Channel 4’s Gay Season

 
This weekend, part of my TV viewing revolved around Channel 4’s Gay Season. In 1967, the Homosexual Reform Act was passed, decriminalising homosexual acts in private between two adult men aged 21 and over in England and Wales. To mark the 40th anniversary, dramas and documentaries revolving around gay issues are being screened.
 
A Very British Sex Scandal kicked off the season, and what a moving viewing experience this turned out to be. In January 1954, Peter Wildeblood, the newly-appointed diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail, was arrested for homosexual offences. His crime? Having consensual sex with an adult male. Back then, it was against the law. Alongside him in the dock were Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, a 28-year-old aristocratic socialite, and Michael Pitt-Rivers. All three ended up serving time in prison. Set against the backdrop of the famous Wolfenden Committee (their resulting Report paved the way for decriminalisation), this high society court case scandalised and electrified the nation, but it also changed the course of British history. 
 
Using a combination of period dramatisation and real-life testimony from gay men who lived through that era, the film graphically conveyed the reality and consequences of being gay at a time when it was illegal and, in addition, believed to be a contagious disease or a perversion that could be cured with electric shock treatment or a lobotomy. Wildeblood’s story was sympathetically recounted, but it was the little everyday details from the contributors that struck home more powerfully: anonymous sex (no names given) to avoid blackmail and reduce the risk of getting caught; burning mementoes and love letters so that they wouldn’t be found by family or the police; getting snared by ‘agents provocateurs’, undercover officers acting as gay men; the joy (still so apparent after all these years) one couple felt at an aspect of the Act’s passing; they could finally throw out their single beds and buy a double one together. Very poignant.
 
Conversely, Clapham Junction was a mixed experience. A much-hyped drama from writer Kevin Elyot, it’s the centrepiece of Channel 4’s Gay Season.  A one-off contemporary drama of interweaving stories involving several gay men, it depicted the closet, discrimination, prejudice and violence. We all know that there are still gay men struggling with their identity, gay men who get assaulted, gay men who constantly have to deal with homophobia, but where were the positive gay stories? Even one would’ve been welcome. And considering that this was called ‘Clapham Junction’ and not ‘Isle Of Skye’ – where were all the ethnic minorities?
 
Despite impressive performances from a sterling cast (including former EastEnder Paul Nicholls and Maurice stars James Wilby and Rupert Graves), the writing was clichéd and weak in places. Some of the characters sorely lacked depth, consequently, not all the elements worked. It made for disjointed, frustrating viewing. What’s more, it put me in mind me of a 1970s ‘BBC Play For Today’ rather than a dynamic Channel 4 noughties offering. Above the stereotypical ‘gays as sexual predators’ and ‘gays as hedonistic druggies’, two strands stood out: the queer basher played by Paul Nicholls (was he a self-loathing gay man?) and the 14-year-old boy who seduced his 29-year-old neighbour (was he a convicted paedophile?). Both of these elements were graphic, disturbing and thought-provoking. Shame about the rest of it.
 
Finally, something that made my mouth drop so far on the floor, my tongue could’ve vacuumed the carpet. Jean Genet‘s 1950 film Un Chant d’Amour is only 26 minutes long. While Hollywood was making Father Of The Bride with Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy, Genet told an erotic story about a voyeuristic, sadistic prison guard who spies on his sexually frustrated inmates, even when they masturbate. Amongst them, two men unable to consummate their love who express it via other means: sharing cigarette smoke via a straw poked through a hole, knocking on the wall to each other etc. Unbelievably beautiful imagery. 
 
Talking of which, we’re so used to the camera lingering on women’s breasts and hips that Un Chant d’Amour’s celebration of the male body and male sexuality is an eye-opener: stroked and fondled semi erect penises, ripped torsos, bulging biceps all filmed in stunning close-ups and soft lighting. A silent film made in black and white, it was so far ahead of its time that it still has the power to astound today. Poetic, lyrical and unforgettable.
 
Today I am mostly lovin’ – Corrie legend Vera Duckworth. I’ll cherish every appearance until she goes. 
 
Today I am mostly hatin’ – The fact that I didn’t win the lottery.
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5 Responses to Channel 4’s Gay Season

  1. Carlton says:

    its wrong and you know it god help you all SICK.  

  2. Coops - says:

    I don\’t care if it\’s right or wrong; live and let live is my philosophy. If the world was more tolerant, we wouldn\’t be in such a mess. Then again, maybe it would be a better place if women were in charge…

  3. Laura says:

    That\’s the problem with the world now, too many narrow minded people who are so prejudiced and entangled in their own views that they don\’t have the ability or intelligence to comprehend that it\’s a case of different strokes for different folks. If it\’s not for you then fine but that doesn\’t make those who prefer the same sex \’sick\’. As editor says, live and let live. Just for the record, people like (no name) make me SICK.

  4. Eddie says:

    Liked your write up but you didnt include the other programme they showed that sparked the real controversy on the channel 4 forums concerning Clive and his coming \’out\’. With this week being sexual health week in the UK its a time to reflect on our promiscous behaviour to ensure we are protecting ourselves and our partners. What also Channel 4 failed to take account of and demonstrate are the thousands of people, normal guys, who are not out. Mr (no name) – next time you are with a group of male friends, take a look around you and just wonder how many of them are Gay/Bisexual? If they were open and honest you would be suprised. But hey, maybe they are like me and the thousands like me who are married and not telling the world we are gay. We carry on leading our secret lives as to come \’out\’ would lead to persecution by homophobic people within the community. I recently did a search on my small town in the midlands on a popular gay site – there were over 1000 people registered on the site. This from a place where the local council wont allow us a sex shop and where the police deliberately set out to arrest people minding their own business in woods and cars at hidden places. We still have to use such places because you cant open a health club as the council would frown upon mens helath clubs being in the town.
     
    A question – since the law changed – have the CRB records been altered to withdraw the offences that are no longer illegal – no.

  5. Coops - says:

     Hi Ed, the programme you\’re referring to – was it called Queer As Old Folks? If so, I did watch but again, found it a frustrating viewing experience. The segment involving the two old geezers tying the knot was rather sweet I thought. However the parts revolving around Clive – hmmmm. It appeared to me as if this Channel 4 programme was pandering to gay stereotypes yet again. A man coming out, after so many years in the closet, who made up for lost time with rampant, and at times risky, sex? Nice bit of sensationalisation. Of course, there are some gay people who may choose to do this, but I do feel that balance was sorely needed. Overall, the Channel 4 season was very disappointing. 
    With regard to your own personal status as closeted, don\’t take this the wrong way, but men like you are my biggest fear. A friend of mine was involved with a man who, after 7 years, revealed that he was gay. She was devastated. To cut a long story short, it really hurt both of them. An absolutely desperate situation. I hope you can eventually find the climate to be truthful about who you really are. 

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