Lord Arran

The Discreet Reformer


Dirk seized with relish on the role of Melville Farr, the successful barrister with the beautiful wife, because Victim (1961) had something important to say about a society in which the blackmailing of homosexuals was commonplace. When the film was made, Lord Wolfenden’s Committee had reported on the merits of qualified reform, but the legislature was slow to respond.

Six years later, the Sexual Offences Act was passed, partially decriminalising homosexual acts in private between consenting males aged 21 or over. In 1968 the Earl of Arran, who had introduced the legislation in the House of Lords, wrote to Dirk, acknowledging the part the latter had played in helping to change the climate for the better. The brief but gratifying letter is reproduced on these pages by kind permission of the writer’s son, the 9th Earl.

BBC Drama of the Week – July 9 2017

Sarah Wooley’s BBC3 radio play about the making of Victim, the first British film to address homosexuality seriously.

Listen here…


Dirk never nailed his colours overtly to the mast. In those oppressive days before 1967, how could he – at one time the nation’s most prominent matinée idol – have done so? Instead, as Matthew Parris, the writer and former Conservative MP, has written, Dirk was one of the ‘famous men who were gay, never quite said so, may never have joined the early campaigns, but lived and worked as openly as they dared.’ They ‘served the cause by an inner honesty, a disposition to be themselves, which is greater than the honesty of words.’

In his appreciation published two days after Dirk’s death, and reproduced in full here, Philip Hensher of The Independent said that Dirk’s work was at its most interesting in the Sixties, during the period between the Report and the Act: ‘In many ways he was the archetypal Wolfenden figure, pleading not so much for the granting of ordinary human rights, but rather for a measure of quiet respectability.’

BFI Film Classics - Victim

Victim (BFI Film Classics) (2011)

by John Coldstream

BFI Publishers
ISBN: 184457427X

John Coldstream’s intimate study of Victim examines in detail the background to the production, focusing especially on the relationship between the film-makers, the screenwriters and the censor, John Trevelyan, whose participation at the script stage was crucial to its development. Half a century after its original release, one looks in vain to find Victim in the spasmodic surveys dedicated to identifying the greatest films of all time. However, as Coldstream argues, its recognition as a classic is more than justified by the vital contribution it made to gay cultural history and by its status as ‘a movie that mattered’.