National Trust reveals Felbrigg Hall’s last lord of the manor as gay in film narrated by Stephen Fry

PUBLISHED: 16:24 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:36 04 August 2017

Stephen Fry will be narrating the film on Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. Picture: (Left)  Claire Newman Williams (Right) National Trust.

Stephen Fry will be narrating the film on Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. Picture: (Left) Claire Newman Williams (Right) National Trust.

(Left) Claire Newman Williams (Right) National Trust.

He was the last lord of the manor at Felbrigg Hall - a much-loved squire from a bygone age.

The south front of the hall at Felbrigg Hall, Picture: National Trust Images/Andrew ButlerThe south front of the hall at Felbrigg Hall, Picture: National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

But Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer lived with a secret - one that the National Trust is making public in a film narrated by Stephen Fry.

The Unfinished Portrait outs Mr Ketton-Cremer as gay, exploring the squire’s generous and calm nature alongside his secret struggle as a homosexual man living in a world where it was a crime.

Research for the film is largely thanks to Professor Richard Sandell, of the University of Leicester.

Professor Sandell said: “A lot of people openly acknowledge that the squire was homosexual. Amongst those who knew him and people who live locally it seems to be the worst kept secret.

“But he was Justice of the Peace, he was the Sheriff, he was a public figure at a time when it was criminal to be homosexual, so he never had a relationship that we know of because he could never act on, or publicly reveal his feelings.”

He added: “We get a sense that it was difficult to be who he was. We know he would’ve been aware of what happened to people who were found to be homosexual, and that would be a difficult, if not terrifying, prospect.”

The film is part of the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride campaign, which seeks to tackle prejudice through a celebration of LGBTQ heritage.

Professor Sandell continued: “We discovered so much more to him than what we know. He’s a well-known biographer of Thomas Gray and Robert Walpole, and discussed their same-sex desires in an open and honest way.

“But we also found beautifully written poetry, love poetry, from his time at Oxford when he was just 19 years old.”

Mr Ketton-Cremer died in 1969, two years after homosexuality was decriminalised.

With no heirs and no family left, his stately home was left to the National Trust, after the squire had spent years restoring the property for future visitors to enjoy.

“We want to peel back the layers of this man in the film. It’s not just about him being gay because he was so much more than that, there’s so many facets to his personality,” Professor Sandell continued.

“We could see from his papers that he was generous and kind, he truly cared about the people that worked for him, which we don’t always see in historical landowners.

“What was the really special thing about coming to Felbrigg is hearing the real affection people talk about with. We could only get that from being here.

“It’s a beautiful film, thanks to the work of Julie Howell, Tom Butler and Lea Nagano.”

Narrator Mr Fry said: “Some have asked why Prejudice and Pride is necessary – why the lives of people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality should be made public and celebrated in this way. 
“The answer is quite simple – to do anything less is to suggest that same-sex love and gender diversity is somehow wrong, and keeping these stories hidden only lets prejudice – past and present - go unchallenged.”

Professor Sandell added: “50 years on from the partial decriminalisation it is tempting to think that LGBTQ equality has been achieved.

“Sadly the reality is that many – especially young people – continue to face prejudice and discrimination today, sometimes with devastating consequences.

“We have equality in many areas of the law but there is a need to build greater public understanding.”

The film will be debuted on July 25 at Felbrigg Hall.

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