“Four in Hand” by John Lennon
From “Oh Calcutta!”, 1969
Well this was an unexpected find when browsing through “Oh Calcutta!”.
(“Oh Calcutta!” was a full-frontal comedic revue about sex first stage by theatre critic Ken Tynan in 1969 and which went onto long-running success in both England and America.)
For most people it’s the fact that it’s a homoerotic masturbation sketch by John Lennon that is the surprise.
For me, since I know more than is probably useful about Ken Tynan, it’s the fact that this is a homoerotic sketch in “Oh Calcutta!”. When Ken Tynan was compiling “Oh Calcutta!” he was very emphatic that any camp material or gay influences be excluded from the production. This was because “Oh Calcutta!” was intended as a heterosexual entertainment. No offense or prejudice against gays was intended (Tynan was always very proud of having stood bail for a gay friend), but he assumed gay men wouldn’t have the necessary responses upon which his show’s success was predicated. Camp or gay jokes were also to be excluded because it was a type of humour that already had a home on the stag and would be a distraction from the sexy humour of “Oh Calcutta!”.
Given all of the above, I assume that Tynan’s bending of his own rules is prompted by the prestige of John Lennon’s name.
Admittedly, if you’re going to do a mass jerk-off sketch, barring thoughts of impotence (and “Oh Calcutta!”is all about positivity, not incapability) then unexpected thoughts of other men are a likely source of humour. Which is of course why actual or potential gay boys often find themselves disbarred from dorm room frolics and rounds of the “Soggy Biscuit Game”, since if there’s no homosexuals involved then there’s nothing gay about masturbating with other men. Which the punchline of getting off to thoughts of the Lone Ranger rather undermines.
Jon Lennon’s sketch is based on experiences as a teenager he would masturbate with friends, during which they’d call out the name of movie actresses.
Paul McCartney: “We used to have wanking sessions when we were young at Nigel Whalley’s house in Woolton. We’d stay overnight and we’d all sit in armchairs and we’d put all the lights out and being teenage pubescent boys, we’d all wank. What we used to do, someone would say, ‘Brigitte Bardot.’ ‘Oooh!’ That would keep everyone on par, then somebody, probably John, would say, ‘Winston Churchill.’ ‘Oh, no!’ and it would completely ruin everyone’s concentration.”
Until the days of the Farrelly Brothers, this was probably the most witnessed scene of comic masturbation for public entertainment, since “Oh Calcutta!” was a success running for decades in one form or another.
Other adult revues of the time deliberately made more of their gay content. Often this was because they had their origins in a younger and more counter-cultural demographic. “Oh Calcutta!”’s biggest rival in the early ‘70s was a production called “The Dirtiest Show in Town”, another funny sex revue but much concerned with contemporary social issues about equality and environmental pollution. Most of the reviewers took particular notice of the camp performance style of one of the actors, Jeffrey Herman. “The Dirtiest Show in Town” was written by Tom Eyen, a gay man, who went on to be an almost permanent fixture of New York theatre and eventually write “Dreamgirls”.
FOUR IN HAND
by John Lennon
(Four chairs, backs to the audience. Facing them, a large projection screen divided into four sections, one for each chair. Three men impatiently waiting. A doorbell rings.)
1: There he is now. I told you he’d make it. (He opens the door.)
(George enters: he wears a fedora.)
1: If you’re going to join the group, George, you have to remember we always start on time.
George: Sorry I’m late, fellas.
2: We don’t like people breakin’ the rules, George.
George: I already said I’m sorry.
3: Look--We gonna talk, or we gonna jerk off?
1: Ok, let’s get started. This is your seat, George. Now this (pointing to screen) is a new kind of machine--a telepathic thought transmitter. Whatever you think about flashes on the screen. Now the rules of the game are this: all of us think of things to jerk off to--until somebody comes--and the first guy who comes has to stop everybody else from coming. Got it?
George: Got it.
1: All right. Let’s give it a try. Whatever comes to mind, George.
(1 goes to his seat. George sits between 2 and 3. Rhythmic music starts. Images start to flash rhythmically on the screens. The men’s arms start to move rhythmically in front of them. The screens facing 1, 2 and 3 show Hollywood and Playboy-type pinups. George’s screen remains blank. The rhythm builds up while screens 1, 2 and 3 are all pulsating with glamorous women. Suddenly, we hear the strains of the William Tell Overture, and during a crash of cymbals, a picture of the Lone Ranger flashes on George’s screen. All screens go blank and all four men stop masturbating.)
3: What the fuck was that?
1: What are ya tryin’ to do, George?
2 (rises, adjusting his pants): I told you not to invite outsiders.
George: I’m sorry, fellas, it’s just the first thing that came into my mind.
2: We haven’t had a vacancy in six months, George! Harvey only left because he got a divorce.
3: How’d you like a silver bullet up your ass?
1 (walking to George): You sure you’re all right, George?
George: I’m fine, thanks.
1: All right, let’s try it again.
(They all sit down again.)
1: And cut the horseshit, George.
(The music starts again and the images start to flash. They are slightly more nude than before--close shots of breasts and bottoms. By trial and error, the four screens begin to form a composite picture. George is dutifully collaborating. Finally, at the height of the rhythm, screen facing 1 shows a nude model’s head, screen facing 2 shows her breasts, screen facing 3, her legs. Pause. The recumbent image of the model is almost complete. Suddenly the strains of the William Tell Overture are heard again with another image of the Lone Ranger on George’s screen.)
George (exultantly): Aha! A-a-a-a-ah!
(He rises. His screen continues to flash the Lone Ranger. With one jabbing sweep of his arm, he flashes Lone Ranger pictures on the other screens as the music builds. As each image flashes, 1, 2 and 3 lose their concentration completely and give up the contest.)
George (turns as he goes to exit): See you next week, fellas.
1: Get the fuck outta here!!!
(Sound of four “whistling” gunshots as each remaining screen blacks out.)