What A Performance!:  A celebration of the Heroes of British Camp Comedy!

For a generation of gay British actors and performers, camp comedy was a way to promote queer culture, through media of television and radio, into the nation’s living rooms.

Up until homosexuality was decriminalized by an act of Parliament in 1967, being gay or, admitting to homosexual acts, was a crime punishable by imprisonment or chemical castration. The latter was used as sentence on the code-breaking genius and computer pioneer, Alan Turing—which gives an idea of the brutality and bigotry of Britain pre-1967.

But through the use of camp comedy, performers such as, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Charles Hawtrey, John Inman and Larry Grayson, were able to subvert the horrendous, homophobic orthodoxy of their time.

For me, each of these men were revolutionary, and together with writers like Eric Sykes, Galton and Simpson, Marty Feldman and Barry Took, they were able to subtly change the public’s attitudes to sex and sexuality.

In her Notes on ‘Camp’, Susan Sontag describes camp as a means for promoting integration:

...Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.

...The reason for the flourishing of the aristocratic posture among homosexuals also seems to parallel the Jewish case. For every sensibility is self-serving to the group that promotes it. Jewish liberalism is a gesture of self-legitimization. So is Camp taste, which definitely has something propagandistic about it. Needless to say, the propaganda operates in exactly the opposite direction. The Jews pinned their hopes for integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense. Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense. Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness.

Camp may have been a weapon for education and change, but it wasn’t the sole preserve of gay men. Comedians such as Dick Emery, presenters like Bruce Forsyth, actresses like the Late Wendy Richard and Lesley Joseph, and most importantly writers (in particular Marty Feldman and Barry Took, who created the inimitable Julian and Sandy for Round the Horne) helped promote camp comics as innuendo-laden revolutionaries.

What A Performance is a wonderful romp through the lives and careers of some of Britain’s best known and best loved Kings of Camp: Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard, Larry Grayson, John Inman, Julian Clary, Lilly Savage and Kenny Everett. The documentary contains contributions from Matthew Kelly, Lesley Joseph, Clive James, Harry Enfield, Chris Tarrant, Jonathon Ross, Barry Took, Wendy Richard and Cleo Rocos.

With thanks to Mark Dylan Sieber

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Is this the most Daily Mail type of letter ever?

In my teens, my idea of fun was to write bogus letters to various newspapers as aggrieved citizens - usually retired Colonels, widowed ladies, virginal vergers or spinsters of the parish - a typical array of supporting characters taken from Agatha Christie via Joe Orton. The letters were full of misplaced anger, malapropisms and innuendo, and I was always surprised at the number that slipped through into print. Which makes me wonder about this letter written to the Daily Mail‘s letters page. It’s a classic Daily Mail rant, which could have easily been lifted directly from the paper’s front pages or editorials.

I’m sick of it all!

I’m sick of Melvyn Bragg, Hugh Grant, Joan Bakewell, and Anne Robinson. I’m sick of Vince Cable, the entire Labour Shadow Cabinet and all politicians.

I’m sick of squatters and travellers, pop music, British food, the BBC, surveillance cameras, my rotten pension, terrorists, Anglican bishops and having no money, and I just want to die.

My country, which I loved, is ruined. It will never be happy again. It is all self, self, self, moan, moan, moan. I cannot wait to get out and rest in peace.

Harry Simpson, Northwich, Cheshire.

Alex Massie, who uncovered this catalogue of discontent, writes in his blog over at The Spectator:

Can this really be real? I am assured it is. Perhaps it is part of a contest to get the most Daily Mail letter published by the Daily Mail. Doubtless similar contests could be held at other papers.

If it is real, then poor Mr Simpson, who may be a lot happier if he saved his money and stopped reading the Daily Mail and its dreadful fear-mongering. If it’s bogus, then it is obviously a relation of Kenny Everett’s Mr. Angry of Mayfair.

With thanks to Gerry Hassan!

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Charley says: Kenny Everett as a talking cat in classic Public Information Films

Charley says… was a series of Public Information Films, shown in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s, in which a talkative cat, Charley, advised a young boy, Tony, about everyday safety issues. Along with my fellow generation of young things, I learnt not to go off with strangers, never play with matches, and beware the dangers of tables. Sadly, these days charlie usually advises me to do all of the above.

The voice of the incomprehensible ginger tomcat was supplied by Kenny Everett, while the boy was voiced by the child of one of producer Richard Taylor’s neighbors. The Charley says… animations were so popular that they were voted the UK’s favorite Public Information Film, and came in at number 95 in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Cartoons in 2005.

More miaows of wisdom from Charley, after the jump…

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David Bowie performs on ‘The Kenny Everett Show’

Those lucky enough to grow-up in Blighty during the 1970s will remember the joys of The Kenny Everett Show (aka The Kenny Everett Video Show), with its mix of anarchic comedy, essential music, and heavily suggestive dancing from those naughty bods, Hot Gossip. The show was a must for those of a punk sensibility, who were bored with Top of the Pops and its hideous preference for anodyne, day-time television music from The Nolans, 5000 Volts and Paper Lace.

Everett’s show was outrageous, unpredictable and guaranteed to delight. A comedy genius and a brilliant radio DJ, Everett started on Pirate Radio before being chosen by The Beatles to cover their US tour. He joined the newly formed Radio 1 in 1967 and became famous for his incredible radio shows, where he multi-tracked himself in sketches and songs, creating his own distinct and unforgettable comedy.

In the 1970s, Everett helped launch Queen’s career by pushing for the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he played a demo of the song 14 times on one program. Indeed he had a very close friendship with Freddie Mercury, until they fell out over cocaine. Everett, as radio pal Paul Gambaccini once said, lived an interesting life with his drugs, bondage, 2 husbands, classical music and hoovering. But it was his unforgettable TV show which I will certainly always be grateful.

One of his most memorable guests was David Bowie. Here the Thin White Duke performs “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Space Oddity”. Now how fab is that?

“Boys Keep Swinging” from The Kenny Everett Show 1979

“Space Oddity” from The Kenny Everett Show 1980
With thanks to Alan Shields

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Germaine Greer in ‘Darling, Do You Love Me?’

Before writing her revolutionary feminist text The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer tried her hand at becoming a TV personality. In 1967, she briefly appeared alongside Michael Palin and future Goodies, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie in Twice a Fortnight. She then co-hosted the comedy series Nice Time in 1968, with DJ Kenny Everett and Jonathan Routh. Alas, neither made her a star.

In 1968, Greer also starred in this odd little film, Darling, Do You Love Me?, written and directed by Martin Sharp. In it, Germaine played an over-bearing, vampish female, who demands of a rather sappy, little male, “Darling, do you love me?” After much shaking, cajoling and strangulation from Greer, the man eventually says, “I love you,” and dies.

What are we to make of this? How love makes us needy? Or, perhaps, the old adage, if at first you don’t succeed..? For Greer did try and try again, until writing her landmark book. No more TV comedy after that, though she did pop-up in George (007) Lazenby’s 1971 movie, The Universal Soldier.  One can only wonder what would have happened if Nice Time had been a hit.

With thanks to Ewan Morrison

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