When Steptoe and Son’s Wilfrid Brambell was found guilty of importuning

Wilfrid Brambell, iconic star of BBC sitcom Steptoe and Son, was homosexual at a time when it was illegal to be so in the UK. On November 8, 1962, with Steptoe and Son riding high in the ratings, he was arrested in Shepherd’s Bush Green, West London on a charge of importuning for an immoral purpose. Importuning is the persistent harassment of someone to do something. It was most usually used in homosexual or prostitution cases where someone was caught offering or requesting sexual services.

Brambell, who was fond of a drink or two, pleaded not guilty when he appeared in court on Wednesday 12 December 1962. His defence was that he had had too much to drink at a cocktail party at BBC Television Centre and in his “fuddled” state walked to Shepherds Bush Green in search of a taxi. He tried, without success, at both ends of the Green and also had to use both lavatories there. The police claimed he had visited the Green four times and was trying to make advances to other men there, on one occasion someone showed signed of responding to those advances.

Sergeant Vivian Allan and another constable were on duty in the area and keeping watch on the lavatories, he said that 50 year old Brambell visited each lavatory twice during a twenty minute period. He approached Brambell at 11.20pm and arrested him.

West London magistrate Seymour Collins told the actor that drinking heavily was not an offence and “it may be accepted you are a friendly person, and on this occasion drink did bring out, in addition to excessive friendliness, some sexual tendencies which normally are controlled or sublimated. It is not necessary for a person to be a homosexual to do this sort of thing.”

Wilfrid Brambell’s barrister Wilfred Fordham said that Brambell had gone through “absolute hell” waiting for the case to be over. However Collins said “regretful though I am, I must find this matter proved.” Brambell was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay 25 guineas in costs.

Leaving the court he told waiting reporters “thank God my five weeks of hell are over. Now I just want to get back to work.”

During proceedings it was noted that Brambell was a widow. He was actually married between 1948 and 1955 to Mary Josephine Hall but the couple were divorced when she had a child in 1955 with their “lodger.”

Daily Mirror 22 Nov 1962, 13 Dec 1963
Birmingham Daily Post 13 Dec 1962
Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush Gazette 20 Dec 1962

About the author: Working out of the Department of Special Research, Bunty Hargreaves is The Man in Room 17, taking an intriguing look at criminal cases from times past.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.