Tuesday, 27 January 2009

217: "Gay Life"

from “Private Eye” 18 January 1980

“Gay Life”, broadcast in 1980, was the first British TV series about homosexuality. There had been a number of individual documentaries over the previous 20 years, but this is the first dedicated series. It was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT). Each episode had its particular subject, and in case any one’s interested, I’ll list them.

February 10: Security Vetting and Gays in the Civil Service (post-Anthony Blunt)
February 17: Male Gay Lifestyles – Pubs, Discos, Drag Acts, Leather Scene, etc
February 24: Child Custody and Adoption
March 2: Police Harassment and Entrapment of Gay Men
March 9: Gay Relationships and Gay Weddings
March 16: Gay Teachers
March 23: Gays in Heterosexual Marriages
March 30: Gays and Media Stereotyping
April 20: Young Lesbians
April 27: Gays in the Armed Forces
May 4: Gay Political Organisation

The programme was about overcoming stereotypes and demonstrating the diversity of homosexuals and gay life. “Private Eye” instead makes a news programme about stereotypical gays, about deliberately trivial gay news, gay weather, gay sports, gay parking, a silly separatist world where the “Bible can have a gay angle”. Not a particularly mean-spirited parody, but since “Gay Life” was a programme so determinedly serious, this resolutely refuses to grant gays and their lives any relevance as a minority. You’ll note this was written before an episode had even seen air, so they knew what they already thought.
I’ll concede that the two lesbian football teams are decent puns.
Desmond Wilcox is there simply because “Private Eye” detested him and would insert his name on the most improbable pretext. Mountbatten is there because they liked to suggest he was gay - whether he was or not I’ve never been troubled to find out. Jonah Junor is an odd pun - the journalist John Junor was notoriously bigoted, famous for finishing each of his rants of disgust at the modern world with “Pass the sickbag, Alice”.

At this time Ingrams was TV reviewer for “The Spectator”. He was quite vocal in his column about not reviewing “Gay Life”, saying it was propaganda and would likely provoke him to uncharitable thoughts, since it would almost certainly be "obsessed with Lesbian mothers . . .fat neurotic perverts”. In a later column he pretty much puts his stall on display: "a few years ago homosexuals were rightly regarded as subjects for humour or else sympathy. Now we are expected to treat them as a quasi-political movement with 'rights'" (11 July 1981). Ingrams continues in this conservative vein seeing the blame for gay rights lying with the feminist movement which encouraged lesbians to operate as the extreme wing. It is a conservative argument which can only see gay politics as the ultimate non-procreative, dead-end of left-wing politics.

In the very early years of “Private Eye”, Ingrams had by all accounts been very liberal on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In the 1960s Ingrams is granting a bemused tolerance. By the 1980s we have Ingram’s response to what he perceives as a ludicrous demand for an unrealistic equality.

Monday, 26 January 2009

216: Quean magazine

from "Private Eye" 27 December 1963

And to confirm how useful the word quean is:
This parody cover of “Queen” magazine, one-time rag of the London smartset. Fashion must mean gay, and so this rather impish little Father Christmas is portrayed by "Private Eye" editor Richard Ingrams.

215: Private Eye and the Krays

from "Private Eye" 21 August 1964

Private Eye’s take on the whole media ho-ha surrounding the Kray brothers revelations of 1964.

During the summer of ’64 the papers had been working themselves into hissy fits about London gangs that were now operating above the law. The papers were too cowardly to actually name who these criminals were – for fear of either being sued for libel, or having their legs removed with a meat cleaver. As it was, “Private Eye” boldly named the Kray Brothers as the guilty parties, and then the various editors of “Private Eye” all suddenly went on holiday out of the country. “The Sunday Mirror” alleged in a story titled "Peer and a Gangster: Yard Probe" that Scotland Yard was investigating a homosexual relationship between a peer and a notorious London gangster. It kept on making its insinuations and it was soon evident to almost everyone that the peer in question was the Tory, Lord Bob Boothby, a rapacious bisexual who would screw anything up to and including the former Prime Minister Macmillan’s wife. Boothby wrote an indignant letter to “The Times” denying all charges, and the proprietor and editor of the “Mirror” folded utterly paying him £40,000 in compensation. In retrospect it was of course true, but that’s neither here nor there. Incidentally, Tom Driberg, the Labour figure whom I covered last year, was also a gay friend of the Krays - so no partisan tendencies there.

So another homosexual-tinged scandal of the time. “Private Eye” focuses on the sensationalism and titillation by insinuation employed by the newspapers then ramps it all up a notch, and ludicrously smearing the journalists involved in the same manner.
“Hugh Cunp” is Hugh Cudlipp, editor of the “Mirror” (face on the right).
“Cecil Harmsworth Quean” is Cecil Harmsworth King, the owner of the Mirror newspaper empire (face on the left). Etymology fans might be interested to note that “quean” used to be the preferred homosexual variant of “queen”. Quean could mean a jezebel, prostitute, or female cat in heat, so with it’s connotations of effeminacy, sexual opportunism, and a feline counterpart to “bitch”, a jolly useful word, but in pronunciation impossible to differentiate from “queen” which it has now become. So a crappy pun is a little less crappy, when you know, eh?
The scribbles in the corner are a satire on the unprofessionalism of the “Mirror”’s behaviour since Cudlipp’s attention was distracted during most of this because he was either preparing the new “Sun” newspaper or off on holiday himself. Well that, and they're just scrawls calling one another poofs.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

214: Private Eye and Pooves

from “Private Eye” 2 November 1962

from “Private Eye” 10 January 1964

In its earliest years, “Private Eye” was very fond of throwing the word “poove” around as an all-purpose comic word. Partly, it’s a residue of school-boy humour. Partly, it’s because the daring liberality of the new satire afforded humorists easy access to such comic dynamite as “knickers”, “bum” and “potty” - as Frankie Howerd said at the time, “That’s not filth, that’s satire”. Finally, the decline of Macmillan’s years as Prime Minister was accompanied by a series of scandals in which homosexuality or rumours of it played an ever more important part. So “poove” almost became a catchphrase for the magazine - a word they would use which most magazines couldn’t or wouldn’t. I think you could even buy an “I am a Poove” T-shirt at one point in the mid-60s. In most instances there’s not much thought given to its use. They even go through spates of accusing one another on the editorial masthead of being “pooves”. These two examples are a bit more rigorous. In neither of these two pieces in much done with homosexuality. The idea of a national “poove”-inspired crisis is hilarious in itself (and can even belittle the panic surrounding the Bay of Pigs). It’s enough just to take a news story and replace a recurring key word with “poove”.