Sunday, 30 August 2009

282: Anthony Blunt 3

At the beginning of November 1979 Anthony Boyle published “The Climate of Treason”. The book could not explicitly refer to Blunt, but it still raised suspicions that Anthony Blunt was the Fourth Man. That Blunt employed a lawyer to demand that the copy be vetted for any possible references was a disastrous action since it only drew further attention and at last gave reasonable grounds for journalists to make public comment. On 15 November 1979 the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, prompted by questions from a Labour MP, confirmed in the House of Commons that Blunt had been an agent and talent spotter for Russian intelligence. Immediately Buckingham Palace, where Blunt in his capacity as a respected art historian had been employed as personal advisor on art, announced that Blunt’s knighthood was cancelled and annulled. On 20 November 1979 Anthony Blunt gave a wholly unexpected interview to “The Times”, so providing his personal account. Thus the sudden if slightly belated interest in homosexual matters that results in everything below. Comment about commie queers prior to Blunt’s statements might have been a tad libellous. Blunt was rightly vilified across the press, although in the abuse heaped on him there may be some undigested elements of class hatred and homophobia. So what follows is a test of ingenuity as cartoonists and humorists vie for as many ways as possible to spin gags out of the idea that gay = spy

Mac in “Daily Mail”, 19 November 1979

So first off it’s a Russian boyfriend. For an aging civil servant, as Blunt was. Possibly some aspect of the idea we’ve seen before that the civil service is packed with ‘em, that the high-end of the bureaucracy is a veritable boy’s club for well-educated pooves. Although the humour lies in that it’s a phone call from a lover at the most inopportune moment.

Bill Caldwell in “Daily Star”, 20 November 1979

Then it’s a subversion of the previous macho spy stereotype of James Bond. Which we’ve seen Cyril Connolly do already fifteen years earlier. Besides a “Punch” parody from the mid-1970s when someone or other said the intelligence service was stuffed full of homosexuals: “The Spy Who Minced In”, it wa.

JAK in “Evening Standard”, 20 November 1979

As we’ve seen before, when homosexuality is the problem then Jak can be relied upon to turn the situation on its head, replacing the institutionalised homosexual – vicar, sailor, or whatever, with some definite instance of heterosexuality.

Cover to “Private Eye”, 23 November 1979

Can’t you see? Are you blind? It’s a pun – queen, her royal majesty, and queen, homosexual.

Michael Heath in “Private Eye”, 23 November 1979

Michael Heath in “Spectator”, 24 November 1979

Michael Heath in “Spectator”, 19 January 1980

This is Michael Heath’s regular trick of blanket assumptions of equivalency. Both of these assume that anything gay is therefore automatically associated with spying.

Mahood, in “Punch”, 28 November 1979

Assorted suggestive pictures to append speech bubbles to. You’ll notice that two men together in a semi-intimate setting could be either spies conspiring to pass confidential information or else a homosexual clinch. The phrase “fellow traveller” was used to describe the Communist sympathisers who sprang up in England in the 1930s

from “Punch”, 19 December 1979
a spoof article about the events of the 1980s
speech bubble reads “Shut that file!” – a play on Grayson’s catchphrase “Shut that door”.

It was sheer coincidence, but both Larry Grayson, the well-known camp British entertainer and Blunt had the same horse-faced mien. So here the writers employ Grayson’s camp, luvvie tones to retrospectively interpret the scandal of the previous weeks. So some of it is an attack on Grayson’s persona, his behaviour on TV, his treatment of his guests and his limp wrists. There’s also a slight denigration to Blunt in suggesting Grayson was the ideal man to play him. It’s the acceptable face of homosexuality, without hinting at any bedroom shenanigans.

The first 1979 series of “Not the Nine O’Clock News” had a sketch about the Communists and Western forces trading spies at a checkpoint. After the exchange, the camera follows the Russian spymaster leading his English double agent back to Russia. The English spy thanks his spymaster (Mel Smith), and enquires what work he will get in Mother Russia. The spymaster says “Don’t be foolish. No boyfriend of mine works”. So it’s back to the same assumption that any spy must be gay.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

281: The Beatles - John Hughes / Eric Idle

“National Lampoon” October 1977
Written by John Hughes
Art by Ernie Chan

Well, this is rather “qu’est-ce que fuck?”
From an issue of “National Lampoon” devoted to the Beatles.
By the later 70s the history of the Beatles had been worked over, and reworked over, and turned over yet again, so that every tittle of fact relating to their careers had been brought to light. This also included Brian Epstein’s homosexuality, which gets worked into the grand unifying history.
Eric Idle’s “The Rutles” (1978) has a piece which also plays on the idea that Epstein (Leggy Mountbatten in the alternative fantasy world of “The Rutles”) was not wholly attracted to the Beatles’ simply because of their musical talents.

Mrs. Mountbatten: "Leggy told me he'd been to see these young men in a dark cellar. He was always very interested in young men-- youth clubs, boy scouts , that sort of thing. But these he said were different."
Brian Fowl: "In what way?"
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well, their hair, their music, their presence.
Brian Fowl: He liked it?.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "No, he hated it.
Brian Fowl: What did he like?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well......their trousers.
Brian Fowl: What about their trousers?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well they were very.......tight.
Brian Fowl: Tight?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Yes, you could see quite clearly. . .
Brian Fowl: Oh I see.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Everything. Outlines. The lot.
Brian Fowl: Oh. Yes thank you.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Clear as day.
Brian Fowl: Thank you very much.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Nothing left to the imagination.
Brian Fowl: Yes thank you very much indeed, Mrs. Mountbatten.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Not at all.

It doesn’t spell everything out. Coy is maybe even the word. But it’s evident, in an Alan Bennettish sort of a way.

Quite what the fuck Hughes is after is rather more up for grabs. But then everything’s up for grabs in this comic parody, as long as it’s offensive. It’s one thing to offer stereotypes of predatory homosexuals, its then rather working the odds in your favour to write other characters abusing them for that homosexuality. There’s also a little racism and anti-Semitism , from a supposed Nazi to boot. And even if you like the Beatles Hughes is offensive about them too, beside suggesting they might have murdered this fictional Epstein. And that’s beside the incidentals of evisceration and rape, which don't normally make for comedy. A rather "Deliverance" style gay anxiety there. At best you can say this piece is the comedic equivalent of somebody deliberately working themselves up to vomit in their host’s face. The plot makes no sense, and what sensibilities Hughes thinks he is offending for laughs is unclear either. I suppose he’s offending my sensibilities. The unpleasantness about homosexuals, but then I’m offended even more by the fact that it’s just a stinking pile of shit. The only thing I can compare it to is the Nazi atrocity “Meng and Ecker” comics brought out by Savoy Books.

Honestly, for all the talk of the last few days that’s cropped up about the absence of gay characters in Hughes movies, homosexuals and gay Hughes fans in particular are better off for it. If Hughes had featured any they would almost certainly have been of a piece with The Donger.

The casual throwing around of “fag” and “homo” is par for high school life. So when Hughes characters do the same, it’s just verisimilitude for the audience, and I don’t blame Hughes. It’s when you see the stuff he wrote for the “National Lampoon” in the late 70s that you realise what a lucky escape gay fans had. Between the two of them Hughes and P.J.O’Rourke filled dozens of pages of every issue, and you can see them staking their territory of conventional, middle America, it’s styles, mores and prejudices. Indeed quite a few bits in Hughes films started off in the “National Lampoon”.

But when Hughes wrote about fags and homos for NL, it was the same deliberate lack of concern that he wrote about funny foreigners. That’s not to suggest that Hughes was some rampant homophobe, but I don’t think that the man who wrote those sort of “screw you” style pieces was the man who was going to write an accepting study of gay teenage life. At best his pieces are animated by slight irritation at homosexuals and finds their encroaching lifestyles a little amusing (like “Private Eye” at the same period). At worst it’s a torrent of bizarre offence such as the above.