FORTY YEARS ON

Channel 4 commemorated (rather than celebrated) the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967) which only applied in Britain‘ (meaning England and Wales). The latter entity was destined to be absorbed so thoroughly that the law of Britain is called English Law’. Thomas Cromwell’s law of 1533 That the Law of Wales be the same as the Law of This Realm ( this Realm’ being England) wound up the customary law of the (Anglo-Norman) Welsh Marches, and the law code of Llewellyn the Great. Scotland and Northern Ireland had to wait until the early 1980s, and other bits of Her Majesty’s Realm until well into the 1990s before they got parity with England‘.

40 Years On ran (mostly) from Saturday to Saturday 21 to 26 July (2007) first out was A Very British Sex Scandal, about the Peter Wildeblood Peter Wildebloodaffair’ of 1954. In many ways this was the full stop at the end of a quite hysterical witch hunt’ (the clicheis very apt, for once) in the early fifties (mostly in England, and mostly in London I am more than prepared to be corrected on this matter). The Wildeblood affair was every New of the Screws-type sub-editor’s wet-dream. Wildeblood (Martin Hutson) was a very successful journalist on the Daily Mail (always good for a bitching from the less successful in the profession), several aristos were involved and a couple of National Servicemen. (The latter description means men conscripted into the Armed Forces for two years. National Service, for most (male) citizens ran from the eighteenth to the twentieth birthdays, so the two lads Edward McNally (Sam Heughan) and Johnny Reynolds (Karl Davies) would have been under age’ until quite recently.

Wildeblood meets McNally, like a fair number of other pick-ups’ at or about a railway station public convenience’ (little did the stuffed shirts naming these facilities know ”). They were standard meeting places prior to the down-grading of the railways, coach stations took over somewhat in America, but not over here’. They hit it off socially, in so far as that was possible in the early 1950s in England (McNally is Scottish), and he is the one who pushes for something more than a one-night stand. We see, in a clunky kind of way, Wildeblood’s journalistic career in the ascendant. He is appointed Royal correspondent, (a rather important job in those days, especially as he has to cover the Coronation), and then Foreign correspondent. The latter entails his moving abroad, thus the country party with Lord Montagu, in a house by the sea shore.

News of this gets to the police and McNally and Reynolds are arrested by the Military Police, an unpleasant, violent, experience for them. The civilian police offer them the usual inducements, if they tell on the others they will get off with a lighter sentence. Young Reynolds falls for it, but McNally’s attitude to Wildeblood is more honourable and is motivated by more than the prospect of sex and presents. (Reynolds tagged along to the house party as a mate, possibly a fuck-buddy’, of McNally’s, while doing National Service.) While it is clear that the police are after Wildeblood and Montagu, as the older men’ from superior’ social positions who corrupted the two young men they are treated, relatively speaking, with kid gloves the young soldiers just get thumped. (Their sentences at the end of the trial were just as long as the other three, middle and upper’ class defendants.)

This is a very good drama-doc’, though I did feel that the police and lawyers verged on caricature, but it was more than half a century ago in England. (The people of Scotland, Wales and Ireland (the geographical expression) have been less inclined to look up to the quality’, to use the sardonic Irish expression. This is a reason why Tony Hancock’s humour, hilarious in the 1950s, and early 60s, is either quaint or inexplicable to anyone born since 1960.) Lord Hailsham is seen giving evidence’ to the Wolfenden Committee to the effect that queers recruit’ and that it was the mixing of men from all sorts of backgrounds during the War’ (presumably WW2) that has caused to problem to multiply. Maybe people were too busy Revolting after the Great War of 1914- 18 for their sexual proclivities to be noticeable.

The climax of this drama is when in answer to a direct question Wildeblood owns up, in a Crown Court, to being homosexual. He got a longish prison sentence, and when he came out of prison he campaigned against the law. He was also employed by the BBC as, apparently a very good, and creative, television Producer. McNally and Reynolds simply disappear. But a very good drama could be made out of their lives. McNally iSean Irish name, as is Reynolds (Mac Raghnail), they were Scottish, and probably RC, which three attributes apart from being working class nobodies would have been enough to unperson’ them in 1954. In fact, they would have been barely personned’. McNally and Reynolds might have first met as altar servers in the RC chapel in whatever cold, damp, dump of a garrison they were serving in.

This sort of class blindness iSean example of how people behaved in the 1950s. There were a number of similar situations in Paul Nicholls in Clapham Junction, (set in 2007), to be discussed after the actual drama. Kevin Elyot has been described as writing an anti-Gay’ play, but I wonder if he was writing any sort of Gay’ play. It is heavily populated, almost Jacobean in its large cast, including such persons as, Tough Man’, Man in Toilet 2′ and Man on Bench’, despite which it is not a standard realist’ telly-script. I feel this is what annoyed a great many people. We are so used to realism from Anglo-Saxon’ film makers that the utter unreality of what they make escapes us. How many times has Deirdre Barlow’ of Coronation Street been married? The central figure in Clapham Junction is (according to the press) Terry’, (Paul Nicholls). The latter appears not to have given any interviews about it. Most of what I read was nonsense, one magazine had Terry beating up the Alfie character (David Leon), which is inaccurate.

Terry, who hasn’t surname, is a conundrum, he may be a man struggling with his sexuality’. He may be a man who enjoys inflicting violence on others, and has discovered a sub-culture individual members of which are still (even in cosmopolitan London) comparatively fatalistic about having physical violence visited on them. This is, I believe, creative ambiguity, and Paul Nicholls has understood that it is really impossible to fathom whether or not he is sexually turned on by Gay male sex, or just despises potential victims. It is interesting that he surely realises that the man who inflicts violence on him at one point, is going to do so. This sort of thing is not psychologically improbable it is probably having a background in small scenes’ the current[ish] tiny Belfast one and the sub-atomic particle in Lancaster in the early Seventies, which makes me think along such lines. Most of those complaining about this play resided in London, (some in Clapham!), which has a huge scene’ (which is not the same as a society’ or community’- but overlaps them). Gay Londoners can easily avoid other Gay people whose sexual behaviour they disapprove of, or just find personally distasteful. It can be done semi-consciously, as nearly all the barSeand other places of entertainment, advertise what exactly is their speciality, either globally’ or on particular nights. Some nights are for flabby old honkies in underwear, others are for beautiful young athletic Afro-Caribbean men ” you pay’s your money ”

Terry encounters Alfie in a disco, complete with a pole dancer ignored by the clientele (just like in straight bars). Alfie (the lovely David Leon, whom any red-blooded poof would love to have as a Close Personal Friend) is not interested. Largely because he has had a heavy-duty encounter with a participant in a Civil Partnership celebration. It was one half of the Civil Partnership, a problematical situation for a skint waiter, dealing with the attentions of a very wealthy man. The latter could, and probably would, have complained to Alfie’s bosses if he had not been amenable to his attentions, jobs are not that easy to find. After evading Terry, Alfie chooses to walk round Clapham Common, and enters a public toilet. He encounters two heavies, who make it clear they think he’s a queer. He legs it, but is hunted down and beaten so badly that he does not last the night. Terry happens along and steals a ring on his finger, which he’d remarked on in the disco, but makes no effort to help or comfort Alfie, some passers by find him and send for an ambulance.

This is where the slightly redundant dinner party, in one of the big houses surrounding the Common touches on the main theme of the drama. One guest is a closeted lawyer who was in the same cottage an hour or two before Alfie’s killing, being fucked by a large brute of a man. (Incidentally his membrum virile, is like Terry’s (seen earlier in the proceedings) rather large. One did wonder about stunt doubles’. Far be it from me to give cognisance to the outrageous rumour labelled the Irish curse’, but they seemed bigger than they had a right to be). The lawyer is quietly irritated by a writer with whom he had had sex some time before. They are played by James Wilby and Rupert Graves respectively, who played the eponymous Maurice Hall in the 1987 film and Alec Scudder, his game keeper lover. The two women at the party are slightly anti-Gay, because of the behaviour’ on the Common. The third man is a sexual liberal, demonstrated later in the play, where he is prepared to accept a situation, which in all honesty would have most parents running to the police. (This iSean encounter between their early-teen son Theo and the twentysomething Tim).

The ring which Terry stole from Alfie is something of a leitmotif in the latter part of the drama. When Terry is taken to the A&E in a nearby hospital after he in turn is bashed, the person who deals with him is the other half of the Civil Partnership, who wonders how Terry acquired the gift he gave to his partner’. They had had an argument about what had happened to it. The drama stops at this bitter moment. It is not remotely up-beat, and the situation implies more drama and bitterness. Possibly this is what troubled many viewers, which is, again probably a consequence of the homogenisation of television drama. We are used to fifty minutes of bland drama interrupted by advertisements, which are often more creative than the actual drama which end in all the loose ends being tidied up, in a little apotheosis. A drama with raw edgeSeand unresolved sexual issues, like p?”dophilia, where the younger party Theo’ (Luke Treadaway) forces the issue with the sex criminal’ (whose flat has been petrol bombed) Tim’ (Joseph Mawle), is disconcerting. Presumably it is meant to be.

Another element linking the various disparate elements in the play is the case of young Danny’ (Jared Thomas), who is a violinist. He is also the only child of a single mother, and she has invested extremely high hopes in him. He is a talented musician, a violinist, and his playing of a Bach Gigue is heard over some quite shocking parts of the drama, (somewhat in the manner of the film Clockwork Orange). A number of people, described in the cast list as Black Youth’ there are a number of them hang around the house of his music teacher. I found this element in the drama difficult to relate to, I have a feeling that the music mad Black sub-culture of south London would be inclined to cherish a talented Black musician, no matter where his talents lay. This has been roundly sneered at by other London dwellers. But the implications of Danny’s stance when not playing, and when having to pass the Black Youths’ are that he is afraid of them. We see his violin smashed to pieces in a long underground passage, near to what appears to be a public toilet; Danny is nowhere to be seen. This may be based on a real incident in Belfast some year’s ago. A fourteen year old walking through Botanic Gardens, just across the road from his school, Methodist College ( integrated’ for more than a century) was hospitalised by some youths from Annadale flats. They decided that he and his mate were queers, and they paid special attention to the boy’s hands. He will never play the guitar or any other instrument again. He was a brilliant musician looking forward to great career as a classical’ guitarist. The difference between south London and south Belfast is that the latter has something of an excuse for this sort of nihilism. It was recovering from a thirty year civil war. South London‘s main problem is that it needs the Tube extended and connected.

As noted above, I fund the treatment of (working class) Black’ youth in Clapham Junction somewhat disturbing. The treatment of white working class people wasn’t exactly heartening either. Terry works as (apparently) for the Council’ or binman’ if you like my former avocation. The bashers’ are all plebes, as is the p?”dophile [?] Tim tormented by his neighbours in the Council Estate opposite the bourgeois semi owned by Theo’s parents. Alfie is a mere waiter, and is something of a cipher he is pictured as, in essence, too stupid to protect himself. Two of the three prominent women in the play are middle class homophobes (possibly a rather subtle touch. Don Milligan, author of The Politics of Homosexuality [Pluto] wrote to the Guardian a decade ago, to point out that he had never been attacked by working class people. His two encounters with physical violence were in nice, middle class environs, in one case a university campus, and in another at the opening of an art exhibition[!].)

The Stonewall, Gay Times, New Labour nexus has been pushing this line for over a decade now, that working class people are (almost inherently) homophobic. This iSean extension of the attitude which led to the destruction of Gay News, and the setting up of the pseudo-libertarian Gay Reporter, which was a commercial failure. The reading Gay public did not especially like misogyny, metropolitan self-obsession, and whinging about politics’ (it was too early for political correctness’). People wanted sex and politics just as well, too Section 28 was in the future. The Gay community of communities mirrors society at large, most of us work for a living, and in the nature of things are found in every political formation (clearly we are, largely, in political formations attempting to extend the rights of the citizen).

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Other aspects of the 40 Years On were a mixed bag, one was a studio debate 40 Years Out chaired by David Aaronovitch with a what am I doing here’ look in his eyes. This would have worked much better in an After Dark format. After Dark was screened by C4 in the late 1980Seand early ’90s, it was a spectacularly simple format. A group of people were sat around in a circle of comfortable seats, with some nibbles’ and a fair amount of drink’, then talked until they, became incomprehensible, walked out, or fell asleep. One programme lasted until seven the next morning, having started about 10.30 or 11 p). In 40 Years Out we got a different collection of talking heads every ten minutes, it was choppy and not very enlightening. The only person talking sense was the rapper QBoy, who presented a C4 show called Out in Class aimed at school students earlier in the year. He was fairly sanguine about the violence and against Gay school students, and their alienation from there peers being countered, but it was going to be a long haul. Mark Simpson (author of Anti-Gay) seemed to be objecting to Clapham Junction, he muttered about not wanting pro-Gay agitprop’ same as a number of bloggers what’s wrong with Gay agitprop? He said something sensible about homophobia’ to the effect that people ought to be allowed to express distaste for queer folk. The problem with such an attitude (I tend to agree with it), is that such matters cut both ways. Would we shirt-lifters be allowed to jeer publicly at the notion of Richard Littlejohn or Kelvin Mackenzie, having sweaty and un?”sthetic heterosex? The vocabulary of anti-Gay abuse is rather large. Simpson said that he now lives in Leeds, maybe some of his (rather smugly metropolitan he coined metrosexual’) attitudes laid out in Anti-Gay, are changing.

I didn’t really understand what Mathew Parris (A Castle in Spain, among many other publications) was talking about I assume he was edited to tatters. Simon Fanshawe (The Done Thing) was also a bit odd he wants us to behave ourselves but do the others’ behave in the done’ way. If he wants a return to elements of the sort of social co-operation that existed as late as the 1970s, one would agree with him. Most of our fellow-citizens (hetero-, homo-, and anarcho-sexual) want discipline and orderliness for other people. Young people and queers being at the top of the list, as for Gay youth, they should be neither seen nor heard, in fact they probably should not exist. Brian Paddick, the queer ex-cop, partly helped into early retirement by creeps like Littlejohn, might have had something interesting to say, but there was no time to say it. Other people involved were the comedian Paul Sinha, a doctor, and a Gay Asian, (and a Catholic? Sinha’ has a Goan ring to it) and Julie Bindel (co-editor, among other things, of The Map of my Life, The Story of Emma Humphreys) who was a pleasing presence, but they like Paddick, did not really get time to say anything of consequence

Queer As Old Folk (July, 26) Queer As Old Folkwas interesting, and I thought heartening, with two old dears having a Civil Partnership, after forty five years of living with each other. There was also a fascinating coupling of a man in his sixties with a male stripper less than half his age. There was, admittedly, a lot of attention paid to the chap in his late forties (how old is Old’?) who was living the adolescence he did not experience. A number of correspondents of C4’s various internet forums (fora?) were irked by this, but it has to be said people do that sort of thing. They did not want pro-Gay agitprop, but then some bloke turns up not behaving like St Francis of Assisi (after he’d changed) and there is a chorus of indignation. Was it the sex they objected to, or that fact that some oldster was getting it?

There was also some griping about stereotypes’ effeminate old souls being, largely, the target. But as Jeff Dudgeon (Roger Casement: The Black Diaries With a Study of His Background and Irish Political Life) put it there are definite, and definable types in Gay and in general society live with it, this was in regard to the film The Boys in the Band (1970). This was also part of the response to How Gay Sex Changed the World, (July, 24) which consisted to talking heads’ mostly the usual metropolitan suspects. It was a gross misnomer Gay sexuality and the acceptance thereof, may have changed the Anglo-Saxon’ world, or even just England. It was, until quite recently, the conviction of the metropolitan bien pensant that persons living outside of England (they meant inner London) were living in a sexual Ice Age. Ireland waSean especial object of opprobrium, David Norris was (credibly) canvassed as a candidate in the last Presidential election in the Republic, and earlier this year a Paisleyite’, Northern Ireland Assembly Minister, confirmed a grant to Belfast LGBT Pride.

Times change, mainly because we trivial Gays made demands on the State and on society, the world’ outside of the US and UK did not need changing, especially those parts of the world in which Napoleon’s Criminal Code was the legal norm. Latin America used to be portrayed as steeped in machismo, but millions marched in an LGBT Pride demonstration in S o Paulo, Brazil. Millions more walked in Seville, Spain. These things did not happen because some Brit queers were able to have a gay old time in Soho discos in the late SeventieSeand pre-AIDS Eighties. It was GaySeand pro-Gays’ in Brazil and the rest of Latin America, and in Spain and the rest of southern Europe, who brought about such situations.

The films shown during the week (some shown on Film 4) are to be commented on in a different article. Here are the titles, Prick Up Your Ears, Un chant d’amour, Victim, Maurice, and on ITV 4, Midnight Express. Most of these films are worthwhile, though Maurice was described by one fan on the as a great film based on a great book’. The book is second-rate, especially in the context of EM Forster’s other works. It was Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Cambridge sensitives’ who loved a bit of rough and the desk drawer. Forster’s musing on its publishability where based on its ?”sthetic worth, not on his alleged closetry. Midnight Express and Prick Up Your Ears, are on the high end of competent, and Jean Genet’s Un chant d’amour is in its own way an erotic masterpiece. A complaint about Midnight Express was posted: it made prison sex a pop-culture joke. Prison sex was being joked about long before the film was made in a nervous cum panicky cum fascinated sort of way. Presumably one had to keep specialised company to appreciate such matters. There were some very odd comments on Un chant d’amour, by the above person, who ” can’t believe that all four reviews ” are preoccupied by the homosexual aspect of the film. That’s because it is all homosexual aspect’, m chroi.

 

[Sean McGouran]

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