Thursday, 31 May 2012

413: Michael Trestrail

Something for the Jubilee. Something other than just posting a load of puns involving the word “Queen”, mind you. So something related to her majesty specifically instead – which will mean a few “queen” jokes, I’m afraid, but what can I do about that. I have no time machine to forcibly restrain people from making these slightly lame jokes in the first place.

One of the odder incidents before her children and their marriages became a thriving tabloid feature (toe-sucking, squidgygate, I want to be your tampon, etc.) was the incident in July 1982 when the Queen was visited by an intruder in her bedroom. Michael Fagan climbed over the walls surrounding Buckingham palace, broke into Buckingham Palace undetected, then made his way to the Queen’s bed chamber, where he woke her up and sat on her bed for about 10 minutes.

This was the sixth breach of security at the Queen's London residence that year and there was a clamour to know why the Queen’s security had been breached so many times. On July 19th the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw announced to a stunned parliament that the Queen’s chief of security, Commander Michael Trestrail had resigned, not because of any failings in his job but because he had been involved in a relationship with a male prostitute.

The 51 year old Trestrail had worked for the Royal Family since 1966, and had become a Member of the Royal Victorian Order in 1978, a personal award of the Queen. It was revealed that several years previously Trestrail had met a couple of times with Michael Rauch, a male prostitute in his 30s. When Rauch had discovered Trestrail’s position he had tried to blackmail him but nothing had come of it. Following the interest in Fagan’s break-in, Rauch tried to sell his story to “The Sun” newspaper, but the tabloid instead passed this information to Scotland Yard.

Trestrail immediately resigned. All of this was not just embarrassing to the palace but also to the government. Trestrail was security checked every couple of years, and his last vetting had only been 3 months previously. Furthermore, Trestrail’s resignation occurred independently of any awareness by the government. Whitelaw was only in the position of announcing what had already happened. Various investigations would follow, which would open up the more private operations of the palace making it more accountable.

Most of the papers and commentators were largely sympathetic to Trestrail. The Attorney General announced: “There should be no general presumption that homosexuality is evidence of inherent personality defects disqualifying the individual from positions of responsibility”. There was an investigation by Lord Bridge, with the report issued in November 1982. Trestrail was exonerated as “no threat to security at the palace”, nor responsible for the Fagan incident, although Bridge remarked on “casual and promiscuous homosexual encounters which (Trestrail) himself recognised as sordid and degrading …[which] still attracts general disapproval”. So if nothing else, an indication of how attitudes have changed in the last 30 years.

All the reports suggest an immensely private man, whose testimony gives the impression of being not entirely comfortable in his sexuality. Headlines and observations were full of the phrase “Secret Double Life”. Developing from the Vassall and Lavender scandals of the early 1960s most of the commentary is still about blackmailing of homosexuals, but now instead of campaigns for purges, the assumption is that honesty really is the best policy.

One good thing in all of the material that follows, almost none of it is directly or personally about Trestrail but only about the mix of homosexuality, royality, policeman, national security, and Fagan’s break-in.

Raymond Jackson
Evening Standard, 21 July 1982
As with almost very other JAK cartoon, if he’s not some effeminate sissy, then a homosexual is a large chap with extravagant facial hair in lady’s evening wear. Pythonesque or just lazy all-poofs-are-transvestite gags? Anyway, here they are infiltrating away like mad.

Michael Heath
Spectator, 24 July 1982
And here’s the first of our queen/ royalty meet’s queen / homosexual puns. Writes itself, wouldn’t you say?

Trog – aka Wally Fawkes
Observer, 25 July 1982
The police officer is Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw. But isn’t that just the mimsiest-looking chap on the step?

Michael Heath
Punch, 28 July 1982
A gay interpretation of the everyday behaviour of policemen. Could almost be a pocket cartoon by Marc Boxer, but none of Boxer’s pieces for “The Times” touch on this story's homosexuality even by allusion.

Punch, 28 July 1982
A Queen gag again. Anthony Blunt for previous secretly gay Royal employee allusion. Quentin Crisp as a default reference for homosexuality. And an ethos of secrecy about being gay.

cover, Private Eye 30 July 1982
A “Hello Sailor” joke. Ho-hum.

David Austin
“Hom Sap” strip in Private Eye, 30 July 1982
Austin is better than a joke whose pay-off is a hand on hip, and a “Haven’t we all, sweeties”? but this is for “Private Eye” in the early 1980s which wasn’t in the market for any subtlety in its jokes about homosexuals.

Michael Heath
“The Gays” strip in Private Eye, 30 July 1982
“It’s wonderful to feel persecuted again”?

David Austin
Spectator, 31 July 1982
An inversion of the whole Trestrail situation. Note the topical homosexual moustaches and realistic early 80s attire in contrast to the character in Trog’s cartoon.

Punch, 4 August 1982.
Listing all the gay signifiers in this would be almost as the piece itself: Cambridge and Foreign Office spies, hairdressers and ballet dancers, Oscar Wilde, leather gear and cottaging. No Jeremy Thorpe reference is surprising, although for those with a particularly good memory, a copy of Baldwin’s novel was involved in Thorpe’s seduction technique. The only other thing missing is some sort of disco reference, but then the audience of “Punch” isn’t hip in anyway.

Cartoon by Geoffrey Dickinson
E.J. Turner
Punch, 4 August 1982
A lengthy piece about the evident failures of the vetting procedure invoking the idea of “effeminate drinks”, James Bond’s odd piece of folklore about homosexuals not being able to whistle, Oxbridge traitors, bachelor holidays to gay venues, interior decorating, handbags, and so on. And a “gay men have handbags” reference in the cartoon too.

Michael Heath
“The Gays” strip in Private Eye, 13 August 1982
Not a bad gag in this context. Although still within general milieu of pity, misery, envy, petty lust, resentment and recrimination of the strip.

Private Eye, 13 August 1982
Easy “hello sailor” cliché aside, this instance looks at the sexual scandal element of the story, in regard to Trestrail’s consorting with prostitutes. The three signatories are all disgraced figures, but the Kincora Boys Homes is a low blow as that was a notorious contemporary paedophile scandal.

Clive Collins
The Sun, 31 August 1982
A camp bitchy gay. Again the idea of being pervasively infiltrated. Although the “I’ll scratch their eyes out” line has probably been a cliché for at least the last 10 years.

Private Eye
3 December 1982
Analysing the Bridge investigation as a cover-up so as not to further embarrass the Palace. Mr Sweeties Roughtrouser is a name revisited from jokes about Thorpe.

After that Trestrail falls out of the public eye. But there is one last reference. The second volume of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books, “The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole” (1984) has the following topical entry, in which the events of the outside world are brought within Adrian’s self-obsessed petty orbit:

“MONDAY JULY 19TH “The Queen’s personal detective, Commander Trestrail, has had to resign because the papers have found out that he is a homosexual. I think this is dead unfair. It’s not against the law and I bet the Queen doesn’t mind. Barry Kent calls ME a poofter because I like reading and hate sport. So I understand what it is like to be victimized.”

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