Sir Gerald Maxwell Wilshire is undoubtedly one of the most interesting people that I’ve come across during my LGBTQ document searches. I first came across his file whilst looking through the patient records for Woodside Hospital, where he had been admitted and diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder.
The psychotherapist noted that Gerald has been ‘long been addicted to various sexual perversions, transvestitism has been the most prominent […] For the past year his life has been continually punctuated by long visits, sometimes for a week on end, to a West End Flat kept for the entertainment of perverts; he will remain here in a state of drunken bliss arrayed in feminine clothes and adornments.’ Sounds like fun to me, however the psychotherapist seemed concerned. He also noted that ‘The attitude he [Gerald] adopted was one of contrition and regret […] Notwithstanding this, he found it impossible to keep out of his voice a ring of pride when mentioning the distinguished people who were alike addicted to sexual eccentricities. It was quite clear that one was dealing with a Psychopathic personality’.
By this time I was intrigued. Further research revealed that Gerald was quite a character. He served a term of 9 months imprisonment for what the consultant termed ‘an unamiable piece of eccentricity’: After a night-time motoring jaunt with a young woman, he stopped the car, stripped off her clothes and smeared her entirely with boot polish. He then drove off into the night (presumably cackling maniacally).
After a bit of online research I found that Gerald had had a rather eventful life, including joining the military, marrying a chorus girl, subsequently divorcing her, becoming bankrupt, and running away to Australia with an acting troupe. Quite aside from the unfortunate boot-blacking incident, other ‘pranks’ included cleaning off the bar of a nightclub with a car crank, shaking itching powder into the costume of a Parisian dancer, and leaping through a plate glass window in order to ask a (shocked) woman to take tea with him.
Finding personal stories is one of my favourite things about working in archives – it’s a bit like detective work, but also a bit like reading a really good story. There’s always intrigue and inspiration to be discovered in the collections at LMA.