IAN ALLAN is one of the most well-known and popular faces on the international leather scene. A true gentleman in every way that has supported and been at the forefront of the leather world and extended fetish family throughout his life. He has lived through the modern era of the gay struggle for acceptance and rights & his life story is a mirror of what gay men and fetish players lived through from the times when our even very existence was criminal through the initial campaigns, the terror & sadness of the AIDS pandemic onto the much happier existence we now have with gay marriage, gays in the military, PrEP and general greater visibility.
He lived through the Second World War, was arrested for being gay, suffered personal tragedy, co-founded the award-winning Manchester Leathermen, has worked tirelessly as a Patron for ECMC, he won Lifetime Achievement at the X-Awards:World Gay Fetish Awards and has recently been honoured as a judge at IML in Chicago. Along the way his pure class, huge wit, winning personality has bonded him to all he has met allowing him the unofficial status of ‘Leather Daddy’ as he is loved by so many in the scene.
PAUL STAG spoke in length to IAN ALLAN exclusively for Alphatribe and in part 1 he discusses what it was like being gay when it was illegal to be homosexual and we were pariahs in the general public’s eyes. This gives a wonderful overview to young kinksters today of what life was like and how tough it was back then to be queer and how they should discover and learn as much about their leather, puppy, rubber, skinhead, bear, sportswear, uniform fetish history as they can particularly from the great men and women who lived through those times and fought so as we could have the incredible international circuit party event schedule and open leather bar scene with so many other freedoms that we have today.
How did the road begin for ‘Leather Daddy Ian’?
In 1936 my Father & Mother paid a visit to the Midlands of England from Scotland where my father was working at that time, as my Father had been invited to an Interview about a new Job. My Father decided not to accept the Job & my Parents returned to Scotland but with an addition – my mother being pregnant and BINGO – `Pushy me` arrived early.
Not long after this my father was offered another Job based in Coventry and so the Family which included my older Brother moved there and we lived in Coventry from that time, through WW2 until 1960 when my father died & my mother returned to Scotland, my brother & I having by that time left home.
We were for the time a travelled Family as my father & Mother lived & worked in the 1920s & early 1930s in the USA, (California) & then Venezuela. This influence meant that my upbringing probably had a wider vision than many people had at that time as travel abroad was much, much less.
I was not a very bright child & additionally had two long periods of illness which led to me failing my 11 Plus Exam & going to Secondary School. I left School at 16 and went to work for W H Smith & Son, Newsagents, Booksellers & Stationers, as I wanted to be with Books & I didn`t have the qualifications demanded for Public Library work. However, my Parents prodded me into going to Night School for Retailing Studies and a Book Trade Practice Course & an English Literature Course overseen at the time by Oxford University.
As a young man presumably your first taste of independence was your years doing national service in Dover on the British coast in the mid 50’s. What were your sexual orientation feelings and experiences at that time and what was the attitude towards gay men and homosexuality back then as regards to the law, employment and social opinion from one’s friends and family?
I would have said that until I was about 20 or so my sexual feelings were very mixed, I liked both men & women & was/am easy with either but began to feel I really didn`t want to go to bed with a woman & I began to realise that I felt happier if being with a man led to sex! To some extent the Royal Air Force (which I was in) & the Royal Navy were more tolerant of men having a relationship than the Army but of course a lot of Guys were open to a Nice Gentleman giving them a good weekend & perhaps a bit of pocket money at the end of it. It should be remembered though that sex between men was illegal (& in the Armed Services remained so even after the Law was changed).
AT – homosexuality in the UK was legalised in 1967 but in the military not until the year 2000.
In my case I really didn`t come clean so to speak to Family & Friends until the1990`s though I am sure many indeed almost all knew or suspected. I used to do Scottish Country Dancing in the 60s & 70s & my Lady Partner was quite keen on me (vanity, vanity) & long afterwards I learned that my mother had in the early 70s gently explained to my dancing Partner that …….. Ian wasn`t the marrying kind.
There is no doubt that up until certainly the late 70`s men & indeed any LGBT person was under enormous pressure to conform and to be discrete. It was an easier in places such as London or a bigger City. If you had the courage to be flamboyant then you got away with some aspects. An example of discretion is a late CEO of BP who took his `Friend` everywhere but that the relationship was never actually Official for many years.
When did you have your first gay sexual dalliances, how did gay men meet up then and what was the level of acceptance?
When I was Stationed at RAF St Margaret`s Bay there were a few mutual what might be called `Jack Off` sessions & I recall 2 Guys in the Transport Section were quite open about having an affair, but people just shrugged & said Oh those two……….. yer.
A lot of Guys including me! Who lived quite a way from home would aim to get a 48-hour Weekend Pass & go up to London, there were a number of Pubs, Soho (dodgy) at that time, Knightsbridge & Chelsea where you could go & usually there would be someone often older but not always who would buy you a drink and that might lead to……………….. ??? Another meeting ground was Speakers Corner in Hyde Park where you could hang around without being questioned & catch a Guy`s eye.
You could get Bed & Breakfast at the Union Jack Club near Victoria Station for about ten bob ( 50p) or if you really didn`t have any money & you didn`t `click` with anyone on the 1st night you made your way to London Bridge Station for the early morning train to Dover & then walk over the Cliff`s to R.A.F. St Margaret`s Bay in time for Sunday morning Breakfast.
You asked me about acceptance – I didn`t have any problems but I could probably be charged with being very cautious. I would say that almost all Gay & LGBT people in the 50`s, & 60`s and 70`s would feel and experience strong pressure to conform. In the 60`s in Belgium the Gay Scene in Brussells never mind the rest of the Country was very small & the Big adventure was to go Bike up to Amsterdam where you could really let your hair down and – yes in a word – be free.
As I have said I suppose that I was one of the cautious ones regarding as they say `Coming Out`. But in 1997, I `Came Out` with a Bang. The then Manchester Super Chain MSC held an Event & I offered to help & was asked if I would welcome people who were arriving at Manchester`s Piccadilly Station which also included arrivals from Manchester Airport & to guide them to a Mini Bus which would take them to their Hotel or accommodation. What I didn`t know was that this welcome was being filmed & reported on BBC TV News – and there was me dressed in full leather.
I thought well there is nothing I can do, I`m `OUT` now & if there are any pieces to pick up I`ll have to do it. I was surprised at how supportive people were, one person who was a high-ranking Police Officer & who I thought held very shall we say `strict` views was a Member of the same Voluntary Group as myself and the 1st time we met after my `Coming Out` chatted about it and said `if you have any trouble come and see me`.
Presumably you had to be extremely careful can you tell us about the times it went wrong?
Overall, not very often though perhaps it was wise to be careful I was once on the Tram in Brussels and thought a Guy near me was giving out the right signals & he wasn`t, he made some comment (in French) along the lines of F……………. B………….. again – prudence was the word. Or there was the time a `Gentleman` felt he would like my French `Carte de Sejour`, but that is another story.
The main time I was really frightened was when I was caught `Cottaging `in the Toilets near new Street Station in Birmingham & my intended `conquest` was a Plain Clothes Police Officer. There was no doubt that in those days people mainly male but sometimes women could & would lose their Jobs if reports of a Sexual Offence was reported in the Newspapers. After a couple of hours yucky time at the Police Station I agreed to plead Guilty & the Police promised to ensure there would be no Reporters in the Courtroom. When I appeared in Court the following day the Magistrate said you have been a Naughty Boy & fined me £5-00. But equal to more than half my weeks wages. Although they denied it the Birmingham Police had a `Target List` of arresting a certain number of men each week. The policeman who arrested me actually apologised & said, `I was a bit short on my numbers`.
I think the Magistrate would have saddened to know – I went on being a `naughty Boy`.
Linking to the above, in the 1980`s in Manchester I was General Manager of one of England`s largest Bookstores & I when I realised that I knew a Guy that I knew had been with one of my Deputies who was male. One day I said – I said `we have a mutual Friend` and we chatted a bit more. Later he asked to see me & said very, very hesitantly that he wished to speak to me about our mutual Friend. He then went on to explain the relationship & I (I hope) put him at ease and explained that I was Gay but he still requested that I keep all of this strictly confidential and not tell anyone.
What were the gay venues like before homosexuality became legal in the UK and which did you attend or hear about? (in 1967 the act was past in England and Wales that replaced the hideously titled ‘Buggery Act’ of 1553….Scotland and Northern Ireland changed later and it only applied to gay men as lesbians had no issues with the law at that time)
I can`t really comment on too much on Gay venues in Great Britain during the 60`s & 70`s as I was in Belgium & France at that time, but I would almost certainly say that any knowledge would generally be by word of mouth & also that was the time when slowly Gay Magazines began to appear and be more available. It was a time of men cruising in `Cottages` ( for the uninitiated – Public Toilets)
These emerging Gay Magazines excitingly had `Personal Columns where Guys could place a small `add` & pay slightly more to have a Box Number for (hopefully) replies.
On that I, in the 1950`s hearing about & going occasionally when in London to a very small Newsagents near Piccadilly in London, the shop was long & narrow & you went down to the very end of the Shop & there were one or two magazines such as Physique Pictorial with Tom of Finland drawings & others and Health & Strength which sometimes had photo`s of muscular men.
The tide started to turn with the Stonewall Riots & birth of the Pride movement. As a gay man in his mid-active thirties were you aware of the fight for queer rights?
Yes, I remember the New York Stonewall Riots which I think kicked off in my mind at least the big WHY? Question, why are we LGBT people not able to be more open and comfortable with ourselves. As a comment and I am not discounting the difficulties that LGBT people have today of all kinds, but I think that there were certainly many, many who turned at the time to drink or drugs because of the varied pressures they experienced over their sexuality, or suffered from severe depression & mental challenges.
HATE & PREJUDICE upset me greatly, I long & pray that the time will come when ALL people start to understand one another, not necessarily agreeing but agreeing to disagree without violence or hurt.
When did you first get into leather yourself and what appealed about it to you and were there any other gay fetish tribes at the time?
I started Biking about 1956-57 & although expensive leather was so protective so bit by bit I bought the `Gear` and then began to realise that I loved Leather. In 1960 when I went to work in Belgium I met Alexandre who became my Partner who was also a Biker but equally – shhhhhhh – as it was in those days `into leather` & he gently guide me towards the additional pleasures that leather & indeed other wear could have.
Moving on to 1980…when & where did you first hear about the AIDS pandemic and how did it effect your gay circle at the time? What was some of the worst stigma and poor understanding that you came across as people around you sadly died of what was being called the ‘Gay Plague’ and what you yourself thought of as a set-back in the then development of gay rights?
By chance I was very early aware of the start of the Aids Crisis. In the Autumn of 1981, I went on a weekend Bike Run in East Anglia had a great time and part of the group of us were two Guys from London. Several weeks later I was in London on business & bumped into one of the Guys, after saying, `Hello` etc I asked how his Partner was & he welled into tears and said `he`s dead`, yes, one of the first Aids Victims. I could not believe it.
I think the Aids Pandemic which still kills many thousands of people all over the world each year, made me more conscious of the need to `DO` something. Not just to try and remove the stigma of Aids but to be conscious that part of the problem was/is ignorance, prejudice, hate.
The way in which those early sufferers of Aids were treated was truly awful but of course partly because we didn`t really know how to deal with the challenges that the Aids Pandemic brought. Perhaps rather as today many Countries around the world have been unsure how to take action against the Covid 19 Pandemic.
I knew of many tragic cases and not seeking praise but on quite a few occasions when visiting in Hospital or Hospice I would be one of very few people who visited Aids Patients. I remember going to a Hospice north of Manchester to see a Biking Friend who was there, his family having disowned him. The first time I went he cried but was so pleased, that I wanted to do more such visits. Sadly, on the next visit the Nurse said, `I don`t think he is conscious` so I just sat by his bed and said a prayer, and left in tears.
On a brighter though sad note, when I worked in Cambridge in the early 80`s we had a bright young member of the Staff, Will, I was about to propose him for a Management Trainee Programme, when he came & told me he was going to Italy, in short, he had met the love of his life in Italy, he left us carrying (we think) a large Italian-English English-Italian Dictionary which we had given him in his luggage. Sadly, this didn`t work out for him & later he contacted me asking if I would supply a reference for a Retail Job in Wolverhampton which I did. Sometime after by chance I was asked to advise that Company & I found out that Will had joined them but soon after developed Aids. Talking to the Staff it became evident that not only did they have great affection for him but had helped greatly until those final days, for which, may they be Blessed.
I have been asked – `How did you stay HIV Negative & survived the Aids Pandemic when so many of your Contemporaries died or still have challenging health problems`. In the early 1970`s my late Partner & I attended a Party & afterwards we realised that we had an infection (STD) which proved to be Syphilis for which we received Penicillin Treatment & all was well. I think this made both of us think before we might be tempted to jump in at Parties or even more intimate meetings. Though I might be wrong?
PART 2 Will appear soon on www.Alphatribe.com.