Sunday, 28 October 2012

461: Posy Simmonds - Mrs Weber's Diary

by Posy Simmonds
in "The Guardian", 1985

Mrs Weber’s Diary was a weekly strip that appeared on the Women’s Page of the Guardian from the late 1970s (originally as “The Silent Three”) until the late 1980s. The Guardian’s Women’s Page disdained dieting and dresses for feminism. The strip soon turned into a commentary on modern issues and a satire of its Guardian readers: middle class post-60’s counter-culture types grown up with families, working in social services, universities or as would-be artisans. The strip encapsulated them as people for whom the personal is political. The little dramas of domestic life were further fraught by ethical and social quandaries. Simmonds’ Weber family were the archetypal “Woolly Liberals” tying themselves into knots over the right responses to racism, capitalism, education, childcare, ecology and Thatcherism during dinner party conversations. Simmonds also captured contemporary tastes in fashion, furniture and holidays. Americans might care to think of it as an infinitely better drawn equivalent of “Doonesbury”. It is a superb series wittily dissecting many aspects of 80s Britain.

An Omnibus of all the previous “Mrs Weber’s Diary” collections has just been published as “Mrs Weber’s Omnibus”. The promotional material says the book collects the entire run of strips, but it doesn’t, although at almost 500 cartoons, it’ll satisfy all but the most completist of Simmonds fans, and it does restore the colouring of the originals. (Still: Lying bastards at Jonathan Cape publishers) This strip is one of the omitted. It was reprinted in Alan Moore’s 1988 “AARGH” comic collection - “Artist’s Against Rampant Government Homophobia protesting the introduction of Clause 28. “AARGH” collected works that either attacked Clause 28 and homophobia, or else showed homosexuals in a positive light as people with real loves and feelings. As this strip predates Clause 28 by a number of years, it was selected as a positive representation.

So here we get George Weber and his unnamed friend, a cuddly, older clonish looking gay chap with moustache , jeans, checkered shirted and bomber jacket (who I don’t think I’ve even seen before or seen after this strip, but never mind). Homosexuality and camping it up – which is seen as being expressive and not merely innate – are part of a larger argument about the perception of masculinity and acceptable manly roles. The strip is actually about George’s embarrassment before the shopkeeper, an unreconstructed male chauvinist. George’s arguments for the broadening of traditional male/female responsibilities have been undermined by visible homosexual behaviour, thereby confirming George’s apparent unmanliness. If George is abashed, his friend is given a significant space in the strip to argue for his own particular brand of dignity and independence of traditional assumptions.

Monday, 22 October 2012

460: Gay Politics - Hanging to the Right

In extreme contrast to the assumption of natural affinities between homosexuals and the left-wing politics, the 1970s also saw a small but vocal body of gay fascists. These were not skinhead-fancying fetishists, but genuine fascist supporters. A faltering economy and concerns about immigration meant that there was an audience for fascist politics in Britain at the time. The leader of the National Front in the late 70s, Martin Webster, was gay, and semi-openly so. It wasn’t just rumoured – he was actually mentioned in “Gay News”, and there was the occasional photo of him at a gay pub or event with other prominent figures in the party who were also gay – whether straight members of the party knew this is another matter. (Several decades later Webster would claim that he had had an affair lasting several years with the current leader of the British National party, Nick Griffin). Furthermore, when canvassing political opinion among gay men of the time, “Gay News” would take into account the opinions of gay fascists. Whether such political leanings are really some sort of yearning for authenticity I leave to others to ponder.

By Michael Heath
“Punch”, 2 August 1978

By Michael Heath
“Private Eye”, 29 September 1978

Sunday, 21 October 2012

459: Gay Politics: Dressing to the Left

Obviously the big gay political movement of the 1970s was the fight for civil rights aka Gay Lib which began at the end of 1969. Independent of the activists involved in Gay Lib, homosexuality began to appear as an issue of concern to nice liberal heterosexual folks. But as part of a political programme, homosexuality was most readily incorporated within the broad array of issues proclaimed by the post-hippie Radical Left (aka New left in America). Homosexuality was a part of political platforms which included diversity, feminism, gender equality, minority-rights and strident non-racism. Heady radical stuff, you’ll agree. Or wholly unrealistic, preposterous, pie-in-the-sky demands proposed by anti-social types who felt that government should be lavishing the public purse on irrelevant grievances if you’re of a more conservative disposition. So: a concern for homosexuality was a shortcut to portraying leftist politics as ludicrous by association.

By David Langdon
Punch, 24 September 1975

These would be protestors outside the annual Conservative Party Conference. The newspaper vendors are the opposite of moderate, but the person holding “Gay News” doesn’t appear to gay as such.

from Auberon Waugh’s Diary
“Private Eye”, 9 December 1977

There’s a certain amount of accompanying style from Waugh here, but it’s really just the well-worn conceit that a gay worker would only be a hairdresser. A brief knock at literary/political freeloaders, leftists, and homosexuals in the Waugh manner.

by David Austin
Spectator, 27 June, 1981

The Left’s obsessive concern with gender roles and issues over practical matters.

Illustration by John Johnsen
“Punch”, 17 March 1982

To accompany an article “”Spring Diary of a Social Worker”, who by the turn of the decade were seen as the local government-employed shock troops of leftist socio-political engineering. Even the socialist alternative comedian Alexei Sayle had his joke: “Help a deprived inner city child. Kill a social worker”. The homsoexuals holding the banner appear to be a curious mix of New romnatic, Gay 90s dandies, and Radcliffe Hall butch tweedy lesbians

Out of gay political groups came numerous short-lived magazines and publishing endeavours. The public might be aware of the existence of this sort of minority-interest stuff, but no specific title or approach is going to make a massive impression on general consciousness. So you can’t specifically parody a particular author or title. They fall too far below the radar. However, it is the gay-positive content in other leftist magazines that will make the general populace aware of gay issues and give a forum for gay voices, lifestyles and activities. There are lots of feminist and leftist journals, but as they solely political magazines they have a limited audience. The most famous example of such a magazine in the UK is “Time Out”. “Time Out” was a listing magazine, detailing the weekly events in London, and so its functionality meant that its readers encountered the leftist political life of London. Hence these two parodies of “Time Out” make much out of the gay oriented content of the magazine.

“Private Eye”, 5 June 1981

“Private Eye”, 28 August 1981

Readers with incredibly retentive memories will note that that in these two parodies there’s a lot of cross-over with the parodies attacking the irrelevant, wastefulness, social rebalancing by Ken Livingstone and the 1980s GLC (Greater London Council). I already covered a lot of those satirical attacks that used GLC’s support of homosexuality against it (20 different bits starting here). But here are a couple more from Michael Heath’s “The Gays” strip:

“Private Eye”, 23 October 1981

“Private Eye”, 26 February 1982

“Private Eye”, 11 March 1983

“Private Eye”, 6 May 1983

And let’s just round out with a silly sexual / political pun.

Spectator, 4 September 1982

Saturday, 20 October 2012

458: Gay Television Producers

And so to add to the gay actors, gay choreographers, gay dancers, gay hair dressers, gay interior decorators, gay fashion designers, gay shop assistants, gay antique shop-owners, gay teachers, gay writers, gay civil servants, gay spies, and gay guardsmen, may I may present:

Gay TV producers

I suppose it’s just a further new modern arena in which gay men can be theatrical and temperamental. There was an early example in Victor Spinetti’s character in “A Hard Days Night” (1964).

“Private Eye” 3 January 1967

A couple of years on is this character by Barry Humphries in “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie”. Admittedly, in this instalment the presentation he’s introduced first as a gay man, and then is a TV producer later, so it’s not a smooth integration.

In most cases this appearance of a gay TV producer is not a matter of being a fully rounded character or even much of a joke. It’s really just a matter of throwing a brief of moment of comic colour into the environs of television production.

“Dawson and Friends”, 1977
Starts: 0.55 – 2.20

This Subsonic sketch is a parody of the ITV music programme, “Supersonic” and its presenter Mike Mansfield, here spoofed by Julian Orchard in a very floppy pink bow, with a very limp wrist and some “sweety”s and “dear”s. Manfield isn’t gay that I’m aware of, so this very broad camp portrayal is just an added extra. There’s a Lot of It About, 1982
20.58 – 21.20

“There’s a Lot of It About” was one of the later of Spike Milligan’s rather free-form sketch programmes. Some of the sketches in this series were also written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, but I don’t think this is one of them. Spike Milligan rarely bothers with gay jokes, so for all that this just a very brief cameo it therefore stands out (although some of the characters portrayed by Peter Sellers in “The Goon Show” have a possible gay interpretation). In this sketch, a very broad camp caricature appears for a few seconds when a parody of the TV programme “Panorama” goes off the rail and comes to a technical halt. The part is played by Keith Smith who flounces on, addresses the crew in an enormously camp voice and with tremendously fluttering hands, then flounces off again. The picture quality is a little fuzzy, but it looks as though Smith is also distinguished by wearing a pair conspicuous purple shiny earrings.

“Punch”, 18 October 1978

Off the immediate topic of TV producers, but Smith’s ludicrous caricature me reminds a lot of this equally spurious, unrealistic and related-only-to-other-comic-stereotypes throwaway illustration according a humorous piece about “The A.A. Book of Minorities”.

Monday, 15 October 2012

457: Gay Boxing 3: I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again

I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again – 19 Apr 1970
Written by Graham Garden and Bill Oddie

You can play the episode online or download a copy at the link above.
“The Harder They Fall, the More They Hurt Themselves” runs for the last 10 minutes of the programme

Prior to this sketch, Terry Southern had executed several variations on the idea of a gay boxer in the film and book versions of his “The Magic Christian”

The radio sketch programme “I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again” drew its humour from silliness, puns, running gags and characters, sarcastic topical comments, and mild sexiness. This was matched by the enthusiastic performances of its cast, which were equalled and sometimes overpowered by the responses of an overenthusiastic audience. Each show usually ended with a longer 10 minute sketch parody.

“The Harder They Fall, the More They Hurt Themselves” is a parody of boxing match has as its centrepiece John Cleese’s camp old queen of a rookie boxer, Butch aka “Sugar Puff Robinson”. This is an obvious play on the name of the famous boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, as sugar puffs are a breakfast cereal, but in English slang “puff” or “poof” or “poufffe” was a then-popular term for “homosexual”.

5 years have passed since Julian and Sandy on “Round the Horne”. Julian and Sandy employed the private slang of Polari, and the writers and cast were unsure as to what they would be able to get past the BBC censors. So even as people were laughing at those sketches, they may not necessarily have been entirely sure what they laughing at, but were just caught up in the entertaining hysteria. The gags in this episode of “I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again” aren’t intended to go over anyone’s head or appear to worry much about the censor. Cleese’s character makes numerous sly sexually appreciative comments about wrestler’s glistening bodies and his camp innuendoes (“You can call me anytime”) get strong laughs. Broad acting, broad gags, broad laughs.

Bill Oddie as boxing trainer: All I want is a raw youth I can get to work on.

Cleese: Mm, don’t we all. Oh, I say. Quiet, plebs. Hello boys. I’m butch. Sorry -“Butch”.

There’s a heavy dose of effeminacy gags about and wearing women’s clothing: “If you touch my earrings I’ll wince”

Mention of a fighter’s purse (his prize money) gets a “Goody, it’ll go with my huge handbag”

Graham Garden as the promoter: Jack will be your second

Cleese: Don’t you believe it!

In this extended sketch, Cleese takes the camping-it-up spotlight from Tim Brooke Taylor, who as noted all over this blog, was the go-to-performer for mincing about for this generation of Oxbridge comedians.

Cleese’s comment “I’m as rugged as the next man” elicits a quick fey fairy cameo from Tim as The Next Man, and then a quick spat as to who saw all the men first.

Tim BRooke Taylor now admits, “The one thing I do regret is the large number of gay jokes. At the time it was liberal to be able to do ‘poofter’ jokes at last – ‘Round the Horne’ did them brilliantly. But it went on too long and I remember thinking, ‘if I do this in a ‘whoops’ voice it will get a laugh.’ I’m happy to say I gave that route up eventually.” – “The Clue Bible” by Jem Roberts.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

456: Gay American Football 3 - Hudson and Landry: Bruiser LaRue

from “Hudson and Landry – Losing Their Heads”, 1971
written and performed by Bob Hudson and Ron Landry

Hudson is probably Bruiser La Rue and Landry the interviewer.

Hudson and Landry were 2 DJs who became a double-act on Californian radio in the early 1970s. Drive-time radio is a particular phenomenon, and the two were in their late 30s/, early 40s, so their attitudes as shown in other sketches are a little hard to reduce simplistically. California at that time was a strange hybrid of the enormously trendy because of Hollywood and San Francisco, but otherwise it was an enormously conservative, even reactionary, state as proven by its electing Ronald Reagan as governor. The enormously enthusiastic reception of this sketch is coloured further when you take into account that it was recorded at the Pomona National Golf Club – which isn’t quite the typical audience, although I may be making unwarranted assumptions about people who play golf.

So Bruiser LaRue as a name? Is it just the effetness of “LaRue” played off against the manly “Bruiser”, or do I detect a homophony with the oh-so clich├ęd gay name of “Bruce”? Make your own mind up. It starts off as a traditional sports parody, with the rat-a-tat mannerisms of the sports interviewer. This sets up a contrast for the appearance of Bruiser with his slightly histrionic, and lilting and emphatic tones – which are not normal for American men. Bruiser is a big dumb lisping sissy. This sketch gets its mileages from subverting the interview with this character, finding plenty of opportunities for gay jokes prompted by sports terminology. There’s no innuendo, but the performance is camp, lip-smacking, and the actual lines are less than subtle hinting as to what Bruiser is about. And indeed other such slightly off-colour jokes as the Beaver gag. Everybody gets the joke about Bruiser from the beginning.

A couple of interesting, roughly contemporary equivalents of this performances are Alan Sues on Laugh-in, and Jonathan Winters a few years earlier in the 60s – although in each case suggestions of actual homosexuality were more covert.


INTERVIEWER: Hi, sports fans. Weklcome to Ace Grobny talks with the superstars. Tonight’s guest is the incredible fallback of the Stubenville Studs, Brusier la Rue.

BRUISER: Hhhiiii!! Oh I love your cufflinks!

INTERVIEWER: Bruiser, you were sensational last night.

BRUISER: Oh Ace, that’s So sweet of you to say that

INTERVIEWER: You rushed 253 yards, caught four touchdown passes and picked up three fumbles

BRUISER: And a sailor

INTERVIEWER: Bruiser, what do you enjoy most about football?

BRUISER: Piling on, Ace. Oh I love it. Bodies here, bodies there, bodies, bodies everywhere. Ohhh.

INTERVIEWER: Bruiser, football’sdangerous. Can you think of one game that was actually fun?

BRUISER: Ohhh, I’ll never forget it. We were playing an exhibition game in Argentina. It was against the Gay Caballeros.

INTERVIEWER: The Gay Caballeros?

BRUISER: That’s Right!

INTERVIEWER: Did you score?

BRUISER: Oh great big silly you! Did I score? I ran myself ragged. Ole!

INTERVIEWER: Bruiser, how about running down your career for us. How did it all begin?

BRUISER: Well, Ace, I started out playing kick-the-can in my mother’s high heels. And then of course we went into grade school football. Which was touch football.


BRUISER: Which I Dearly loved. Ohhh, if I knew then what I knew now.


BRUISER: And then we moved onto junior high. Junior varsity, which was really a blast, because we had all the cheers and everything. .

INTERVIEWER: Ah, yes, the cheers. Can you remember some of those old high school cheers,Bruiser?

BRUISER: Ohhh, you bet, Ace. I’ll be happy to do a couple for ya. “California oranges / Texas cactus / We play East High / Just for practice.” And remember this one: “Ree ree ree / Hit ‘em on the knee / Rass rass rass / (pause) Hit ‘em on the other knee.”

INTERVIEWER: You’ve got to be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls!

BRUISER: (pause, then slightly offended) Well, different strokes for different folks.

INTERVIEWER: Well, out of all the games you’ve played, Bruiser, vcan you come with what you consider your greatest play?

BRUISER: Ohhh, I certainly can. All of us are prima donnas, Ace. And I remember my one play that I think was just fantastic. I’ll never forget, we were playing against the Bradford Beavers.

INTERVIEWER: The Bradford Beavers?

BRUISER: And I took a hand-off from my quarterback, Sid Tommedge. I went racing around left-hand. And all at once this huge Beaver was staring me right in the face.

INTERVIEWER: A Bradford Beaver?

BRUISER: Yes, ugly! Uggh! And I stopped and I said “Hhhiii! . . . Excuse me, are you a Libra?” Big silly dummy was trying to think it over, and I just scooted around him and tippy-toed in for a touchdown.

INTERVIEWER: Another great moment in sports!

Friday, 5 October 2012

455: Gay American Football 2 - Phil Interlandi

by Phil Interlandi
in "Playboy", October 1975

Well, yes. Doesn't it just.

454: Gay American Football 1 - Berke Breathed

“The Academic Waltz”
By Berke Breathed
in “Daily Texan” 1979

“The Academic Waltz” was the first cartoon strip by Berke Breathed. It was drawn during his later years as a student at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Daily Texan” was the University’s newspaper. Breathed created characters and a style of humour which would transfer to his syndicated strip “Bloom County” in 1980.

This strip plays off the platitudes about sports players being good roles models who run about thanking god for their victories and display the all-American values we want our children emulating. Rather than any sissy innuendoes, Breathed goes for the gusto with his punchline about sex. Whether anything more should be made of the fact that the football player is sat with his legs crossed, I leave to your discretion.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

453: The Fan’s Journal by Jean Genet

National Lampoon, May 1984
“The Fan’s Journal by Jean Genet” By Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones

A comic trick is to describe sports in the manner of something completely inapposite, such as football matches described in the language of a theatrical review – although that’s no longer so odd as the sports columns have been infiltrated by overly-educated humanities graduates who want to make some their high culture rub off on popular entertainment. Lookee me, lookeme, look at how cultivated my appreciation is. Match reports which come freighted with associations and similes more appropriate to a high church ceremony. In such a vein, here we get a parody of literary ne’er-do-well Jean Genet giving a baseball report. His usual orchids growing in a sewer metaphors are a unnatural occurrence on the baseball diamond. So in Genet’s florid scandalising poetic style of the bad streets, we get all his usual tricks (pun intended) such as Negroes, faggots, and sailor . Few sports reports will ever make so much of arseholes, semen, recreational drugs and homosexual attraction.

452: Miles Kington: Gay football Teams

From a longer column which is just an extended opportunity to knock out puns on football team names and congregate silly incongruities. The tiny excerpt below is the obligatory gay bit. It’s beneath my dignity to have to point out what the joke teams below are about, other than noting that Queens of the South are a real football team.


Miles Kington
The Times, 4 October 1984
"How Europe Put the Boot In"

In the European Fruit Cup, Sporting Nancy went out to Gay Boys of Vienna, the Finnish side Dynamo Conditioner beat All-Male Disco of Frankfurt and Queens of the South went out with Macho Madrid and haven’t been seen since.

451: Gay Cricket 2 - Peter Tinniswood and Willie Rushton

And what comic mileage is to be traversed at the prompting of the thought of gay cricket matches? Well, mostly it’s an opportunity to alternate between depictions of sissiness and sexual forwardness, written up in the tones of mock-suburban outrage and mild surreal inventiveness which is a tradition in British humorous columnists dating back to Beachcomber. Pansy hysterics, activities in North African climes, sailors, Greek origins, something a bit more advanced the idea of just slapping at each other with handbags, and naming of various famous homosexuals (all of the artistic persuasion). Names like Tufnell and Illingworth are thrown in as they are real cricketeers, and further jokes can be knocked out by association and contrast. All in all, a rather innocuous but silly piece, rather than denigratory.


From “Whitney Scrotum”, by Peter Tinniswood, 1995

Illustration by Willie Rushton

Alternative Cricket

My emotions are mixed, dear readers.

They rage. They fume.

They soar to the delights of rapture experienced by Mr Philip Tufnell when at long last on a Saturday afternoon he finally finishes reading the front page of Monday's “Sun” newspaper.

And why?

Well, I am thrilled and delighted to record in readable print the outstanding success of the first world tournament for ‘Alternative Cricketers'.

Yes, the Air Wick Cup lived up to all our expectations, despite constant mild outbreaks of swooning and shrill giggling in the nefarious regions of long leg and a most unsavoury incident when the Onanists' Select XI from the United Arab Emirates were eliminated in their match against Eleven 'So-Called' Gentlemen of Marrakesh for defacing a David Hockney self-portrait of our much-lamented and revered Cec Pepper, erstwhile patron saint of crooked little fingers.

Barely have I seen waterproof lipstick and Boy Scouts' woggles used to such devastating effect.

Aggers, who for some obscure reason was known to one and all at the tournament as 'Elsie', was absolutely livid.

He got his grandmother's luminous spats into the most fearful twist and vowed 'in no uncertain terms' that never again would he pick his nose with Mr Bill Frindall's indelible pencil.

All that could I endure.

I could have tolerated and even at times condoned Mr Norman Gifford's nude sunbathing on his personal, portable slip cradle.

I was even prepared to 'turn a blind eye' to the grumpy behaviour of Mr E.W. 'Gloria' Swanton, who had been inveigled into giving his patronage to the tournament under the impression that it was the annual general meeting of the West Sussex Hamster and Edible Dormouse Fancy.

But what stuck in my gullet and gave me such yearning pain was the fact that the trophy was not won by 'our boys'.

The Gropers, a team of out-of-work dressers from the National Theatre and freelance stumpers from Northamptonshire, was soundly thrashed and deeply humiliated in the final by the Shirt Lifters, a collection of American vilenesses with false sun tans, painted toenails and only a minimal knowledge of the LBW laws relating to leg spinners bowling 'round the wicket'.

The Gropers seemed positively to revel in their debasement.

Never shall I forget their whoops of delight after the match when they plunged headfirst with their erstwhile opponents into a vat of strawberry milk shake and made the most vulgar of gestures towards the saintly Mr Raymond Illingworth, who was present in his capacity as deputy physio to the Testicle and County Cricket Board.

Whilst I have no intrinsic objection to his being constantly boarded by crew members of Royal Navy Fishery protection vessels for selecting 'off limits' I do take exception to his being constantly bombarded by quarter-scale effigies of Mr Donald Trelford.

Of the subsequent competition I have little memory.

I remember Oscar Wilde scoring a ton before lunch and Jean Cocteau bowling a devilish eight-over spell of googlies, flippers and Chinamen dressed in nothing but ankle-length Glamorgan sweaters and Wilf Wooller. autograph sweat bands.

And of the final - nothing.

As the lugubrious Innersole said to me as we trudged away from the ground after the defeat of The Gropers: 'It's all Greek, mate, ain't it?'

'You play football for Walthamstow Avenue once and there ain't no human perversion can ever turn your head again.'

I am not inclined to agree - remember, dear readers, I once went on a bicycling holiday in the Yorkshire Dales in the company of Mr Noel Coward and Mr Bill Alley.

450: Gay Cricket 1 - Willie Rushton

From a longer book of humour about cricket, Rushton’s idea of what an historical team of gay cricketers would look like. Nothing very advanced, nor building from anything innate to cricket suggestive of gay behaviour. Really just an excuse for intriguingly converting a load of gay slang phrases into people’s surnames - rather like the similar contrivances in the Radio 4 quiz show “I’m Sorry I haven’t a CXlue2, for which Rushton was a panellist for some 20 years. I do think the “Bumbandit” one is nicely ingenious.


from "Marylebone vs the World", by William Rushton, 1987

Emerging from the second pavilion erected on Lord's ground in 1874 is one of the most extraordinary cricket teams ever assembled. It is thought to be a humorous retort by one O. P. Rogers- Boyes, an intimate of Oscar Wilde and something of an 'aesthete', who had not been selected for the Marylebone team for three seasons. The reason, he suspected, was that he was not a Freemason. It is more likely that his rich variety of Toilet Waters and Unguents upset his fellows in the changing room. However, this team was his revenge. Here it is in batting-order:

1. C. V. P. Brown-Hatter
2. N. J. Shirtlifter
3. Buggery A.
4. S. D. P. Turd-Burglar
5. O. P. Rogers-Boyes (capt.)
6. Bender L.
7. Crouch P.
8. H. O. Roaring-Poofter
9. Fairy G.
10. Bent V.
and bringing up the rear an Indian doctor from the Docklands -
11. R. V. Bumbandit

Tradition has it that the MCC lost rather badly, but all records of the game have disappeared.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

449: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - The Masked Phantom

Goodbye Again, 1968

Peter Cook as Reporter
Dudley Moore as the Masked Phantom

In which the aggressive wrestler is really a camp, artistically-inclined sissy. Basically, it’s an opportunity for Dudley Moore to camp it up once again - and at rather too long a length.


REPORTER: Good evening. Tonight in Worldnewspectoramaprobe, we examine the controversial sport of wrestling. Last week, I went down to the Shoreditch gymnasium to see the Masked Phantom in training. . .

(Cut to the Shoreditch gymnasium)

REPORTER: Well, here I am at the Shoreditch gymnasium, and we're about to see a practice bout between the Masked Phantom, who is just over here behind me, and looking very confident - a very fit, compact and agile fighter. His opponent tonight is an extremely dour and tough northerner from Scunthorpe, the Scunthorpe Strangler. I'm just going to try and get a word with them before the fight begins. . .

(The bell rings. The wrestlers start fighting)

REPORTER: I think I'll probably leave now, and let them get on with it . . .

(The Scunthorpe Strangler picks up REPORTER, and hurls him out of the ring. The Masked Phantom wins the ensuing bout, and joins REPORTER for an interview)

REPORTER: Speculation has been raging up and down the country as to the true identity of this ferocious fighter. Tonight, for the first time in the history of the universe, the Masked Phantom rips off the mask and reveals his true identity.

(The Masked Phantom removes his mask, revealing the familiar features of Phantom)

PHANTOM: (very camp) Hello.

REPORTER: Good evening, Phantom.

PHANTOM: I wish you'd call me Tom.

REPORTER: Tom, wrestling's a pretty rugged sport. What made you go into it?

PHANTOM: I think really to prove myself as a man, you know. The whole Sir Francis Chichester, Round The Horn bit, you know.

REPORTER: I understand - to prove yourself as a man. Are these fights in any way ever fixed?

PHANTOM: (increasingly effete) Well, I can't speak for my colleagues in the profession, but speaking purely personally, you know, I go in that ring to be champ. I go in there to win. I become like some ferocious beast, you know - like some savage monster. I pull that mask over my head and something goes pop in my mind. And then something comes over me.

REPORTER: The mask, presumably?

PHANTOM: Right first time, cheeky chops. Whereas in real life, look at me now. Gentle, sensitive person - wouldn't hurt a fly.

REPORTER: Well, we have a chance to test the sincerity of the Phantom's words, as I happen to have a fly with me here in the studio, which I'm going to place in front of him and judge his reactions. Phantom, a fly for you.

(REPORTER takes a small box .from his pocket, and passes it to Phantom)

PHANTOM: A fly for you and a fig for me.

(Phantom opens the box)

PHANTOM: What a beauty! What a lovely creature! I think you're very cruel, keeping him cooped in here like that. (to the fly) Off you go, Ferdinand! (to REPORTER) Honestly, you are awful!

REPORTER: Proof positive, I think, of the Phantom's sincerity.

PHANTOM: If I may interrupt here, excuse me, but as Goethe, the great German poet said, die Liebe ist Alle - all you need is love, baby.

REPORTER: You mention Goethe. What are your favourite kind of books?

PHANTOM: Er, leather bound ones, mainly. You know, I love old things. Any old thing appeals to me. It's what they say about me down the gym, anyway.

REPORTER: Have you any interests outside the ring?

PHANTOM: My goodness gracious me, yes I have! Oh, yes! The people look at me and, you know, all they see is a great hunk of flesh. You know, I get branded as a wrestler, whereas in fact I'm interested in anything you care to mention - ceramics, pottery, sculpture, music, dancing, theatre. You name it, and I love it.

REPORTER: You mention theatre. What sort of roles do you see yourself in?

PHANTOM: Ooh, you're going to get me going, aren't you? Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I know I'm stretching my neck out, but I love Shakespeare. You know, whatever anybody says about him, I adore that man. I'd love to have a go at his King Lear, for instance.

REPORTER: You see yourself as King Lear?

PHANTOM: Well, shall I say I feel it here within me, you know. But all I need is a good director to coax it our. I think, oh what's his name? Come on, mutton head! REPORTER Brook! REPORTER Brook could get a wonderful Lear out of me. He could get a wonderful anything, you know. I only wish I'd put myself up for Oedipus.

REPORTER: You're interested in the Greek theatre, too?

PHANTOM: (ecstatic) The Greek theatre! I've loved the Greek theatre ever since “Never On A Sunday”. All that music and dancing, the philosophy - I love it!

REPORTER: Have you been to Greece recently?

PHANTOM: I only put a little body oil on before the show. Does it show?

REPORTER: I meant the country.

PHANTOM: Oh, I thought you meant grease! I'm sorry! I'm miles away!

REPORTER: Outside all your interests such as the theatre and ceramics, I understand you're also something of a singer.

PHANTOM: Yes, I've waxed my first disc, actually, just recently.

REPORTER: And I believe that, rather unusually, you accompany yourself on your own body.

PHANTOM: Yes, I call it deep singing. It's actually just an extension of Paganini's dictum. You know, the great violinist, Paganini.


PHANTOM: He used to say, 'Whenever I make love to a lady, I like to think I'm playing the violin.'

REPORTER: I wonder if you could give an example of your singing now?

PHANTOM: I'd be delighted. I'll just whip my cosie off.

REPORTER: Right. Here, accompanying himself on his own body, in “O For The Wings of A Dove”, the Masked Phantom.

PHANTOM: Don't laugh, now.

(sings) O for the wings, for the wings of a dove

Far away, far away would I roam

(speaks, to REPORTER) I feel a bit thin without the backing behind, but that's the sort of thing.

REPORTER: I think it's very promising, and I'm sure we all wish the Masked Phantom an immense hit with his first record.

PHANTOM: You're very sweet, thank you.

Monday, 1 October 2012

448: Woody Allen - Lancers

“Lancer – The Hair Conditioner for Men”
0.00 - 0.50

“Everything you always wanted to know about sex* (*but were afraid to ask)”

Written and directed by Woody Allen
Adapted from the book “Everything you always wanted to know about sex* (*but were afraid to ask)” by David Reuben M.D.

Tom Mack as Football Player
Don Chuy as Football Player

Two football players, their authenticity proven by their awkwardness reading their script, share grooming tips. You too need not worry about being concerned about you appearance, as men possessed of such hamfisted masculinity take the curse off . Nothing sissy here. British readers may remember almost identically crappy ads from the ‘70s with Keven Keegan and boxer Henry Cooper. What’s the joke other than these are crappy adds? It’s not until the football players walk into the background and out-of-focus that we get the pay-off which is a rather passionate clinch. Whammo, all the signifiers that have produced all the metrosexuality jokes for the last 15 years.

As to why this gay-themed sketch appears in the film’s “What Are Sex Perverts?” segment, well that derives from Reuben, not Woody Allen (though in his earliest films, he employs a few rather crude gay stereotypes”).

Dr Reuben’s book, “Everything you always wanted to know about sex* (*but were afraid to ask)” was published in 1970, when all mainstream medical authority followed the official definition of homosexuality as a mental disorder. To read any gay memoir of the sixties is to be struck by the fact that almost every gay man (in America, maybe not so much the UK) was in therapy grappling with his socially aberrant urges. If he was lucky his psychiatrist would gently coax his client to accept his homosexuality and live a healthy life. If he was unlucky then his shrink would blithely inform him that he could convert to heterosexuality, and that therefore any gay feelings and activities were a personal failing, with much resultant guilt and self-disgust. This element of Reuben’s book for the masses led to quite a few campaigns by gay groups in various countries to get the book banned (vide Rand Holmes’ 1971 Harold Hedd strip).

At the end of 1973 the board of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted unanimously to remove homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders. Thus rendering Dr Reuben exemplary strictures outdated. Which seems like the delightful cue for a relevant excerpt from Gore Vidal’s demolition job of Reuben’s book. Ta Da:

New York Review of Books, June 4, 1970

On the subject of homosexuality, Dr. Reuben tries to be a good sport. Yet at heart he is angry with the homosexualist who perversely refuses to enter into it penis-vagina relationship. It would be so easy to straighten him out. If he would only visit "a psychiatrist who knows how to cure homosexuality, he has every chance of becoming a happy, well-adjusted heterosexual." I wonder if Dr. Reuben might be got up on a charge of violating the fair advertising practices act - on the ground that no such psychiatrist exists: It is true that the late Dr. Bergler enjoyed announcing "cures," but since no one knows what a homosexualist is (as opposed to a homosexual act), much less what the psychic life (as opposed to the sex life) of any of his patients was like, his triumphs must be taken on faith.

However, it should be noted that anyone so disturbed by society's condemnation of his' natural sexual instinct that he would want to pervert it in order to conform would, no doubt, be a candidate for some kind of "conversion" at the hands of a highly paid quack. Yet to change a man's homosexual instinct is as difficult (if not impossible) as changing a man's heterosexual instinct, and socially rather less desirable since it can hardly be argued, as it used to be - the clincher, in fact, of the natural lawyers - that if everyone practiced homosexuality the race would die out. The fact of course is that not everyone would, at least exclusively, and the race currently needs no more additions.

As a religious rather than a scientific man, Dr. Reuben believes that there is something wicked (he would say sick) about the homosexual act. Therefore those who say they really enjoy it must be lying. He also believes implicitly a set of old queens' tales that any high school boy in Iowa (if not the Bronx) could probably set him straight on. "Most homosexuals at one time or another in their lives act out some aspect of the female role." Aside from his usual inability to define anything (what is a male role? a female role?), he seems to mean that a man who enjoys relations with his own sex is really half a man, a travesty of woman.

This is not the case. The man involved in a: homosexual act is engaged in a natural male function; he is performing as a man, and so is his partner. That there are men who think of themselves as women is also a fact, as the visitor to any queer bar will have noticed (those Bette Davis types are with us from Third Avenue to Hong Kong), but they are a tiny, minority, not unlike those odd creatures who think of themselves as 100 percent he men on the order of Lyndon Johnson, another small and infinitely more depressing minority, which of course includes the thirty-sixth President.

Dr. Reuben is also horrified by what he thinks to be the promiscuity of all homosexualists. But then "homosexuals thrive on danger," he tells us, and of course their "primary interest is the penis, not the person." As usual no evidence is given. He takes as fact the prejudices of his race-religion-country, and, most important, as I shall point out, class. Reading him on homosexuality, I was reminded of the lurid anti-Semitic propaganda of the thirties: All Jews love money. All Jews are sensualists with a penchant for gentile virgins. All Jews are involved in a conspiracy to take over the financial and cultural life of whatever country they happen to be living in. Happily, Dr. Reuben is relatively innocent of making this last charge. The Homintern theory, however, is a constant obsession of certain journalists and crops up from time to time not only in the popular press but in the pages of otherwise respectable literary journals. Fag-baiting is the last form of minority baiting practiced at every level of American society. Dr. Reuben tends to gloss over the social pressures which condition the life of anyone who prefers, occasionally or exclusively, the company of his own sex. Homosexualists seldom settle down to cozy mature domesticity for an excellent reason: society forbids it. Two government workers living together in Washington, D.C., would very soon find themselves unemployed. They would be spied on, denounced secretly, and dismissed. Only a bachelor entirely above suspicion like J. Edgar Hoover can afford to live openly with another man. In any case, homosexual promiscuity differs from heterosexual only in the atmosphere of fear in which the homosexualist must operate. It is a nice joke if a Louisiana judge is caught in a motel with a call girl. It is a major tragedy if a government official with a family is caught in a men's room.

For someone like Dr. Reuben who believes that there is no' greater sin than avoidance of “heterosex - penis and vagina," two men who do live together must, somehow, be wretched. "'Mercifully for both of them, the life expectancy of their relationship together is brief." Prove? I wrote for the tenth time in the margin. But we are beyond mere empiricism. We are now involved in one of the major superstitions of our place and time and no evidence must be allowed to disturb simple faith.

Dr. Kinsey (dismissed by Dr. Reuben as a mere biologist) did try to find out what is actually going on. Whatever Kinsey's shortcomings as a researcher, he revealed for the first time the way things are. Everyone is potentially bisexual. In actual practice a minority never commits a homosexual act, others experiment with their own sex but settle for heterosexuality, still others swing back and forth to a greater or lesser degree, while another minority never gets around to performing the penis-vagina act. None of this is acceptable to either Dr. Bergler or Dr. Reuben because they know that there is no such thing as bisexuality. Therefore Dr. Kinsey's findings must be discredited. To the rabbinical mind, any man who admits to having enjoyed sexual relations with another man must be, sadly, consigned to the ranks of Sodom. That the same man spends the rest of his sex life in penis-vagina land means nothing because, having enjoyed what he ought not to have enjoyed, his relations with women are simply playacting. Paradoxically, in the interest of making money, the mental therapists are willing to work with any full-time homosexualist who has never had a penis-vagina relationship because deep down they know he does not enjoy men no matter what he says; This is the double standard with a vengeance.

Driving through Wyoming, a Jewish friend of mine picked up a young cow hand and had sex with him. Dr. Reuben will be pleased to note that my friend was, as usual, guilt-ridden; so much so that the boy finally turned to his seducer and with a certain wonder said, "You know, you guys from the East do this because you're sick and we do it because we're horny." My friend has never recovered from this insight into that polymorphic goyisher world best revealed some years ago in Boise, Idaho, where a number of businessmen were discovered frolicking with the local high school boys. Oddly enough (to the innocent), as husbands and fathers, the businessmen were all long-time homesteaders in penis-vagina land. So what were they up to? Bisexuality? No, it does not exist. Evidence dismissed, just as all accounts of other cultures are also unacceptable. Turks, Greeks, Moslems. . . Well, as one critic likes to say, that is another context (disgusting lot is what he means).

[We all know what the reference to J. Edgar Hoover means nowadays. The government official in a men’s room almost certainly refers to the scandal around President Lyndon B. Johnson’s advisor Walter Jenkins who was arrested for cottaging in October 1964.]