In 1979 I bought a house in Sheffield. Having spent the last few years living in a caravan near Bedford, I had searched for a cheap town house in need of renovation (because that was all I could afford). I wanted a place that would give me privacy so I could safely indulge in my cross-dressing and far enough away from close family so they would not be likely to drop in unannounced. I had not told any family members about my cross-dressing at that time but I needn’t have worried on that score as when I did tell my mother and sister only a year later, they took it extremely well.
|Martine at the first Beaumont Society Weekend in Scarborough in !982, that preceded what was to become the Rose's Harmony Weekends.|
I chose Sheffield because I particularly wanted a town with a large catchment area for potential customers as I had in mind setting up some sort of help service for our community. Over the previous few years I had developed a much greater self-acceptance of my own cross-dressing to such an extent that I wanted to try to help others.
I’d joined the Beaumont Society before coming to Sheffield and attended a couple of their events. After I’d moved to Sheffield I regularly attended the Beaumont meetings in Leeds. When the then Regional Officer heard about my plans I think she felt I was a bit of an upstart trying to compete with the Beaumont Society but this was not my intention at all as I saw what I was proposing to do would be part of the service provided by the BS.
With my house I wanted to provide the sorts of facilities that I would have welcomed whilst I was coming to terms with my own transvestism. Besides monthly social evenings, I wanted to cater for those ‘closet’ cross-dressers who would be far too nervous to go to a group meeting and would have difficulties ‘dressing’ at home. I would allow private visits at any time by appointment providing visitors the opportunity to dress in complete privacy, somewhere to store their femme stuff, a pool of clothes and wigs for those who did not have their own and even offer accommodation. For the more self-assured T-girls who wanted something more fun than the boring monthly meetings I would have regular parties. I was not aware of anyone else offering such comprehensive facility. There were no makeover and dressing services in those days.
|Janet and Martine having a dress-up and photo session in the house. I was trying on a ‘Green Witch’ outfit that I had made for a later Ball.|
But first the run-down house I had acquired needed a huge amount of work. When I say run-down I mean semi-derelict. It had defective lead plumbing, condemned electrics and a non-working loo at the bottom of the garden! At first I had to fetch water in a jerrican from the local garage, cook on a camping stove and use a chemical toilet! Besides these basics, the building work required included replacing sagging rotten floors and a new staircase. I did this all myself over several years with help from Janet from Derby whom I met at a BS meeting in Leeds. We became very good friends and she would spend several days at a time helping me with the building work. We’d have frequent ‘dress-up’ and photo sessions.
I called my enterprise ‘Rose’s’ and started holding monthly social evenings at my ‘Rose’s House’ in mid 1980. At first they were held in an un-restored downstairs room with temporary wall coverings but despite the rough conditions, right from the start I had good attendances. I publicised what I was offering wherever I could: the contact and TV magazines that were around at the time, adverts in Exchange & Mart, talks I gave to the Samaritans and Sheffield University, etc. I set up my phone as a helpline fairly early on and found I would be getting about two or three calls a day (the BS did not have a helpline at that time). Although not a trained counsellor I know I helped a lot of troubled trans persons through talking with them. I was frequently the first person they had ever spoken to about their cross-dressing and many told me afterwards that they were on the point of suicide before talking to me.
|The Devil Woman outfit that won first prize for Martine at a ‘Saints and Sinners’ Porchester Hall Drag Ball, April 1982. Martine made the complete outfit including the bootee’s.
Below: On stage at the Saints & Sinners Ball for the presentation of the prize by Ron Storme (second from right). Norma (kneeling) was the ‘Saint’ accompanying ‘Devil Woman’ Martine.
Janet and I regularly went to parties held by Brenda in her home in Leicester and in February 1981 we went to our first drag ball at the Porchester Hall in London. We really enjoyed it and went to most of them every few months thereafter for several years. I really enjoyed making costumes for these balls and even won first prize for my Devil Woman outfit for a Saints and Sinners Ball in 1982 and second prize for a Christmas Ball the same year. (I made all my outfits shown here).
1982 was a particularly good year as that summer I finally completed the refurbishment of the large attic room in my house. This was where all future Rose’s parties and monthly social evenings were held. I had only held one party in the house before then because of lack of space but when the attic room was ready I held about six or seven each season for several years. They were extremely popular and we would have guests coming from all over the country. I was not aware of any other parties like them in the UK as by then the Leicester parties had long stopped. All the parties had a theme and I really enjoyed making outfits for them, many of them rather ‘over-the-top’ as I was told that my outfits were a draw for many coming to the parties. A rumour spread amongst people who never attended them that the parties were rather sleazy (which I think was believed by many in the Beaumont Society). The rumour probably arose because of the occasional photo of a wife who regularly attended the parties wearing rather revealing outfits. But there was certainly nothing sexual about the parties; just good respectable fun!
I remained very active within the Beaumont Society and in 1983 joined the Executive Committee by becoming membership secretary and later event organiser. I campaigned to drop the infamous Clause 2 of the constitution that prohibited homosexuals from joining the society. I was not at all gay myself but I felt the clause to be bad and knew many members were not honest about their sexuality when they joined the society. I am not at all good at speaking out at Executive Committee meetings so my campaigning was mostly through my written submissions to the committee members and the Beaumont Bulletin for members. The clause was eventually dropped though I do not claim it was all due to me (in part perhaps!).
The Society had previously held their annual dinners in London (I attended one or two), but in 1982 they decided to move it around the regions starting with a function in Scarborough which I attended. The event came back to Scarborough again in 1985 and 1987. In January 1988, at another venue close to Scarborough, I represented the BS along with a few others, at a conference organised by the London-based TV/TS Group (since defunct). The aim of the conference was to promote closer co-operation and goodwill between the various groups that existed at that time as for several years there had been some antagonism particularly by the TV/TS Group towards the Beaumont Society. The conference was a success and I was subsequently appointed to liaise on behalf of the BS with Janett Scott who was then a prominent member of the TV/TS Group. I was appointed because I had also long campaigned for a better relationship between our organisations. That formal co-operation soon fizzled out though.
However, what I thought best about the conference was the great social atmosphere amongst all the participants especially in the evenings after all the talk was over. I wanted to keep this alive and as I was then events organiser for the BS, I organised what I called a ‘Harmony Weekend’ with the aim of bringing members of all groups together again. It didn’t really work out that way as it attracted predominantly Beaumont members. But it was the first event I organised for the BS and became an annual event. When I subsequently left the BS I just carried on organising these weekends on my own behalf and they are became regarded as Rose’s events which continue to this day.
In 1988, I was elected as vice-president of the Beaumont Society. I was writing a regular column in the Beaumont Bulletin which by then had progressed from the earlier typewritten duplicated pages to being printed. But I believed there was still room for improvement and tried to introduce graphic design to my pages. I had previously presented radical proposals for improving the Bulletin upon joining the executive committee in 1983 but they had been rejected. Now as vice-president I tried again and even offered to produce the magazine that I proposed for the BS but again was rejected. I think this was a great shame as for many members the bulletin was all they got from the BS and I believed a much better presented magazine would attract more members.
At that time there were a few American magazines available in sex shops but they were very fetishistic and rather pornographic and a couple of British magazines which seemed to consist mainly of erotic fantasies and photos of readers displaying their knickers! I felt there was a real need for a good magazine for our community that was pitched somewhere between the extremes of what was commercially available and the ultra respectable publications that were restricted to membership of a group.
Ever since I first started Rose’s House it had always been at the back of my mind that I would produce my own magazine one day and with the advances of technology during the 80’s, particularly home computing, by the end of the decade I really felt I could realise my dream. So if the BS would not listen to my proposals for a better magazine and the reasons why one was needed, I would do it myself. But I thought it best to resign from the BS because I thought it would be regarded as a conflict of interests.
The success of Rose’s House had proved me correct in knowing what our community needed. It was doing extremely well, so well in fact that I began to look for larger premises as our social events were so packed. After a party you could hardly move without stepping on bodies that had ‘kipped’ down for the night all over the place!
With the prospect of moving to larger premises and plans to produce a magazine, I initially tried forming a committee to help run an expanded ‘Rose’s’. The committee comprised of several of the regulars to Rose’s House who had become close friends but I soon abandoned the committee as it just wasn’t working. I’m not a committee person and work far better on my own without having to wait for approval for everything I did. It was far too stifling. Far from sharing the work load I found it self-generated a lot of unnecessary extra work and slowed me down. I’m a firm believer that in a situation like we had, a benevolent dictatorship works far better than a committee!
At the same time, the purchase of the premises I had in mind fell through. In retrospect, thankfully as I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the move to new premises at the same time as launch a magazine. Also I had a new love in my life! Cathy had been coming to my parties with her TV boyfriend for a few years but I never had much contact with her apart from a few polite words. But she loved the tranny scene so much that when she split with her boyfriend she still came to my parties on her own and at one of them decided to seduce me. I was a very willing victim and we soon got together, with her moving in with me in the summer of 1989.
All this was whilst my plans for a magazine proceeded and the first issue of Repartee appeared in September 1989, exactly 10 years after acquiring Rose’s House. I had to keep costs down so it was all produced by myself using a photo-copier to print the inside pages. It was a bit before desktop publishing was available for home computers but I wrote a basic programme on my Acorn computer which allowed me to produced justified text (that’s the right side of columns in a straight line) on my daisy-wheel printer. Also I wanted to have lots of photos included right from the start and in order to get them to be copied successfully the photos had to be ‘screened’ (that’s given a dot-pattern like in old newsprint). I had acquired equipment to do that. It was then all cut and paste (literally – not like you do on computers these days!). I got a batch of covers printed on card when I took a short printing course at a local community print-shop. I printed enough which I hoped would last me several issues and I’d just overprint the actual issue with my photo-copier. Also I had colour right from the start by sticking on the cover colour laser prints from Staples. To keep costs down I had 100 copies printed with 8 photos per A4 sheet. With one photo per magazine I hoped it would keep me going for 8 issues.
|Cathy and Martine at a Creatures in the Night party - November 1989|
I thought 100 copies of my magazine was all I could expect for my first issue but I soon had to do a reprint and the colour prints on the cover were exhausted after only a few issues. Subsequently over the years I sold many times the original target number as back issues (without the stuck-on colour photo) until I stopped producing them because of the effort involved.
For issue number 5 (it was being produced quarterly then) the magazine had grown to attract a distributor who’d get Repartee into shops throughout the UK. I used a professional printer for a new full-colour cover and also had the black and white content pages printed. This continued through to number 15 when we got an American distributor which gave us a huge increase in circulation. They required the magazine to become A4 format and we had to move to a larger printer but we still assembled the pages, stitched (stapled) and trimmed the magazines ourselves (Cathy, Michelle (a lodger) and myself). I didn’t get the magazine fully finished by the printer until a few issues after that when the US distributor significantly increased his quota.
It was at about the time of Repartee increasing in size (early 1993) that we at last moved into new larger premises. After the magazine had got established we started looking again for a property and there were several near-misses where we thought we had something suitable but they had fallen through. What we did finally get was a huge ex-working men’s club in Sheffield which again was in much need of renovation. It turned out to be a huge mistake though as with all the pressures of producing the magazine I simply did not have the time to do much to the property. I was being far too ambitious and it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
Over a period of a few years at the old place and the new, Cathy and I appeared on several television shows. The first was in 1992 when we appeared on the James Whale Show on Yorkshire Television. He had a reputation of being tough on his guests but he was good with us and I think it went down well. Thereafter I appeared on several shows, sometimes with Cathy and later by myself. We appeared on the ITV Morning Show and I was on the Kilroy show a few times (but didn’t really get to speak). We were both on an Esther Rantzen show and Esther talked with me after with the result that I later appeared on one of her shows in my male mode on the subject of shyness.
I split with Cathy in 1994. The reasons were complex but with the pressure of work producing Repartee I felt I could no longer cope with Cathy’s ongoing psychotic problems. Outsiders would be totally unaware that there were these problems and I had done my best to try to help Cathy (she had said I’d helped her more than any psychiatrist had ever done). Cathy was very upset at first when I told her we could not carry on but we remained friends for awhile until for reasons I could not understand she suddenly turned very much against me. I really wish we could have remained friends and had we done so I think it quite possible we might have got back together again eventually. I have no idea what happened to her but would love to meet her again.
In 1997 I finally managed to sell the ex-working men’s club after a few years trying and moved to a bungalow not too far away. At last I had somewhere decent to live. We’d had a few parties and social evenings at the club but they were not like they were in the ‘good old days’ at the original Rose’s House. In the bungalow I didn’t have any of the old Rose’s House facilities as the magazine had completely taken over my life. The pressure of work was tremendous as I had no help and the intervals between issues of the magazine were slipping to as much as five months. But in spite of this, sales of the magazine were at their peak and it was doing extremely well.
This was when Bella Jay fortunately stepped in. She’d taken over what was previously the Rose’s shopping service a few years earlier and called it Blue Moon. In 1998 Bella and I entered into a business partnership and Bella took over the administrative side of running the magazine membership.
I had gradually increased the number of colour pages in Repartee over the years but moving to having it digitally printed in Finland with Issue 34 (April 2000) made it cost effective to go full colour throughout. Preparing the magazine for the printer was also very much easier than the old process as we could just send a computer file rather than produce hard copy. A few issues later we greatly enhanced the magazine by employing a graphic designer (Debs) to give the magazine a makeover and produce some of the pages for us. Bella Jay was also taking on more and more of the editorial work with the magazine as well as continuing the administration of Rose’s and eventually took over full editorship. From then until it ceased in print, I just gave the mag a final once-over before sending it to the printers.
As my work load gradually diminished I was able to try to get something of a life back. I had been alone and lonely much of my life and I desperately wanted some companionship. I tried one or two postal dating agencies (before online dating came to the fore) with limited success. Most dates didn’t get anywhere but one relationship around the turn of the century did last about a year or so. I even took an IQ test and succeeded in joining Mensa with the hope of meeting someone of a higher intellect but again I did not get far and after awhile let my membership drop. I remain very much alone to this day and I still dream of meeting a woman who might be interested in meeting me.
Part 4 Krystina, Pontefract and Beyond
Part 2 The Travel Years
Part 1 The Early Years