UCL Campaign


John Wells

MA Phonetics and General Linguistics, 1960–62; Lecturer, Reader, Professor of Phonetics, 1962–2006

John Wells

Emeritus Professor John Wells joined UCL in 1960 to take an MA in the Department of Phonetics. He was subsequently appointed as Assistant Lecturer in the Department and in 1972 completed a PhD here, focusing on bidialectalism (the ability to speak two dialects of the same language) in young speakers of Jamaican Creole who had recently relocated to the UK from Jamaica. The project was partly inspired and aided by his first serious boyfriend at the time.

John remained at UCL, going on to become Head of Department between 1990 and 2000. A former President of the International Phonetic Association, he is regarded as one of the world’s leading phoneticians and is the author of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.

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In his own words

I came to UCL in 1960 at the age of 21 to do a two-year MA in Phonetics and General Linguistics. I had already told my parents that I was homosexual, when I was 19 and an undergraduate at Cambridge. (As far as I remember, we did not yet then call ourselves ‘gay’, nor did we yet speak of ‘coming out’.)

I had also told my closest friends and fellow-students. I was not at the time in a relationship, so the question of what to call a partner or boyfriend (an ‘affair’ is how I would then have referred to one if I had had one) did not arise.

There were no organizations for people like me in those days. As a newcomer to London I struggled to discover places where I might find other homosexuals. Eventually I discovered a pub in Hampstead where people met. But my sex life had to be very discreet at all times.

It is now exactly fifty years since I got together with the man who is now my civil partner. By the time we met I was no longer a student at UCL but a member of the academic staff. As I look back, I think I have been very fortunate in life, with a career I enjoyed and a partner whom I love and who loves me.

 A letter to my 16 year old self


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How have LGBT issues changed?


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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.