Sunday, 29 March 2009

238: Gay Actors 3: John Wells

Harold Throbson Interviews John Feelgood
by John Wells
in "Private Eye", 25 Oct 1961 (the first ever issue)

Harold Throbson Interviews John Feelgood (cont. from p.39)
F: I was also paid for it (laughing).
T: What about the famous all-male production of "The Dream" in 1910
F: With Mungo Rolff: a quite remarkable man. He's dead now of course: but I remember visiting his widow in their little cottage at Abinger in 1939 when everyone else, you remember, was talking about the war and mobilisation and things, and she delighted me witha charming anecdote about St. John parts.
T: Ah yes - dear St. John!
F: St. John, it appears, was returning home after the theatre one night, and was walking home through Hyde Park when he came upon Bradford Tooke, in conversation with a Guardsman. St.John happened to be carrying a hatbox and a bunch of geraniums. "Aha", said Bradford, "St. John carrying a hatbox and a bunch of geraniums". "Aha", said St. John, never to be outdone, "Tooke talking to a Guardsman".
T: (after laughter) Quite delightful! But to be serious for a moment; what do you feel, speaking as an actor to be the function of the theatre in the sixties?
F: (slowly) The function of the theatre? The theatre, for me, at any rate, is a building, a meeting place, where human beings come together voluntarily and of their own free will, to experience - I think that's the word I want . . .
T: Something I have always wanted to ask you Sir John - you once said that critics, if I remember rightly, were like a eunuch with a pair of shears.
F: I said that? I think I must have quoted it.
T: Well would you say that of modern criticism? Please be frank.
F: Well that about the shears is of course nonsense. I reminds me of the lovely story told about Farjeon Peters when asked whether he was in love with Mrs. Graham Murdoch or with her husband, he said he would prefer her husband but "o che disadvantaggio di essere coglioni!" (laughter)
T: Thank you.
G: Not at all


“Harold Throbson” is a pun on Harold Hobson, the theatre critic for “The Sunday Times” (who incidentally got the post because of his impeccable heterosexual credentials after the death of his predecessor, James Agate, who had been less than discreet about his homosexuality).
“John Feelgood” is a pun on John Gielgud, but if you’d hadn’t guessed that already maybe you should try loosening the metal plate in your head?
The dialogue is in that theatrical “Luvvie” style of reminiscence – darling, delightful, dear, etc – of which Gielgud was an habituĂ©, and which is also notably homosexual. The allusions to actual sexual encounters are a bit more daring for the time. Gielgud had been arrested in 1953 for “importuning for immoral purposes" ( cough- cottaging -cough). Guardsmen were notorious for prostituting themselves (Simon Raven’s 1960 essay “The Male Prostitute in London” has a lot to say on practical matters about this). The West End theatre in the 1950s was dominated by various gentlemen bachelors – productions by H.M. Tennant and “Binkie” Beaumont, plays written by Rattigan, and of course assorted matinee idols and more respected thespians. And let’s not kid ourselves, anything’s much changed nowadays. You could throw a brick at any recent Oliver Awards dinners and not worry too much about hitting any respectable heterosexual actors. What with Jacobi, McKellen, Sher, Callow, Beale, Daniel Evans, etc. Actually David Tennant and Michael Sheen aside, to whom can we turn in the hope of producing the next acting dynasty like the Redgraves? Then again - do we want any more Redgraves?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"T: Ah yes - dear St. John!"

Perhaps the inspiration for Spitting Image's 'Larry and Johnny' (Olivier and Gielgud) and their incessant quest to remember 'Dear, dear Sconie' (a scone) and 'Dear, dear Nine-ie' (nine o'clock)?