Daniel Mays on playing a gay rights hero
Daniel Mays on playing an unsung gay rights hero in a moving new docudrama…
NEW Docudrama Against the Law WEDNESDAY / BBC2 / 9.00Pm
Few people will recognise the name Peter Wildeblood these days, but 60 years ago, he was instrumental in changing the lives of every gay man in the country.
In the 1950s, journalist Peter was the only openly gay man to give evidence to a government committee chaired by Lord Wolfenden, and its findings led to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between men over 21 in England and Wales.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the act, docudrama Against the Law tells the story of why Peter – played by Daniel Mays – gave evidence and features testimonies from gay men who lived through the same era.
‘I’m proud to be part of a drama that tells such an important story,’ says Daniel, 39. ‘Peter’s a complex, fascinating, yet flawed character from a time when being a gay man in Britain was incredibly difficult.’ After falling in love with RAF corporal Edward Mcnally, Peter’s role in the landmark legislation began in the summer of 1953 when he attended a party with his aristocratic pals Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-rivers, and they were arrested by the police.
Lord Montagu, Pitt-rivers and Peter were charged with a number of sexual offences, and all three were convicted in
1954, with Pitt-rivers and Peter sentenced to 18 months in jail, and Lord Montagu to 12 months.
The drama recounts Peter’s time in prison and stars Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss as psychiatrist Dr Landers, who tells him about aversion therapy ‘cures’ involving electric shocks and nausea-inducing chemicals.
‘Peter goes in wanting to find a cure,’ says Daniel. ‘But when he hears about aversion therapy in all its barbaric detail, it’s the beginning of him formulating a plan and trying to gain inner strength.’
Although Peter became a hero of the gay rights movement, he always struggled with his sexuality.
‘He thought he had an affliction,’ reveals Daniel. ‘At that time, it was rammed down their throats that it was a depraved act, and that there was something mentally wrong with them.’
Peter wrote about his time in Wormwood Scrubs prison in the book Against the Law, from which the docudrama takes its title.
‘At his lowest ebb, Peter was able to find inner strength and formulate the argument,’ says Daniel. ‘His testimony was so important – it helped decriminalise homosexuality. It’s a truly inspirational story and I’ve loved playing him.’
Against the LAW is PREVIEWED
on pages 68-69
I’m incredibly proud to be part of such an important story
From left: Michael Pitt-rivers, Lord Montagu and Peter Wildeblood