Gibraltar's apes inspire poetic monkey business

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A bizarre exchange of sexually explicit poems between a governor of Gibraltar and a senior civil servant over the future of the Rock's apes have been uncovered.

A bizarre exchange of sexually explicit poems between a governor of Gibraltar and a senior civil servant over the future of the Rock's apes have been uncovered.

The correspondence between Governor Sir Gerald Lathbury and Sir Saville Garner was revealed yesterday by the National Archive in the form of a 1971 briefing note sent to amuse the then foreign secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home. Previously confidential government papers showed that the mandarins were concerned about a sexual imbalance between the two packs of apes, Middle Hill and Queen's Gate. Legend has it that, should they disappear, UK tenure over Gibraltar will cease.

The apes were introduced to the Rock from North Africa by the British Navy when the territory was seized at the turn of the 18th century. They came under the care of the British Army in 1915 and numbers fell to 24 in the Second World War. In 1967 there were too few males on Middle Hill and a shortage of females at Queen's Gate. Currently, 160 apes live on the Rock.

Among the horrors envisaged by Sir Saville, then parliamentary under secretary at the Commonwealth Relations Office, were that the apes "may become a bunch of queers". His poem began: "We're a bit perturbed/About the Apes/After studying their sizes/And their shapes/As we see it at first glance/There seems at least a chance/Of some lesbianism, or sodomy or rapes."

In response, Sir Gerald noted his colleague's desire to rectify the imbalance. But he too feared there would be an explosion of same-sex loving and created the splendid word "lesbianate'' as a clunky rhyme with fifty-eight - the year of birth of a heterosexual ape named Joe.

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