Obituary: Esme Langley

Esme Ross Langley, writer and publisher, born Guisborough Yorkshire 26 August 1919, died St Albans 20 August 1992.

ESME LANGLEY was an exponent of practical feminism who made no concessions to conventional society in her own way of life and writings.

Born in Yorkshire in 1919, she had a happy childhood in the north of England where her passion for languages first became manifest - she learnt half a dozen, including Swahili and Chichewa, and was studying Russian at the time of her death. During the war she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), teaching typing and shorthand (she was a formidably fast and accurate typist) and worked on War Office cyphers, being regarded by her superiors as too valuable for release from the army to join the Bletchley Park 'Enigma' team, as she had wanted to do.

Pregnant and penniless after the war, Langley embarked upon her first unorthodox vocation - that of single parent, a rare and courageous choice in those days. Although she never married, she had three sons and six grandchildren. Her autobiography Why Should I Be Dismayed? was published in 1958 under the name of Ann Bruce.

After several years in the BBC's monitoring unit at Caversham, Langley embarked upon magazine publishing in the early 1960s. Her own encounter with prejudice had given her a strong urge to fight for minorities, and so she set up the Minorities Research Group and published Mainland for the homeless and, in 1964, Arena Three, to give the general public and - perhaps even more important - lesbians themselves, a fairer and more evenly balanced picture of female sexuality.

I was secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society at that time, and remember warning Langley of the minefield of ignorance and prejudice she was venturing into. With more initial subscribers from the US and Canada than the UK, and some distinguished supporters, including Iris Murdoch and Naomi Jacob, Arena Three was an immediate success, and disclosed an untapped well of loneliness. Whether or not she was initially prepared for the human avalanche which descended upon her - 'People you just wouldn't believe if you read of them in a novel' - Esme Langley shouldered the sole legal and financial responsibility for breaching the public wall of silence and bringing lesbianism into the arena of public debate. This work preoccupied her for most of the following decade. Like other pioneers, she was not always enthused by some of the subsequent offshoots of her endeavours, disclaiming any sympathy with 'social ghettos'.

Though Esme's formal education ceased at 16, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by a US university. Her interests were wide-ranging. She once organised a motor-cycle safari across the Himalayas. She spent a year working in Africa for the government of Malawi, and lived for some time in Spain. She was an avid crossword fan and loved music ranging from Mozart to Billie Holiday. She was a Buddhist. Her copious letters sparkled with dry wit, often inciting hilarious mirth.

Esme Langley was one of the most remarkable and life-enhancing people I have known, and many whose lives she touched will recall her with gratitude and affection.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home