Image of two men kissing

My Heart Is Breaking

The Gay Love Letters of
Colin Spencer and John Tasker

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries, Edited by Rictor Norton

Colin Spencer (born in London in 1933) has written nine novels, notably Anarchists in Love (1963) and Poppy Mandragora and the New Sex (1966), several plays, and a dozen books about food, including a history of vegetarianism, The Heretic Feast, and The Faber Book of Food (1994). He is a journalist and broadcaster, and was an occasional contributor to Britain's Gay Times and wrote a history of Homosexuality. He met John Tasker in Brighton in 1957 while studying at the art school (he later got a good job illustrating for the Times Literary Supplement). Both aged twenty-four, they shared a love of literature and the theatre, and had a passionate affair. But Spencer felt "suffocated" by their living together, and soon he was having other affairs (usually with wealthy elderly gentlemen, for he was a very beautiful young man), and he left for Paris. Later at the Villa Bontac, Cap Ferrat, Billy, his sugar daddy, took nude photos of Spencer by the pool, but asked him and his other young guests to remain out of sight when Somerset Maugham came to tea. Spencer and Tasker again lived together for six months in Vienna, in a flat paid for by a closet gay American diplomat whom Spencer obliged with a striptease, but again Spencer required a "breather" from the relationship. They exchanged passionate love letters until Spencer married the archaeologist Gillian Chapman in October 1959. He wanted a family and a son, but recognized later that his marriage was also "my rebellion against what society did to gay people. Sadly, I fought it with a conventional weapon. I can remember clearly wanting John, but clearly not wanting us as a gay relationship." Tasker went to Australia and became a very successful theatre director, but never lived with anyone again. He died of cancer in 1988, and had made arrangements for Spencer's letters to be returned to him after his death. Spencer re-read their correspondence of thirty years earlier, and decided to publish it in atonement for having thrown away his only true love. His introduction to Which of Us Two? The Story of a Love Affair (1990) is full of bitter recrimination: "However much I now analyse my motives I am still left with the vile suspicion that I murdered a love that should have been nurtured, that I destroyed that which should never have been destroyed. I had the youthful temerity to think such a fiery and intense relationship could occur again, grow perhaps even more powerful through the years; but nothing like John ever did appear again, or had any chance, for if Gods exist I have shown myself to be a wastrel and could not be trusted."



My Dear John,
          I suppose it is difficult for you as it is for me to write this letter, what to say and how much to say, the adroit inference that is self-consciously planned. It is all vastly complicated and I can't pretend to understand a quarter of it. One has, of course, a few clues. (1) I miss you. That is only natural, I suppose, but worse, I feel miserable without you and regret the times I was unkind and certain. That again is only human. (2) I keep on seeing you everywhere I go in Brighton, your head or hands or body appear suddenly, flash forward and then I hear your voice. I am full of ghosts. And then there is (3) it is not enough to remember, but my mind insists upon recreating moments we should have experienced and wondering if life is going to allow us to. Like midnight bathing . . .
          I bathed naked in a warm and darkened sea in the early hours of this morning and this afternoon bathed in the same sea, naked again. I'm brown all over. . . .
          I am too dazed and quite unable to make plans. I hope we shall be able to see each other again soon.



London SE 14
[19 June 1957]

My Dear Colin,
          It seems very strange to see your name beginning this letter. All last week I took pleasure whenever there was an immediate contact between us. That meant judging your mood of that moment, watching your first reaction. That, I take most delight in, the moment when an idea bridges two people, an electric moment when a word, an idea, without necessarily being deep, joins one to another, when the word doesn't have to be formed and spoken, then it is even more exhilarating. That happened between us many more times than once I think.
          In comparison a letter is a poor substitute. What I thought might happen is happening. I already distrust and disbelieve all that I felt we achieved when we were together. Why? I'm not quite sure. Perhaps there wasn't a strong link forged? Perhaps it's an unconscious effort at protection in case you no longer believe in it. . . .
          Send me a sane letter. Or even flippant. Not earnest like this one.
                    Warmly, love,



[21 June 1957]

My Dear John,
          What a strange and curious letter.
          Why should you be afraid of such a normal reaction to last week? We may well go down in a cataclysm of thunder, guts and tears and having nothing at the end of it all to remember.I don't think life bothers or even worries about what we secretly want. It gives us something quite different from what we asked for. And then of course one can always play that delightful game of adaptability. When one is about ninety, bald, paunchy and addled (and maybe wise) one can't cry like the young or long like the frustrated because one has "adapted" to oneself. And that is probably a living death. Which is all to say that if you want something enough, scream for it until you get it, don't, don't be reasonable. Love is rare enough after all, for one to tear one's own guts out in order to get it. And we all play that game in some degree or other. You know I believe, think, feel, that something real did happen last week. I don't think I've doubted it once. But I think it can die through undernourishment quickly.
          So if you can, and if you can bear to see me washing, ironing, packing, why don't you come down next weekend? I leave on the Monday.



London SE 14
[23 June 1957]

Dear Colin,
          . . . I was in a daze all last week. I couldn't get you from my mind, I was more than miserable. And I felt frustrated, that we were so far apart and that, at that moment, if we had been together we could have been very happy. I found myself looking for you in the streets, in cafés, at the theatre, hoping by some strange quirk of chance you had been able to come up to town. . . .
          Colin, liebchen, I never doubted what happened last week. I simply couldn't stop wondering if it had affected you as it had me. I was afraid to say – I want to be with you – see, here I'm shying, because I really want to say, I love you. And that is true. I want us to find time to explore that because we would be very happy very often.
          Last week, for the first time for many months I gained confidence in myself. That was your work. You did it in many ways. Summer started last week.
          I'm coming down at the weekend if it's still all right. I'll give you a hand in packing and preparing. Please, though, not too much of that. Leave some time for lying in the sun, bathing and being happy. . . .



[Cap Ferrat]
[Villa] Bontoc

Dear John,
          . . . I swam and sunbathed all day, naked by the pool. In the evening we drove to Villefranche to see the new jean Cocteau Chapel of St. Pierre, only opened on Sunday for the first Mass. It used to be a place for the fishermen's nets, though it was built as a chapel in the thirteenth century. He has painted it completely in a series of the most fascinating line drawings, incredibly beautiful, very thin and spiritual.
          There is a German affair here also. A very pretty boy of 19, Wolfgang, and a possessive, rather jealous man of about 30. It's all very quiet and tends to be boring, for one can only soak up the sun and read and write, etc. But anyway perhaps I shall enjoy the gay life of Venice all the more. Must say I'm rather longing for a gay bar and masses of pretty things to stare at.
          Write a letter that will welcome me to Venice on Sunday when we arrive.



Lido di Venezia

Darling –
          I love you, I love you, I love you and I miss you and I want you and I don't like it at all. All the things I have I find I want to share with you and then you're not there.
          The heat is intolerable, the sea like a hot bath, at night sleep is almost unbearable and at the moment I still haven't seen Venice, but I will in an hour. So I'll write tomorrow and tell you the first impressions. Oh, darling, why are you such a long way away? Last week I wasn't sure of anything. This week I'm sure of too much. But I simply want to be with you. I think I enjoyed those last two days as I have never enjoyed anything before.
          Write to me quickly for I'm starved of hearing from you, parched and desolate.



[July 1957]

My Dear Colin,
          . . . Sweet, I want us to be so very happy. And I want us to be resilient to mistakes and upsets and difficulties. We know each other as yet under ideal conditions – lots of free time, sun, money to spend. I want so to strengthen the bonds between us so that they could take the strain when conditions are far from perfect. And I want to see that area of common ground on which we meet extend and grow. It would kill me to watch it shrink away.
          And I want to learn to accept you as you are without in any way wanting to change you into what I might want you to be. For me that will be hard!
          I love you sweetheart. Darling. Very much. Come back very soon.
          My love, my thoughts and even more.




My Darling,
          I have never known this ever before – I cannot think of anything else all day and most of the night, but you. Do you believe me? I wouldn't write it if it wasn't true – I'm sunk in a perpetual gloom writing letters to you in my mind longing for the sound of your voice and the touch of your body. I think it is driving me a little mad. And when I say every minute, I mean literally that. I can't write a thing, if I force myself I feel I am breaking inside – the only time I forget you is sometimes at the theatre or the cinema but three-quarters of that time is spent in things which jar you back into my memory. I need you, need you desperately. I feel my heart is very slowly breaking and with such pain.
          John, are you coming back here soon after Xmas? I'm only a little nearer to getting a job, but I think I'm having an interview at the BBC tomorrow – I only hope I land something worthwhile. And where are you going to spend Xmas? I can't send you a present now, it's too late. I hope you'll be in Schwarz but I don't know the address, and I'm frightened this letter will take a long time in the Xmas rush and you won't get it for some time – I'm terrified too that my going away has lost you for ever.
          Please sweetheart, I want very much to make you happy and if you come back I'll do everything I can for you even to drowning all the sugar dads that ever was in a large sack like a litter of kittens.
          I'm abysmally unhappy without you. I'm quite sexless too, I haven't come for a week and I don't think I've had a hard on either. My body belongs to you and wants you as much as I hope your body needs mine.
          One more thing: if you find it and think it really impossible for you to leave Vienna. Then somehow we must think again and I'll get out there. I know, I've just got to be with you. I know it more every day.
          I don't want us to be destroyed. Because of my fault we have come perilously near it.
          I love you with all my body, with all my heart and I think now it must be, with all my soul.



August '59

Colin Colin my dear dear Darling,
          If I don't keep writing to you I'll go round the bend. Oh sweetheart, I couldn't go to sleep at all last night, I lay there thinking of you and you married and the end of everything we stood for and I writhed and tossed in bed the whole night. Somewhere about dawn I must have finally gone to sleep for an hour.
          Sweetheart, what what what is happening to us? Darling, time and time again you've written that you wanted to come out here [Australia], that this would be a big adventure, that the last anniversary would be the last one apart and then this letter, this terrible one that burns a hole in my pocket, and that like some crazy hypnotized thing I must read and read again.
          Darling, your decision – can I really call it a decision? – affects us tremendously, nullifies what I hoped would be a fruition of two years together, would be recompense for all this intense pain and longing and loneliness.
          Darling, could you really love me and still rush into this? You've been seeing Jill how long now again? Is it so urgent that you must marry immediately? If only for me, for the barest peace of mind I can have, please delay it a little. Please. These roots you speak of, that you need. What are they essentially? Security? Love? Understanding? Belonging? These you had with me. Surely you don't want to settle down already, a married man with a house and all the attendant pulls that castrate work? You know that with me you did your best work, that it came to a kind of fruition with me. All that exciting vital life we'd planned – Australia, the islands, the States, Europe, Italy. Does that come to nothing? For us both those few days in Italy meant so much because we were together. We give things meaning. Jill can too I'm sure, but can she give you that deep meaning and coat everything done and seen and touched with that glaze of fire that we did? You said that you didn't find that bonfire with her. You said we had lit one which shouldn't go out. Darling, don't let it go out. We lit a fire which illumined everything and, oddly enough, was a guiding light to others. There is so much to be done and now you are the only person I can do it with. How can you be so cruel as to qualify us; I am the only boy you have ever loved so deeply. Only boy! But not counting girls? Not counting Jill? Darling, that is an untruth. A terrible blatant untruth. Be honest. What was is – yes is still – vivid and savage is between us, joining us. And darling, it is not to be found again. I have this nether region, neither dark, nor light. Living and half living it certainly is. Darling, you can't suddenly not be in love with me. Did you lie or exaggerate in those loving letters that came so recently?
          Please darling, come here to see me. If only for two weeks. I've already set things in motion so that you can easily come for the shortest time. Darling, this you owe to me. Please have enough sensibility to wait and to try to see me. . . . Can you imagine how hurt I am now? And have you no responsibility towards me? To me who is as much a part of your body as your arms, as much a part of your being as the air you breathe? Darling, do not let me go mad.

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
SOURCE: © Colin Spencer, 1990; reprinted from Colin Spencer, Which of Us Two? The Story of a Love Affair (Viking, 1990) by permission of the author.

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