Cruise Line History – Hello Sailor! Gay life on merchant ships from the 1950s to 1980s. Exhibit at the Merseyside Maritime Museum – Liverpool, UK.


Watch a short video of Jo Stanley talking about the exhibition on the (click here) Homotopia TV blog.

Hello Sailor! looks at life on board passenger and merchant ships from the 1950s to 1980s, a time when homosexuality was illegal and for gay men there were few places to be safe.

“BACK STAGE” Crew Party.

The following is a preview of an exhibition created by the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, England — available at their website and returning to the museum this month. It can be seen until early 2009.


The Queen Mary.

There are many links here to view the exhibition along with downloading interviews and videos.

Drag Shows in crew quarters on the RMS QUEEN MARY (the old “queen”).



Apart from the theatre, passenger ships provided the only space where gay men could be not only out, but outrageously camp. Efficient, able-bodied seamen by day, queens and butches strutted their stuff below deck at night, dressed up as their favourite Hollywood stars. Hello Sailor! opens up a secret world of bold young men having a ball as they sashayed and minced across the world’s oceans.

For the first time, gay seamen recount their stories and reveal the hidden history of life in the merchant navy. Homosexuality might have been illegal in both the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, but life on land in the middle of the twentieth century was far more restrictive than on the ships. The thousands of gay seafarers often out-numbered straight men in the catering departments of the gleaming vessels that were the pride of the British fleet – great cruise liners like the QE2 and the Canberra. Communicating in their own secret language – Polari – they were comfortably queer at sea at a time when life on land demanded compulsory straightness.

Never before has the full story of homosexuality in the British merchant navy been told. With many original photos and featuring a remarkable cast of characters, this ground-breaking book expands and deepens our vision of gay history. Hello Sailor! will fascinate and appeal not just to those who love the sea or dream of romance on liners, but to anyone interested.

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Young officers and cadets aboard British ships – 1950s – 1960.

Based on research carried out for the book ‘Hello Sailor! The Hidden History of Gay Life at Sea’ by Jo Stanley and Paul Baker, the exhibition reveals a little known aspect of the history of the merchant navy.


Follow the links below for further information about the key themes in the exhibition.




The gateway to freedom

Backstage in staff quarters

Frontstage with passengers

Gay port cities

The secret language of polari

Books and websites



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…