Tag Archives: sexual

Sexism on a small Italian island in 1998

Fourteen years ago, on 30th June 1998,  I was on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with an Italian man whose autobiography I eventually failed to write. Pantelleria is known by some Italians as “the black pearl of the Mediterranean” because it is simply an island of solid black lava. They think it is romantic; I thought it was just plain barren.

The nickname I have given the man I was attempting to write the book with is Ozymandias; all the other people’s names have been changed too. Ozymandias was accompanied by his teenage son and daughter. There, too, was an American woman called Christina. This is what I wrote in my diary at the time:

__________

Apparently Pantelleria was the island of Venus and Christina is sure there must have been lots of priestesses here. Christina is very thin, a bit gawky and has an unfortunate look in her eyes that gives me the general impression she would be at home in some Calfornian religious cult, perhaps believing that Atlantis was destroyed by its nuclear-powered crystals.

Over dinner, she was a bit disappointed to learn from Ozymandias that Pantelleria was never connected to Africa or Sicily: it is just a straight-up volcanic pillar.

Ozymandias explained to her that he could not afford to take his children off on a beach holiday anywhere because it would cost $4,000, so he had thought up the idea of working on Pantelleria to get free hotel accommodation every summer and take his children along. Christina told me she thought it was nice he kept his children involved.

A few minutes later, there was an emotional argument over the meal (a complete mystery to me, as it was all in Italian), with Ozymandias’ daughter bursting into tears after words with her father. Ozymandias told me that it was all about how he wasn’t allowed to criticise his daughter for her dress or when she could stay out, yet she felt he had to ask permission from her to go anywhere. Later, Christina – who speaks Italian and whom Ozymandias calls Chrissie, possibly to annoy her – told me the daughter had been saying she felt sad and unwanted because Ozymandias was out all day and she was left alone. (The brother and sister, not abnormally for teenagers, don’t pal-up together.)

Continuing the meal, Ozymandias explained to Christina (in English, which his children slightly but do not fully understand) that he hates all women and the more his daughter grows into a woman the more he grows to hate her. The trouble, he explained, is that he only meets the sort of women who are no use to him. He only meets women who are interested in him intellectually and who are quite intelligent. These are exactly the women who do not know how to cook, look after homes and look after children, which is what he needs. He said the only relationship that works is one in which each person ‘pays’ something to the other because you have to get something out of it.

At the end of the meal, Christina and I were left alone. She told me she felt sorry for the daughter but reckoned the son must be more screwed-up because his father was his role model. She said she could not understand why Ozymandias had ever had children.

I said it was because, in his eyes, that is what men do.

Christina wondered what on earth Ozymandias’s mother must have been like to him for him to hate women so much. She also spotted that Ozymandias had “a lot of knowledge but no heart” and, rather worryingly, added, “although he is obviously very sensitive”. This is true, but possibly a dangerous avenue of thought for any woman to go down where Ozymandias is concerned.

Rather oddly, she wondered if I had anywhere I ‘went’, if I was writing his autobiography and lived through all of this.

“Surely,” she said, “you have to go outside occasionally and just scream?”

I said I’d had to deal with a lot of supposedly difficult entertainers and performers so it was, pretty much, water off a duck’s back. Also, I have never been the object of any of his diatribes. Ozymandias was unusually ratty tonight but usually his anger and violence is turned inwards.

I also mentioned that an Italian friend, when I told her about Ozymandias, said all Italian men were like this. Christina said, “Oh no, nothing like what I’ve just seen”. (And what she’d seen was Ozymandias being relatively low-key and restrained.)

Christina said it was ironic that Ozymandias was on the Island of Love.

I think this idea she has of volcanic Pantelleria being the island of Venus is mildly off-the-wall, but at least she’s an American who understands irony, so I should be thankful for small mercies.

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Gay American comic would steal babies

Mike Player: the shock of the funny gays revealed in the US

(This was also published on the Indian news website WeSpeakNews)

The 5th annual Outlaugh Comedy Festival – America’s first gay and lesbian comedy festival – is currently being held in Los Angeles and lasts for another two weeks.

Mike Player wrote the book Out on the Edge: America’s Rebel Comics. He created and organises the Outlaugh Festival.

I asked him how and why it started.

“I lost my mind,” he told me, “which is the only way to get anything done in the U.S. At the time, America had no national queer comedy festival and we (the comedians) were all tired of things like Gay Tuesday Night at Mongo’s Steakhouse. We wanted something that actually meant something.”

I have been to Los Angeles but not San Francisco. I think of the West Coast as being fairly laissez-faire and (in the British use of the word) liberal, but Mike tells me is was not easy for gay comedians even eight years ago:

“In 2004, my comedy group, The Gay Mafia, got kicked out of a club in Hollywood. We were doing a sketch where two retired Navy SEALs were getting married. The straight club owner had a brother who had died in Iraq and he said that portraying Navy SEALs as gay was deeply offensive to him and that he would pull the light cords out if we did the sketch. So, naturally, we did the sketch. We sold out the house and he was too busy helping sell drinks at his bar to pull the plug. But he kicked us out afterwards.”

So gay comedy was not totally accepted even eight years ago?

“I can tell you,” Mike says, “that The Gay Mafia, was reviewed by the LA Weekly without them mentioning that anything we did in the show had any gay content or that the show was gay at all. I heard the reviewer only showed up for the free meal.

“But,” Mike admits, “there was no real resistance to the idea of starting a gay comedy festival. No-one resisted except, oddly, the queer TV and film companies, though we conquered them in the end. The place you find the haters hating Outlaugh is on Netflix where they write homophobic reviews of our movie and TV show.”

Because the even more admirable thing – to me – is that Mike managed to get a movie made about the first Outlaugh and then an 8-part TV series The Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack. I asked him How come?

“I financed the movie with my own money,” he told me, “which is amazing because I didn’t have any money! But it made all its investment back. With the TV show, for once, I was in the right place at the right time. We had Margaret Cho hanging out with The Gay Mafia and everyone in America worships celebrity more than Jesus. All you have to do is spoon cat food onto a dish in a commercial and people will treat you like you captain a spaceship.

“I was on a conference call with the folks at MTV’s LOGO network and Margaret Cho and my production company associates and we all listened in sad horror while a network executive sniveled and begged Margaret to do anything and be on any shows in addition to Outlaugh.”

“During the production of our TV series Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack, conference calls happened every day with the production company I worked with, myself as the artistic director, the network and what they call ‘listeners’ who are opportunistic network assistants who actually spy on conversations for some network reason – probably to take over the country. LOGO and other networks have to hear a celebrity commit to a project to prevent celebs from backing out. People have to sign agreements and swear on the Bible – or just the parts that don’t condemn gays.

“Just like straight people, though, queer people in entertainment are mostly out for themselves. In TV and film, it’s all about whose project something is, rather than the merit of the project. I had film people and TV ‘suits’ fighting over who should get credit over what, more than how to make the idea of Outlaugh good. I had to make sure Outlaugh was good myself.”

Even today, Mike tells me, gay comedy in the US is not totally acceptable.

“A lot of the comedy clubs out here,” he says, “have ‘gay nights’ on non-weekend nights and many advertise the comedians as Some Gay and Some Not to get people to attend. I think that’s bullshit. Imagine advertising a ‘black comedy night’ with Some Black and Some Not. There is a sentiment which is fading away that ‘gay comedy’ is not accessible to everyone. Again, bullshit.”

In my British Islander ignorance, I think of San Francisco as being more gay and Los Angeles less so, but Mike tells me I am wrong:

“LA is actually gayer,” he says. “There is more gay theatre and comedy going on here than in San Francisco. I think because all the closet cases finally came out and because it’s chic to be gay now. I wish John Travolta would realize that.”

Inbrook, the New York based entertainment company for which I am a UK consultant, is in discussion about bringing Outlaugh to Britain.

Mike says: “I would steal babies for that to happen!”

“But,” I asked him, playing devil’s advocate: “why should the UK have a gay comedy festival? Isn’t that ghetto-ising gays?”

“No,” he argues. “It’s centralizing gays. There are gay film festivals and gay pride festivals and gay political organizations. Comedy is another major art form that we can rally around to tell our stories and assert our outrage.”

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The Green Party diversifies into comedy Newspeak & Doublethink over women

Lindsay Sharman tries out diversity

(This also appeared in The Huffington Post)

In her blog yesterday, 2010 Funny Women Awards finalist Lindsay Sharman wrote:

____________________

A chap from The Green Party contacted me last week to offer me a 10 minute slot on a bill headlined by Alistair McGowan, for a Green Party fundraising event. I accepted, and we started exchanging e-mails to finalise details.

This morning, I received this –

Hi Lindsay,

I’m really sorry but I am going to have to withdraw our offer. It’s nothing personal, I was asked if I could increase the diversity of comics on the night. So we’ve got a 63 old transexual comic instead of a second female artist. Sorry you have been usurped in this case for a transexual

Best Regards,

Chris

____________________________________________________________________

I am a great admirer of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, especially the Appendix – on The Principles of Newspeak – which is why I have always been extremely opposed to so-called “positive discrimination”. It is pure Orwellian Doublethink. There is no such thing as “positive” discrimination; it is simply discrimination… It is an attempt to prevent discrimination by discriminating… Pure Doublethink.

The Green Party has managed to mess up their gig – and their PR – on all fronts. They had a good female comic in Lindsay Sharman. They then bizarrely tried to make the bill more ‘diverse’ by getting rid of not one of the male comics but one of the two female comics on the bill. AND they managed to belittle the (extremely good) transsexual comic (whom I know and admire greatly) by treating her as if she is not a woman but a separate ‘quota’.

As comic Karen O. Novak said, when hearing about this, the Green Party thought it had “achieved ‘diversity’ by replacing a white female comic with… a white female comic”.

Comic Charmian Hughes said: “I think the Green Party insulted both comics! They insulted the trans-sexual comic even more than the person they cancelled! I think it was actually more insulting to her than to Lindsay!!!”

Women have it bad enough already without the Green Party muddying the waters.

Janey Godley, a superb comic and possibly the best all-round creative I have ever encountered, tells me: “There is a booker in northern England who won’t have women on the bill… and I have had bookers say to me Sorry – We had a woman before and they were shit.”

Comedian Kate Smurthwaite tells me: “A London promoter once said to me: I can’t book you that week, Kate – I’ve already got Angie McEvoy on the bill and you’re too similar. Anyone who has seen both our acts would know we are very different in terms of style and content. The only obvious thing we have in common is gender.  Five minutes later, in the same conversation, the promoter said: I do want to book you, though, cos I think you’re really pretty – Do you want to come for a drink with me?

Comedian Laura Lexx tells me: “I have been introduced as The very pretty young lady Laura Lexx, which obviously doesn’t make an audience think particularly highly of you… but I very rarely gig on bills with other women outside of London so I suppose it often feels like it’s a ‘one in one out’ system for ladies and bills.”

Kate Smurthwaite tells me: “I once saw a male promoter say, as a female comic left the stage: I normally kiss the female acts, but I won’t kiss her. Then he said: If you want to drink alcohol, use the bar downstairs but (pointing at a busty woman in the front row) if you want to drink milk – ask her.”

Lindsay Sharman tells me: “A West Country promoter once introduced me to the stage with I only gave her this gig cos I fucked her! (I certainly hadn’t) and then mimed humping me from behind.”

But the sexism is not even restricted to men. Another female comic said to me: “CSE, who book gigs for the British Army, rarely book women – maybe one every four years – and they have a sexist website where all the men hold mics and the women are sexy dancers – and it’s women who run it!”

Lindsay Sharman used yesterday’s Green Party PR own-goal as part of her comedy act last night. “But,” she told me, “one of the other comics actually thought I was making it up, as the crassness of Sorry you have been usurped in this case for a transexual just sounds too unreal, like a shit punchline.”

I guess it is a bit like writing fiction. Novelists have told me they can’t write the actual truth because it’s so utterly OTT no-one will believe it. People will only believe the truth if it is watered-down. In comedy, I think people have a tendency to believe the made-up bits if they are skilfully interwoven and think the real bits are made-up because they are just too incredible.

Like this case in point.

The Green Party ‘diversifies’ into comedy Newspeak & Doublethink over women.

You could not make it up.

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Why I am very confused about gay sex

So, as promised, after my blogs about drink and drugs… sex.

Gay sex

Last week, someone was telling me about a friend of theirs (whom I have never met) who thinks she is gay but is not absolutely certain.

This always comes as a mystery to me.

I don’t understand how people can be confused about their own sexuality.

If you are a man and you get a hard-on looking at some boy band perform then, I would say, you should know you are gay.

If you also get a hard-on looking at a bouncy girl band, then the odds are that you are bi-sexual.

If you only get a hard-on looking at a bouncy girl band, you are heterosexual.

It seems easy enough to me.

I have never got a hard-on looking at any other male except, of course, Basil Brush.

The red fur. The voice. The bush.

I am not gay, but I dream of the fox.

Knowing if you are gay should be, I would have thought, easy.

Apparently I am wrong.

Knowing if someone else is gay, of course, is another matter and is the reason I am writing this blog, because I was told things about two showbiz people’s sexuality last week that made my figurative jaw hit the floor.

Of which more later.

I once worked with someone at London Weekend Television who appeared to be gay. When he arrived, everyone assumed he was but not with 100% certainty. Eventually, the uncertainty became too much for one production secretary who asked him outright.

He said he was not at all gay, but he had worked with so many gay men in the theatre and in TV Entertainment that their campness had, as it were, rubbed off onto him. He was not gay but he was slightly camp.

This was all the easier to understand because, at the time, there was a legendary and wonderful associate producer at LWT called Michael Longmire (now dead) who had such a camp voice, speech pattern and general demeanour that it was almost impossible to be in the room with him for more than four minutes without lapsing into his style.

“My deeeeear!” you would find yourself saying, “How could anyone POSSibly wear those two colours together. I mean, my deeeeah, it’s imPOSSible, just imPOSSible!”

He was a joy to work with because you could not POSSibly feel anything other than – well – uplifted in his presence.

Ooh matron.

He was born to work in Entertainment.

Campness and gayness, of course, are slightly different. Michael was both. The other person at LWT was slightly camp but not at all gay.

When I was at LWT, roughly the same production teams worked on the TV series Game For a Laugh and Surprise Surprise. Both were high-rating peaktime family shows.

I remember a humorous item was filmed for Surprise Surprise which included the ever-cuddly gay co-presenter Christopher Biggins being involved in a nude male centrefold photograph. The item was never screened because, after a long discussion, it was felt that the final edited item came across as too sexual for an early-evening ITV slot. It felt slightly tacky in a sexual way, not mass-appeal downmarket in a camp way.

Discussion rambled to a similarly sexually risqué item which had been shot on Game For a Laugh with co-presenter Matthew Kelly, who was also gay (although I am not sure if he had ‘come out’ at that point). The item had been transmitted without any problem on Game For a Laugh.

The conclusion reached and the reason for not screening the Surprise Surprise item was that, in an almost indefinable way, Christopher Biggins came across on screen as gay and Matthew Kelly came across as camp.

In family peaktime TV in the mid-1980s, gay was not totally acceptable but camp was, as it has always been a strong and totally accepted element in British entertainment.

Of course, it does not matter a… toss… if you are gay or not. But it seems to me slightly strange when people do not know if they are gay.

The difference between gay and camp I can understand though, logically, their acceptability should not differ. That too is slightly strange.

But to me much stranger still, in this day and age, is if someone pretends to be straight when they are gay or – even more bizarre – vice versa.

Of course, back in the Stone Age, when male (but not female) homosexuality was illegal, gay showbiz people had to stay in the cupboard or be arrested. But why bother now?

Michael Barrymore (before the swimming pool incident) damaged his career slightly  – not by being gay but by lying and saying he was not gay. He worried that his mums & grannies fanbase would not accept it; but he was wrong.

On the other hand, I suppose if ‘the’ famous Hollywood star whom everyone knows about really is gay, it might damage the credibility of his romantic scenes with female co-stars.

But John Barrowman in Doctor Who and Torchwood is totally accepted as a dashing, rather macho action hero; he is even seen as a heart-throb in a strange hetero way.

The two things which shocked me last week were both about men who were stars in their heyday, which has now passed, but they are both still living.

One I suppose I can understand. He was a rough, tough, macho action star in a classic TV series – much in the John Barrowman mode – and apparently he was camp as a row of tents (although he married).

Perhaps he was right and the public at that time would not have accepted him; it was slightly before the Game For a Laugh/Surprise Surprise incident, but only very slightly.

The other case is more bizarre, happened in roughly the same period as the height of the action star’s fame and in the same period as the Game For a Laugh/Surprise Surprise discussion. And it does my head in trying to understand the logic.

This second guy was a fairly prominent Light Entertainment star in the mid-1980s whose entire success was built round a gay persona. My dear, everyone knew he was camp as a row of tents. His every action screamed it out. His selling point was his campness. His entire act was his campness.

Except, apparently, he wasn’t and isn’t.

Apparently he was and is 100% heterosexual. Not gay. Not bi. Totally 100% heterosexual.

I had heard this before but could scarcely believe it. But apparently it is true. Why on earth he made this bizarre career choice at a period when there was a slight residual danger in being gay I cannot get my mind round at all. I know of one very major piece of damage which was inflicted on his career because his perceived gayness.

The act was not gay. It was screamingly, traditionally camp. But camp to such an extent he was assumed to be gay at a time when gay men (unlike John Barrowman today) were not going to be considered for definitively hetero roles.

Why did he decide to adopt the persona?

I cannot begin to fathom it.

As I say, there was one spectacular own goal as a result of it, which severely damaged his career.

I would say who he is except that, if he wants to pretend he is in the cupboard when he never had the key, who am I to ‘in’ him. Or whatever the appropriate phrase is.

What is the phrase?

I am totally confused.

Generally.

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The death of a UK boxer linked to the sadistic murders of prostitutes by serial killer ‘Jack the Stripper’

I missed the 2008 movie The Bank Job when it was released in cinemas, but saw it on TV last night. It is about the 1971 robbery of the safety deposit vault at Lloyds Bank in Baker Street, London, and is allegedly based on a true story that one of the safety deposit boxes contained sex pictures of Princess Margaret (who is oddly never named in the film). Whether it is true or not I have no idea.

But the combination of seeing The Bank Job last night and the sad death of boxer Sir Henry Cooper yesterday reminds me of the story about British boxer Freddie Mills which I have heard for the last fifteen years from unconnected people in both the boxing and crime worlds.

The story is that Freddie Mills, a former World Light Heavyweight boxing champion who appeared in two Carry On films and many TV entertainment shows – he was the Frank Bruno of his day – was also a serial killer nicknamed Jack The Stripper who murdered six or possibly eight prostitutes between 1959 and 1965.

A 1969 novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square was loosely based on the case and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 movie Frenzy was loosely adapted from the book.

On 24 July 1965 Freddie Mills was found shot through the right eye in his Citroen car, parked in a cul-de-sac behind his nightclub The Nite Spot in Charing Cross Road, London. He was said to have shot himself inside the car with a .22 fairground rifle borrowed from a friend who ran a shooting gallery. The Coroner’s Court brought in a verdict of suicide. His family never accepted the verdict.

In 1991, Tony Van Den Bergh published Who Killed Freddie Mills? which brought up the Jack the Stripper story.

In 2001, former London crime figure Jimmy Tippett Jnr was reportedly writing a book which claimed Freddie Mills was Jack the Stripper and killed himself because the police were likely to arrest him.

In his 2004 book Fighters, James Morton concluded that Freddie Mills had killed himself because he was depressed and was convinced the Kray Twins were about to kill him.

In 2006, David Seabrook published Jack of Jumps which deduced that Freddie Mills was not Jack the Stripper.

The story I heard in the mid-1990s and over the years from multiple separate sources was that Freddie Mills was Jack the Stripper and – because the worlds of crime and boxing are inextricably intermingled in the UK and there is a crossover between crime and showbiz in Soho – he was known by crime figures to be the killer. It was said that, at the point of sexual climax, he was known to lose control of his violent inner self.

The police did not have enough evidence to arrest him, so those crime figures killed Freddie Mills. The police knew or suspected this was the case but, because of the Jack the Stripper background, did not pursue any investigation; they figured justice had been done. As the Coroner’s Court had decided the death was suicide, there was no need to investigate.

In 1999, I had a chat with Brian J Ford, first British President of the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, specifically to ask him about the Freddie Mills ’suicide’ story. Shortly after Freddie Mills’ death in 1965, he had written an article for the Sunday Mirror, pointing out the complete lack of any psychological profile for a suicide.

In a 1965 interview with ITN, boxing promoter Jack Solomons said of Freddie Mills: “He would never accept defeat… I would assume that he had no enemies in the boxing game – what he did outside of that in his after boxing life, that I couldn’t say.”

One very unusual detail in this alleged ‘suicide’ was that Mills had his right eye open when the bullet hit it. Usually, people close their eyes as the trigger is pulled.

Professor David Wingate, resident medical officer at Middlesex Hospital the night Mills’s corpse was brought in, carried out an examination on the body and was convinced that someone had taken the gun off Mills and shot him with it. He was not called to give evidence at the Coroner’s inquest.

Brian J Ford told me he had also looked in detail at the alleged ‘suicide’ weapon and concluded that it was physically impossible for Freddie Mills to shoot himself seated in the back of that type of Citroen in the way that he was shot with a gun which was too long to manipulate through 180 degrees. There were also signs of a violent struggle before the alleged ‘suicide’ took place in the back seat. Brian did not go for the Jack The Stripper angle and just believed Mills, as a boxer, was involved with criminal types who shot him for unknown reasons.

But the story refuses to go away.

I heard it again last year.

It may be an urban myth.

It may be the truth.

That’s the ironic thing about the real world. You can never be absolutely certain what’s true and what’s not.

There is a BBC TV documentary about Freddie Mills here on YouTube in which Scotland Yard’s ‘Nipper’ Read, who investigated the case, says he believes Freddie Mills killed himself, but Mills’ family still dispute the ’suicide’ verdict; towards the end, there is also a reconstruction of how not to shoot yourself in the head with a fairground rifle in the back seat of a Citroen.

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