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News » Deep End

Gay Old Time

Founder of the Boy Scouts may have been a closeted homosexual.


  • Jon Kilborn

With much of the discussion about allowing gay boys and men into the Boy Scouts now centering on the delectable irony of the Boy Scout founder, Lord Robert Stephensen Smyth Baden-Powell, being himself both a gay boy and a gay men, we thought it would be useful to go right to the horse’s mouth, as it were, and have a chat with a grand-nephew twice-removed of the great Boy Scout founder, a confirmed bachelor and retired schoolmaster by the name of Sir Bertrand Psmith Baden-Powell, who now resides in a modest flat in the London neighborhood of Maida Vale.

We reached Sir Bertrand by telephone just as he was returning from his daily afternoon pint at the Frog & Peach pub on Jeavons Road, just around the corner from his one-room walk-up on Widmerpool Lane.

Deep End: Thanks for taking our call, Sir Bertrand.

Sir Bertrand: Please, please. Call me Smitty. All my friends call me Smitty, the diminutive of Psmith.

D.P.: With the P, shouldn’t it be pronounced Puh-smitty?

S.B.: The P is silent, as in psittacosis and psoriasis.

D.P.: So tell me, Smitty, what do you think about all the hubbub in the States about letting gay boys and gay men participate in the Boy Scouts? And what do you think your gay ancestor, Lord Baden-Powell, would say about keeping gay boys and gay men from donning the nifty Boy Scout shorts?

S.B.: First of all, funnily enough, my great-uncle twice-removed initially called his merry group of boys the “Gay Scouts.” Of course, in those days, gay just meant gay, not homosexual. I remember Uncle Baden-Powell, or Stephe as we called him, saying that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. That’s quoted in Tim Jeal’s wonderful biography, The Boy Man, by the way. At the last minute, he changed the name to the Boy Scouts.

D.E.: Getting back to my question: Would your Uncle Baden-Powell have been in favor of gay scouts in the Boy Scouts?

S.B.: Before I answer that, let me go back to your assertion that Uncle Baden-Powell was gay, at least in the modern sense. His biographer, as you are well aware, concluded that Uncle Baden-Powell was a repressed homosexual. In other words, he never acted on his desires, being, as he was, a very proper Victorian man and a military hero, to boot. Because he was a “chaste” gay man, he would have qualified to be a Mormon, and, in fact, your Prophet Heber J. Grant came very close to converting him back in the 1920s. But I don’t think Prophet Grant knew that Uncle Baden-Powell took an innocent pleasure in hanging out at the Epping Forest swimming hole and watching the naked scouts frolic in the bracing waters.

D.E.: So, we can infer that your Uncle Baden-Powell would give the old thumbs up to gay boys becoming boy scouts?

S.B.: I don’t think Uncle Stephe ever allowed himself to pursue his love of boys to the logical end. I doubt very much he realized what boy love entailed. He certainly made it clear what he thought young fellows would get up to if they weren’t hiking in the woods and skinny dipping and tying knots. In his book Scouting for Boys—contemporary wags put a different slant on the meaning of “scouting for boys”—he described “rutting” young fellows getting together to “tell smutty stories and look at lewd pictures.” Although he finally married at 55, sleeping with his young wife gave him headaches, so he lugged his
military cot out to the balcony after he had done his duty, propagation-wise.

D.E.: Could you please get to the point? Gay scouts, yea or nay?

S.B.: Yea. And here’s why. If my uncle were a pubescent boy today, he would have been looked at askance if he tried to join the Boy Scouts. As a boy, he preferred to play with dolls, and he loved the theater, making quite a name for himself as a lad by playing the female parts. As they say, you can look it up. Uncle Baden-Powell not only founded the Boy Scouts, he became the greatest boy scout of all time, and stayed a boy even when he was a man. The very best thing a gay boy could do would be to become a boy scout and follow the example of Uncle Baden-Powell, who fought his inclinations to the bitter end. 

D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.