Wednesday, 21 May 2008

126: Michael Heath

in “Private Eye” 30 June 1972

It’s an expression that probably doesn’t get exercised much nowadays, but it used to be common to describe some flaming queen as a “Roaring Poof”. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that a cartoonist in need of filling space will illustrate comedically any popular phrase currently doing the rounds. There’s a hint of comment in that such a mincing creature, despite looking as though he’s about to pounce, is nowhere near as intimidating or threatening as the noise he makes.

125: Noel Ford

in “Punch” 23 March 1983

Freemasons and homosexuality. As secret minorities, they are two great evergreen comic topics. In this cartoon they intersect (like some sort of furtive Venn Diagram) to produce a subset of a subset. Being semi-secretive types how would these gay freemasons identify to each other in covert manner? Freemasons are of course famous for the secret handshake. So it’s a novel twist. I’m not sure about the polo neck and medallion on the chap on the left, though.
There is probably a complementary version of this idea. If this is about gays who are also freemasons, you could have one about freemasons who are gay: a meeting with a particularly flamboyant one in a corner (if it’s JAK or MAC then they’re probably wearing a flowery dress and floppy hat). Ho-hum.

124: Bruce Cochran

in “National Lampoon” November 1974

This was a regular strip in “National Lampoon” for the first few years in which absurd tips were offered as essential for the novice cartoonist.

As though a commercial artist might need to draw gay birds for the laughably banal strips that litter the American newspapers is joke enough. American comics have always terribly uncontroversial and conservative. So pressing the need for instruction in this particular socio-sexual matter is twist enough. A queer quail was never going to appear in anyone’s comics page. The specificity of the type of bird is pointlessly silly too. However, in one way it’s accurate since the signs it offers are ubiquitous: one knee cocked, hands on hip, curly lashes, and drama-queen effeteness of speech.

Monday, 19 May 2008

123: Bernard Cookson

in “Punch”, 10 November 1976

Well this is fairly blunt. But then it is the 70s. Certainly not a cartoon afraid of using blatant stereotypes. Although, since “Harry the Poof” is unseen, it does means that there is some latitude for the readers’ imaginations as to the extent which they wish to make Harry fit their gay stereotype. There’s also the idea that anyone called “The Poof” would constitute a serious threat to the police. Well other than sexually maybe, although that wouldn’t seem to be any part of the joke. Nor does “come out” for that matter.

122: J.B. Handelsman

in "Punch" 20 June 1973

An investigation of the hermeneutics of chess as pertaining to enacting of roles within unsanctioned homosexual subcultures re an ecclesiastical abuse of power. NAMBLA chess? Wow! Some cartoon!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

121: Shel Silverstein on Fire Island

in “Playboy”, August 1965

I (slightly) take back some of my more perfervid declarations about “Playboy” and accusations of a general unwillingness to feature homosexuality at all in its pages (maybe it’s a prejudice on my part against tits everywhere). In 1964 Playboy explicitly adopted a policy of gay-rights, so this cartoon appears in the aftermath of that change of editorial attitude.

Shel Silverstein has such a diverse career as children’s author, songwriter and humorist that it can be forgotten that he was one of the defining spirits of the first decade of “Playboy”. His cartoons in their own comic manner exemplified the hip, modern, worldly pleasure-loving American male ethos that Hefner was trying to represent and foster.

This was a late instalment in Shel Silverstein’s cartoon travelogues. They began appearing quite early in “Playboy”. Silverstein, made himself an actor in the cartoons, thereby giving them a different and maybe slightly complicated viewpoint as to where the humour lay: in the scene, its observer or some third combination of the two. Silverstein became a slightly naïve citizen of the world, as he and the cartoons explore different and exotic cultures and scenes. The cartoons lampoon and deflate the expectations of the tourist, humanising the apparently foreign, yet for comic effect they ring new changes on those same foreign and cultural stereotypes. From travelling the world, Silverstein turned to exploring outposts of an America which had started to ‘swing’, and its new subcultures of beatniks, nudists, hippies and, in this instance, homosexuals.

Luckily today, the introduction cannot be read as mocking of homosexuals themselves. It does, however, play up a slightly shrill panic for humorous effect. And a couple of Silverstein’s own jokes in the piece are about his suddenly discovering that he is being flirted with from some unexpected corner. Which is what takes it out of the usual ”Playboy” comfort zone. There is some irony in this, since as “Playboy” cartoons, this series often featured Silverstein on the make with the native colour, laced with satirical overtones about sex and culture.

Like other pieces I’ve seen from the 60s, there is a tendency for “fagot” to be spelt with only one “g”. Go figure why?

The cartoon about rough trade and this particular type of self-loathing masochistic relationship is probably more of its time than now.

The travelogue makes the expected jokes about gay men/drag queens being women or just confused as to whether they want to be women, but Shel has the good grace to place these in the context of dialogues where he admits that he is also confused

The statement on bottom of the first page could probably have been made anytime in last forty years. And there has often been a slightly self-comforting prissy argument that being homosexual satisfies some desire to be separate and special (- this becomes a big point of debate during debates in the 70s about the homosexual community and what a fight for equality means)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

120: Banx

Jeremy Banks in “Punch” 2 December 1981

In contrast to #119, the execution of this silly fantasy cartoon notion about a gay poltergeist is firmly rooted in its time. Whatever you might happen to think would distinguish the coming out of a poltergeist, in this particular instance it’s marked by rather confrontational agit-prop gay lib slogans scrawled all over the place.

Monday, 12 May 2008

119: David Austin - Gay unicorns

David Austin in "The Spectator" 19 June 1982

Curiously, of all the hundreds and hundreds of gags, spoofs, jokes, comics, cartoons, sketches, songs, sitcoms, parodies and Christ alone only knows what I’ve let pass before my barely functioning eyes, I think this marks a watershed in humour using homosexuals.
It isn’t sneering or belittling. It isn’t proposing some particular stereotype or trying to keep up with new trends. It doesn’t allude to some new scandal or public contretemps. It isn’t arguing some satirical point, or even attacking modern bigotries from a liberalising viewpoint.
It is just a silly joke.
Homosexuality is allowed to play in the realm of nonsensical fantasy. It is not sectioned and limited for adult, topical, political or moralistic reasons.
As we have already seen there was a massive backlash on various fronts against homosexuality, but this is a backlash stemming from a sudden discomfort arising from the fact that the matter of homosexuality is acknowledged and homosexuals themselves more prevalent. And in its own innocuous way this cartoon proves it.
And this in the early 80s in a magazine like “The Spectator”. The “New Yorker” would run an almost identical cartoon a mere 25 years later. And that the “New Yorker” in America only really started to feature gay cartoons in the absolute end of the 80s and gradually through the 90s only proves my point.

(If one really really wants, one might just possibly catch the slightest sniff of early 80s gay-feminist politics and strident articles in “Spare Rib” about lesbians raising children and challenging the traditional heterosexual family unit. Please try not to, I ask you. Let’s not spoil this moment.)

118: Al Jaffee – Fold-In

in “Mad” April, 1974

And here we have one of the most famous and durable features from “Mad” – a fold-in by Al Jaffee. How you are going to make it work is up to you: if you’re bold and strong enough you could try folding your computer screen, or you could print it out and fold it, or you could cut and past the left and right sections together, or you could use a sheet of paper to blank out the middle section on the screen, or (oh SHUT up!)

A nifty visual gag. Female gestures become effeminate gay gestures, and it’s worth remembering that the hideousness of 70s styles (Cuban heels and migraine-inducing clashes of colour and patterns) can make it hard to identify an actual homosexual.

As part of the public discussion about a place for homosexuality in a modern society, given various social and ecological fears about over-population, arguments were often made that homosexuality’s non-reproductive aspect was actually a contribution to the public good. Gore Vidal used to make this point quite a bit.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

117: "Big Bruce"

“Big Bruce” (M. Vickery, D. Tyson, Bud. Reneau-Bill Stith).
Sung by Steve Greenberg.
Atlantic 1969

SPOKEN: The folk history of America is the history of its heroes. Big working men like John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Big Bad John. But today, I’d like to introduce a new folk hero. He didn’t work in a mine, or in a railroad, or any of those strenuous occupations. He worked in a beauty salon, and his name was Bruce...

Well, every day at the salon, you can see him arrive
He stood six-foot-six, weighed one-oh-five
He's kinda narrow at the shoulders, narrow in the hips
With a curl in his hair and a smile on his lips
Big Bruce
Big Bad Bruce

No one seemed to know where Bruce came from
He kinda swished into town and stayed all alone
Never said much, kind of quiet and shy
And when he spoke at all, it was just to say “Hi!”
Big Bruce
Big Bad Bruce

Same say he came from New Orleans
Where he had a social group called The Cajun Queens
Some say Hollywood or Beverly Hills
Where he got arrested for passing three-dollar bills
That’s Bruce

Then came the day of that terrible fire
Something went wrong in the #5 dryer
Into the chaos of those matronly caves
Went Big Bad Bruce, just a-fannin’ the flames
Big Bruce
Big Bad Brucie-Wucie

Well, the flames grew higher and the fire got worse
And someone heard Brucie cry, “Mercy, I forgot my purse!”
Into the fire with a squeal and a shout
We waited an hour, but he never came out
Poor Bruce
Poor old Bruce

Where that salon once stood is a grocery store
But his name will live for evermore
In the annals of time
And in the Hall of Fame
As a gay young cat who went down in flames
Big Bruce

You might say this is a big kind of fairy tale


This is a parody of Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John". This is a slightly rewritten cover of “Big Bruce” by The Country Gentlemen (Rebel 263, 1966). This version charted on the Billboard Chart at #97, July of 1969.

Not a gay cowboy song. Rather the joke here is the transposition of a gay scenario –hairdressers and their big city homosexual milieus (which we might recognise from #89: The Pied Piper of Burbank) – into a country ballad. In this there is of course implicit critique between the masculine he-men of the west, and even the typical macho western singer's drawl, and the effeminate fashion gay.
This also has significance because it is an early instance of Americans getting somewhat worked up in their belief that “Bruce” is a very gay name indeed.

While trying to find out more about "The Ballad of Ben Gay" and "Big Bruce" I found this Queer Music Heritage website which has an exhaustive history of gay cowboy songs:

116: The Ballad of Ben Gay

The Ballad Of Ben Gay, 1973
written by Darrel Gulland & Edd McNeely
performed by Ben Gay & The Silly Savages
Elm Records, 1973. GNP Crescendo, 1974.

Hi, I'm Ben Gay.
I'd like to dedicate this song to Wayne and Bruce
and all my friends at the Chartreuse Moose
One, two, buckle your shoe!
OK boys. Lets slap it from the bottom.

Born to be a cowboy,
That's what I try to be.
Wanted to be a cowboy,
But they poked fun at me!
Dreamed of riding horses,
Roping and herding cattle;
Oh how those brutes terrorised me
when they saw my velvet saddle.
(Can I help it if my skin's delicate?)

I tried to be a wrangler
Really and truly I tried
But after this experience
I'll stick to pony rides
You should've seen the way they looked,
Their faces all turned pale,
Each time I took my brush out
and ratted my horse's tail
(I though it looked just dahlin'!)

OK boys. Play the bridge
Not that kind of bridge, you silly savages
You want Ben Gay all over you?

A cowboy's life is not for me,
in fact it was a curse.
Want to know why I gave up
They took away my purse
Now my wrangling days are over
But I can honestly say
Whoever heard of a cowboy
named Hopalong Ben Gay
(I don't know why they took my purse.
They have saddle bags, don't they?)

If you want to be a wrangler
Take Ben's advice. Hang Loose!
Come see old Wayne and me
we'll be at the Chartreuse Moose
Fix you up. Whatever!?
They laughed at me when I ripped my panty hose pulling them on over my spurs!


An American song to balance off the contemporaneous English parody by Bill Oddie. A deliberately fey, and lispy flirty voice for this one. And the joke being the delicate, fashion-obsessed sissy gay transposed into a cowboy environment, and then this gay cowboy doesn’t realise why it is that he’s being picked upon. This was sufficiently popular that it was re-released by a larger label.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

115: The Goodies - "A Cactus in My Y-Fronts"

“The Goodies – Almost Live”, 2 November 1976

Starts at 6.10

“The Midnight Cow Person” – Tim Brooke-Taylor

Another gay cowboy joke. “Midnight Cowperson” with its pre-Politcally Correct phrasing is a reference to the film “Midnight Cowboy”, in which Jon Voight played a hustler who make occasional forays into homosexuality.

This was originally performed on the 11 November 1973 episode of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”. It was sung by its writer Bill Oddie (the short bearded one). That version has shtick missing from this, where cowboy yodelling becomes a chorus of camp “Ooooohs!”

The song is torn between two different sets of gay clichés and just silly jokes about sitting on a prickly pear and animal gags. The pear/ bottom gags, one could possibly see as deferring any real gags about sodomy or sexual interest. Its all about a comic painful incident rather than any real suggestion of S&M. The frilly pink comical cowboy outfit is slightly at odds with all the fetish gear mentioned in this song, but that’s just one of those confusions which comedy writers in the 70s have difficulty coming to grips with. Predatory or pouffy?


My name is Two Gun Pierre
I wear rose buds in my hair
And a chi-chi pink bandanna round my neck

I came down from Tennessee
With a cowboy on my knee
And a pair of leather chaps around my legs ... hold on boys!

I was down in Cripple Creek
I was dying for a leak
So I dropped my pants behind a cactus there

When I fastened up my belt
I can't tell ya how I felt
But I knew the meaning of a prickly pear ... ouch!!

Oh I've got a cactus in my y-fronts and a vulture round my head
I've just been kissed by a Tennessee miss and I wish that I were dead
I've a jockstrap made of leather and pants of PVC (ee - ee - ee - ee - ee - ee)
The cactus in my y-fronts make a loser out of me!

In Californ - i - a
Where the rustlers are so gay
I bought a gentle gee-gee name of Jacques

But he livened up a lot
When he felt my prickly spot
And that buckin' bronco broke my buckin' back!

So I walked up to Nevada
Where the gals try so much harder
And I met a beefy belle called Caroline

But when she felt my prickles
She cried "Oh Lord, that tickles!"
And now she's run off with a porcupine

Oh I've got a cactus in my y-fronts and a vulture round my head
I've just been kissed by a Tennessee miss and I wish that I were dead
Do you like my high heeled horseshoes, I got them from Paree (ee - ee - ee - ee - ee - ee)
The cactus in my y-fronts make a loser out of me!

Oh I've got a cactus in my y-fronts and a vulture round my head
I've just been kissed by a Tennessee miss and I wish that I were dead
I've got sequins on my saddle and I smell like a jasmine tree (ee - ee - ee - ee - ee - ee)
The cactus in my y-fronts make a loser out of me!

Well I'll be hornswaggled! What are you gonna be?!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

114: ffolkes

Brian Davis in “Punch” 22 November 1967

Hey look! High-heeled boots, hands on hips, chi-chi neckerchiefs, pursed lipsticked mouths, long eyelashes and they’re holding hands? Yep, pardner, they’re gay cowboys! The suggestion is that he’s ridden into some sort of prairie Sodom, where stereotypically tough manly men have become men's men. Notice too, how they tower over the other cowboy so that there might just be a hint of intimidation.

Monday, 5 May 2008

113: GLC 15 - JAK

Raymond Jackson in the “Evening Standard” 2 April 1986

The Greater London Council was disbanded on 31 March 1985, following the passing of the Local Government Act 1985. Here we see Livingstone looking for a job – hence the Livingstone Memorial Service on the poster. Irish is twinned with gay because Livingstone had made highly controversial political gestures and contacts with the IRA during his period in office. Lesbians are powerfully buxom but burly women in tweed dress suits who smoke pipes, yes?

112: GLC 14 - JAK

Raymond Jackson in the “Evening Standard” 6 December 1985

“Barmy Bernie” is/was Bernie Grant, one of the first black MPs. Before that, in 1985 he was the leader of the GLC. Grant was quite anti-Police, largely believing they were racist, and making some unfortunate comments in the process of expressing his views.
A gay policeman would of course carry a little handbag. With hands on hips and little wiggle lines to show them sashaying down the street, this is basically the Mr Humphries stereotype. If only they had three arms, JAK could have also shown them walking hand in hand, but such are the artistic limitations and choices imposed by biological fact.

Friday, 2 May 2008

111: GLC 13 - Auberon Waugh's Diary

in "Private Eye" 19 Apr 1985.jpg

Auberon Waugh was the son of Evelyn Waugh. He was a jobbing journalist and columnist. His diary was a feature in “Private Eye” from the early 70s until the late 80s. It was a weird fantasy, featuring topical news and public figures. The right-wing Waugh presented himself as being superior to everything and everyone, and delighted in ornate but bizarre abuse. It was a weird but unique blend of political insight, caricature, and bigotry. When Waugh indulges common prejudices they are usually enlivened by a plunge into insane reversals of the common-place world. After much of the same dull repetitive abuse from lumpen bigots, something so energetically, creatively and almost ludicrously different is almost a relief.
Waugh starts with the usual bigot’s claim about if we let homosexuals live happily, then we’re opening the gates to all other sexual deviants up to and including necrophiliacs and bestiality. It suddenly spirals into a desperate plea for the public to be aware of the threats posed by seals and the need to club them to death.
He’s not entirely wrong about gays and lesbians, either.

110: GLC 12 - JAK

Raymond Jackson in "The Evening Standard" 10 July 1984

The GLC had put up advertising hoardings publicising the Conservative Government’s failures and promoting the GLC’s successes. The Conservatives constantly sought to abolish the GLC.
Here you have a joke about waste of public money again – a) on wasteful self-promotion, b) on ludicrous minority oriented social projects. The assumption being, why would anyone want these people running your council.

109: GLC 11

in "Private Eye" 11 March 1983

Thursday, 1 May 2008

108: GLC 10

in "Private Eye" 8 April 1983

“Anal Injection and Death Syndrome” does not roll so easily off the tongue as “Arse Injected Death Sentence” or “Anally Injected Death Sperm” – which I remember as both being common in the 80s. The satiric supposition is that a local council ought not to be directing local ratepayers money to find cures for “Minority diseases”. It is wrongheaded, self-congratulatory attempts to right social discrimination rather than concern themselves with the provision and administration of basic services that arouse the conservative satirist’s ire.

107: GLC 9 - JAK

by Raymond Allen Jackson ("JAK")
in "Evening Standard" 29 January 1983

“Trots” is Trotskyites.
“Anti-Irish Jokes is a reference to that notorious Politically Correct lack of humour that left-wingers evidence.
“Poofters” is rather unexpected.
Homosexuals with vigorous handshakes is a new one on me.
The movement squiggles on the chap walking into the party may be an attempt to suggest a gay sashay.