Sunday, 6 December 2009

333: Gay Biggles 3 - Alan Coren

"Biggles Strikes Camp"
by Alan Coren
in "Punch" 3 February 1982

First thing to note is that Coren’s title pays tribute to Cyril Connolly’s 1963 gay parody of James Bond, “Bond Strikes Camp
The second thing to note is that the homosexuals in Coren’s piece have no resemblance whatsoever to the “nancy boys” of TV’s “Brideshead Revisited” which inspire this parody. Here, and in other pieces by Coren, his idea of homosexual behaviour is slightly outdated and probably owes more than a little to first exposure to the stereotypes to be found in 1969’s “The Boys in the Band”.
The idea that a certain sort of homosexual behaviour is incompatible with certain manly ideals has been exploited for comic purpose on numerous occasions, particulalry in regard to the military and cowboys, but in this case I can’t help but think of the earlier “Monty Python” sketch about a Hairdresser’s Expedition on Everest. Coren’s gay Biggles and co are a bunch of bitchy, overemotional hairdressers who just happen to fly aeroplanes on the side. There’s plenty of camp speech, “her’”s all round, with a few touches of actual polari, besides occasional eruptions of flaring condescension when crossed. Otherwise they are concerned with fashion and interior decorating, and deliberately nostalgic references to old film stars. Since Coren has more space than is usual, these caricatures have an additional dimension, where they are constantly angling for each other's affections in attempts to become top dog – which is not unrealistic.

Unlike Graham Chapman’s parody of Biggles, what none of them are is sexual in the slightest. But then Chapman was writing as a gay man with fairly vigorous sexual appetites (by his own account). Coren is writing for the audience of “Punch” and knows what he likes and what is acceptable in terms of funny homosexuals. Also, it’s rather less of a parody of W.E. Johns as well, but that’s not really our concern.

"Biggles Strikes Camp"
by Alan Coren
in "Punch" 3 February 1982

News that Brideshead Revisited star Jeremy Irons is to play Biggles, the fictional aviation figure of the thirties, has raised fears among scholars that the schoolboy hero will be played as a nancy-boy.
- Daily Mirror

The shattering roar of the engine was bad, but the heat was worse. Trapped in the juddering seat, the whirling blades inches from his head and howling on maximum revs, Biggles wondered whether something might not have gone terribly wrong. He tried to turn, but the restriction of that tiny space prevented him from seeing Algy behind him. He could hear Algy shouting something, but he could not, in the fearful din and the rushing of the air, make out the words. Desperately, Biggles waved a hand, hoping against hope that Flight-Lieutenant the Hon. Algernon Lacy, with whom he had been through so much, would draw on that long partnership now and interpret his brief signal correctly.
Algy did not fail him. A switch was flicked, the motor Cut out, the roaring died, and with it the vibration and the dreadful heat. It was over!
Squadron-Leader James Bigglesworth, DSO, drew a deep breath, and slid out from beneath the hair-drier.
'What was all that shrieking about, you silly mare?' he enquired.
'I suddenly remembered about the conditioner,' said AIgy. 'I suddenly said to myself, oh my Gawd, I said, I never put any hair conditioner on her, she'll frizzle up like nobody's business, I said, you know what her ends go like after a day in an open cockpit!'
Biggles leapt to his feet, shot his trusty co-pilot one of his withering looks, and ran over to the mess mirror. He took a glance, and screamed faintly.
I look like Greer Garson!' he cried. 'It's flying all over everywhere! It's very fine, my hair, it's always been very fine, body is what it lacks, it lacks body, I don't know how many times I’ve told you about not forgetting the conditioner, I remember the night we were over Bremen and that silly old queen Hopcroft caught a tracer bullet in the. head and I was covered in icky blood and brains and everything, I remember saying to you then, I said I’ve just had this streak put in and now it's soaked, I'll have to rinse it out in lemon juice, and you threw one of your fits and said where are we going to get lemon juice, don't you know there’s a war on, and I said never mind that, just remember after the lemon juice you'll have: to put tots and lots of conditioner on otherwise. . .‘
‘You don't half go on,' muttered Algy. 'I've only got one pair of hands, I can't be bloody everywhere, I had to comb out Gimlet's perm in the middle of everything,'
'It looks ever so nice: said Gimlet, from the other side of the mess, examining the moustache in a little mother-of-pearl pocket-mirror. 'It's come up exactly parallel, Algy. I think I look Ward Bond. Do you think I look like Ward Bond, Skip?'
Biggles glared at his navigator.
Skip?' he mimicked, dropping his voice an octave. 'Ward ? Our little friend would appear to be feeling very masculine this morning, Algy. What do you suppose has come over him, if you'll pardon the expression?'
Algy removed the Kirby grips from his mouth.
‘I blame that hormone cream she uses on her legs,' he said. ‘Start with that, you never know where it's going to end. Personally, give me a good pluck every time.'
Biggles nodded.
‘She thinks she looks like Ward Bond,' he said. 'If you want my opinion, dear, 1'd say it was more like Anne Baxter tucking into a piece of shredded wheat!'
Algy shrieked, and fell against his captain. They foxtrotted briefly, and when they broke apart again, breathless, Gimlet had gone, slamming the hardboard door.
'Temper!' shouted Biggles. He sat down, and his co-pilot began skilfully to comb him out. Biggles, soothed, closed his eyes; but at the tap on the door, they snapped open again. 'That'll be Gimlet back to say she's sorry,' he said confidently. 'I can read her like a book!'
'Be firm,' murmured AIgy, the tail-comb flicking.
But it was not the trusty Gimlet who strode into the mess. It was a tall, slim, freckled, red-headed youth, who saluted formally, and then, shyly, grinned.
'Who's this?' said Biggles.
'Call me Ginger,' said the youth, 'everybody does.'
'Yes, well, they would, wouldn't they, dear?' said Biggles.
'What can we do for you, if it isn't a silly answer?'
'Gimlet has told the Wing-Commander that he's not going to fly with you any more,' said Ginger, 'so I've been assigned to your crew instead.'
Biggles sprang from the chair. Vogue slid! from his lap.
'You?' he screamed. 'You, fly with us?'
Ginger's soft face fell. His lower lip trembled.
'Why not?' he enquired.
Biggies grabbed him by the arm, and dragged both him and Algy to the mirror.
'Look!' he cried. 'Algy's brunette, I'm ash-blonde, and you're a redhead! We look like the Andrews Sisters! It's such bad taste!'
'You don't have to be blonde," murmured Algy. I could put a nice tawny tint on it. Or you could wear a wig.'
Biggles reeled!
'Me? A wig? Gumming it on like some poor old poof behind the scout hut, before going out to paste Jerry over the Ruhr, is that what you think this war is an about?'
'I think it's a super idea!' cried Ginger, dapping his hands. 'If you got shot down and it flew off and you were captured, the RAF could drop a spare into the camp, just like Douglas Bader!'
Algy giggled, and clapped him on the shoulder, gently.
'I think I'm going to like you,' he said. 'By the way, we haven't been introduced, I'm - '
'You have to be the faithful Algy,' said Ginger, offering his hand.
Algy held it.
'No have to about it, dear,' he murmured.
'I'll kill you!' hissed Biggles.
There is no telling what might have happened then, if the klaxon had not clanged, summoning them to the morning's briefing. Ginger and Algy instantly snatched up their flight-pads and teddies and ran; Biggles, caught in indecision between his pastel-blue flying scarf and the cerise with the polka-dots, followed on. When he arrived at the briefing hut, it was already full, and buzzing with excited gossip, in which Biggles had no chance to join, for at that very moment the door to the left of the dais opened, and the impressive figure of the Group-Captain limped in, followed, as always, by the loyal and almost equally impressive figure of his trusty cat, Bosie.
'He's so, oooh, I don't know,' murmured Algy. 'Very few people can get away with a game leg.'
'You could, Algy,' whispered Ginger. 'You've got the presence.'
Biggles hit him with his flight-bag. Sequins flew. Men went shoosh!
‘Right, chaps,' bellowed the Group-Captain, taking a corner of the green baize that hung down over the blackboard, 'shan't keep you in suspense!'
He flung back the cloth.
The hut, as one man, gasped!
Pinned to the blackboard was a detailed drawing of the mess, covered in multi-coloured squiggles. Here and there, swatches of cloth dangled from pins, with paint-charts beside them.
‘It's the new wallpaper and curtains!' breathed Algy.
The Group-Captain tapped the board with his pointer.
‘Now,' he said, 'I've had a word with our chums the boffins, and they tell me that if we want an apricot dado, there is - '
‘PELMETS!’ thundered a voice.
The men swivelled, craned. The Group-Captain's face darkened.
‘There will be an apportunity for questions later, Bgglesworth,' he said. 'Meanwhile, if you would be so - '
'They went out with the ark, pelmets!' cried Biggles. 'We might as well have plaster ducks going up the wall, dear! We might as well have regency stripes!'
A terrible silence fell over the hut. The Group-Captain stared at Biggles for a very long time. Then his cat began to cough. Without another word, the Group-Captain snatched Bosie from the floor, and stomped out, echoingly.
The men cleared their throats, and shuffled, and murmured. After a few minutes, the door opened again, and the Group-Captain's aide-de-camp hurried in, with tiny, precise steps, and tossed back a golden forelock.
'He's very, very hurt,' he said. 'He's having one of his migraines. He says you're all to go off right this minute and bomb Hanover!'
The door slammed"
The men got up, slowly, and began to move out. Everyone ignored Biggles.
'It's suicide, putting a pelmet up in a room like that!' cried Biggles, but nobody listened.
'I hate Hanover,' muttered Algy to Ginger. 'It's such a boring route. '
'I could navigate a pretty way,' murmured Ginger, squeezing Algy's arm, as they walked towards their Wellington. 'We could go in low over Holland. The tulips'll be out. That'd be bona, wouldn't it, Biggles?'
'Go to hell!' snarled his Squadron-Leader, and pulled himself up into the plane. Algy rolled his eyes.
'Gawd belp us all,' he muttered, 'she's come over masterfu1!'
He allowed Ginger to climb up through the belly batch first, and helped him with an unhurried push. Biggles was already at the controls. The starboard engine fired, the port engine followed, the bomber swung out onto the runway, lumbered over the rutted concrete, and finally heaved itself into the cold East Anglian sky.
'Makes a change, having a closed cockpit,' shouted Algy from the co-pilot's seat, to break the frigid atmosphere, 'better for my rash.'
Biggles said nothing.
'Be like that,' said Algy. He pulled his mask over his mouth, and flicked the communications switch. 'Co-pilot to navigator,' he said, 'you wouldn't fancy that new Judy Garland tonight and a skate dinner on me, by any chance, dear?'
'Love it!' came back Ginger's eager crackle, on the open channel.
Squadron-Leader Bigglesworth, trained to a hair's breadth, did not react. His experienced eyes, emphasised with just the merest hint of mascara, stared straight ahead towards the Dutch coast, unmoistening. Only the sudden whitening of his knuckles on the controls betrayed the tensions of the inner man.
Which was why, betrayed by that rigid glower, he did not spot the Me 109 hurtling in on his starboard quarter until it was too late and the bullets were pumping into wing and fuselage! Too late, he heard the anguished cry of Algy in his ears:
'Ooooh, they've hit a fuel lead, the port engine's packed up, there's oil pouring in all over me, we're losing height, what're we do?'
'Hang on!' cried Biggles. 'Don't panic, I've had oil on my flying-suit a dozen times, you just soak it in a lukewarm solution of soap-flakes and engine solvent, but,' and here his voice rose above the stricken starboard motor, 'whatever you do, don't try boiling it!'
Algy gripped his knee.
'I didn't mean that about her skate dinner,' he shouted. Then he kicked open the bomb doors, and dropped. Ginger and the mid-upper gunner followed him. The tail-gunner was long gone.
Biggles waited until their parachutes flowered open, then he unbuckled his seatbelt, grabbed his douche-bag, and went out through the yawning bomb-bay.
It was not until the precise second when he pulled the rip-cord that he remembered about his parachute. But he was Biggles, so he merely grinned: some people would give their all for silk pyjamas, and some wouldn't. That was what life was all about.
He had just enough time to glance up through the shrouds and see the remnant tatters of his chute before he hit the Rotterdam ring-road, like a brick.

No comments: