Sunday, 29 March 2009

243: Gay Actors 6: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

starts at 5:15

“Soap Opera” from “Behind the Fridge”, 1973
written by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

I’ve also included a script for this sketch from “Goodbye Again”. Cook and Moore enjoyed improvising, and there are a lot of differences in lines and readings in the two versions.
This sketch was inspired by Peter Cook’s experience of hiring resting actors as his cleaners, and finding that they far preferred talking about acting to actually doing any cleaning.

Moore has the mincing walk, with his elbows held lightly to torso so that his hands are held limply forward, but I’d say that there’s some unabashed quality to his performance that is somehow a bit more contemporary. Maybe, it’s just that I like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and so I’m willing to give them a bit more leeway. Or maybe, it’s just that a pair of jeans and a slightly revealing shirt make Moore’s character seem a bit more naturalistic when compared to the extravagant costumes of Dick Emery or John Inman. I’d say Moore’s is a more individual take on the stereotypical extravagant, almost ogling eye, in the conviction of his own coy charms. Otherwise, what you have is a demonstration of all the reasons that theatre is assumed to be a gay preserve. Acting is just another way of being camp for self-dramatising types.
If you like, why not compare the gay lawyer jokes here to those of the two camp judges in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.


SOAP OPERA (Plymouth Theatre, New York, 1973)

A doorbell rings. Peter opens the door. Enter Dudley)
DUDLEY: Hello, blue eyes. (Sings) There's no business like show business. . .
PETER: Excuse me. What can I do for you? DUDLEY: It's more of a question of what I can do for you, isn't it love? I'm your new daily, your new Mrs Mop.
PETER: You're the temporary domestic?
PETER: I'm sorry, I was expecting the agency to send me a woman.
DUDLEY (Laughs): Well, you'll have to make do with me then, won't you? Oh, I love your place. I think it's absolutely super.
PETER: Oh, thank you very much.
DUDLEY: You a bachelor?
PETER: Yes, bachelor gay - that's me.
DUDLEY: Me too. You may have guessed, this isn’t my normal sort of work.
PETER: Well, I did get an inkling when you came in through the door.
DUDLEY: No, I'm an actor, actually.
PETER: Oh, an actor.
DUDLEY: Yes, I'm resting between engagements, you know. Mind you, not that I don't like this sort of work. I absolutely adore it, because one gets to meet all sorts of interesting people. And I was terribly excited when I was assigned to you, because, do you know, I've never met a barrister before.
(Dudley sits down on the sofa)
PETER: Would you mind not sitting on my briefs?
DUDLEY (Picks up ribbon): What's this, dear?
PETER: It's the little pink ribbon I tie round my briefs.
DUDLEY: Oh well, that's our little secret. I suppose being a barrister is rather like being an actor, isn't it?
PETER: I don't really see the connection, no.
DUDLEY: Well, you call it 'acting for your client,' don't you?
PETER: In rather a different way.
DUDLEY: Of course you do - dragging up in all those lovely cosies and wigs, swishing round the courtroom, appealing to the jury. Ooh, gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you, my client has a foolproof alibi, on the night of the twentieth. . .
PETER: I can assure you it's nothing like that in court.
DUDLEY: I bet it is. I once played a QC in an Agatha Christie play in Croydon. They used to call me AC QC backstage. You get a lot of giggles in the profession.
PETER: Yes. The washing up is just through there.
(Peter points to the kitchen)
DUDLEY: Oh, bonky bonk, down to earth again. Wretch. Have you got any rubber gloves, dear?
PETER: Yes, Mrs Higgins keeps them by the sink.
DUDLEY: It's because I have a very sensitive skin, you know. I've only got to touch a flake of detergent and woosh - I get a terrible rash all over my body. And as an actor, you know, one can't afford that sort of thing in these days of full frontal. Gesture, expression, projection - one can't do all that with a spotty botty! (Laughs)
(Dudley picks up some records)
DUDLEY: Ooh, I see you like opera.
PETER: Yes, I do enjoy opera.
DUDLEY: (Looking through Peters records) Oh, Bona. . . Bona. . .
PETER: I don't know that one. Is that a new one?
DUDLEY: Silly.
(Dudley picks out a record)
DUDLEY: Ooh, Lucia di Lammermoor - one of my favourites. I love that bit where she comes out singing in her nightdress, and she sings that beautiful bit. Remember?
(Dudley sings from Lucia)
DUDLEY: I bet your Mrs Higgins doesn't do that for you.
PETER: No, but she does do quite a lot of washing up.
DUDLEY: Oh, touche. Well, sleeves up, gloves on. I'm the boy for liquid Joy.
(Exit Dudley. The telephone rings. Peter answers it)
PETER: Hello? What? Oh, I see. Hold on. (Shouts to the kitchen) It’s for you.
(Enter Dudley)
DUDLEY: Who is it, love?
PETER: It's some woman.
DUDLEY: Oh, wrong number, dear.
(Exit Dudley)
PETER: (Into I the telephone) Hello. . . It sounds very much like him.
(Shouts into the kitchen) She insists it's for you.
(Enter Dudley)
DUDLEY: Ooh . . .
PETER (Into the telephone): He's just coming.
DUDLEY (to Peter): Mmm . . . Thank you so much.
(Dudley picks up the telephone cautiously)
DUDLEY (Into the telephone): Hello, who is this? Oh, Gloria. I thought I was getting kinky phone calls. (TO Peter) It's my agent, the only woman in my life.
PETER: Well, she shouldn't be ringing you here.
DUDLEY (TO Peter): I quite agree. (Into the telephone) Gloria, we must be brief, otherwise I'll have the law on me. (TO Peter) Hope springs eternal. (Into the telephone) You're joking. . . Fantasticoissimay . . . Do I know the scene, dear? I've been rehearsing it for the last six weeks. When's the audition? Tomorrow morning, love? Oh, I can't possibly. . . Alright, alright love. I'll be there on the dot. Thank you so much. God bless you. Goodbye, sweetheart. . . Mmm . . .
(Dudley hands up)
PETER: What on earth was that all about?
DUDLEY: Oh, must sit down. I'm up for Othello. Oh, I say, you wouldn't do me a special favour, would you?
PETER: I very much doubt it.
DUDLEY: No, I mean you wouldn't just give me five minutes of your time and go through my lines with me, would you? Because I've got my audition tomorrow morning.
PETER: What about the washing up? You've hardly started on that.
DUDLEY: I'll work my fingers to the bone if you'll just give me five minutes of your time.
PETER: Just read through a few lines, that's all, then you promise to do some work?
DUDLEY: Cross my legs and hope to die. Have you got a copy of Othello?
PETER: Yes, I've got one somewhere.
DUDLEY: Oh, you are a brick.
PETER: Just a few lines.
(Peter fetches the book from the shelf)
DUDLEY: Could we do Act Five, Scene Two?
(Dudley looks at Peters book)
DUDLEY: Oh, you've got the same edition.
PETER: Yes, I rather go for Penguins.
DUDLEY: Mmm, each to his own, dear. Act Five, Scene Two is where Desdemona has dropped her hanky and Iago has been whispering all those awful things in Othello's ear.
PETER: Yes, I know the scene.
DUDLEY: A scene of tremendous jealousy. (To the audience) Oh, I know in my bones that I'm going to become Othello. (To Peter) When I play a part, love, I really am that part.
PETER: I can't promise to do the same for Desdemona.
DUDLEY: You'll be lovely. Here, why don't you wear your wig? It'll make you feel the part.
(Peter puts on his barristers wig)
DUDLEY: Ooh, you drag up beautifully. Line sixty three. Good Luck. Merde. (Recites, with brio)
By heavens I saw my handkerchief in's hand
O perjur'd woman! Thou dost stone my heart,
And mak'st me call what I intend to do
A murder, which I thought a sacrifice.
I saw the handkerchief.
PETER: (Recites, deadpan)
He found it then
I never gave it him. Send for him hither
Let him confess a truth.
DUDLEY: Oh, a bit more life, dear - a bit more vigour.
PETER: Oh, I see. You want something to bounce off, do you?
DUDLEY (Recites): He hath confess'd
PETER (Recites, passionately): What, my lord?
DUDLEY: Ooh! That he hath us'd thee.
PETER: How? Unlawfully?
(Dudley bangs his hand against the door)
DUDLEY: Ooh, bugger!
PETER: I don't have that in my text.
DUDLEY: What, dear?
PETER: I don't have a 'bugger' in my Penguin.
DUDLEY (Annoyed): I'll give you a bugger in your penguin, mate.
PETER: Could we get on? I'm just feeling the part of Desdemona.
DUDLEY: Where were we, love?
PETER: Line seventy one.
DUDLEY (Sing song): Oh, seventy one, never been done, queen of all the fairies.
PETER (Recites): He will not say so.
DUDLEY: No. His mouth is stopp'd.
Honest Iago hath ta' en order for't.
PETER: O! My fear interprets. What! Is he dead?
DUDLEY: Had all his hairs been lives, my great revenge
Had stomach for them all.
PETER: Alas! He is betray'd and I undone.
DUDLEY: Out, strumpet! Weep'st thou for him to my face?
PETER: O! Banish me, my lord, but kill me not!
(Peter grabs Dudley)
DUDLEY: Blimey! You didn't half give my left nipple a going over. It's gone all perky!
(Recites) Down, strumpet!
PETER: Kill me tomorrow! Let me live tonight!
(Peter grabs Dudley again)
DUDLEY: Not the other one! Ooh, I'm all aglow! (Recites) Nay, if you stay . . .
PETER: But half an hour!
Peter grabs Dudley again)
DUDLEY: Here! (Recites) Being done, there is no pause.
PETER: But while I say one prayer!
DUDLEY: It is too late.
Dudley grabs Peter by the throat and chokes him)
PETER: Oh, Lord!
Dudley wrestles Peter to the couch and chokes him)
DUDLEY: Bloody fabulous! You've acted before, haven't you? (Peter is dead)
DUDLEY: Oh, my God. I went over the top again. Ooh, now I can have my first go at mouth to mouth resuscitation.
(As Dudley bends over Peter, he observes the audience, watching him)
DUDLEY (Into the wings): Here! Curtain! Curtain!
(Dudley bends over Peter again, as the curtain falls)

242: Gay Actors 5: Punch

in “Punch” 27 January 1971

There was a famous all-male version of “As You Like It” at the National Theatre in 1967, but you can’t expect “Punch” to remember that. Of course, this looks forward to the production of Richard III in Neil Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl” where the director has Richard Dreyfus play the part as a homosexual. Of course, misogyny, pretty boys and “ducky” makes this unmistakeably English.

241: Gay Actors 4: How to Irritate People

How to Irritate People (1968)
Written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, with Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor

starts at 2:00

Graham Chapman
Michael Palin

Here, to greater or lesser degrees, just before the arrival of the behemoth that is “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, you get Graham Chapman and Michael Palin camping it up. Suits you? Suits me. Palin is blithely boyish, with a grin locked into his features. Chapman, yer actual homosexual, gives a bravura performance, over-the top and chewing the scenery, flouncy hands, with a pop-eyed and strained-face not dissimilar to Kenneth Williams or others of his ilk. Chapman starts off bouncily emphatic, then determinedly coy, with the punchline delivered as a sudden vertical ascent into a shriek of Annapurnan offense. In real life Chapman was fairly butch (pipe-smoking, mountain-climbing) and apparently didn’t have much time for snidey queens.
If only to show what the contemporary popular impression of theatrical homosexuality was that this parodies, here’s a lengthy quotation from Ken Tynan’s 1961 review of Kenneth Williams in “One Over the Eight”. Barely a month or so after this review, “Beyond the Fringe” opened, heralding a new sort of humour. Although “Beyond the Fringe” wasn’t averse to including comedy its homosexuals

As long ago as 1929 George Jean Nathan was complaining about the influence on the American theatre of the pixie mannerisms imported by English actors. 'What we need,' he said 'are (sic) more actors like Jack Dempsey, who tried the stage a little while ago. Jack may not be much at am actor, but his worst enemy certainly cannot accuse him of belonging too the court of Titania.'
Nathan took pains to define exactly what he was attacking: 'It isn't that the actors are biologically queer. It's that they possess or have acquired an air of effeminacy that, however hard or adroitly they try to conceal it, shows itself sooner or later during the course of a dramatic performance. . . .'
He was referring, of course, to the phenomenon we know as 'camp', In the province of comedy, with which I am presently concerned, its distinguishing feature is a marked inclination towards the dainty, the coy and the exuberantly fussy. The ability to camp (let us drop those misleadingly inverted commas) is a useful, even a vital, part of comic technique, but it is not the whole of it; and in recent years, I disrespectfully submit, we have had excess of it, our appetite has sickened, and English high comedy has very nearly died.
Consider One Over the Eight, which exemplifies the atrophy of latterday English revue.
The expressions most frequently seen on the faces of the cast are two in number. The men register: 'How naughty I am!'; and the women: 'How naughty you are!' The atmosphere of arrested adolescence is over-powering. The dance routines are at once inventive and dull; boys in tight trousers smile and spin, sometimes accompanied by spinning girls, who might smile more convincingly if their clothes were more attractive. The star, Kenneth Williams, has a matchless repertory of squirms, leers, ogles and severe, reproving glares, and must be accounted the petit-maitre of contemporary camp. As such, I salute him; but I wish there were more to English comedy than this.

240: Theatricality - The Producers

The Producers (1968)
Written and directed by Mel Brooks

Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock
Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom
Christopher Hewett as Roger De Bris
Andréas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia

How can you have a brash send-up of theatre without some homosexuals? Certainly, the 1960s saw various essays, subtle and not-so subtle, by leading critics arguing that the dominance of homosexuals in the theatre was having harmful effects. By the late 60s it’s now possible to put homosexuals up on the big screen without too much fear of censorship. Of course comic representations always lag slightly behind serious heavy-dramatic problems-of-modern-scociety-type homosexuals, so you could argue that “The Producers” is actually a kind of progress.
Brooks gives us two different clichés. There’s Carmen Ghia, self-possessed and ramrod stiff, with the impeccable hair and beard, a touch of make-up, and self-preening and florid hand gestures. I’m sure the all-black costume means something but I’m afraid it eludes me. In mannerisms Ghia is a variant on the traditional haughty, hissy queen, obviously reliant upon his relationship with de Bris for his status, and hence the passive/aggressive bitchery.
De Bris gives us a larger-than-life transvestite, but not a drag queen per se. The masculine resonant theatrical projection plays off against the dress. De Bris is bombastic and ignorant, his only concern a theatrical triviality ignorant of the demands of drama and history – in other words, a silly queen.
There’s then Bialystock’s mocking of Ghia’s walks and gestures.
Both Ghia and de Bris cast a few avid lascivious looks at the youthful Bloom, as well as de Bris’s clasping of Bloom’s shoulder. As in “Day at the Beach” this then encourages a certain amount of jealous sniping and bitching by the lovers at one another. On top of which we get the perpetual smiles and bright flashing eyes as though nothing could possibly perturb them. Bloom’s slightly anxious discomfort is also part of the joke, although its not played for the panicky hysteria of other scenes in the film
So Brooks crams quite a bit into this one scene.

239: Theatricality: A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Written by Alan Owen

Well, most obviously there’s the chap at 5:42: - rather camply admiring, to whom Lennon responds: “Cheeky”. Importantly or not, he’s dressed up as an extravagant Regency fop, to set off his appreciation of the Beatles outfits.

Is the advertising executive gay? Slightly breathy voice, with a few duckies in there. General tone is ambiguous.

Then you have Victor Spinetti as the director. Somewhere between haughty and hysterical. Prissy, if you like, to contrast with the insouciant Beatles. Then as he goes off at one point with a young female in trail, there’s these comments from the lovable lads who set the whole world’s heart a-tapping.

JOHN: Ah, there he goes. Look at him. I bet his wife doesn't know about her.
RINGO: He hasn't even got a wife. Look at his sweater.
PAUL: You never know, she might have knitted it.
JOHN: She knitted him.

Of course, Spinetti is gay, so how much of it is deliberately camp mannerism, and how much is stress as portrayed by a somewhat already camp actor is debatable. Which is of course the "Biggins Scenario" – when you employ him, you’re deliberately opting for a specific range of camp effects – mummy’s boy, charmer, or sadistic loonie.

238: Gay Actors 3: John Wells

Harold Throbson Interviews John Feelgood
by John Wells
in "Private Eye", 25 Oct 1961 (the first ever issue)

Harold Throbson Interviews John Feelgood (cont. from p.39)
F: I was also paid for it (laughing).
T: What about the famous all-male production of "The Dream" in 1910
F: With Mungo Rolff: a quite remarkable man. He's dead now of course: but I remember visiting his widow in their little cottage at Abinger in 1939 when everyone else, you remember, was talking about the war and mobilisation and things, and she delighted me witha charming anecdote about St. John parts.
T: Ah yes - dear St. John!
F: St. John, it appears, was returning home after the theatre one night, and was walking home through Hyde Park when he came upon Bradford Tooke, in conversation with a Guardsman. St.John happened to be carrying a hatbox and a bunch of geraniums. "Aha", said Bradford, "St. John carrying a hatbox and a bunch of geraniums". "Aha", said St. John, never to be outdone, "Tooke talking to a Guardsman".
T: (after laughter) Quite delightful! But to be serious for a moment; what do you feel, speaking as an actor to be the function of the theatre in the sixties?
F: (slowly) The function of the theatre? The theatre, for me, at any rate, is a building, a meeting place, where human beings come together voluntarily and of their own free will, to experience - I think that's the word I want . . .
T: Something I have always wanted to ask you Sir John - you once said that critics, if I remember rightly, were like a eunuch with a pair of shears.
F: I said that? I think I must have quoted it.
T: Well would you say that of modern criticism? Please be frank.
F: Well that about the shears is of course nonsense. I reminds me of the lovely story told about Farjeon Peters when asked whether he was in love with Mrs. Graham Murdoch or with her husband, he said he would prefer her husband but "o che disadvantaggio di essere coglioni!" (laughter)
T: Thank you.
G: Not at all


“Harold Throbson” is a pun on Harold Hobson, the theatre critic for “The Sunday Times” (who incidentally got the post because of his impeccable heterosexual credentials after the death of his predecessor, James Agate, who had been less than discreet about his homosexuality).
“John Feelgood” is a pun on John Gielgud, but if you’d hadn’t guessed that already maybe you should try loosening the metal plate in your head?
The dialogue is in that theatrical “Luvvie” style of reminiscence – darling, delightful, dear, etc – of which Gielgud was an habitué, and which is also notably homosexual. The allusions to actual sexual encounters are a bit more daring for the time. Gielgud had been arrested in 1953 for “importuning for immoral purposes" ( cough- cottaging -cough). Guardsmen were notorious for prostituting themselves (Simon Raven’s 1960 essay “The Male Prostitute in London” has a lot to say on practical matters about this). The West End theatre in the 1950s was dominated by various gentlemen bachelors – productions by H.M. Tennant and “Binkie” Beaumont, plays written by Rattigan, and of course assorted matinee idols and more respected thespians. And let’s not kid ourselves, anything’s much changed nowadays. You could throw a brick at any recent Oliver Awards dinners and not worry too much about hitting any respectable heterosexual actors. What with Jacobi, McKellen, Sher, Callow, Beale, Daniel Evans, etc. Actually David Tennant and Michael Sheen aside, to whom can we turn in the hope of producing the next acting dynasty like the Redgraves? Then again - do we want any more Redgraves?

Friday, 13 March 2009

237: Gay Actors 2: ffolkes

by ffolkes
in "Punch" 14 April 1971

I think ffolkes draws a rather effective non-plussed expression on the producer in the second cartoon. The gag is about upsetting the convention of the predatory film producer, so a sexually active gay is a bit unusual at this point, but otherwise it’s just a variation on the usual details of the overly-dressy early 70’s cliches

236: Gay Actors 1 - Honeysett

from “All Hands Off Stage” by Honeysett.
in "Punch" 13 December 1978

From a set of cartons about the effect of trade unions in the theatre. Here you have a vote by actors. And how are they going to indicate their choices? Why, by holding up some rather limp wrists. With hands on hips, simpering leers, and that rather effete stance I can’t quite find the right description for. I suppose homosexuals en masse is also supposed to be funny, like Monty Python’s camp platoon or Jak’s squad

235: Gay ballet dancer

from “Appropriate Comic Strip Sound Effects” in Mad July 1969

Pretty much the same joke as Chic Jacob’s but with a haughty ballet dancer instead. About as subtle as a brick to the face.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

234: Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Gorer

from “Modern Types”, by Geoffrey Gorer and Ronald Searle, 1955

If you have visited Sadler's Wells or Covent Garden during the ballet season, you have almost certainly seen, though you may not necessarily have observed, Esme. For Esme is mad about ballet; and nearly every night of the season, when finances permit, will be found standing in the queue, occupying one of the (usually) cheaper seats, waiting outside the stage door, or discussing present or past performances with other balletomanes.
These discussions tend to be competitive statements of the number of performances witnessed - the winner being the one who can claim the highest number - rather than critical in any usual meaning of the term. Sometimes a dancer will be stated to have excelled him or her self on a given occasion; sometimes - though this will usually be disputed - it will be averred that he or she was not quite up to the usual form. Most of the time, however, they will be pure panegyrics, paeans of praise to the divinities across the footlights. Nearly all the dancers are treated as 'absolute', so that comparisons are rarely made; neither Esme nor the other discutants have any standards of comparison by which they could rate them. It is only in very recent years that they have discovered this art of their predilection.
Visits to the ballet are the high spots, almost the reason for living, in an otherwise fairly drab and uneventful life. Although deeply, deeply 'artistic', Esme is not creative; and the job in store or office, essential though it be for the necessities of life, as well as for the price of theatre seats and specialized magazines, gives little scope to the 'taste', the 'individual touches' which Esme would be so happy to contribute. Nor does the bed-sitter, whether at home or in 'digs', allow for more than small objects 'picked up for a song' and lots of photographs and old programmes; parents and landladies are equally narrow-minded when it comes to structural alterations and major redecoration.
The workaday world has very little to offer Esme; indeed it might be described as flat and two-dimensional, as contrasted with the three-dimensional' solid' world of music and mime. Esme feels much more deeply and much more personally about the dancers who never utter a word, than about talkative colleagues or acquaintances untransfigured by spotlights. The only meaningful link between Esme and other human beings is through common devotion to the ballet, so that every relation takes on the nature of a triangle.
Although so passionately interested in watching professionals dance, Esme has little interest or pleasure in the dance hall or other occasions where people can dance together. Esme is, especially in some aspects of life, fastidious, and fmds physical contact with other people, above all the fairly close contact with the other sex which is an almost inevitable concomitant to dancing, somewhat distasteful. As far as conscious awareness goes, the sentiment provoked is one of boredom and lack of ease, rather than any deeper anxiety; but occasional nightmares suggest that the situation is fraught with imaginary dangers. Besides, when one worships the poetry of movement, how can one happily engage in the doggerel of untrained or semi-trained jogging and hopping of which ballroom dancing is composed?
The lack of ease which becomes acute when dancing is in question is never quite absent in ordinary life. Esme's body is somewhat ill-disciplined; arms and legs tend to get twisted up in each other, or to make ill-controlled and sudden movements, hands tend to clamminess, the skin breaks out in minor eruptions; and Esme is extremely conscious of those minor awkwardnesses and disfigurements, and believes that other people pay inordinate attention to them. Sitting in the dark, and watching the grace and ease of the dancers, Esme can forget the body of the watcher and can receive much the same sort of vicarious pleasure as other people - 'insensitive people' Esme would call them - receive from watching professional sport.
Nevertheless, Esme is probably enjoying the happiest years of an unsatisfactory life. With parents who made no attempt to understand the ugly duckling (never, alas! to develop into a swan), and schoolmates quick to recognize a victim who would never retaliate to mockery or grosser unkindness, a person born to be bullied, childhood and adolescence were periods of almost continuous unhappiness and loneliness, of secret tears and vague day-dreams of a different life. Today, Esme is sure that these day-dreams were dreams of the world of ballet, of light and music, of beautiful, sensuous bodies moving effortlessly in intricate patterns.
For the next few years, these realized day-dreams will probably satisfy Esme, while life slips by from youth to maturity to middle age. But one day, it is to be feared, this will no longer be enough; and then the outcome may well be tragic. In the meantime, performances of the ballet are frequent enough; and if you look with a little care, you will see Esme somewhere round the theatre.


A rather coded collaboration from pre-Wolfenden days. First time I read this as being about a woman and it just about made sense but I had an inkling I was missing something. Second time around and I realised that there’s not a gender specific pronoun in the entire piece. All the other pieces in this series of metropolitan taxonomies collected from “Punch” magazine feature “he”s and “she”s without fear or favour, but not this one. On top of that, consider the “artistic” inclinations, the emphatic mode of speech, the intense sexual reservations, and what we’ve really got here is a certain sort of desperately sublimating homosexual. Esme is a female name, no doubt, but there’s not much that’s terribly female about Searle’s accompanying illustration. It’s androgynous, either a young woman trying to suppress her feminine sexuality, or else a casually, but not ostentatiously, effeminate young man – slightly teased hair, dreamy eyes, and plimsoll-shod splayed legs. Keeps one guessing, eh? Altogether this is an exercise in ambivalence, upon which knowing spectators can project their suspicions. As far as “artistic” inclinations go, it’s significant that it’s not cinema or poetry but ballet that has Esme’s devotions. Ballet and the theatre have always been associated with homosexuals. Hell, the late ‘60s London gay style magazine “Jeremy” had regular features and reviews of the latest ballets, not to mention the Trocaderos of the last 20-30 years.