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Bailey, Derrick Sherwin (1910–1984), Church of England priest and sexual ethicist, was born at Moors, Alcester, Warwickshire, on 30 June 1910, the son of William Thomas Bailey, railway signalman, and his wife, Ellen Mary, née Taylor. He was educated at Alcester grammar school and worked for twelve years in the insurance industry, and was an insurance clerk at the time of his marriage, on 6 November 1939, to Philippa Eleanor (1920–1964), daughter of Philip James Green, captain, Royal Field Artillery. They had one son and two daughters. From 1940 to 1942 he studied at Lincoln Theological College. After serving a curacy in Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, he became an Anglican chaplain at Edinburgh University from 1944 to 1951. He also studied for a theology PhD at Edinburgh, later published as Thomas Becon and the Reformation of the Church in England (1952).

Bailey had begun to write about sexual ethics during the Second World War, but it was after he went to work for the Church of England Moral Welfare Council in 1951 that he developed his ideas more systematically. In The Mystery of Love and Marriage (1952) he advocated ‘a reorientation of the Church's attitude to sex and marriage’ (p. ix). Bailey was not the only Christian to advocate such a reorientation at this time; he was encouraged to publish the book by his friend David Mace, co-founder of the Marriage Guidance Council. In The Man–Woman Relation in Christian Thought (1959), Bailey offered a fuller historical account of Christian teaching on love, sex, and marriage.

During the 1950s Bailey also became renowned as an advocate of homosexual law reform. He first addressed this issue in 1952, in an article in Theology called ‘The problem of sexual inversion’, in which he called for reform of the law against homosexual acts, urging that it was ‘a Christian duty to press for the removal of this anomalous and shameful injustice’ (Bailey, ‘Problem of sexual inversion’, 49). Having received an unexpectedly large postbag, Bailey decided to convene a group of clergymen, lawyers, and doctors to consider the issue further. The resulting Moral Welfare Council report, The Problem of Homosexuality (1954), was drafted by Bailey. Initially only intended for circulation within the church, it ended up being much more widely read, even prompting a fan-letter from the American sexologist Alfred Kinsey (Alfred Kinsey to Canon Hugh Warner, 3 August 1954, Church of England Record Centre, MWC/HOM/3). The journalist Peter Wildeblood, whose imprisonment for homosexual offences in 1954 had sparked a cause célèbre, recalled in his memoirs his shock on discovering that, in spite of traditional church teaching against homosexuality, ‘here, from Church House, came an attack on the law which was as broad-minded, clear-headed and brilliantly argued as one could wish’ (Wildeblood, 65).

Like many advocates of homosexual law reform in the 1950s, Bailey followed Havelock Ellis's typology of homosexuality as ‘inversion’, seeing it as ‘basically a psychological condition’ (Problem of Homosexuality, 10). His argument for decriminalization was thus partly that homosexuals should not be penalized for their affliction. But he also argued that the criminal law was unfair on homosexuals, because it interfered in their private lives but not those of heterosexuals, and that it was having unintended consequences such as blackmail and suicide. While he accepted that homosexual acts (as distinct from orientation) were sinful, Bailey contended that the criminal law should not mix up ‘sin’ with ‘crime’.

The Problem of Homosexuality was a contributing factor to the establishment in 1954 of the committee on homosexual offences and prostitution chaired by Sir John Wolfenden. Bailey drafted the Church of England's evidence to the committee, published as Sexual Offenders and Social Punishment (1956), which dealt with prostitution as well as homosexuality. He also wrote a longer historical study, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955), which he submitted as evidence to Wolfenden in a personal capacity, and in which he argued that some Christian teaching against homosexuality had been based on mistranslation or selective reading of scripture. The 1957 Wolfenden report was influenced by Bailey's call for the separation of sin and crime, but did not follow him in every respect, avoiding using the language of inversion.

Bailey was always conscious that his views on homosexuality were not representative of the Church of England as a whole. He admitted to the Wolfenden committee that ‘we might be disowned by the Church Assembly at any moment’ (TNA: PRO, HO 345/13, CHP/TRANS/19, Sherwin Bailey, oral evidence to Wolfenden committee, 30 March 1955). But his position as the Church of England's in-house expert on sexual ethics gave him considerable influence during the 1950s, when the church had to formulate a collective position on moral questions to which it had previously given little thought. His demeanour and interests also made him hard for opponents to cast as a threat to morality; he has been described as ‘a genial family man with an enthusiasm for railways which suggested the normal harmless eccentricity of Anglican clergy rather than a dangerous revolutionary spirit’ (MacCulloch, 987).

Bailey's departure in 1959 to become rector of Lyndon, Rutland, saw a change in the emphasis of the Moral Welfare Council. Though the council continued to support homosexual law reform and several other 1960s permissive reforms, his successor, G. R. Dunstan, was instinctively more cautious than Bailey. After 1959 Bailey wrote little about sexual ethics, except for a short book, Common Sense on Sexual Ethics (1962). His writings were largely overlooked by both sides in subsequent Anglican debates about homosexuality.

In 1962 Bailey became a canon residentiary of Wells Cathedral, serving as its chancellor (1962–9) and precentor (1968–74). Following the death of his first wife, he married on 21 March 1966 Morag Stuart Macdonald (b. 1925), medical practitioner, daughter of Lachlan John Macdonald, company director. In his later years, he produced a series of books on the history of the cathedral. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Wells and District Hospital on 9 February 1984.

Matthew Grimley


The Times (25 Feb 1984), 10 · M. Grimley, ‘Law, morality and secularisation: the Church of England and the Wolfenden report, 1954–1967’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 60 (2009), 725–41 · D. MacCulloch, A history of Christianity (2009) · P. Wildeblood, Against the law (1955) · TNA: PRO, HO 345/13, CHP/TRANS/19 · WWW · b. cert. · m. certs. · d. cert.


Church of England Record Centre, papers of Moral Warfare Council · TNA: PRO, Derrick Sherwin Bailey, oral evidence to the Wolfenden committee, HO 345/13, CHP/TRANS/19

Wealth at death  

under £40,000: probate, 15 June 1984, CGPLA Eng. & Wales