my first day, ‘don’t go. We know about him. You won’t understand.’ I think they were trying to protect me from embarrassment more than anything. It was kind of them. Anyhow, I did get the invitation, and politely turned it down.
I was filled in on what had gone on. The conversation had turned to art, in particular the art of the nude. Moore had a theory that the ideal of the male body had different proportions in Greek and medieval times. He got his guests to strip to the thighs and measured each of them ‘from nipple to nipple, and nipple to crutch’, to determine whether they conformed to the Greek or the Gothic ideal. My new friends were right; I would have been embarrassed. Moore also used to walk naked in our college gardens, among the students there.
Moore was a tutor in law before he was ordained in the Church of England. His main published academic work – possibly his only one – was a slim guide to Canon Law. Later, when I became a fellow of the college, I got to know him better, and instinctively took against him. He had extreme right-wing views; but it was his general air of pleasant corruption which alienated me. He was one of the reasons – though not the main one – that I resigned my fellowship two years later, to take up a lectureship at Hull, where I felt far more comfortable.
Moore died in 1990. This week the Guardian outed him on its front page as the perpetrator of a ‘sadistic sexual assault’ on a 16-year-old boy known as ‘Joe’ in 1976. (The Church Times named him in December.) That’s in connection with the church hierarchy’s covering up of complaints such as Joe’s. But I’d have thought responsibility rested with my college, too, acting – as universities did then – in loco parentis. Garth had young men in his care. I was only three years older than ‘Joe’ when I came across him.
Then again, it’s a big jump from an interest in young men’s bodies to rape. I doubt he assaulted any of my friends at Corpus. (Consensual sex, possibly.) So the college had no reason to protect us from him. Besides, the atmosphere was very different in the 1960s. From what I gathered from my public school friends, these things were accepted among their class then. It was only the lower orders, with their stiff morality, who objected. Or were embarrassed, like me. And the upper classes had pretty foolproof ways – group loyalty, no sneaking etc. – of hiding it from them.
Read more in the London Review of Books