Obituary – Ted Whitehead 1937 – 2013 – A True Friend of the Archive

On 17th September 2013, we gathered to say goodbye to a wonderful gentleman and someone who has been a true friend of this archive.

Ted Whitehead was born in Plymouth on 4th October 1937 and spent the majority of his life here, with the exception of a period of time in London where he met his partner Don Brown.  It was here that the two of them began a relationship that would span over fifty years.

Ted was a man of many talents – shopkeeper, telephonist, property developer, Samaritan, parish councillor, editor and artist but I’ll always remember him as someone who could tell you a story of days gone by and transport you to that time as you listened.

I was lucky enough to meet Ted and Don at the “Archives from the Attic” event in 2011.  After a day of speaking to quite a few people, who were perplexed at the idea of Plymouth having any gay history to uncover, I must admit that I was expecting the worst when a softly spoken voice asked “What exactly are you trying to find out?” I sighed a little under my breath, turned to face the owner of the voice and there was Ted, unfolding a piece of paper.  “Only I have a list of people and places we knew . . .” he started telling me.  Looking back, I’ve always said this was the moment the archive project really took off, on so many levels, and it was Ted which provided that spark.

Over the next few months there were several meetings and several interviews.  Ted shared so many experiences – such as growing up in the city and socialising on Union Street – “We could walk quite safely from The Lockyer, down Union Street, and meet up under the canopy of the Palace Theatre for a chat and then onto The Mambo for a late coffee, quite a few laughs and invariably being chatted up by a hunk!” But then he went on to share his thoughts on the changes in the world and particularly regarding his civil partnership with Don in 2010.  He told me that had been far more life changing than he expected –

“Even beforehand, over the fifty years we’d nursed each other through serious illnesses. Even without a commitment you do that. But somehow it’s quite different afterwards. And I’m so glad we did it”.

What I will always treasure is that, during this time, Ted and Don became far more than participants in the project.  Instead, they became two people that I will always be privileged to call friends.

Ted passed away on 25th August 2013 and I miss him every time I open an archive box.  I’m so glad that a few of his wonderful stories have been saved as part of the archive though and I can hear him telling me these stories again and again as I continue to work with the interviews.  Each time I stand up in a room full of people to explain the work I’m doing and share some of these tales I can feel that Ted is listening to me and smiling.

Good night, God Bless Ted

From your friend, “Big Al”.

Ted and Don at Pride in the Park 2013 admiring the archive award.

Ted on the left with partner Don proudly admiring the Community Heritage and Archive Award at Pride in the Park 2012.

A photo taken in the 1950's of a sailor sat on a mans leg in a night club in Plymouth

Sailor sat on a Ted’s lap 1950s gay Plymouth

Ted and Don with their Lenkiewicz portrait at Plymouth City Museum 4th May 2012

Ted and Don with their Lenkiewicz portrait which they loaned to us for the Pride in the Past exhibition held in 2012. Photo taken on May 4th 2012.

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