'Britain has changed, but not the prejudice'

One of Britain's most enduring gay couples celebrate 50th anniversary

How do you make a relationship last 50 years? Answer: select a compatible partner, maintain mutual respect and self-prescribe a lot of laughter.

That was the advice of Ted Spring, 73, who is this month celebrating half a century with his partner Paul Pollard, 72, making the two retired hoteliers from Plymouth one of the most enduring gay couples in Britain.

"We're always there for each other," Mr Spring said yesterday. "No one can say anything negative about either one of us without his partner sticking up for him. We don't have big arguments. Of course, we have rows, just the same as any couple. But he makes me laugh. He's such a character."

The pair met in 1960 when Mr Pollard was 22 and working at Plymouth's The Green Lantern restaurant as a chef and Mr Spring was an able seaman stationed in the nearby Devonport naval base. They first caught sight of each other in the Lockyer Hotel, then just one of two gay bars in the city. Two weeks later, they met again and started living together shortly afterwards. "He had fantastic eyes," Mr Spring said.

From 1967 the pair ran Scheherazade, a guesthouse in the centre of the city. It was here that the pair put up a young Michael Barrymore. "He was called Michael Parker then," said Mr Spring. "He had a pigtail and he was a bit full of himself but he was pleasant. He knew he was going to do well. He knew he was going to be good."

At the same time the couple ran a restaurant in a gambling club, the Pussycat Club, based in Plymouth's Old Palace Theatre.

"It was the first nightclub in Plymouth," said Mr Spring. "They had hostesses there, more strippers really. They did cabaret, like a striptease, with a casino on the side. We were asked to open a restaurant as that allowed the gambling to be legal because they were serving food."

Between 1972 and 1986 the couple managed the Laurels Country Club on the city's outskirts before being forced to resign after Mr Pollard snapped his Achilles' tendon when he jumped off a piano while wearing stilletos.

"We had a very good drag act but he announced he was going to double his price," Mr Spring explained. "Paul was stood next to me when the act told us. [Paul] told him he could probably do it better because he was better looking. Paul was very good, and began doing the cabaret in this person's place. We became very popular because it was a fun night out. But one night Paul fell off in his stilettos and he snapped his tendon. He couldn't do cabaret then. He's still in pain now." The couple went on to run a smaller guest-house, the Breakaway, for several years from 1986 until they retired in 2000.

Mr Spring has mixed views about homophobia during a relationship that has survived five decades. "The country has changed so much," he says. "But prejudice still goes on. People know now that they can't say anything because it's all legal, though I still suspect they mutter things under their breath. If a lot more people had a better attitude, it would allow a greater portion of society to have the chance to live their lives."

The pair have chosen not to sign a civil partnership. "I'm not sure I agree with it," says Mr Spring. "If people want to do it, they can, but it was never something we were bothered about.

"We don't need a piece of paper. We've been together this long because we want to be together. I would hate to get into a civil partnership with someone and then have a divorce two weeks later."