Harford Montgomery Hyde (14 August 1907 – 10 August 1989), born in Belfast, Ireland, was a barrister, politician (Ulster Unionist MP for Belfast North), prolific author and biographer. He was deselected in 1959, losing his seat in the House of Commons, as a result of campaigning for homosexual law reform.
Born at 16 Malone Road in Belfast, Hyde was schooled in England at Sedbergh, Cumbria. His father, James Johnstone Hyde, was a linen merchant and Unionist councillor for Cromac. Hyde took pride in his family connection to the Irish linen trade. Although his mother came from a Protestant Home Rule background, all were involved in the 1914 UVF gun running, the seven-year-old Harford being a dummy casualty for first-aid practice. He attended Queen’s University Belfast where he gained a first-class history degree, and then Magdalen College, Oxford, and a second-class law degree.
He was married in 1939 to Dorothy Mabel Brayshaw Crofts (divorced 1952); in 1955 to Mary Eleanor Fischer (dissolved 1966) and finally to Rosalind Roberts Dimond. By his will, the residue of his estate was left to his widow Robbie and his papers to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Hyde when an MP lived at Bertha House, 71 Malone Road, Belfast.
Hyde was called to the Bar in 1934, working briefly in London and on the North East circuit. His first salaried employment was with the 7th Marquess of Londonderry whose wife Edith was a London political hostess, and whose influence on prominent Labour Party politician Ramsay MacDonald (who became prime minister) was held by some to be suspect. From 1935 until 1939, Hyde was librarian and private secretary to the marquess in his “appeasement” period, hired specifically to research the family papers and write its history. His works on the family included Londonderry House and its Pictures (1937), The Rise of Lord Castlereagh (1933), a book which remains very highly regarded, and The Londonderrys: A Family Portrait.
Secret intelligence agent
He joined the British Army Intelligence Corps in 1939, serving as an Assistant Censor in Gibraltar in 1940. He was then commissioned in the intelligence corps (MI6) and engaged in counter-espionage work in the United States under Sir William Stephenson, the Director of British Security Coordination in the Western Hemisphere. Hyde was also Military Liaison and Security Officer, Bermuda, from 1940 to 1941 and Assistant Passport Control Officer in New York from 1941 to 1942. He was with British Army Staff, USA from 1942 to 1944, attached to the Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Force in 1944, and then seconded to the Allied Control Commission for Austria until 1945 as a legal officer.
Postwar work and writing
He continued writing and publishing during the war, and would be addressed as “Lt. Col. Hyde” throughout most of his parliamentary career. He would continue to cover the topic of espionage in his writings. He wrote Secret Intelligence Agent (1982, describing his war experiences).
After the war, he became assistant editor of the Law Reports until 1947, and was legal adviser to the British Lion Film Corporation, then managed by Alexander Korda, up to 1949. In 1948 he published The Trials of Oscar Wilde, a precursor of three further books about Wilde.
Hyde had planned a parliamentary career since the 1930s, and actively scouted for seats until the war intervened, postponing an election until 1945. He then applied for the South Belfast Unionist candidature, and was unfortunate enough to miss the nomination by one vote. Five years later, North Belfast was to select him. He could have expected to hold his seat for a quarter of a century or more. In the event, he represented the constituency for just nine years. His maiden speech was on the contentious subject of the difficulty of enforcement of Northern Ireland maintenance orders in Great Britain, and the consequent problem of border-hopping husbands.
He was a UK delegate to the Council of Europe Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg from 1952 to 1955, majoring on simplifying European visa and border controls. He was also an incessant traveller; a visit in 1958 to East Germany and Czechoslovakia got him into difficulty with political exiles, when he lamely defended himself saying, “There are terrible things going on. Cultural matters are a safe subject in common.”
He was deselected by his party in 1959, after arguing in favor of the decriminalization of homosexuality in a debate about implementing the Wolfenden report on 26 November 1958, a debate he had been most prominent in seeking. Indeed, Hyde was the most vocal of any MP in the 1950s about homosexual law reform.
Hyde’s reselection failed to be ratified by 171 votes to 152. He was absent for the vote, being on an international tour. By 19 votes, the Unionist Party lost its one respected voice at Westminster and abroad, and the only MP who ever advised his people of changing times, while attempting to modernize and moderate Unionist opinion. The Belfast Telegraph reported, “Mr Hyde’s rejection is a result of criticism amongst constituents over his attitude over certain problems particularly the Wolfenden report, capital punishment and the return of the Lane pictures to Ireland; further there was a feeling he did not visit the division sufficiently.” One view expressed was that as the vote was so close he might have carried the day, had he been present.
Two days later, from Belize city, Hyde complained that it was a “rank discourtesy holding the meeting without him”, especially as there were 3,000 members in the constituency. His wife in London the next day said, “I shall advise him to cut out the rest of his tour if that is possible and deal with the matter on the spot.” She had however written earlier to him in Jamaica: “SO THAT’S THAT. I’m sorry darling perhaps it’s for the best. No more politics. No more Belfast politics. Oh bliss.” Hyde did make efforts to have the decision overturned by Unionist Party headquarters on procedural grounds but he had no high-level political support.
Although he had made little secret of his progressive views during the capital punishment debates, the campaign for access to the Roger Casement diaries, and his writings on Oscar Wilde, Hyde’s political undoing were his parliamentary interventions and outspoken views on the decriminalization of homosexuality.
He contributed a half-hour speech to that 1958 debate covering both aspects of the Wolfenden report. He concluded by demanding equality for the homosexual and the prostitute. Earlier he quoted a letter from a consenting adult who had been jailed and released, only to be informed on again, losing his new job. He pointed out “three popular fallacies that have been exposed by the Report”: that “male homosexuality always involves sodomy“, that homosexuals are “necessarily effeminate”, and that most relevant court cases “are of practicing male homosexuals in private”. Only one hundred men a year, he said, were convicted of sex in private with consenting adults. Hyde’s reform efforts at decriminalizing homosexuality in England and Wales were not to be successful for another ten years. It took 25 years until 1982 for the same to happen in Northern Ireland.
In later life, he became somewhat disillusioned with the cause of Irish Unionism. He famously moved a motion in Westminster calling for a tunnel to be constructed between County Antrim and the Scottish coast. He spent 40 minutes outlining its advantages. Echoing Jules Verne, he pronounced: “The dreams of yesterday are the realities of today”.
Hyde later in 1972 wrote the first history of homosexuality in Great Britain and Ireland, The Other Love, perhaps his most memorable and long-lasting work. With its rich and detailed narratives, “fusing legal knowledge with illustrative anecdotage,” it was the most extensive book on the subject. Antony Grey, secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) provided case histories and cuttings from the society’s files for its contemporary section.
He also wrote a number of biographies of legal and political figures and books on spying, notably Room 3603 (1962) about Sir William Stephenson and the wartime efforts of British Security Coordination. He also wrote a biography of the British spy Amy Elizabeth Thorpe Pack Brousse with the British Security Coordination code name “Cynthia”. Hyde also wrote extensively about the Oscar Wilde trials and Wilde’s immediate circle, the trial of Sir Roger Casement, and T. E. Lawrence.
His involvement in progressive and controversial issues did not cease after he left parliament. He continued his work opposing capital punishment while he published two articles in May 1965 in the Sunday People to advance the cause of homosexual law reform. The second entitled “The Million Women”, appeared after the House of Commons had rejected Leo Abse’s first Bill, showing “itself more reactionary than the Lords”, as he stated. That article dealt with lesbians whose “association” was not regarded as an offence, and “Sappho the poetess who wrote passionate verses about the lovely maidens who gathered round her.”
Hyde was awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s University Belfast in 1984. He lived at Westwell House, Tenterden, in Kent, in a house once inhabited by Horatio Nelson‘s daughter. Hyde was earlier a tenant of Lamb House in Rye, once home to his distant cousin, Henry James. He worked up to his death on 10 August 1989, just short of his eighty-second birthday. His third wife Robbie survived him. Many of his papers are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Others were sold to the University of Texas at Austin.
Books in order of publication:
- The Rise of Castlereagh, (Macmillan, 1933)
- Princess Lieven, (Harrap, 1938)
- Judge Jeffreys, (Harrap, 1940); 2nd ed., Butterworth & Co (1948)
- Famous Trials: Oscar Wilde, (Hodge, 1948), enlarged ed, Penguin (1962)
- Carson, (Heinemann, 1953)
- The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh, Heinemann, London, 1959
- Sir Patrick Hastings, His Life and Cases, (Heinemann, 1960)
- The Quiet Canadian: The Secret Service Story of Sir William Stephenson, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1962 [later released as Room 3603: The Story of the British Intelligence Center in New York during World War II, Farrar Straus and Company, New York, 1963].
- Norman Birkett, the Life of Lord Birkett of Ulverston, (Hamish Hamilton, 1964)
- A History of Pornography (Heinemann, 1964)
- Cynthia – the Story of the Spy Who Changed the Course of the War, (Hamish Hamilton, 1965)
- Lord Reading: the Life of Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Reading, (Heinemann, 1967)
- The Other Love: an Historical and Contemporary Survey of Homosexuality in Britain, (Heinemann, London, 1970) – US Edition: The Love That Dared not Speak its Name, (Little, Brown, 1970)
- Baldwin: the Unexpected Prime Minister (Hart-Davis, 1973)
- Oscar Wilde (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1975)
- Neville Chamberlain (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1976)
- Solitary in the Ranks: Lawrence of Arabia as Airman and Private Soldier, London: Constable, 1977; New York: Atheneum, 1978)
- The Londonderrys, a family portrait, (H. Hamilton, 1979),
- Secret Intelligence Agent (Constable, 1982) (St. Martin’s Press)