Friday, 30 November 2007

14 - TeeVee and Sympathy 3: Monty Python

Written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, 12 October, 1969

And the final twist from “Monty Python”: keep the format, but just replace it with a nonsensical concept. Of course, what was silly concept becomes reality with the development of “furries”. This is a wonderful encapsulation of the all the clich├ęs of the format. Since Graham Chapman was gay, one can only speculate as to what grievances he was working out in this one.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

13 - TeeVee and Sympathy 2: Private Eye

in 'Private Eye', 22 January 1965

Here, 'Private Eye' takes the format and turns it around, so that the journalists themselves are the shameful perverts. 'Private Eye' has always focused as much on the behaviour and ethics of journalists who report the news as on the actual goings-on of politicians and media stars who make the news.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

12 - TeeVee and Sympathy 1: That Was The Week That Was

"Confession" by John Braine, in "That Was The Week That Was", edtied by David Frost and Ned Sherin, W.H. Allen, 1963

Heterosexuality is an ugly word. Until recently it skulked in the obscurity of medical text books. Now, one hears it everywhere. Let us be explicit and fearless about its meaning, then. Hetero, as one might expect, is derived from a foreign language, and means 'opposite'. Therefore, a heterosexual man is sexually attracted only to women and vice-versa.
There are few outward signs by which a heterosexual reveals himself, though authorities on the subject claim that a heterosexual will sooner or later give himself away - if only by his clumsiness and coldness, and crashing insensitivity. A heterosexual walks - or rather clumps in hobnailed boots and belted mac - alone. Not for him the joys of true comradeship; his energies are all spent in the pursuit of women. There is nothing he longs for more, than a night out with the boys, but a night out with the boys - in the truest, deepest sense is precisely what he can never enjoy. He is too busy making passes at the barmaid.
What is being done about this problem? Very little. The prevalent official attitude is simply to make heterosexuality as difficult as possible, to scoop it under the carpet.
How do I know all this?
I am a heterosexual.
It began early with me, at my public school. I won't say which one. . . I have dishonoured it enough already. I was fourteen years old, apparently a happy, wholesome normal lad, making friendships which would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life, when suddenly I realised that I didn't feel as I should towards the Captain of the Eleven. I couldn't disguise my growing conviction that he was a big, fat, boring slob. The padre, the housemaster, the housemaster's wife, did their level best to help, but I left school under a cloud.
I became an up-and-coming young executive. My field was corsets. I was good at my job, then one afternoon, I found it necessary to take a client to a strip club. I was watching a young lady in a G-string wrestling with a stuffed snake, when, to my horror, I discovered that I violently desired her. I tried to believe that it was something I had eaten. I tried to behave normally, and only looked at the audience. But it was no use. I enjoyed looking at naked women. .
Of course, my work began to suffer. I lost my job. Now, I am a doorman at the strip club which was the cause of my downfall. I am not actively unhappy, and sometimes the young ladies let me take them home, but it's a strange twilight world I live in. I have fallen farther than most, because I had farther to fall.
Mine is a sad story, but heterosexuals do not cry. I am not a criminal. Before you condemn me out of hand, try and see me as I am, a lost and lonely soul, with perhaps, a more than passing resemblance to - dare I say it - yourselves.


Now that people could admit that there were such things as homosexuals, homosexuality could be a recognised social problem. And so there began to appear TV profiles and documentaries in which anguished homosexuals could appear to confess they couldn't help it and ask for understanding and sympathy from straight society.
This piece by John Braine, famous as an Angry Young Man for writing "Room at the Top" (1957), is an early example of reversing the whole premise.
Charles Beaumont wrote "Crooked Man" ('Playboy, August 1955), a short story about the persecution suffered by the last few heterosexuals in a world gone gay. It's only slightly sneering, but it's notable that it's promoted in 'Playboy' as a horror story. Which I supoose it would be if you're the typical red-blooded, all-man reader of 'Playboy'. Not that 'Playboy' is really homophobic - it's just that homosexuality has to be largely ignored, so that the interest in consumer goods, men's fashion, etc doesn't attract any funny looks.
Martin Amis also rings the changes on this heterosexuals are a minority in a gay world in his short story "Straight Fiction", which I think I can remember finding a lot more unpleasant.
This is a theme we'll see more of later.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

11 - Beyond the Fringe

“Bollard” by Peter Cook, in “Beyond the Fringe”, 1961

Cameraman: Alan Bennett
Peter Cook
Jonathan Miller
Dudley Moore

If I were slightly more technically adept I would splice these two into one clip. Unfortunately I’m not. So you’ll have to start at 7:23 on the first clip and continue on the second clip until 00:47

For several hundred years, all material performed on the British stage had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain, who could then vet and censor as he felt necessary. Throughout the 1950s, American plays by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and even such a vague, self-contradictory piece like “Tea and Sympathy”, were banned from the British Theatre for their mild homosexual content. The upshot of this, is that any representations of gay people did not appear on the popular stage.
The scripts for the sketches in “Beyond the Fringe” therefore all had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain. The only sketch which was censored was this one, “Bollard”.
The characters were not allowed to call each other, “love”. And even more bizarrely, the stage directions themselves had to be amended at the Lord Chamberlain’s instruction. “Enter two outrageous old queens” had to be changed to “Enter two aesthetic young men”.
Note the use of that THAT hand gesture just before the sketch cuts to black.

“Beyond the Fringe” set the trend for smart, adult-oriented humour. Therefore, most of the cartoons and sketches I can find from this period come from the satire-oriented venues: TV sketch shows like “That Was The Week That Was”, and “Private Eye” magazine. Previously, one couldn't even hint at homosexuals in serious drama. Now, the mention of homosexuality was a part of the new sophisticated comedy, one of the freedoms afforded by a new more liberal contemporary society.
Although, there wasn't the freedom to be homosexual yourself.

Monday, 26 November 2007

10 - Private Eye

“How to Spot a Homo” in ‘Private Eye, 17 May 1963

This one dates from the very height of the hysteria about the Vassall Spy case (of which much, much more in next week’s Big Gay Spy Theme Week).
I’m about 95% certain that the illustrations are by Roger Law. Law would go on to much greater fame and fortune doing things in latex with Peter Fluck in the 70s, then in the 80s and 90s as the artistic side of “Spitting Image”.
This is notable for an English use of the word “homo”. English people tend to speak of “hom-o-sexuals” while Americans pronounce it “hoe-mo-sexual”. This is apparently because of classical purists in the BBC, who set the rules on pronunciation. It’s much more natural, therefore, for Americans to use the word “homo”, although the English do occasionally use it. Those two plodding syllables were flung around with depressing frequency during my adolescence in New York – not much at me, just at everything and everyone.
The piece is based upon a real article by Lionel Crane in the ‘Sunday Mirror’, 28 April, 1963.
So it’s somewhat mocking of panic about gays and gay stereotypes, while also indulging in them at the same. Nice, if you have it both ways.
The aged man in the bottom left corner is the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan. I think the chap in the centre is a young David Hockney.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

9 - Rick Meyerowitz




"And to Think That I Saw It on Christopher Street" by Rick Meyerowitz and Gerald Sussman, in 'National Lampoon', May 1980

The title alludes to the children's book by Dr Seuss "And to think That I saw It on Mulberry Street".
All the euphemisms for sodomy you could never want. From the period when gays were no longer flouncy lispers, but husky unabashed perverts.
Due to the need to fill space 'National Lampoon' always had a tendency to flog an idea for more pages than it was worth. Gerald Sussman was a note offender at this.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

8 - Berke Breathed

"Bloom County", 11 July 1984
by Berke Breathed
collected in "Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things", 1985

I suspect that this strip probably didn't appear in quite a few newspapers. The comics pages in American newspapers are quite bland. Anything which might cause the slightest disquiet over the morning Special-K and coffee has a tendency to never even appear. The possibility of angry letters to the editor because Johnny was asking Mommy what this meant would probably result in quite a few editors pre-emptively roundfiling it.

I saw this strip when I was 11. It suddenly added a whole new aspect to what I thought it meant to be a homosexual. Lightfooted, limpwristed Larry Grayson and Mr Humphries were about the extent of my awareness when I'd been in England. Whatever San Francisco and Castro Street meant passed me by. But the two guys, with the one in some odd motorcycle uniform and the laughing references to what, thanks to Tom Lehrer a couple of months later, I would discover to be masochism, opened weird new vistas.
And really that's the point of all this.
When you're a child, avenues of finding out about gayness are more restricted. Even if there are documentaries and dramas about homosexuality, your parents aren't going to let you, 8 or 9 years old, watch them. Even if you had the slightest inkling of what they were about, or what relevance they might actually have for you. Not least, because these aren't the sort of programmes your parents are going to watch in the first place.
So if you see homosexuals, it's more likely going to be as fleeting appearances in comedy programmes which you all watch as a family or cartoons and comic strips which are lying around.
So the first way you ever see gays is as jokes. Something to be laughed at. It's not necessarily cruel or vindictive, because everything gets laughed at in these programmes. But it does mean that you only see gay people in a weird distorting mirror as innately ridiculous things, and everyone else is seeing them that same way too.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

7 - Alan Bennett

in “On the Margin”, 9 November 1966
Alan Bennett as “Antique shop proprietor”
John Sergeant as “Customer”

SERGEANT: Well, actually, I was looking for something rather along the lines of a teapot stand. It's a birthday present for my wife. I bought her a teapot for her Christmas present, so I thought I'd follow it up with a teapot stand.
BENNETT: Oo! The last of the big spenders. Teapot stand. . .Well . . . (moves to Welsh dresser) you could stand a teapot on here very nicely.
SERGEANT: Yes - but it's a little bit bigger than what I had in mind, really.
BENNETT: Oo! It is big. . . it is big. . . but only an expert would have spotted it. But you know, if you'd be advised, you can't go wrong with these, you know (still fingering Welsh dresser) because these are going to rocket. The Americans are buying them up, you know. If you had six or seven of these tucked away, you'd never starve. I mean, you wouldn't have room to eat, but you'd never starve.
SERGEANT: How much do they run to?
BENNETT: Well, I'll have to look in my little book. I wouldn't want it to go to anybody who wasn't going to cosset it - but I think you're a cosseter, aren't you? Now then - it's seventy-five pounds, but I could stretch it and let you have it for seventy-four guineas.
SERGEANT: I prefer to pay less, really.
BENNETT: Do you know, it's funny you should say that, love, because most people prefer to pay less, whereas I prefer to charge more, you know. I think it's just a matter of taste.
SERGEANT: This is nice. (Touching a table)
BENNETT: Oh, I can see I'm going to have to watch you - you really have the eye, don't you? Can you keep a secret?
BENNETT (taps table): Wedgwood.
SERGEANT: But I thought that Wedgwood only did pottery?
BENNETT: That's the secret. It's a very unique piece. There's only one other in existence, and it's on trust for the nation. It's fifty-five pounds, and if you pass that up, you want your bottom smacking.
SERGEANT (pointing at old money box): That's not an antique. They had these when I was a boy.
BENNETT: Oo, you said it, dear, not me. (Picks up chamber pot filled with hyacinths) Have you ever thought of going in for these? I like to think that this is Worcester.
SERGEANT: What is it?
BENNETT: Well, it's an eighteenth-century breakfast cup, is that. I mean, in the eighteenth century they used to have these great big breakfasts - I mean, none of your two prunes and a Weetabix - so they had such big cups. (Picks up an old policeman's truncheon) Do you know what they're using these for nowadays?
SERGEANT: Well I know one thing - it's not teapot stands.
BENNETT: Oo, get in the knife box, you're too sharp to live.
SERGEANT: I was reading in one of the Sunday newspapers that the latest trend is this 'camp' thing. Have you anything 'camp'?
BENNETT: Now he tells us!
SERGEANT: Have you any camp teapot stands?
BENNETT: Do you know, if you'd come in here a week ago, I was knee deep in camp teapot stands. I've had teapot stands in this shop as camp as a row of pink tents.
BENNETT: I tell a lie - as camp as a row of pink frilly tents.

This is a bit different, since Bennett is an actual gay man writing and performing the role of a camp gay man. Although I don’t think Bennett came out as such until the ’90s. This character was revisited in further sketches in Alan Bennett’s only TV comedy series “On the Margin”. Apparently no footage of any of them now exists since the entire series was wiped by the BBC. In later years Alan Bennett would dust off some of his old sketches for performances in charity shows. Whether this was one of them I don’t know. Although in a parody of the Secret Policeman’s Ball from “Janet Lives with Mel and Griff” (1988) the line “Alan Bennett revisits his uncanny impression of a Northern Woofter” may either refer to these sketches or else be a less than charitable comment on Bennett himself.

John Sergeant is indeed the John Sergeant who went on to a long career as a BBC political correspondent.

This sketch predates the Monty Python's camp judges use of “Get back in the witness box. You’re too sharp to live”. Was it a common phrase, or just the Pythons remembering its previous use and recasting it? Also, is this the first appearance of the phrase “camp as a row of tents”?

And for those unfamiliar with the prices: 20 shillings made 1 pound; 1 guinea was 1 pound and 1 shilling. So, 74 guineas is £77 and 14 shillings. See how worthless this information is.

Monday, 19 November 2007

6 - Trog

By Wally Fawkes, “Trog”, in ‘Private Eye’ 1966

I’m afraid that this, to put it politely, makes no bleeding sense. "Ban the Bum"?
Looked at superficially it appears to have the form of a joke, but even the faintest attention to its content causes the whole thing to fall apart like a pair of used paper knickers.
Some ugly lumpen transvestites (or even uglier prostitutes, a supposition to which I shall return later) are staging a demonstration outside parliament. Ho ho. The sign features the word “bum” prominently. Ho ho again. The word “bum” is used in parody of a popular demonstration slogan. Ho ho even more. Homosexuals and bums. Ho ho effing ho.
That if you take all this together and attempt to make it all add up, then it honestly makes my brain slip a cog.
The cartoon would then seem to depict homosexuals who are protesting against bottoms and presumably homosexuality: “Ban the Bum”. What? Why? Are they particularly self-denying homosexuals? Are they anti-gays disguised as gays, so they can appear as gays who are anti-gay? Is this a cartoon about fifth columnists in the struggle for homosexual rights? (**)
Or are they instead lady whores, who resent the intrusion of homosexuality into the menu of pleasure for British men, and therefore demand its banishment so that the men of England will be driven back to their reasonably-priced claggy solaces?
As I retire for a long lie down.
Answers please.

(**)Postscript, 20/11/07. A parody reader's survey in the 100th issue of 'Private Eye', lists one of the categories as "the man who, as a homosexual, likes the strong, virile, anti-poove line". So yes, my horribly convoluted theory may in fact be right.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

5.5 - Not The Nine O'Clock News

“Not The Nine O’Clock News” 23 October 1979 – Rowan Atkinson

Aha, found it on youtube.

The swivels from attempting to appear sympathetic and non-judgemental to failed attempts at contemporary slang, further embarrassment, swiftly escalating into weird aversion therapy, and finally landing with a thud into matter-of-fact grand condemnation. Not bad for a minute and a half. The laughs are more at the expense of the character Atkinson is playing, his verbal contortions, his hunched-up body and gesticulating hands, with the big final laugh for the outrageousness of the last line coming from such a placatory-seeming character.

There, I think that's analysed all the fun from it.

5 - Not The Nine O'Clock News

from "Not! The Nine O'Clock News" BBC Books, 1980

In the days before VCRs, popular comedy programmes often used to "preserve" their jokes and sketches in book format for an appreciative Christmas market. Most of the things I'm posting are from books bought in charity shops. As a consequence of which, I now have a very large collection of books with flyleafs featuring a 50p sales price and Christmas best wishes to some nephew from an aunt or uncle. My bookshelves are now the elephant's graveyard of not very imaginative gift-giving.

I'm fairly certain I can remember Rowan Atkinson performing this on TV as an embarrassed trendy vicar, who burbles apologetically and apparently sympathetically, then suddenly confounds expectations by spitting out the last two lines.

Friday, 16 November 2007

4 - Queens of England

A compilation of queens from the early 70s:

Carry On Girls” (1973) Jimmy Logan as Cecil Gaybody

“Close order swanning about” from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus, episode #22, 24 November 1970

“Camp Judges” (Eric Idle and Michael Palin) from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus, episode 21, 17 November 1970

"Carry On Abroad" (1972)- Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and John Clive

“Clarence” (“Hello, Honky-tonk”) and “Hettie” characters played by Dick Emery

There is a minor fashion issue to raise: both "Clarence" and "Cecil Gaybody" are wearing godawfully ugly peaked hats. In "Doctor in Trouble" (1970), Graham Chapman plays a bitchy gay photographer who never appears with his peaked cap. Joe Orton wears his cap. Was "the hat" some sort of signal? A sub-military butch touch, which then goes horribly wrong, all floppy and purple? Or am I just being overly-attentive?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

3 - National Lampoon

Full page version
By Anne Beatts and Ed Bluestone in ‘National Lampoon’, May 1972

'National Lampoon" regularly ran pastiche and parody comic books. This was the advert in a parody combining Conan the Barbarian and Norman Mailer: “Norman the Barbarian”. Norman visits the city of No-Dork, which is full of simpering eunuches, where he has a confrontation with the bitch-goddess Media, but this, I think, is the better piece. All some years before "Homosexual Panic Defense".

George Lincoln Rockwell was the leader of the American Nazi party.

Merle Miller was the author of a 1971 article in the 'New York Times', "What It means to be a Homosexual"

2 - Willie Rushton

by Willie Rushton in 'Private Eye", 24 June 1966

This is possibly the most reprinted cartoon in 'Private Eye'. Or at least in all of the 'Private Eye' reprints, anthologies, retrospectives and godonlyknows. Editor Richard Ingrams was rightly impressed by the cadences of the caption.

Its only competitor for ubiquity and frequency is Gerald Scarfe's caricature of the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan as Christine Keeler which makes it into many of the textbooks and anthologies of 20th century caricature and also 60s icons.

I quite like this one. Its two saggy flabby walruses in bed make for a change from twinkle-eyed bitchy effeminate theatricals, and seems a fairly good reminder of what we will all come to in the end. And isn’t that what we all look for in a cartoon – that irrefutable confirmation of time’s despoliation of the flesh’s fleeting charms.

It's not mocking, and it's an interesting twist on what was then a catchphrase of the times.

1 - Michael Heath

in "Punch" 4 April 1973
"The 'Punch' Cartoons of Heath" by Michael Heath, Harrap, 1976

This, I suppose, sums up the point of this blog. A collection of cartoons, sketches, TV clips, parodies, and anything else supposedly funny about gays that I can lay my hands on. Almost none of them will be by gay men, which is significant in itself. Most of this stuff dates from the very early 60s to the mid-80s, for reasons which will become clearer as I go on. Some will be funny. Some will be dull. Some will be almost unbelievably stupid and offensive - particuarly the tabloid cartoons I've found.

The one above already shows changes in how gays are seen by the mid-70s. Although it could be just as relevant today. Graham Norton, Alan Carr?

There'll be more from Michael Heath and his long-running "The Gays" strip in 'Private Eye' in the next few weeks.

Note how the theatre glasses on the back of the seat add just that touch of verisimiltude.