Thursday, 31 December 2009

348: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 1970

Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond

Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes
Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson
Clive Revill as Rogozhin
Tamara Toumanova as Madame Petrova

Not quite a spoof, but pushing at the boundaries of the Holmes canon with a sometimes sly wit (revisionist, if you like) and some outright comedy. As did several other Holmes films of the 70s, produced by people who loved the stories but also relished the opportunity to acknowledge certain facts of life impermissible in Victorian times. The bit I’m interested in here is a joke where even Holmes and Watson know how ambiguous their relationship seems to others. A variant on the sexual pretences of Billy Wilder’s earlier film“Some Like It Hot”. Also an early instance of some comic playing of gay by straight actors for plot reasons. Although the wholly unremembered “Gay Deceivers” about evading the American draft got there on film first. The only camp stereotypical swishing in this film is from the male ballet dancers who are a stretype unto themselves. After his confession Holmes does not alter one whit. Though the stout Watson is offended, and feels betrayed, which is also supposed to be funny. Illegality is not mentioned, since that would be a touch too far, it is merely a matter of scandal. Just as homosexuality has just recently been legalised in the previous few years, and so can be applied to Holmes in a mass market film without cries of disgrace and perversion. Though of course, homosexuality is ultimately disavowed. The use of the word pederast is rather a period detail, too.


WATSON (voice-over)
It was not the first not the last time he tricked me like that. Normally, I was inclined to forgive him...But on one occasion, he did something that was so utterly unforgivable, that I would gladly have murdered him -- had it not been for my saintly disposition.

Holmes and Watson are invited to the Russian Ballet. There Holmes is introduced by the Russian manager, Rogozhin, to Petrova, an aging ballerina. Gradually it is made clear to Holmes that he has been selected by Petrova to father her child. Reminiscent of the legendary encounter between George Bernard Shaw and Isadora Duncan, Holmes is informed that he has been selected for reason of his intellect, after earlier attempts on Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Tchaikovsky.

Oh, you couldn't go wrong with Tschaikowski --

We could -- and we did. It was catastrophe.


You don't know? Because Tschaikowski -- how shall put it? Women not his glass of tea

Holmes attempts various arguments to disqualify himself. Meanwhile Watson has been entertaining himself at an after-ballet party with the ballet corp and suddenly pokes his head (with a flower tucked behind his ear) around the door. Brief chat ensues and then Watson departs.

(to Holmes)
I repeat question. You find Madame attractive or no?

Holmes is still looking at the door where Watson exited, an idea forming in his mind.

(turning to Rogozhin)
Oh, I find her most attractive -- for a woman, that is.

Then no problem.

Maybe a slight one. You see, I am not a free man.

Not free? You are a bachelor.

A bachelor -- living with another bachelor -- for the last five years. Five very happy years.

What is it you are trying to tell me?

I hoped I could avoid the subject. But some of us -- through a cruel caprice of Mother Nature --

Get to point.

The point is that Tschaikowski is not an isolated case.

You mean, you and Dr. Watson -- ?
(Holmes nods)
He is your glass of tea?

If you want to be picturesque about it.

(slightly agitated)
Chto on govorit? Pri chom tut Chaikovsky?

On pederast.

(on her feet now; flaring)
Jescho odin? Eto stanovitsa odnoobrasno! Kakoi vi idiot!

(picking up his silk hat and cane)
Believe me, Madame, the loss is all mine. But I would prefer to disappoint you know than disappoint you in a gondola in Venice.

He takes her limp hand, kisses it. Then he crosses to the door.

(imitating Rogozhin's accent)
It would have been catastrophe.

Petrova berates Rogozhin in Russian escalating into screaming.

At the party Watson is dancing with a line of ballerinas. Holmes informs Watson he is going home but Watson refuses to leave. A shaken Rogozhin comes up to the buffet, pours himself a stiff drink of vodka. As he drinks his eyes follow the dancing Watson balefully. Watson spins off several of the girls, grabs another group. His ex-partners wind up close to Rogozhin. He whispers something to them. Their eyes widen, and they stare at Watson with disbelief. Watson again switches partners, and the first girls now whisper intensely to those who just left the floor. The same reaction. Watson, oblivious to all this, is whirling around with another set of girls. The whispering carries along a string of girls, until one of the ballerina tells one of the male dancers. His eyes light up as he cocks his head approvingly.

The other girls are dancing in a line with Watson, backwards and forwards. The male dancers come behind them. Before Watson knows what's happening, two men step forwards to replace the girls dancing on either side of Watson, and then each time the line dances backwards a further pair of men replaces the girl dancers, until Watson is dancing only with male ballet dancers, all still in their tights and make-up.

Watson dances enthusiastically with them until it gradually dawns on Watson that there is something wrong with this state of affairs. After some difficulty, he breaks away from them.

Hold on! Just a moment!

He walks over to the massed ballerinas, who all look slightly disapprovingly disappointed. The girls shrink away at his approach, leaving Rogozhin.

What's going on? What happened to the girls?

Why? Do you not prefer it this way?

What way?

You don't have to pretend. Mr. Holmes told us everything -- about you and him --

About me and him?

Come now, no need to be bashful. We are not bourgeois. Maybe with doctors and detectives is unusual -- but in ballet, is very usual.

What is?

Caprice of Mother Nature. Look at Pavel and Mischa and Boris and Dmitri --

Watson looks around at the boys in tights, who are standing in a half-circle, grinning at him. It is beginning to dawn on him

-- And Ilya and Sergei --
(breaks off, rocks his hand back and forth)
Sergei -- half and half.

Rogozhin pours himself another vodka. Watson goes pale and looks a little weak on his legs, takes the glass away Rogozhin, then staggers slightly away to down it with a gulp and a slightly sick, horrified look.



There you are, you wretch! You rotter! You blackguard! Of all the vile, unspeakable fabrications. What do you have to say for yourself?

From the sound of your footsteps, I gathered that you were not in a particularly amiable mood.

(with renewed fury)
How could you do a dastardly thing like that to me? What the deuce were you thinking of?

Watson, you have my most abject apologies. But have you ever been cornered by a madwoman? It seemed like the only way to get out of it without hurting her feelings.

What about my feelings? And my reputation? Do you realize the gravity of what you have done? The possible repercussions?

So there'll be a little gossip about you
in St. Petersburg...

These things spread like wildfire. I can just hear those malicious whispers behind my back. I'll never be able to show my face in polite society... And if it ever got back to my old regiment -- you don't know the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers -- they'll strike me off the rolls -- they'll cut off my pension...

Watson, you're running amok.

Dishonored, disgraced, ostracized. What am I to do?

Well, for one thing, I'd get rid of that flower.

He points to the flower behind Watson's ear. Watson grabs the flower, hurls it into the fireplace.

You may think this is funny, but we're both in the same boat. We must take desperate measures. We must stop this talk...
(a beat, then an idea)
Maybe if we got married...

Then they'd really talk...

(starts pacing)
Obviously, we cannot continue to live under the same roof. We must move apart.

Of course, we can still see each other clandestinely -- on remote benches in Hyde Park, and in the waiting rooms of suburban railway stations --

(a change in attitude; defiant)
The whole thing is ridiculous. We have nothing to hide.

That's what I've been trying to tell you.

Let somebody start a rumor -- just one ugly word -- and we'll sue them for slander.

Nobody would dare. After all, you have an enviable record with the fair sex.

Damn right. I can get women from three continents to testify for me. And you can get women to vouch for you, too -- can't you, Holmes?

No answer from Holmes. Watson is becoming a little concerned.

Can you, Holmes?

Good night, Watson.

He starts toward his bedroom.

Holmes, let me ask you a question --

(Holmes stops)
I hope I'm not being presumptuous – but there have been women in your life?

The answer is yes.
(a relieved sigh from Watson)
You're being presumptuous.
(Watson's face falls)
Good night.

WATSON (voice-over)
What, indeed, was his attitude toward women? Was there some secret he was holding back -- or was he just a thinking machine, incapable of any emotion?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

347: Sherlock Holmes Is Only Sometimes Very Gay

This article, “Sherlock’s dear Watson” by Robbie Hudson is a decent run-down of various gay interpretations of Sherlock Holmes:

Previously I had posted this full-page cartoon strip from Viz in 1992. “Sherlock Homo” was presumably inspired by the realisation that Holmes sounds like homo, and then they tried to see how many clichés could fit into available panels. It’s basically mincing and innuendo, but it isn’t sneering, unpleasant, or rapey (i.e. obsessed with unwanted butt sex), so the fun that they’re having trying to cram as much into this is effectively conveyed.

Holmes, his behaviour and mannerisms, lends himself to gay interpretation. Holme’s hauteur, emotional oddity and repression and sudden burst of flamboyancy (particularly in Jeremy Brett’s portrayal). The disdain for women. The penchant for dressing up. And of course there’s the Holmes-Watson partnership – which has a secure place in the popular consciousness. Two men living together, in what is an emotionally turbulent relationship. Watson subtly undermined, ever subject to Holmes’s whims, yet whenever Watson eventually rebukes him Holmes declares his fondness and admiration for his chum.

by Mike Williams
from “Playboy”, September 1976

Basically just a transvestite gag, but playing off the fact that a couple of times Holmes goes around dressed as beggar women.

by Roy Raymonde
from “Playboy”, date unknown

Again this cartoon plays off the cross-dressing aspect in Holmes’s history. But as in Cyril Connolly’s “Bond Strikes Camp”, it’s now employed as one element in a wider panorama of gay behaviours, all with the intention of sexually enticing the unwitting heterosexual. And that’s what makes it a particularly “Playboy” sort of cartoon. Once Hefner started allowing cartoons about homosexuals into the magazine then he also started slipping in cartoons about transvestites. In particular, how the male in the cartoon has been tricked by the canny tranny. Since, as various articles have led me to understand, the cartoon editors at “Playboy” only select the cartoons for Hefner to make the final decision, it’s fairly obvious that the prospect of accidentally fucking an attractive women who is really a man hits some sort of psychic sensitive spot for Hefner. One day I may do a round-up of tranny gags in “Playboy” – it’s certainly a bit of an obsession.

By Michael Heath
In “Punch” 13 February 1980

The other name associated with Holmes is his arch-enemy Moriarty. A quick gag about the most unlikely possible pairing. I like Holmes’s distraught expression.

from “Private Eye” 1 October 1965
This is mostly a piece mocking trendy British films of the period. But it takes its comic spin by changing “Elementary, my dear Watson” into “My Darling Watson”.

from “The Peter Serafinowicz Show”, 4 October 2007
Peter Serafinowicz as Sherlock Holmes
Alex Lowe as Dr Watson

And here we get actual-man-on-man action. Watson’s craven admiration only encouraging Holmes’s predations. A nice touch to have the sketch close with the camera panning away onto the portrait of the queen herself as Holmes’s repression and oddity finally gives way as Watson desperately but futilely resists.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

346: The Problem with Boy Wonders

from "How to Be a Superhero, Save the Universe in Thirty Days or Your Money Back" 1992
by Mark Leigh and Mike Lepine
illustrations by Steve Dillon (a proper comics artist)

Pretty much speaks for itself.
Although since the insignia of a triangle inscribed in a circle is like the Gay Pride symbol, and therefore slightly queers the supposedly oblivious innuendo of the superhero, and makes it rather more like real NAMBLA recruitment. Although how many readers got that I don't know.

345: Burt Ward - Boy Wonder I Love You

Vocals: Burt Ward
Arranged by Frank Zappa
November 1966

This single dates from a few months after the release of Zappa’s first album “Freak Out” in 1966. In its own way "Boy Wonder I Love You" explores some of the same territory as Zappa’s early album, criticising the cheesy commercial popular culture teenagers are expected to buy into because of their exploited nascent sexuality. The sound effects are typical of Zappa and that slightly stressed repetitive “I will” passage is like bits from his other early albums.
Apparently this is a composite of real fan letters.
And if it weren’t for what happens at about the 1 minute, 30 second mark I wouldn’t be posting it here. The letter suddenly gets a little more intense in its declarations of devotion and invitations for the Boy Wonder to come visit. Suddenly there’s the qualifier, “I hope you know this is a girl writing”, which rather than comforting, raises the previously unconsidered possibility that it might be a man writing such a passionate letter. Apparently this suggestive passage (although not the hints of homosexuality) got the single pulled from some radio stations.

For more than you’d care to know about this single:

I’m certain Burt Ward says “man mail”, but I suspect it’s just a slip of the tongue for “fan mail”.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

344: The Ambiguously Gay Duo

by Robert Smigel, J. J. Sedelmaier and Stephen Colbert
Voices of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell
Narrated by Don Pardo
1. September 28, 1996 "It Takes Two To Tango"
2. November 2, 1996 "Queen of Terror"
3. December 14, 1996 "Don We Now... Or Never"
4. April 19, 1997 "Safety Tips"
5. November 15, 1997 "Blow Hot, Blow Cold"
6. May 9, 1998 "A Hard One To Swallow"
7. November 21, 1998 "Ace and Gary’s Fan Club"
8. May 6, 1999 "AmbiguoBoys"
9. May 13, 2000 "Trouble Comes Twice"
10. October 19, 2002 "The Third Leg Of Justice"

“Playboy”, December 1999

The Ambiguously Gay Duo is a parody of the stereotypical comic book superhero duo. It’s also a parody of the cheapness and formulae of 1970s superhero animation. Which is lucky, since it lets the writers and performers keep repeating in good faith the same jokes and set-ups, just like a cartoon of the period. It puts the joke in a repetitive frame which pardons what would otherwise just be the normal pandering to an audience’s tastes for more of the same from familiar characters.

The typical episode usually begins with the duo's arch-nemesis Bighead briefing his henchmen on a plot for some grandiose plan for world domination, interrupted by a debate as to whether or not Ace and Gary are gay – often with some speculation as to how he knows so much about The Gayness (which is all gym locker stuff to be honest). Once the crime is in process, the police commissioner calls on the superheroes to save the day, often engaging in similar debates with the chief of police. Ace and Gary set out to foil the evil plan, but not before calling attention to themselves with outrageous antics and innuendo, and behaving in ways perceived by other characters as profligately homosexual. And

Ace [patting Gary on the buttocks] : Good job, friend-of-friends!
Villains/Bystanders [gasps, and ghastly stares]
Ace: What's everybody looking at?
Villains/Bystanders [in unison]: Nothing!

is the pay-off in every instalment.

The shorts were intended to satirize suggestions that early Batmancomics implied a homosexual relationship between the title character and his sidekick Robin, a charge most infamously leveled by Fredric Wertham in his 1954 book, “Seduction of the Innocent”. But where that was merely a possible subtext in the originals, the “Ambiguously gay Duo” makes that explicit and therefore the sole point of discussion for everyone except the unwitting heroes, Ace and Gary. It’s not merely that there is the close relationship but that everything they do has a sexual aspect, which is not all that bloody ambiguous. The gags presuppose that the audience now know everything about gay lifestyles. It’s the same dubious pleasure of gossiping and the cheap fun of speculation. It’s assumed that the homosexual’s tastes and mannerisms unwittingly give him away and leaves everyone else nudging each other in the ribs. Of course this is all merely conceptual set- up for the plethora of sodomy puns and innuendo. If the sitcoms and sketch programmes of the ‘70s and ‘80s were quite happy to have gay gags set up by speculation about mincing poofs, by the late 90s humorists on TV can get away with a penis-shaped car and visual gags which ape a cock stuffed into two round arse cheeks, masturbation, oral sex or the Ambiguously Gay Duo fighting in ways which resemble having sex with each other. What in the ‘70s in “National Lampoon” and the likes was the height of deliberate bad taste are now merely a little risqué.

Monday, 21 December 2009

343: Superman

by Ken Pyne
in “Punch” 13 October 1980

There are sizeable chunks of the internet devoted to teasing gay meanings out of old Superman and Batman comics, and of course there was all Fredric Wertham’s obsessing in the 1950s, but actual gay cartoons or gags about superheroes don’t seem to have really cropped up with much regularity until the Ambiguously Gay Duo in the mid-1990s.

Since this is by Ken Pyne, it’s inevitable that the mood of this is disillusionemnt rather than jokes about lycra-clad muscled fetishism.

342: parody of A. A. Milne

“The Change at Pooh Corner”
by Alan Coren
in “Punch” 13 October 1976

A contemporary updating of A.A. Milne’s children’s poem “Buckingham”, each verse closely parodying its equivalent in the original. Wised up about the ways and disappointments of the world. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere the Guards were fairly notorious for being available for sexual liaisons. This being 1976, “prominent MP” alludes to revelations about Jeremy Thorpe.

As far as depictions of a gay Guard go, this is par for the course for the mid-70s: a cocked hip, hand resting on that hip, and swinging a handbag. Which doesn’t excuse it, or make it any better than it actually is.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

341: Gay Wind in the Willows 2 - Sean Kelly

“The Wimps in the Pillows”
by Sean Kelly
in “National Lampoon” February 1974

A pretty good parody of “The Wind in the Pillows”, which makes explicit some of the undercurrents suggested by the all-chaps-together ethos of the original children’s story. As in the book the lower classes are only there to support the heroes’ comfortable lifestyle – in this instance offering cheap blow jobs. And the book’s attentiveness to children is repaid in paedophile orgies in the last paragraphs.

Mole as a little scene queen – camp, bitchy and crude
Ratty as the more Wildean aesthete
Toad Hall as a repository of all the high cultural camp kitsch (classical and high church) which outfits the typical mis-en-scene of such gay novelist stalwarts as Firbank and Rolfe.
Toad as depravity in all manners, and an incorrigible transvestite to boot
Badger as the embodiment of S&M

340: Gay Wind in the Willows 1 - Mahood

by Mahood
in “Punch” 9 February 1983

From a piece by Mahood about how since “The Wind in the Willows” is now out of copyright how different artists might choose to illustrate a new edition. And so the appearance of the word “gay” in its older sense elicits a homosexual reference – a not uncommon comic response viz numerous editions of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” and numeous instances thoughout this blog.
A gay artist apparently evokes David Hockey to Mahood’s way of thinking. Which is something different I suppose, and hence a Toad in LA. The badge however is thumpingly unsubtle.

339: Fairy Tales 4 - Ed McLachlan

by Ed McLachlan
in “Private Eye” 14 January 1972

Monday, 14 December 2009

338: Fairy Tales 3 - Barry Humphries

from “Dame Edna's Bedside Companion” by Barry Humphries, 1982
Illutrations by Daniel Rainey

This is rather an in-joke for fans who are familiar with the history Barry Humphries has spun over the decades for Dame Edna Everage and her fictional family. There is of course the monstrous Edna centre stage, and everything we know about her family is learnt from her monologues: the comatose condition of her husband Norm, her dominated spinster bridesmaid Madge Allsop, and then there’s her son Kenneth. A regular part of the Dame Edna Everage act is her clueless recounting of Kenneth’s life, which her more clued up audience realises is full of revelations about the gay lifestyle he tries to keep hidden from her.

So this fairy story is written in the persona of Kenny as a sublimated wish fantasy about his relationship to his mother, whose clothes he designs, and his taste for leather – crashing the fashion gay cliché against the sexual gay.
It’s written throughout in a campy style with the reader expected to be in on the joke, both about the story’s parallels with his life and also the gay allusions.
There are lots of camp diminutives, some gay slang and polari which are taken literally: fairies and nelly old queens and others besides. So credit to Humphries for not simply bashing out a cheap joke, since he does work out a style and content. All this is also padded out with the knowing stuff about assorted gay icons from cinema. Whether this whole piece all goes on too long, flogging this particular horse is another matter.
Particularly telling is the final full-page illustration of Kenneth’s fnatsies – which is a fairly good represenetaion of what contemporary gay bar might offer in terms of men and styles.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

337: Fairy Tales 2 - John Boni

"Yes, Delicia, There is a Punchline"
by John Boni
in "National Lampoon" June 1970

This is probably the next step along in jokes about fairies.
Bitch bar banter that wouldn't be out of place in "the Boys in the Band". Which is probably the idea that people have at the time. Camp aggressive jokes at each other's expense
Brucie, Lance are both very America of the period. While a fairy called Pansy? Reach for those comedic stars, Mr Boni.
The gay comic gestures are just part of the general padding out of crappy puns and smutty jokes which is the point of the piece.
If you're going to have fairies in a "Dirty Bedtime Story" then they're going to have be THAT sort of fairy:
Lavender, primping, pursing a lip, sillies, miffed, and sashaying perversion freak.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

336: Fairy Tales - I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, 7 November 1966

John Cleese: Today it’s story time. And you can help me make up the story
Cast: Goody-goody
JC: It’s all about a wicked baron
Cast: Ew, boring.
JC: And a lovely young fairy
Tim Brooke-Taylor (camp) Oh, what’s his name?
JC: (emphatic) A lovely young fairy Princess
TBT: Nyaaaa (then blows raspberry)

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, 4 June 67

Narrator: And here is a fairy story by Hans Anderson
Tim Brooke-Taylor (camp): Don’t you mean Hans and his son
Narrator: I said a Fairy story
(oooohing and mmmming by cast)
Cleese: Cheeky!


As far as gags about “fairies” go this, this is as simple as you could imagine. What is noteworthy is these obvious jokes showstopping reception at the time.
“I’m Sorry I’ll Read that Again” was a BBC radio sketch programme that ran for the second half of the 1960s, and was a training ground for the writers and performers of “Monty Python’s Flying circus” and “The Goodies”. It consisted of lots of quick fire gags, puns, silliness, broad performances and as much innuendo as was permissible. The audience was always fairly appreciative, but when Tim Brooke-Taylor says “Oh, what’s his name” it brings the house down. There’s non-stop laughter for 10 seconds, and the cast are unable to deliver the next line except after a couple of attempts. For this contemporary audience this is pure comedy gold, something more daring than usual. That this is not a one-off is proven in the same 7 November 1966 episode, a sketch involving a becalmed ship has quick exchange:

John Cleese: A breeze, a breeze at last! I feel like a new man!
Tim Brooke-Taylor: How about me ducky?
CJ: Ah, we haven’t had a puff for weeks!

which again gets a disproportionately large and long laugh. So all I can guess is that jokes involving references to homosexuality are just now breaking into mass entertainment. The Satire Boom had died out a couple of years earlier so slightly more thoughtful or sophisticated jokes about homosexuality under the banner of social commentary had likewise vanished. BBC radio had been broadcasting “Round the Horne” since March 1965, so “Julian and Sandy” had been entertaining a large audience for the previous year and a half. In retrospect everyone knows Julian and Sandy are gay jokes, but at the time of broadcast it was only the gay minority of listeners who recognised them for what they were. The rest of the audience seems to have thought they were odd humorous characterisations of a piece with the rest of the programme. But now, for “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” jokes about “effeminacy in men” as previously banned by the BBC censor, are permissible and very very successful.

Monday, 7 December 2009

335: Five Go Mad in Dorset

“Five Go Mad in Dorset”
2 November 1982
Written by Peter Richardson and Peter Richens

Adrian Edmondson as Dick
Peter Richardson as Julian
Dawn French as George
Jennifer Saunders as Anne
Daniel Peacock as Toby
Ronald Allen as Uncle Quentin

English viewers can watch “Five Go Mad in Dorset at

American viewers can watch it on some sort of licensed Youtube deal at

“Five Go Mad in Dorset” is a parody of the long-running “Famous Five” detective stories for children by Enid Blyton. The books always featured the same four (upper-middle class) children, two boys and two girls, with their pet dog, who go camping or visiting some deserted spot, and in the process uncover some criminal plot, which they promptly feel compelled to put to rights.
“Five Go Mad in Dorset” isn’t just a parody of the shortcomings and reliance on formulae of the books, but also an assault on the political and social attitudes they embodied. The intrepid independent juvenile detectives of Enid Blyton’s childrens books are revealed to be greedy, sexist, racist, neo-fascists.

On holiday visiting their Aunty Fanny (fnarr-fnarr) the children are informed that their scientist uncle Quintin has been kidnapped yet again. The children resolve to rescue him. Eventually, after all the typical exploits, they discover yet another deserted castle where they are captured by henchmen and brought to the mysterious villain’s headquarters. In the villain’s chamber, they are surprised to encounter Toby a crass American schoolboy whom they had snubbed earlier on grounds of class and chauvinism. They ask if he’s alright.

Toby: (knowingly) It was a bit hair-raising at first. But now I’ve come to quite enjoy it

Dick: Spill the beans at once. There’s something very unnatural happening here, and that’s for sure.

(Someone comes in behind the children)

Uncle Quentin (dry, weary Noel Coward type tones): I think I can explain everything, children

The Famous Five turn around, and say as one: Uncle Quentin!

UQ: Do sit down children

Julian: What’s going on Uncle Quentin?

Dick: Yes we thought you’d been kidnapped

(children sit down as Uncle Quentin rests himself against mantelpiece)

UQ: That was all . . . part of my plan

Julian: What exactly do you mean, uncle?

UQ: Now you dreadful children have found out my little secret, I suppose I may as well “Spill the Beans”

Dick: You mean the kidnap was all a hoax? Whatever for?

UQ: For many years now, your Aunt Fanny and I have not had a proper marital relationship. She’s an unrelenting nymphomaniac. And I’m a screaming homosexual.

(Children all look quizzically at each other)

UQ: It seems pointless trying to explain it to you . . . you little prigs. So we concocted this story to save your aunt from any . . further embarrassment. Now it’s too late. Toby and I are fleeing the country tonight

(Toby cample exhales cigarette smoke through his nostrils as he winks at Uncle Quentin)

UQ: In a fishing boat

Julian (leaps up irate): Well you’re wrong about one thing Uncle Quentin. There is something we can still do. And that is call the police. Homosexuality is still against the law in this country, as well you know it.

UQ: Oh dear. I thought even you Julian might find a morsel of sympathy for your poor old uncle . . . for old times sake.

Dick (leaping up irate): It’s no good uncle Quentin. You’re a Queer, and that’s the end of it.

(Bells are heard, as Uncle Quentin looks pained)

Girls: Hoorah! The police!

(The police congratulate the Famous Five and usher Uncle Quentin and Toby into police car. As the car drives off Uncle Quentin casts his buttonhole out of the window)

Dick: Well, that was an adventure and a half!

George: Yes. Who would have thought That of UQ

Anne: Uurgh! I’m glad he’s safely locked up. I never liked him one bit anyway

Uncle Quentin is only a brief cameo, to top all the subversion of Blyton’s precious wholesome clichés. Having the villain turn out to be their uncle cuts through all the standard expectations of the “Famous Five” stories. Making him gay is the final twist. Quentin’s homosexuality isn’t laughable, it’s its appearance in a Blyton novel that supplies the shock of comedy. Any homosexual revelation is totally alien to Enid Blyton’s fictional world and that’s the real joke, the small-minded conformity of her nostalgic world. Quentin is a bit of a stereotype: the high class pervert, dry, louche refined and world-weary. However this sort of gay criminal mastermind does have some pedigree dating back to the more stylish thrillers and crime capers of the late 1960s. One or two reviewers have felt that the use of Quentin and his portrayal might be a bit homophobic. But it’s obvious that the episode is really satirising homophobia. The four children are so obnoxious in their conservative prejudices, that their contemptuous homophobia is laughable. So the mild stereotype of Uncle Quentin is used as the bait for more of their smug, self-congratulatory declarations about society.

334: Gay Biggles 4 - Waugh and Rushton

from “Auberon Waugh’s Diary”
by Auberon Waugh
illustration by Willy Rushton
in “Private Eye” February 1985

“Three cheers because Biggles is back,” trills lovely, broad-bottomed Glenda Lee Potter. “Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth DSO DFC is being reincarnated on our screens to enchant small boys,” she shrieks.
Poor Glenda is possibly not au fait with the latest research in the English Literature Department of Strathclyde University. It seems to prove that Biggles was not only an alcoholic but also a raving pooftah.
A few years ago one might not have objected to the idea of this drunken Nancy boy being put on television to tempt small boys. If they wanted to be buggered, that was their own affair. It was still a free country.
But since the arrival of the disease called AIDS, which destroys the body’s natural immunities, it seems rather irresponsible to encourage small boys to take up a hobby of this sort. They might infect the rest of us by bleeding over our toes or peeing on our mosquito bites.


Both Waugh’s diary entry and Rushton’s cartoon are each offensive by various criteria, but by God they made me laugh when I first saw them.
There’s a certain talent to Waugh's managing to make almost every line harbour some objectionable content. And Rushton, following Waugh’s argument, manages a nice line in RAF paedophile banter. If Biggles and co really did have designs on little boys this is just how they’d express themselves.
Waugh’s repetition of “little boys” reminds me of similar gay=paedophile insinuations in Monty Python’s Carl French sketch. The idea of homosexuality being a choice is nicely played off with the idea that boys will emulate Biggles’s homosexuality. Waugh’s suave fantasy then swerving into disdainful confusion about the transmission of AIDS also raises an inappropriate laugh.
If I find this all more amusing than similar attempts by the likes of Ricky Gervaise, I suspect it’s probably a matter of contained and modulated tone. Ah me, a traitor to the cause and an aspirant snob to boot.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

333: Gay Biggles 3 - Alan Coren

"Biggles Strikes Camp"
by Alan Coren
in "Punch" 3 February 1982

First thing to note is that Coren’s title pays tribute to Cyril Connolly’s 1963 gay parody of James Bond, “Bond Strikes Camp
The second thing to note is that the homosexuals in Coren’s piece have no resemblance whatsoever to the “nancy boys” of TV’s “Brideshead Revisited” which inspire this parody. Here, and in other pieces by Coren, his idea of homosexual behaviour is slightly outdated and probably owes more than a little to first exposure to the stereotypes to be found in 1969’s “The Boys in the Band”.
The idea that a certain sort of homosexual behaviour is incompatible with certain manly ideals has been exploited for comic purpose on numerous occasions, particulalry in regard to the military and cowboys, but in this case I can’t help but think of the earlier “Monty Python” sketch about a Hairdresser’s Expedition on Everest. Coren’s gay Biggles and co are a bunch of bitchy, overemotional hairdressers who just happen to fly aeroplanes on the side. There’s plenty of camp speech, “her’”s all round, with a few touches of actual polari, besides occasional eruptions of flaring condescension when crossed. Otherwise they are concerned with fashion and interior decorating, and deliberately nostalgic references to old film stars. Since Coren has more space than is usual, these caricatures have an additional dimension, where they are constantly angling for each other's affections in attempts to become top dog – which is not unrealistic.

Unlike Graham Chapman’s parody of Biggles, what none of them are is sexual in the slightest. But then Chapman was writing as a gay man with fairly vigorous sexual appetites (by his own account). Coren is writing for the audience of “Punch” and knows what he likes and what is acceptable in terms of funny homosexuals. Also, it’s rather less of a parody of W.E. Johns as well, but that’s not really our concern.

"Biggles Strikes Camp"
by Alan Coren
in "Punch" 3 February 1982

News that Brideshead Revisited star Jeremy Irons is to play Biggles, the fictional aviation figure of the thirties, has raised fears among scholars that the schoolboy hero will be played as a nancy-boy.
- Daily Mirror

The shattering roar of the engine was bad, but the heat was worse. Trapped in the juddering seat, the whirling blades inches from his head and howling on maximum revs, Biggles wondered whether something might not have gone terribly wrong. He tried to turn, but the restriction of that tiny space prevented him from seeing Algy behind him. He could hear Algy shouting something, but he could not, in the fearful din and the rushing of the air, make out the words. Desperately, Biggles waved a hand, hoping against hope that Flight-Lieutenant the Hon. Algernon Lacy, with whom he had been through so much, would draw on that long partnership now and interpret his brief signal correctly.
Algy did not fail him. A switch was flicked, the motor Cut out, the roaring died, and with it the vibration and the dreadful heat. It was over!
Squadron-Leader James Bigglesworth, DSO, drew a deep breath, and slid out from beneath the hair-drier.
'What was all that shrieking about, you silly mare?' he enquired.
'I suddenly remembered about the conditioner,' said AIgy. 'I suddenly said to myself, oh my Gawd, I said, I never put any hair conditioner on her, she'll frizzle up like nobody's business, I said, you know what her ends go like after a day in an open cockpit!'
Biggles leapt to his feet, shot his trusty co-pilot one of his withering looks, and ran over to the mess mirror. He took a glance, and screamed faintly.
I look like Greer Garson!' he cried. 'It's flying all over everywhere! It's very fine, my hair, it's always been very fine, body is what it lacks, it lacks body, I don't know how many times I’ve told you about not forgetting the conditioner, I remember the night we were over Bremen and that silly old queen Hopcroft caught a tracer bullet in the. head and I was covered in icky blood and brains and everything, I remember saying to you then, I said I’ve just had this streak put in and now it's soaked, I'll have to rinse it out in lemon juice, and you threw one of your fits and said where are we going to get lemon juice, don't you know there’s a war on, and I said never mind that, just remember after the lemon juice you'll have: to put tots and lots of conditioner on otherwise. . .‘
‘You don't half go on,' muttered Algy. 'I've only got one pair of hands, I can't be bloody everywhere, I had to comb out Gimlet's perm in the middle of everything,'
'It looks ever so nice: said Gimlet, from the other side of the mess, examining the moustache in a little mother-of-pearl pocket-mirror. 'It's come up exactly parallel, Algy. I think I look Ward Bond. Do you think I look like Ward Bond, Skip?'
Biggles glared at his navigator.
Skip?' he mimicked, dropping his voice an octave. 'Ward ? Our little friend would appear to be feeling very masculine this morning, Algy. What do you suppose has come over him, if you'll pardon the expression?'
Algy removed the Kirby grips from his mouth.
‘I blame that hormone cream she uses on her legs,' he said. ‘Start with that, you never know where it's going to end. Personally, give me a good pluck every time.'
Biggles nodded.
‘She thinks she looks like Ward Bond,' he said. 'If you want my opinion, dear, 1'd say it was more like Anne Baxter tucking into a piece of shredded wheat!'
Algy shrieked, and fell against his captain. They foxtrotted briefly, and when they broke apart again, breathless, Gimlet had gone, slamming the hardboard door.
'Temper!' shouted Biggles. He sat down, and his co-pilot began skilfully to comb him out. Biggles, soothed, closed his eyes; but at the tap on the door, they snapped open again. 'That'll be Gimlet back to say she's sorry,' he said confidently. 'I can read her like a book!'
'Be firm,' murmured AIgy, the tail-comb flicking.
But it was not the trusty Gimlet who strode into the mess. It was a tall, slim, freckled, red-headed youth, who saluted formally, and then, shyly, grinned.
'Who's this?' said Biggles.
'Call me Ginger,' said the youth, 'everybody does.'
'Yes, well, they would, wouldn't they, dear?' said Biggles.
'What can we do for you, if it isn't a silly answer?'
'Gimlet has told the Wing-Commander that he's not going to fly with you any more,' said Ginger, 'so I've been assigned to your crew instead.'
Biggles sprang from the chair. Vogue slid! from his lap.
'You?' he screamed. 'You, fly with us?'
Ginger's soft face fell. His lower lip trembled.
'Why not?' he enquired.
Biggies grabbed him by the arm, and dragged both him and Algy to the mirror.
'Look!' he cried. 'Algy's brunette, I'm ash-blonde, and you're a redhead! We look like the Andrews Sisters! It's such bad taste!'
'You don't have to be blonde," murmured Algy. I could put a nice tawny tint on it. Or you could wear a wig.'
Biggles reeled!
'Me? A wig? Gumming it on like some poor old poof behind the scout hut, before going out to paste Jerry over the Ruhr, is that what you think this war is an about?'
'I think it's a super idea!' cried Ginger, dapping his hands. 'If you got shot down and it flew off and you were captured, the RAF could drop a spare into the camp, just like Douglas Bader!'
Algy giggled, and clapped him on the shoulder, gently.
'I think I'm going to like you,' he said. 'By the way, we haven't been introduced, I'm - '
'You have to be the faithful Algy,' said Ginger, offering his hand.
Algy held it.
'No have to about it, dear,' he murmured.
'I'll kill you!' hissed Biggles.
There is no telling what might have happened then, if the klaxon had not clanged, summoning them to the morning's briefing. Ginger and Algy instantly snatched up their flight-pads and teddies and ran; Biggles, caught in indecision between his pastel-blue flying scarf and the cerise with the polka-dots, followed on. When he arrived at the briefing hut, it was already full, and buzzing with excited gossip, in which Biggles had no chance to join, for at that very moment the door to the left of the dais opened, and the impressive figure of the Group-Captain limped in, followed, as always, by the loyal and almost equally impressive figure of his trusty cat, Bosie.
'He's so, oooh, I don't know,' murmured Algy. 'Very few people can get away with a game leg.'
'You could, Algy,' whispered Ginger. 'You've got the presence.'
Biggles hit him with his flight-bag. Sequins flew. Men went shoosh!
‘Right, chaps,' bellowed the Group-Captain, taking a corner of the green baize that hung down over the blackboard, 'shan't keep you in suspense!'
He flung back the cloth.
The hut, as one man, gasped!
Pinned to the blackboard was a detailed drawing of the mess, covered in multi-coloured squiggles. Here and there, swatches of cloth dangled from pins, with paint-charts beside them.
‘It's the new wallpaper and curtains!' breathed Algy.
The Group-Captain tapped the board with his pointer.
‘Now,' he said, 'I've had a word with our chums the boffins, and they tell me that if we want an apricot dado, there is - '
‘PELMETS!’ thundered a voice.
The men swivelled, craned. The Group-Captain's face darkened.
‘There will be an apportunity for questions later, Bgglesworth,' he said. 'Meanwhile, if you would be so - '
'They went out with the ark, pelmets!' cried Biggles. 'We might as well have plaster ducks going up the wall, dear! We might as well have regency stripes!'
A terrible silence fell over the hut. The Group-Captain stared at Biggles for a very long time. Then his cat began to cough. Without another word, the Group-Captain snatched Bosie from the floor, and stomped out, echoingly.
The men cleared their throats, and shuffled, and murmured. After a few minutes, the door opened again, and the Group-Captain's aide-de-camp hurried in, with tiny, precise steps, and tossed back a golden forelock.
'He's very, very hurt,' he said. 'He's having one of his migraines. He says you're all to go off right this minute and bomb Hanover!'
The door slammed"
The men got up, slowly, and began to move out. Everyone ignored Biggles.
'It's suicide, putting a pelmet up in a room like that!' cried Biggles, but nobody listened.
'I hate Hanover,' muttered Algy to Ginger. 'It's such a boring route. '
'I could navigate a pretty way,' murmured Ginger, squeezing Algy's arm, as they walked towards their Wellington. 'We could go in low over Holland. The tulips'll be out. That'd be bona, wouldn't it, Biggles?'
'Go to hell!' snarled his Squadron-Leader, and pulled himself up into the plane. Algy rolled his eyes.
'Gawd belp us all,' he muttered, 'she's come over masterfu1!'
He allowed Ginger to climb up through the belly batch first, and helped him with an unhurried push. Biggles was already at the controls. The starboard engine fired, the port engine followed, the bomber swung out onto the runway, lumbered over the rutted concrete, and finally heaved itself into the cold East Anglian sky.
'Makes a change, having a closed cockpit,' shouted Algy from the co-pilot's seat, to break the frigid atmosphere, 'better for my rash.'
Biggles said nothing.
'Be like that,' said Algy. He pulled his mask over his mouth, and flicked the communications switch. 'Co-pilot to navigator,' he said, 'you wouldn't fancy that new Judy Garland tonight and a skate dinner on me, by any chance, dear?'
'Love it!' came back Ginger's eager crackle, on the open channel.
Squadron-Leader Bigglesworth, trained to a hair's breadth, did not react. His experienced eyes, emphasised with just the merest hint of mascara, stared straight ahead towards the Dutch coast, unmoistening. Only the sudden whitening of his knuckles on the controls betrayed the tensions of the inner man.
Which was why, betrayed by that rigid glower, he did not spot the Me 109 hurtling in on his starboard quarter until it was too late and the bullets were pumping into wing and fuselage! Too late, he heard the anguished cry of Algy in his ears:
'Ooooh, they've hit a fuel lead, the port engine's packed up, there's oil pouring in all over me, we're losing height, what're we do?'
'Hang on!' cried Biggles. 'Don't panic, I've had oil on my flying-suit a dozen times, you just soak it in a lukewarm solution of soap-flakes and engine solvent, but,' and here his voice rose above the stricken starboard motor, 'whatever you do, don't try boiling it!'
Algy gripped his knee.
'I didn't mean that about her skate dinner,' he shouted. Then he kicked open the bomb doors, and dropped. Ginger and the mid-upper gunner followed him. The tail-gunner was long gone.
Biggles waited until their parachutes flowered open, then he unbuckled his seatbelt, grabbed his douche-bag, and went out through the yawning bomb-bay.
It was not until the precise second when he pulled the rip-cord that he remembered about his parachute. But he was Biggles, so he merely grinned: some people would give their all for silk pyjamas, and some wouldn't. That was what life was all about.
He had just enough time to glance up through the shrouds and see the remnant tatters of his chute before he hit the Rotterdam ring-road, like a brick.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

332: Gay Biggles 2 - Graham Chapman

‘I, Biggles’ from “A Liar’s Autobiography” by Graham Chapman, 1980

A fantasy blending Biggles and the raunchier parts of Robert Graves’ “I, Claudius” novels.
This parody subverts Biggles in every manner imaginable. Not only is everybody gay, but voraciously so, with few sexual fetishes left unindulged. Chapman parodies the matter-of-fact W.E. Johns style’s worst faults, while the standard celebrations of the glamour of aeronautics repeatedly degenerates into sexual innuendo. As a parody it is fabulous, shamelessly disgracing

‘I, Biggles’ from “A Liar’s Autobiography” by Graham Chapman, 1980

The plane banked sharply to the left as we hurtled downwards, but the Fokker Wolf was still on our tail.
'A-a-a-a-a-a-a-zing,' went the twin cowl-mounted Mittelschmertz 25 mm cannons.
'Peng!' it went, in German, as one of the shells bit into the sleek wooden fuselage.
'Peng?' cogitated Biggles. 'That's the German for "Bang!"’
'We've been hit,' volunteered Ginger grimly.
"Nothing,' said Biggles grimlier, as he slipped his leather-gloved hand over the by now moistened joystick. He pulled it back in a series of sharp jerks.
'Level off a mo,' put in Algy drily and through drawn lips stepped purposefully into the body of the aircraft, past the by now shapely nude lady navigator; and back into the rear of the plane. The door of the Gents Only Sauna hung precariously from one hinge. He slammed it shut with a haunting squawk, and fought his way past the two naked WAFs wrestling in perfumed sump-oil. .He erupted into the Aft Leather Room, to find Wingco still chained to a cross, wearing the by now familiar black hood bearing the also familiar Wing Commanderic braid.
‘Have your way with me, you hunk of manhood,' he hinted coyly.
'What ho, old sport!' hazarded Algy gingerly. 'I say, old man, the Group's a bit dashed worried - thinks you might have some kind of, well. . . you know, problem. . . you old bison. . .' He fingered his cigarette nervously.
'Don't worry about me, old tapir, I've pulled through a lot worse than this.'
‘The plane lurched suddenly as Biggles swerved to avoid a hail of bullets that pumped in spurts out of the penis-like nosecone of the pursuing Fokker. Algy rushed for'ard.
'Everything OK, Skipper?' he admitted.
'We haven't made it yet,' inserted Biggles, as he gritted his thighs and plunged his machine into a savage spin.
As they plunged downwards, the mighty engines throbbed and the well-lubricated pistons thrust themselves back and forth in their vice-like steel sheaths.
'You look a bit green around the gills, old eland,' observed Biggles smoothly.
'Never felt better,' puked Algy. 'Sorry about the mess,' he opined.
'Why can't you just say things?' snorted Biggles. 'Tell you what, old man, having a bit of trouble with this one, could you just pop your hand down my Mae West?'
'If it's an order, old guillemot.'
'It is,' grinned Biggles.
'Right-ho, here it comes.' Algy plunged a questing sensitive hand into the Group Captain's flying jacket.
The plane soared upwards.
'Don't stop now, I'm nearly there.'
'So am I.’
'Ooo-ooh!' ejaculated Biggles and Algy together. They were through. The white silence of a cloud surrounded them.
'What about me?' rasped Ginger.
'Fuck off a sec. Ooooh,’ oohed Biggles and AIgy. Then suddenly they were through it. Peace. Calm. Ecstasy. They floated, as one, in a post-what can't be described in a children's book sort of feeling.

331: Gay Biggles 1 - Monty Python

30 November 1972

Graham Chapman as Biggles
Michael Palin as Algy
Terry Gilliam as Ginger

Biggles is the archetypal English adventure hero, a proud icon of military glory to inspire the best in our Empire’s youth. In WI and then WII, Captain W.E. Johns’s fighter pilot showed the Boche, Hun and Jerry what for. The English are noble, the English are best, and wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest.
Here the Python team are spoofing an icon of their own childhood (and Michael Palin in particular was fond of committing various Biggles parodies). The nonsense about letters and antler hats, pantomime Princess Margaret, and foreign royalty borrowing household tools seems rather Palin/ Jones, though the sudden bursts of abuse seem more Cleese/Chapman territory :” Fairy! Poof's not good enough for Algy, is it. He's got to be a bleedin' fairy. Mincing old RAF queen!”.
But the joke here is about how the fine upstanding Biggles handles his modern concerns about the sexual orientations of his close comrades Algy and Ginger. And also subverting the signifiers of homosexuality at the same time. Algy’s portrayal is just as we remember from the books, but when he comes out of the closet, Biggles immediately does the decent thing and shoots him dead. Ginger (ginger beer rhymes with queer) is possibly one of the most screaming portrayals committed to screen at that date, in the most outrageous costume and the campest queeny denial.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

330: Boy's Own Adventures

Children’s stories – always a temptation for cheap sexual gags. The supposed innocence (or ignorance) of childhood is played off against adult sexual experience, as humorists are tempted to subvert the simple role models of youth. In children’s stories and fairly tales, ideas of heroism, manliness and honourable behaviour are made quite explicit, and therefore ripe for the introduction of a little filth and smut “Playboy”’s cartoon pages would be a lot emptier without regular adult revisions of fairy tale classics.

by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick
from “Bestseller! The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon”, 1981

The very all-male ethos of Boy’s Own stories can’t help but invite homosexual subversion. Not a genre much known to Americans outide of Harry Potter, daring tales of good, clean decent schoolboy pluck and spunk have been a mainstay of generation’s of British childhoods in magazine like “Boy’s Own Paper”, “The Gem” and “The Magnet”. Of course, books like “The Loom of Youth”, “Enemies of Promise”, and films like “If” have been more forthcoming about the affections and attractions young chaps may develop for each other. Let alone late night exploits of The Biscuit Game. And this before you take into account a nostalgic taste for school-boy themed flagellation that holds such an appeal for a particular type of older gentlemen, vide Dennis Price in school cap and blazer begging to be spanked in the 1972 film “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie”.