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The Spiv and the Architect

Unruly Life in Postwar London

2010
Author:

Richard Hornsey

The Spiv and the Architect

Explores how London’s queer culture was influenced by postwar efforts to create model citizens

As London emerged from the devastation of the Second World War, planners sought to rebuild the city in ways that would reshape the behavior of its citizens—a program defined by a strong emphasis on civic order and conservative values of national community. Richard Hornsey examines how queer men legitimized, resisted, and reinvented this ambitious reconstruction program.

Imaginative and engaging, The Spiv and the Architect makes us look afresh at the everyday intersections between queer sexualities and the urban fabric of reconstructed London after the Second World War. Just when planners and politicians tried to control the movements and behavior of the citizens of the ‘New Jerusalem,’ Hornsey finds the disorderly traces of queer desires and subjectivities irrupting in some surprising places. This exciting intervention in sexuality studies pushes us to think in new ways about the constitution of queerness in this formative postwar period.

Matt Houlbrook, author of Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957

As London emerged from the devastation of the Second World War, planners and policymakers sought to rebuild the city in ways that would reshape the behavior of its citizens as much as it would its buildings and infrastructure—a program defined by a strong emphasis on civic order and conservative values of national community. One of the groups most significantly affected by this new, moralistic climate of reformation and renewal was queer men, whom the police, the media, and lawmakers targeted as an urgent urban problem by marking their lives and desires as criminal and deviant.

In The Spiv and the Architect, Richard Hornsey examines how queer men legitimized, resisted, and reinvented this ambitious reconstruction program, which extended from the design of basic public spaces and municipal libraries to private living rooms and home decor. From their association with the urban stereotype of the spiv (slang for a young petty criminal who lived by his wits and shirked legitimate work) and vilification in the tabloids as perverts to the assimilated homosexuals within reformist psychology, Hornsey details how these efforts to transform London fundamentally restructured the experiences and identities of gay men in the city and throughout the country.

Providing the first critical history of this cultural moment, The Spiv and the Architect weaves together a vast archive of sources—canvases and photobooth self-portraits by the painter Francis Bacon, urban planning documents and drawings, popular fiction and films, autobiographical and psychological accounts of homosexuality, design exhibitions about the modern British home, and the library books defaced by the playwright Joe Orton—to present both a radically revised account of homosexuality in postwar London and an important new narrative about mid-twentieth-century British modernity.

The Spiv and the Architect

Richard Hornsey is senior lecturer in cultural studies at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

The Spiv and the Architect

Imaginative and engaging, The Spiv and the Architect makes us look afresh at the everyday intersections between queer sexualities and the urban fabric of reconstructed London after the Second World War. Just when planners and politicians tried to control the movements and behavior of the citizens of the ‘New Jerusalem,’ Hornsey finds the disorderly traces of queer desires and subjectivities irrupting in some surprising places. This exciting intervention in sexuality studies pushes us to think in new ways about the constitution of queerness in this formative postwar period.

Matt Houlbrook, author of Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957

From its suggestive title to its cleverly chosen documentary illustrations, Richard Hornsey’s new study of everything you wanted to know about public space and private sex in postwar London but never got the chance to ask is as clever as it is commendably well-researched. Popular film, gutter journalism, queer testimony, and the bureaucratic mechanics of town planning illuminate each other in this deftly provocative study of a complex, rapidly changing and now-vanished emergent metropolis.

Neil Bartlett

Richard Hornsey’s captivating account...vividly traces the efforts made to produce order and modernity, to reconstruct the city and its citizens.

Social and Cultural Geography

The Spiv and the Architect offers compelling insights into the shifting topography of queer
London.

CAA Reviews

Absorbing, erudite and beautifully produced book. . . . a book that brilliantly and imaginatively expands our vision of the postwar world.

The London Journal