The Sins of the Cities of the Plain 1881
I was born in Edinburgh but my writing career took me across the great divide to the city of Glasgow when I was given the opportunity to write Taggart. This still holds the record as the longest running television detective series in the world.
Lately, my interests have been more in theatre. I am also an experienced genealogist with a passionate interest in my own family history. But one area in which I have become fascinated is gay history, particularly that of the Victorian era. In 2008 I wrote and produced Cleveland Street The Musical which was a satirical romp through the notorious London Cleveland Street scandal of 1889. It quickly became a sell-out. During my researches I came across the character of Jack Saul, a male prostitute clearly past his sell-by-date, who spent some time working at the male brothel in London's Cleveland Street, where telegraph messenger boys sold their bodies to wealthy aristocrats to supplement the poor wages they received from the General Post Office. They all eventually gave statements to the police, but the most detailed was that given by Jack Saul to Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard. Saul openly and bravely admitted being a homosexual during one of the sensational trials that followed, and this at a time when he could have been sent to prison.
I became intrigued by Jack. Who was he? Where did he come from? How old was he really? And what happened to him afterwards? During the writing of Cleveland Street The Musical, I came across his infamous memoir, written eight years before the scandal broke, called The Sins of the Cities of the Plain. It was basically pornography, but how much of it was pornography and how much autobiography? Was any of it reliable? And how did he come to write it, if indeed he did? On page five he introduced himself to the reader. Jack Saul of Lisle Street, Leicester Square. Ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time. Most people now associate the Jack Saul of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain with the Jack Saul of the Cleveland Street scandal. But I was determined to find out for certain. Could the name of the author possibly have been a pseudonym, adopted by some later rent boy at the Cleveland Street trial who did not want his real name known? Many people involved in selling sex used aliases. Saul never revealed his age, or address, or anything about himself other than that he had a mother in Ireland. After stepping out of the dock, he vanished, never to be heard of again.
My fascination with Jack was re-kindled when I wrote the musical Fanny and Stella, The Shocking True Story. This was about the Victorian transvestites Boulton and Park, otherwise known as Fanny and Stella, who were put on trial in 1871 for conspiracy to commit sodomy. Jack wrote about them in The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, ten years after the event. He had known them intimately and described riotous sexual encounters with them. He knew Boulton's lover and 'husband' Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton, and described being taken to a garden party by Lord Arthur where he was briefly introduced to the Prince of Wales. Infact, Jack was the first person, other than the newspapers, to write about Boulton and Park. Jack would go on to meet a number of aristocrats in his 'professional' life.
Using my skills as a genealogist, and putting together all that I knew about Jack Saul from the existing records, I determined to track down the real person. This took me to Ireland, from the east coast to the west coast, from Dublin and the gentle slopes of the Wicklow mountains to the wilds of County Galway. Jack Saul may have been an enigma, a mystery, but he did leave one or two footprints in the sand, clues to who he really was and where he came from. And just as importantly, what happened to him. The answers reveal much that is new about his part in the Cleveland Street affair and throw a new light on his involvement with the writing of The Sins of the Cities of the Plain.
The answers are in my forthcoming book, The Sins of Jack Saul. I think they will take a lot of people by surprise.