UCL Campaign


David Pickering

BA Botany, 1956–59

David Pickering

In his own words

I was 2 when the war broke out, and rationing and our general poverty meant that life was hard. The outdoor tap and lavatory meant that life for my mother was even harder! I won entry to the local grammar school, becoming Head Boy, and went on to read Botany at UCL.

I started my Botany degree as a rather callow provincial student up from Wiltshire. Luckily I was able to ‘live-in’ at Bentham Hall for my entire time at UCL. With hindsight I can see that I must have missed many opportunities for sexual experience both in and around college, and of course in London.

I played an active part in College life, playing cello in the orchestra, organising the Chamber Music Society, and being Chairman of the Botany Society; even with this exposure to fellow students I only ‘scored’ twice in all my three years, although I had many pleasant-enough friendships and several unhappy crushes! The unhappy stress of all this probably caused my near breakdown in my final year.

Complicating what these days would be normal gay networking were two main issues. Firstly I had undergone two years of psychiatric aversion therapy to make me straight. This was of course doomed to failure but it left me a sensitive teenager, with much guilt. Secondly, any gay sex was illegal and having lived through what was the most homophobic decade ever, with almost daily newspaper reportage locally and nationally of groups of men imprisoned for their sexuality, one was very wary of giving oneself away. Indeed it was fellow schoolboys of mine who were involved in the famous Lord Montague case, so I felt it rather at first hand.

However, having taken my degree, l went on to Oxford for my Education Diploma and trained to be a teacher. After four happy years in a Kent boarding school I realised that I had to leave or face never having a sexually fulfilled life.

I met my present partner soon after taking up a post teaching Biology in a large day school near London. I remained there till retirement, becoming Head of Department and a Senior Master. We have always supported gay issues, via our MPs, Pride marches and letter writing, and take huge pleasure in the progress made.

I have lived a very happy life since my time at UCL, and am living, married, with my partner of 53 years, so things worked out well in the end.

This exhibition was on public display in the North Cloisters of UCL’s Wilkins Building throughout February 2019 to coincide with LGBT History Month.

Special thanks to the various UCL alumni and staff who contributed such wonderful stories and recollections.

The exhibition is Out @ UCL / LEAG production in collaboration with UCL Culture, UCL Alumni Relations and UCL Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Sandy Kutty and Bob Mills curated and collated the texts. Design by Aspel Creative.