Dilly Boys Make The Times

LONDON: Britain’s press has suddenly discovered the ‘Dilly Boys’ after a book by the same name was published by a small publishing house, Croom Helm. First in where angels fear to tread was the Sunday Mirror. With dazzling originality it called its Sunday Mirror Documentary on the Dilly boys ‘The Dilly Boys’ and admitted that it borrowed heavily from the book.

It saw a Picadilly Circus peopled almost entirely by 13 and 14-year-olds playing the flipper games and the market at Playland and the other mausement arcades, but carefully avoiding naming names or getting close enough to the problem for the article to be more than an empty piece of plagiarism from Mervyn Harris’ book.

It seemed the only people at Piccadilly Circus older than 14 were either older men there to pick up the boys, probation officers leaning on the anti-pedestrian railings or even Sunday Mirror reporters.

The Mirror’s story said: ‘We traced the case-histories of five Dilly boys who, homeless and short of cash got caught up in the dragnet.

‘Two have graduated from amphetamines to hard drugs; one has gone to jail for stealing another has put a girl “in the club”. The fifth has managed to get out of the game and gone back to Bolton.’

Midnight Piccadilly: A day’s rest over, a night’s work begins. [Photograph: Peter Mundy]
Earlier, Victor Sims, the Mirror’s man in the dirty mac at the Dilly had told us: ‘Nearly all of them have heard about the easy pickings to be had in London’s rich heart, and reckon they can eke out a living on their wits.

‘more often, they finish up frozen, half-starved, asleep inside a telephone box, huddled for warmth in a deserted railway coach, in a hotel car park or even in warehouse packing cases.

‘It’s at this stage of disillusionment that the trouble starts. They hang around Piccadilly, desperate for food and shelter. Instead of pocketing their pride and going home, they become easy prey to anyone who will offer them a warm bed …

‘Horrifying? Shameful? Almost unbelievable?

To the senior police officers and detectives at West End Central police station, the problem is very real.

‘The Chief Superintendent told me: “The situation created by these juveniles, who drift into our area is one of the most difficult we have had to handle.”’

The Chief Superintendent didn’t mention gay trade at the Dilly being more of a problem than any other drop-out youth situation there. But the Mirror chose to run as its second headline on the piece: ‘Their trade shames a national showplace’ and under it published a picture of a probation officer ’at “The Meat Rack”, the Piccadilly Circus haunt of young boys waiting for homosexuals.’

Five days later it was Friday and the Times lifted its skirts and had a slam at the Dilly.

In a series called Policemen Talking, Peter Evans wrote a piece on the ‘Missing boys and girls enmeshed in Soho vice nets.’ Racey stuff this for The Times. Police sergeant M Woodheath of the Juveniles Squad, gave us the low-down from her point of view. She said: “If they are young lads, men will start speaking to them and take them home and be nice to them. These boys are usually naive and often accept. The man demands something more of them. Eventually they put these lads on the streets as male prostitutes and they give the men part of their earnings. Their ages can range from 14 upwards. Many of these boys end up as permanent homosexuals. It is very difficult to get at the men in charge of them. Boys are reluctant to give a description or a name and address. They are frightened to give you much.

“One man had ten little boys working as male prostitutes for him from 14 upwards. They were reluctant to give evidence. Some turned up at court to give evidence. He was convicted.

“The same sort of thing happens to girls. Lesbians pick them up from 13 upwards. Three girls from Cardiff were arrested for soliciting before we discovered they were juveniles…”

And so on. It seems you get the Dilly’s dirty washing aired just as publicly in The Times as you do in the Mirror. And The Times gives its readers more details of the washing its discovered.

ED: We’ll carry a full review of Mervyn Harris’ The Dilly Boys in Gay News 17, and we’ll try to look a bit deeper into the rent scene in the future.

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