In 1941 an unremembered man died at his office in Bath. Alan Farr was a fresh faced thirty-year old electrical fitter and draughtsman from Chatham dockyard who had moved to Bath with the Admiralty. Sometime in 1940 or 1941 he became involved with a network of gay or bisexual men centred around Angus McBean, a theatrical photographer with a studio and flat at Kingston House, Pierrepont Street. Somehow the police discovered this network and raided McBean’s flat in November 1941, finding incriminating love-letters between two of the men.
On the day of this raid Alan was questioned at Bath Police Station, with another interview the following day. A few weeks later, as darkness fell on Tuesday December 16th, a police inspector called at Alan’s office at the former Bath Technical College in Lower Borough Walls, now the Gainsborough Hotel, and asked him to go again to Bath Police Station on Orange Grove. Alan must have realised he was about to be charged and felt decisively that the game was up. For most men at that time, exposure of their sexuality meant social and financial ruin, and potentially the loss of family and friends. Alan had already prepared carefully for this eventually, concealing in his briefcase some letters for his family and a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver obtained through his Home Guard work.
In the ground floor hall, Alan picked up his hat and coat then asked to go to the lavatory near the exit. The inspector accompanied him, standing outside the partly open cubicle door. At 4.50pm, Alan shot himself in the chest and died instantly.
At his inquest his father described his son as the soul of honour, very intelligent with an incisive judgement and able to balance things. Parts of the letters in Alan’s briefcase were offered as evidence. One read:
“If this letter ever reaches you it simply means that fate has played its last scurvy trick upon me, and I disappear into oblivion. Just how much publicity will mark my going is more than I can tell. Please don’t damn me too much. I have done my best to be a useful member of society and to be as kind as possible.”
At the trial and sentencing three months later, six men pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of up to four years. McBean’s brilliant career – he was regarded as a better photographer than Cecil Beaton – was said to be in ruins. Allan Nottingham, an 18 year old named in court but not charged, crashed his car a week later on the Wiltshire Downs and died; probably the second suicide triggered by the case.
Alan Farr was buried on December 20th at St Michael’s burial ground, Lower Weston, Bath, in an unmarked and previously used grave – effectively a pauper’s burial.
In memory of Alan Livesey Farr [1911-41].
Article written by Andrew Foyle, 2022.