Arthur Cameron Corbett (1919 – 1993) was educated at Eton and Balliol. He acquitted himself fairly well in the war, rising to the rank of Captain, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre; his father was Chief Scout of the British Empire 1945-59 and governor of Tasmania, 1959-63; his uncle was Jo Grimmond, leader of the Liberal Party 1956-67. The family money came from Brown & Polson's Corn flour.
From childhood he had been a closet transvestite. As an adult he went to male brothels and paid the boys to dress him, and also dressed for some family events. He networked in the underground transy scene, and had seen Toni April, a star performer at the renowned Le Carrousel in Paris. He used his contact with Louise Lawrence to get in in touch with April Ashley, as Toni was known since becoming a woman, courtesy of Dr Burou in Casablanca.
April had become a fashionable model whose gender secret was open, but not widely known. In 1962 she obtained a small part in the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby film, The Road to Hong Kong, the last of the franchise, and this attracted more media attention. She was outed in the press, and her biography was published in The News of the World - an event that had enormous impact on the next generation of transgender Britons. April's modelling career came to a sudden halt, and she received an enormous mailbag of enquiries. The next year Arthur Corbett married April in Gibraltar, which makes her Lady Corbett.
However the marriage was a failure, and they spent very little time together. In 1969 he applied for an annullment. Divorce by mutual consent had not been previously possible, but was allowed for in the new Divorce Reform Act of 1969 which would come into effect in 1971. However he did not wish to pay alimony. He applied for an annulment on the grounds that Ashley was not a woman. The case was tried by Justice Ormrod, the only UK judge to also be qualified as a doctor. Ormrod granted Arthur Corbett’s prayer for an annullment, however he also ruled that a person born male is legally male in perpetuity. Corbett v Corbett became case law in the UK and in Australia. The correcting of birth certificates for intersex and transgender persons ceased, and such persons lost the legal right to be treated as their new gender – in particular to marry a person of the now opposite gender.
This situation continued in the UK until the Gender Recognition Act of 2004.
April rallied and opened a restaurant just round the corner from Harrods, that was an immediate sensation, and continued to run it for five years until she had a heart attack. Then she retreated to the book-shop town of Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border,
In 1977 Corbett became the 3rd Baron Rowallan when his father died.
April's first autobiography, written by Duncan Fallowell, was published in 1982.
In 1993, when Ashley heard that Arthur was dying, she went to his bedside at his home in Spain. He said that she was the only one that he had ever loved, and admitted that he had cheated her.
April's second autobiography, written by Douglas Thompson, was published in 2006, but was pulped when Duncan Fallowell pointed out that it was largely a copy of the earlier book. However somes copies are available on the second-hand market.
- Noyes Thomas. “The April Ashley Story”. The News of the World. May-June 1962
- Justice Ormrod. Corbett v Corbett (otherwise Ashley). Probate, Divorce And Admiralty Division 1970. Online at www.pfc.org.uk/node/319
- Duncan Fallowell & April Ashley. April Ashley's Odyssey. London: Jonathan Cape viii, 287 pp 16 plates1982. London: Arrow 1983. Also online at www.antijen.org/Aprilv1.
- Jane Kelly. “I love Britain, but it is so backward about sex”. The Daily Mail. Feb 19, 1996. Online at www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/4601/april-uk.htm.
- Jessica Berens. “Altered Ego”. The Guardian. 25 Mar 2001. www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4158588,00.htmlAlso online at: http://www.q.co.za/2001/2001/10/11-transsexual.html.
- April Ashleywith Douglas Thompson. The First Lady. London: Blake. 383pp. 2006.
- April Ashley. April Ashley.com www.aprilashley.com.
- “April Ashley” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Ashley.
- “Corbett v Corbett” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corbett_vs._Corbett.
Corbett was, of course, a spoilt rich kid, a self-indulgent upper-class twit, who cared not what trauma he imposed on his wives, April included, and cared not that he had messed up the lives of tens of thousands of others.
However the real villain was Lord Justice Ormrod, MD, who apparently was much respected in the legal field. However this was a classic case of the law being an ass. It was quite possible to grant Arthur Corbett's petition without impacting not only on every other trans person in Britain, but also every intersex person. The ruling by Ormrod details personal medical facts that are irrelevant. The central issue was that Corbett knew perfectly well what April had been. There was no deceit on her part. This is not even discussed by him. Instead he concentrates on her medical history. He even wrote to Dr Burou for medical details. This is prurient.