Real Lives: Harry Daley

Historian feature

By Stephen Bourne, published 19th March 2021

Harry Daley: the extraordinary policeman

Hardly any documentation exists about gay police officers who served before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised homosexuality. An exception is Sergeant Harry Daley’s autobiography, This Small Cloud, published posthumously in 1986. Humorous, endearing and self-deprecatory, Daley acknowledged himself as a champion of the underdog and the oppressed. His ruthless self-improvement led to his book, a rare record of working-class gay experience. In it, Daley (1901–71) is refreshingly indiscreet about his homosexuality and life as a London ‘bobby on the beat’. Regrettably he doesn’t discuss the love affair he had with the celebrated novelist E. M. Forster (1879-1970). In fact, because Daley fell out with Forster, he avoids mentioning the friends he made in London’s literary and artistic world of the famous Bloomsbury Group in the 1930s.

Daley was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk in 1901 into a close-knit, working-class family. His father was the skipper of a fishing smack who was lost at sea in the owestoft shipping disaster of 1911. Daley’s older brother served in the First World War but was tragically killed in action just a few days before the war ended. When the family moved to Dorking in 1916, Daley worked as a grocery delivery boy but craved the bright lights of London. He spent his weekends in the metropolis, exploring theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and concert halls. He was 24 when he decided to join the Metropolitan Police and make London his permanent home... 

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