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As an isolated gay teenager growing up in South Wales, my introductions to gay literature came largely via the medium of queer pop. I listened to Jean Genie by David Bowie and discovered the books of Jean Genet. I listened to Numbers by Soft Cell and discovered Numbers by John Rechy. By the time I reached my early ’20s, it wasn’t pop music that shaped my gay reading choices so much as the films I saw at the time. The mid to late ’80s was a rich time for gay British films such as Prick Up Your Ears, which rekindled my interest in Joe Orton, whose plays I’d studied briefly at college. But what really captured my romantic imagination were those sunlit, period dramas featuring pretty, floppy-haired boys in cricket whites – the television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and the films Another Country, A Room With A View and Maurice. I first saw Maurice at a crowded cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue, with an audience comprised largely of fellow gay men. When Rupert Graves’s gorgeous gamekeeper Alec Scudder climbed through Maurice’s bedroom window, the entire audience let out a collective gasp. As well they might. Rupert Graves has never looked more alluring – seen here sandwiched between co-stars James Wilby and Hugh Grant.
I read Forster’s novel shortly afterwards and was as seduced by it as posh boy Maurice Hall is by his beautiful bit of rough. It’s a book about light and dark, truth and lies, sexual repression and erotic companionship. And without giving too much away, it ends on a note of optimism. Long before Harvey Milk made his famous “You gotta give them hope” speech, here was Forster giving his gay lovers the hope of a happy ending. As a young man, this meant a lot to me. It still does. Later I discovered that the author had stipulated that the book should only be published after his death. I also learned that Forster was heavily influenced by the poet and early gay rights advocate Edward Carpenter and his relationship with George Miller – who, like Scudder, came from a working-class background. It’s said that the idea for Maurice came when Miller set Forster’s erotic imagination alight – by touching him in the small of the back. Who needs Pornhub when you have men like Miller going around, casually touching English gentlemen in intimate places? It was largely thanks to films like Maurice that I spent much of the mid ’80s dressed in a silky white blouse, with my hair worn in a floppy fringe. Sadly, I never did meet my Scudder.