Matthew Schofield, one of our volunteers, reports on his work with the Tony Dyson collection:
Working as a volunteer at the Library, I am approaching the end of cataloguing the Tony Dyson Collection. Tony Dyson (1928-2002) was an academic, writer, literary critic, editor, educationalist and early campaigner for gay rights. Cataloguing this collection has been challenging because the papers arrived in a very disordered state and decisions had to be made about the degree of reordering to impose, or reimpose, on different areas of the Collection.
It is Dyson’s identity as a gay rights campaigner which is the focus of a display in the Crawford Room at the Library, running until June. Items from the Collection have been selected for the display which reflect Dyson’s engagement with religious and political leaders between the 1950s and 1970s, as well as examples of publications he was involved with. It has been difficult to select just 10 items to reflect such a complicated story.
Tony Dyson was the driving force behind the establishment of the Homosexual Law Reform Society and Albany Trust (for researching psychological wellbeing of gay men), both in 1958. In the 1970s, he was editor of the periodical The Christian, which argued for gay rights and was involved with the Open Church Group, which campaigned for gay recognition within the Church.
During the early 1970s, a backlash against the ‘permissive society’ occurred, led by Mary Whitehouse and her conservative evangelical Festival of Light. Partly in concern over the successful prosecution of the magazine Gay News for Blasphemy in 1977, Dyson established the Campaign for Reason in 1978, following a conference. He also published the pamphlet Towards a Charter of Homosexual Rights, where 174 public figures put their names to a document calling for the equal treatment of homosexual men in society. Below is an image of the front cover.
One of my favourite items in the Collection is a letter from Margaret Thatcher to Dyson from 1978, written in reply to a letter Dyson had sent. This dates from before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, when she was Leader of the Opposition and Dyson was concerned that a future Conservative government would roll back the degree of legal rights which gay men gained in 1967. Thatcher’s reply is ambiguous. I have made sure that this letter is included in the display because it is striking to see a letter written by such a powerful and controversial figure from the recent past and from my childhood, written at a time just before she came to power as Prime Minister. As such, it encapsulates a very specific time in history.
As soon as the catalogue of the Dyson Collection is complete, it will be available via ELGAR.