A Bit Of Camp Dear?

A blog by Tom Gale a new LGBTQ+ writer in Salford, England

In 1959 a film that featured respected male actors dragged up. Along with a sizzling performance from a screen legend brought the romantic comedy directed, produced and co-written by Billy Wilder and considered by some to one of the best films ever made. Starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon and called ‘Some Like It Hot’ won six academy awards including best actor, best director, best adapted screenplay and best costume design.

So you know that ‘woke culture’ have successfully set in place a set of rules about future content of any production film, television, radio, live performances to have diversity in those visible and behind the scenes. I am not going to say anything about the merits or otherwise about any of that. Except to say that back in 1959 there was something similar in existence. The Motion Picture Production Code. Or Hays Code. Which had quite a lot to say on the matters of LGBT related themes including cross dressing. My view is that this was a tendril of McCarthyism. Hey I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents eyes back then so what do I know. So the producers did it without their permission and I’m sure there was a cost to that and they accepted that believing that film was far too important and that bums on seats would fund the bill.

As America moved into the 1960 and a new president and voices from the Civil Rights movement and the message of the hippies ‘Peace Man’ showed a public who were tired of being told what to watch and the Hays Code lost its control. Many would say that Some Like It Hot played no small part in bringing that about.

Meanwhile around the same time in the United Kingdom a radio show regularly attracting 15 million listeners tuned in for the weekly camp fix of ‘Round The Horne’ a regular feature of which were two camp men know as Julian and Sandy played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick. Each sketch would feature a pre-amble by Kenneth Horne, the straight man in both senses of the word. Who would talk about going to his local council office for copies of manifestos by the parties standing. Or to the local Garden Centre for advice on what to plant. Or the baker to ask how to stop buns from deflating. Anything topical and rich in comic treasure to such skilled cast members and production staff.

Julian and Sandy spoke in Polari and nearly every sentence contained a double entendre or what I term on the knuckle comments just to see how far they could push things. There was no overt mention of anything sordid and gratuitous or lewd language that would have the Women’s Institute up in arms.

Ever since in the UK, Saturday night prime time entertainment has been hosted by a string of equally camp and effeminate men. Larry Grayson with his tales of Everard and continually ‘shutting that door’.

The facial contortions and the ‘now missus’ comment of Frankie Howard. I suppose Bruce Forsyth could be considered the most butch although his signature silhouette and wiggle of his feet and mince to the front of the stage could hardly be considered that butch.

John Inman’s portrayal of the 30 something single man living at home with more mince than Sainsbury’s and sybillant catchphrase ‘I’m free’ became a national treasure.

This then paved the way for the funny lesbians. A couple of gallus bissoms from Scotland namely Muriel Grey and Jay Lafferty. Sue Perkins and by association Mel Gydroig. Sandi Toksvig. Then the crossing dressing brilliance of Stanley Baxter, Barrie Humphries and his alter ego Dame Edna, Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough and Eddie Izzard.

Right into the 21 century with Queen Dame in the form of Graham Norton and who can forget the orange/ bronze face and lilting voice on Supermarket Sweep Dale Winton.

Only a few days ago I listened to a recording entitled ‘Some Jottings of Dr Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket characters created by George Logan and Patrick Fyffe. The characters had a look and feel of the Edwardian Age. The Random Jottings series of over 60 episodes enjoyed success from 1982 to 1989.

The British public have had a love affair with camp for the best part of the 20th century and now the 21st century. There was a tacit understanding that as long as you were gay and funny and was inward looking and self deprecating then gay men and women found their niches and made a living from it.

There is the argument to be made that if it had not been for gay men and women in all the arts it would resemble a huge swiss cheese. I’ll leave that larger subject for another day.

All those fears that I had living in a council estate and being ‘queer’ in the sense of unusual or not typical of living a life of loneliness, fear and bitterness. Were unfounded because of the influence of gay men and women in The Edinburgh Festival and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was about as Cosmopolitan and accepting of all for their talent and not for any other aspect of their life.

I think the appetite for what goes in the bedrooms of consenting adults is waning partly due to the deaths of elderly peers. In a few years from now all the questions about gender, sex, sexuality, trans, non-binary will be redundant. There will always be a couple of old fossils I expect. I didn’t say it would be perfect. It will look and feel a lot more positive and less divisive than it does today.

Because the collective conscious isn’t going to let us forget the fun, joy, hilarity and silliness of our camp performers. Who could always be relied upon to give us something to laugh about.

Vive la double entendre!!

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