Sunday, 26 April 2009

255: Classical Attitudes 2

There are really only two significant observations I have to make about the following pieces in the next couple of instalments”.

Observation the first:
Most of them cut straight to the sexual chase. In each instance the gag works by addressing sodomy in a surprisingly direct or even explicit fashion. Most of the pieces here have nothing to do with effeminate stereotypes. The sudden shift to a completely different historical period with sexual norms (which is what suggests the jokes in the first places) seems to mean the writers and cartoonists are able to dispense with homosexuality’s usual sissy associations.

While Woody Allen’s routine in “Love and Death” undermines logical philosophical discourse by following a befuddled byway about classical philosopher’s private lives and what possible bearing that has on the Woody Allen character's private actions and his larger task of assassinating Napoleon, the Plato parody in "National Lampoon" is about the unnecessary insertion of pornography into classical literature. And if you're going to do it with ancient Greeks then what other choice is there?

In the Roth comic, note the two figures in the far bottom tight corner, one of whom clasping his sore arse. About which I have harbour rather dubious feelings about Mr Roth's intentions. However, it is a sexualised development on the usual lisping, bitching sissies with pursed lips and fluttery eyelashes in the last panel. Dildo swords for mannish lesbians is a new one.

Observation the second:
These pieces are are all largely American. Nice young English humorists and satirists educated at public schools are quite familiar with classical culture and “Romantic Friendships” (vide Cyril Connolly, Simon Raven, Stephen Fry, et al) and therefore don’t seem to have a need to draw on the homosexual import of classical culture. Americans do. Possibly because it is such an alien set of cultural references. The respect for the intellectual ideals of classical antiquity played off against an acceptance of sexual perversity.

"Greek Culture Insert" from “National Lampoon”, February 1974

by Guerrier in “Evergreen Review” May 1971

from “Illustrated History of Sex” by Arnold Roth, in “Playboy” January 1975

from “Obligatory Sex Scenes” in “National Lampoon”, August 1976
by Plato

I do not understand how that can be so," replied Thrasymachus.
"Perhaps we should take an example," said Socrates, "to see if what I maintain is true in common nature."
"Very well."
"We have said that Love cannot be purely physical, and therefore mortal, for it is eternal and cannot die. Look at those birds over there. Their parents are doubtless dead, and yet they themselves, the embodiment of their parents' love, live on, and fly beautifully against the sunset, do they not?"
"They do, I agree," answered Thrasymachus.
"Just so. Then we must also agree that Love itself is Eternal, Beautiful, and True, must we not?"
"We must," agreed the chastened boy.
"Fine," continued Socrates, gathering his robes up before him. "Now bend over, and I'll drive you home."

254: Classical Attitudes 1

What can we learn from a good grounding in classical history, literature and culture? That all those old Greek philosophers never read Leviticus.

by David Austin in “Private Eye” 10 August 1973. “Hom Sap” used a classical setting to make satirical points and jokes about contemporary political and social situations while also making jokes about the classical milieu.

by Phil Interlandi(signature unclear?) in “Playboy” August 1973. Refers to Diogenes who went about with a lantern in the broad daylight in a search for an honest man,

quotes from Love and Death (1975)
written and performed by Woody Allen

"I wonder if Socrates and Plato took a house on Crete during the summer."

“What would Socrates say? All those Greeks were homosexuals. Boy, they must have had some wild parties. I bet they all took a house together in Crete for the summer. A: Socrates is a man. B: All men are mortal. C: All men are Socrates. Means all men are homosexuals. Heh... I'm not a homosexual. Once, some cossacks whistled at me. I, I have the kind of body that excites both persuasions. You know, some men are heterosexual and some men are bisexual and some men don't think about sex at all, you know... they become lawyers.”

Thursday, 16 April 2009

253: J. Edgar Hoover

“J. Edgar Hoover and Randy Agnew are discovered together in a motel.”

from “Unlikely Events of 1971” by Edward Sorel
in “National Lampoon” January 1971

How prevalent rumours of Hoover’s putative secret homosexuality were at this date I don’t know. The rumours usually focus on Hoover’s close association with Clyde Tolson. Of course, Sorel is a very political cartoonist, and the rumours may have been at some mid-territory of his mind, if not the actual fore-front.
I don’t think the cartoon is using homosexuality as a smear. Rather, given Hoover’s reputation as the conservative hammer of probity in public America, the idea that he might be caught in a tryst with the Vice-President’s son is a wonderfully malicious conceit. It’s of a piece with the other cartoons from this piece, which included Greta Garbo on TV’s “Celebrity Bowling” and Teddy Kennedy opening a chain of swimming schools.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

252: K-Y Comics Presents Dixie Nixon and the Boys in the Bund

by Sean Kelly and Tony Hendra. Art by Larry Hama and Ralph Reese
in “National Lampoon” February 1974

Edward Heath’s unwavering sobriety and conspicuous lack of any sexual or emotional attachment suggested an intense grinding sublimation making him a curiously ambiguous figure ripe for such queer quips. With Heath cartoonists and satirists could only indulge in innuendo, though, for fear of making any too absolute a statement. Besides, all the fun was in the suggestion. Particularly since Heath was such a prissy, sulky, sensitive self-regarding lump.
This comic can indulge in such lavishly grotesque gay travesties and caricatures because Richard Nixon and co were so tediously straight as to be almost unbelievable. So why not make it as unbelievable as this load of screaming, lascivious stereotypes to suggest a different type of scandal more reminiscent of the Decline of Rome.
There is an almost admirable amount of ingenuity in Hendra’s and Kelly’s combining of camp bitchery and sexual outrageousness with the convoluted details of Watergate. What the writers go after are all the most outrageousness stereotypes to spice up the dense facticity of the real life scandal. They go far beyond any sissy imagery, it’s all crude double-entendres, extravagant transvestism, and non-stop promiscuity.
If you want, I think a strong case can be argued that a very definite smear is intended on Nixon and co with such extreme gay clich├ęs. Frankly, Hendra’s assumptions about what makes for a good homosexual gag amount to smears in themselves.

251: Edward Heath, Aspersions, Slurs, Insinuations and Innuendos of Effeminacy and Plain Just-Not-Quite-Sexually-Rightness

Illustration by John Kent in “Private Eye” 11 September 1970

Comic strip by John Kent in “Private Eye” 20 November 1970

Comic strip by John Kent in “Private Eye” 26 March 1971

Illustration by John Kent in “Private Eye” 5 November 1971

Illustration by Michael Heath in “Private Eye” 5 May 1972

From “Auberon Waugh’s Diary” in “Private Eye” 28 October 1977

250: Edward Heath, A Man Among Other Men

As Edward Heath was a man apparently oblivious to the charms of women, cruel, heartless, disgraceful satirists insensitive to the true nature and delicate feelings of the man who was their dedicated leader were wont to make out that he was correspondingly susceptible, almost cravenly so, to the affections and good opinions of the world leaders with whom he associated. What indignity to inflict upon such a stalwart representative of his nation, to portray him as some schoolgirl eager for the favours of his international colleagues. Emasculating I call it. To suggest our Prime Minister wasn’t a proper man.

from “H.P. Sauce” by Auberon Waugh, with illustration by John Kent in “Private Eye” 1 January 1971

By John Kent, in “Private Eye” 21 May 1971

By Gerald Scarfe in “Private Eye” 8 October 1971
And this? It really was not common cartooning practice almost 40 years ago to draw a leading politician as some romantically susceptible female.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

249: Edward Heath, A Preference for Seamen?

In his private leisure time, one of Heath’s manly pursuits was a wholly laudable interest in maritime activities as a fervent sailor. Since the public on occasion harbours certain sordid suspicions about the private interests of sailors, it seems sometimes Heath’s reputation suffered by unfortunate association.

by John Kent in "Private Eye" 27 May 70
John Kent’s strip “Grocer Heath and His Pals” ran in “Private Eye” during Heath’s period in office, and was a political satire of Heath in the style of an old-fashioned English children’s comic. This one is about the suspicions that Heath’s assorted activities and tastes combined to create in the public imagination. For shame, everyone of you.

from “HP Sauce” by Auberon Waugh, with illustration by Willie Rushton, in “Private Eye”, 2 July 71
Waught attributes some strange psycho-sexual compulsion to Heath’s maritime pursuits. And can Mr Rushton mean by the sign reading “Portnoy”? And that one of the nautical tars wears a hat bearing the legend “Hello” cannot but evoke the cheeky gay solicitation “Hello sailor”?

A sketch on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (21 December 1969) about a Chippendale writing desk that performs impersonations of famous Englishmen with wood-allusive names does his “Edward Heath” with a throwaway “Hello Sailor”.

“Hello Sailor” by Eric Idle
One of the threads in this comic novel follows a ruddy-faced, lumbering, nautically-interested Prime Minister and his attempts to cover his secret gay affairs. The book was published in 1975, but was apparently written in 1970, which would have made the inspiration for Idle’s fictitious Prime Minister rather more blatant.
The cover is a rather camp parody of the image off “Player’s Navy Cut” cigarettes.

248: Edward Heath and the Ladies?

in “Private Eye” 29 October 1965

cover of “Private Eye” 13 February 1970

Of course, sadly, so far as anyone can tell, there were no women in Edward Heath’s life. And what is a man without a woman? Ted was selflessly devoted and married to his career. Politics was his wife, his sister, his lover, his mistress, his nurse, his mother superior, his bitch-whore and his White Goddess all rolled into one. And so you get a little joshing, a little guying, a little funning to the effect that Heath was some sort of sexless innocent. With overtones of what? That women weren’t his hot potable infusion? And if so, if there weren’t women in his life then down what dark alleys overcast by black clouds of unnatural vice were one’s thoughts inadvertently led? What unkind, nay dirty-minded, suppositions as to what warm milky fluid he did have a taste for? I fear so.
What a world, what a wicked, wicked world. Ted, you were too pure for us all.

247: Edward Heath, What’s the Deal?

“Ink” 24 July 1971

What an unexpected statement! Of COURSE the then Prime Minister (1970 to 1974) wasn’t a member of the Gay Liberation Front! No one ever said he WAS. What possible intent or necessity could there be in this public denial of any association between the unmarried Conservative Prime Minister and the GLF? Surely such a connection between the two had never to occurred to anyone. Surely, even by making such a sensible denial, there’s a significant danger of “Ink” cementing that association in their readers’ minds, so granting some sort of legitimacy to such an outrageous claim – which they were denying in the first place. Tchh! Foolishness.

Only a couple of weeks earlier a diary column in “Ink”, prompted by the publication of former MP Ian Harvey’s memoir “To Fall Like Lucifer”, had pointed out that at the start of their political careers the bachelor Heath had once been a flatmate of Harvey’s. Ian Harvey had resigned in scandal after being arrested for a sexual encounter in a public lavatory with a Guardsman during Christmas 1958. What did the journos of “Ink” think they were playing at?

And then there was this:
OZ #23, August – September 1969

Merely a list of names appearing on the editorial page of the “Homosexual” issue of OZ magazine. No headline or accompanying commentary. Just a list of names. Of which about 65-80% are now known to have partaken of some homosexual activity. At the time maybe not even a quarter were publically known to be gay. The rest were just the currency of rumour and gossip. And Ted Heath is second on the list.

What does it all mean? What is everyone trying to tell me?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

246: Gay Actors 9: Rising Damp

Rising Damp
19th April 1977
“Stage Struck”, written by Eric Chappell

Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby
Peter Bowles as Hilary.
Frances De La Tour as Miss Jones
Richard Beckinsale as Alan

Screenshots from

Risgby’s “seduction scene” with Hilary

Rigsby is the bigoted landlord, in love with Miss Jones, one of his tenants. In this episode, the latest tenant, Hilary, is a “resting actor” in the middle of producing a play. Before Hilary appears in the episode, Rigsby has made his distaste evident: “Well, for one reason he calls me 'ducky'. If he calls me 'ducky' once more, I'll have him.” Rigsby is horrified that Hilary’s play is raunchy, and also scandalised and jealous that Miss Jones is going to be in a romantic scene with Alan, another of the tenants. Rigsby schemes to appear in the scene with Miss Jones himself. Rigsby tells Alan, 'It's Hilary. He's one of them' and that Hilary fancies Alan, especially because of his long hair.

R: Hilary is NOT as other men
A:(sudden realisation” – You mean he’s queer?!
R: (gets up agitated) Keep your voice down! Didn’t it occur to you?
A: No. But i don’t think it’s really important
R: Of course it’s important! In my day it meant prison
A: We’re in more enlightened times. Parliament’s made it legal
R: Mmmmnnnn. I’m not surprised with that lot. It’s a miracle they didn’t make it compulsory

After Rigsby has left Alan shocked, Hilary enters. Alan puts on a deep voice, lies about going to play rugby and other 'butch' things as well as going to have his hair cut, in an effort to discourage him.
Rigsby disappoints Miss Jones by telling her not to waste her time trying to chat Hilary up as 'nature has played a cruel trick on that man'. As he does a limp-wristed impersonation, Hilary enters, unnoticed for a few seconds, then Rigsby makes for the door in embarrassment.

Later, Hilary accepts Rigsby's apology for the impersonation, and tells his landlord that the little bit of acting he saw impressed him, and offers Rigsby the lead role after all (as a practical joke). Hilary is acting slightly more simpering, coy and breathy, compliments Rigsby on his “strong sensitive hands”. Hillary has Rigsby sit by him on the sofa.. Hilary puts his arm around Rigsby, as he tells him “You might be just the man for me” to Rigsby’s discomfort. As Rigsby tries to lean away, Hilary leasn in towards him. Rigsby reads out the male role’s lines to Hilary playing the passionate female interest, even putting his other hand on his leg then resting his head on Rigsby’s shoulder. When the scene calls for a kiss, Rigsby leaps up in panic, declines to play any further then exits, leaving Hilary in hysterics. Later on Hilary and Miss Jones act the scene, and Rigsby realise he’s been fooled.

This all plays off Rigsby’s prejudices and sexual desperation. It isn’t every man Rigsby could accuse of being gay, but with an actor, that makes it a bit more believable. Particularly since Hilary partakes of the various la-di-da camp theatrical mannerisms. This provokes Rigsby to his litany of casual homophobic statements, airing most coarse common assumptions. Of course Rigsby would trot out all those old chestnuts, including the old "long hair" means you're effeminacy misunderstandings from almost a decade ago. That's how clueless he is. He’s such an awful character, but played with incomparable frenzy by Leonard Rossiter. Then there’s Alan’s misguided attempt to put Hilary off the scent, since a homosexual could only ever be attracted to effeminacy Having picked up on Rigsby’s ploy, its only fair for Hilary to use it against him. Hilary then plays up to him, acting out what Rigsby thinks a homosexual would be, somewhere between suave and effeminately playful, then making a move on him to wind him up.

245: Gay Actors 8: Rock Follies

Rock Follies
Written by Howard Schuman
Episode 1: “The Show Business”, 24 February 1976

A serio-comedic musical series about three women who form a rock group in the mid-70s. It was a great critical and popular success of its day, as it attempted to also address current issues. The first series only features a couple of gay characters and observations in the first episode. The second series was stuffed to the gills with gay content (eliciting quite a few appreciative articles in “Gay News”), but I’ll deal with that series at a later date. The first episode brings them together, when they are hired individually to appear in a touring production of a revival of an old Depression-era musical “Broadway Annie”.

Appearing only in this episode is William Bishop (played by Jeffrey Gardiner), the director/choreographer of “Broadway Annie”. He is an older gent, with a bit of a perm. Possessed of a slightly refined tone and reliant upon a rather frayed charm, though not quite fey, he is slightly precious, nostalgic, and determined that everything should always be whimsically pleasant. He smiles permanently, and his hands are either clasped in rapture or else held expressively from the wrists. As he proves himself more and more incapable of holding the production together he drifts into camp theatrical anecdotes, and his only instructions are the repeated injunctions to “Think Peter Pan” or for everything to be “Light, delicate, gay”. What you get is the demonstration that theatricality and camp are only a trivial escape by the irrelevant from a more demanding world.

Other cast members of “Broadway Annie” are nonspeaking. But there is one male cast member who is always knitting (shades of Lukewarm in “Porridge”) and wont to pull a bit of a face when the other three female leads get into a bit of an argument.

The show is of course a disaster (how, otherwise, will the rest of the drama go on), but there is a last scene with the producer Sheldon Markie (John Blythe) after he fires Williams and instructs the cast as to how the show ill be made into a success. He is of course unremittingly crass (“Rock follies” isn’t averse to some stereotypes”. He advises the female performers to flaunt their wares for the husbands in the audience. He wants to put in “queer gags for the wives” (which isn’t a reason I’ve come across before), and wants the leading man to “mince about” and “play it in a high-pitched lispy voice” (in the course of which advice Blythe intentionally or not does a jolly good impersonation of the Cowardly Lion).

244: Gay Actors 7: Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974)
Written by Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor

Director/Choreographer: Dom Delouis
Starts at 3:00

Genuine chorus boys! Although the likelihood of any of them appearing in a Busby Berkeley style musical number in the mid-70s is slim to Karen Carpenter. And what 30s style musical would feature the word “tush”? Otherwise, its a return to lisping effeminates, hysterical sissies and nervous nellies – “Come on Girls!” “You brute!” And a cowboy and dancer making an assignation.