Just looking at the venues in this guide is pretty well a dead giveaway for its year of publication. By the mid-80s, the Roman Baths, 253 Baths, Club 80, the Apollo Bar and Flo’s Palace had closed. Flo’s was to become the Hellfire Club, then the Den Club – both incarnations as men’s sex-on-premises venues. Patchs became DCM. The Link also closed around the same time. KKK Baths closed on 20 May 2012, having opened in 1972. The Exchange Hotel closed in 2015. The Midnight Shift (previously Tropicana) became Universal in 2018. DCM closed around 2009. The Unicorn, The Oxford, The Flinders and The Beresford have undergone a number of incarnation over the decades. The Albury closed in 2000, and has been reincarnated as retail stores. The “Golden Mile” of gay Oxford St, Darlinghurst is a sad excuse now for what used to be a thriving ghetto. It is now a long string of empty premises featuring For Sale, or For Lease, signs.
Again, the Captain Pickles mentioned in this interview is my Great Grand Uncle, Captain George Rickinsom Swan Pickhills. The misspelling of his surname was common – and evidently infuriated him.
A question asked of me at the Mudgee workshop conducted by Helen McKay, was “Where do you get your folklore?”
Sometimes I take known stories from the universal folklore and adapt them to a local setting. “Swagman’s Stone Soup” is an example. Further to this is the development of stories around a particular Australian theme – bush-rangers. Stories that adapt the history of Outback N.S.W. during the 1870’s-80’s.
The first introduces Silly Billy Brown. He demolishes the family toilet trying to shoot a crow stealing eggs from the chookyard. Billy runs away on a one-eyed horse (at a similar age and time to Sidney Kidman) to become a bushranger but is bushranged by Captain Twilight. They meet up with Captain Daylight and become the Daylight Gang, living at their secret Rocky Billabong Hideout. This is a traditional use of three characters.
Extended stories bring in The Three Troopers: Sergeant Flashman, Trooper O’Kane and Trooper Crump. Mrs Kate Brown, Molly Brown and Miss Elizabeth Goodheart, of Dunlop Station, feature as strong characters. Captain Daylight and Sergeant Flashman compete for the heart of Miss Elizabeth Goodheart.
These characters have their place on a Time Line — from the New Calendar 1752 to the 21st century. It starts in England before the First Fleet: shows the Crimean War, for Sergeant Flashman; the death of Daylight, then follows Silly Billy Brown, who, as William Browne MP, fails in his attempts to get the railway through the Outback. Captain Twilight just fades away, but, there is a link with the present.
At Terrible Tiny Tilpa, Lizard McGinnis, Old George and a smelly swagman provided volumes of information, mystery and unbelievable history, for a similar volume of ale, when I was researching “Around the Pubs” for ABC 2CR.
They took me to a long, low, mud house on the banks of the Darling River to meet first child of Daylight and Elizabeth Goodheart. Miss Day (Captain Daylight’s real surname), never married. The young man she loved and her two brothers died in the horrible mess that was Gallipoli.
She was waiting for the mailman to bring her a telegram from the Queen telling her she was 100 years old.
Don Day is remembered as a dashing bushman, not as a bushranger. He drowned rescuing a woman and her three children. Their horse bolted tipping them into the river. He rescued the people then dived down to cut the horse from the dray. He never came up. The horse did, more dead than alive, but the Great Grey-green Darling River kept Don Day.
After shearing, his friends made a memorial at Daylight Point. It’s a sight that brings tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat. I know, because Miss Dianna took me there.
She sat straight in her side saddle as the horses trotted up a rise overlooking one of the grandest waterholes on the Darling River.
And there it was, a big black billycan on a fire of bronze logs.
It sat on a large flat rook, dragged for miles by bullock team. Engraved into the billy can is:-
“In Memory of Donald Francis Day 1850-1896 — Elizabeth Day, Twilight, Cpt. Rtd. Dianna Day, William Brown, JP Frank Day, Judge Long, Rtd. Gordon Day, Ned O’Kane, Insp.” Little crosses are punched after Frank and Gordon.
“Even Captain Pickles was here. He brought people down from Bourke on the wandering Jane.”
I helped Miss Dianna down. The horses trotted into a small broken-down yard, lush with grass. I made a fire, then filled our billy from the river. We had jolly jumbuck, boiled potatoes, johnnycake and billy tea.
Red cloud bars turned grey. Frogs and night insects started chatting. I dropped another log onto the fire, showering red sparks and stirring the low flames. When I looked up small silver twinkles dotted the sky and Miss Dianna and a curlew were both talking at once.
She told how Aboriginal women saved her life, and her mother’s, when she was born. How, in the 1890 flood, Joey Quartpot rescued them, one by one, in his bark canoe. Of her brothers, young and wild, riding all the way to Sydney to join the Light Horse to fight for King and Country. And her mother, going to live in a flat in Manly where she knitted socks and made Christmas Puddings for the ANZACS, only to die of a broken heart.
The past flickered through the flames, as she went further back to tell about Daylight and Twilight.
She laughed about William Browne MP. “He became rather fat, bald and pompous. But his heart was in the right place. He stuck up for the Outback.”
The tail of the Southern Cross was hanging low over the river. “I come here every year for the morning of the day Dad drowned.” She walked stiffly to the bronze billy can, lifted the lid then pulled the end off one of the logs. It was hollow.
Night melted. The first ray of daylight speared down the long waterhole into the bronze log, striking a large crystal in the bottom of the billy can. A shaft of light shot upwards, through the overhanging coolabah, scaring the hell out of the black and red cockatoos and blinding the last stars.
“Bushranging, booze and battle took the best of our youth, Peter.”
That night gave me the folk lore and a store of stories – fact, fiction and fantasy – to last me a lifetime.
Miss Day received her telegram from the Queen. She rests beside the long, low, mud-brick homestead. No one lives there but, at times, a swagman calls, tidies the garden then disappears towards the Tilpa Pub.
With his blonde surfer-dude locks and fresh-scrubbed complexion, Tab Hunter set female hearts aflutter in the 1950s with hit movies like “Damn Yankees” and “Battle Cry” and records including the chart-topping “Young Love.” No one suspected that Hollywood’s all-American boy was homosexual.
Now Hunter, 84, opens up about his days in Hollywood — from his discovery at age 20 to working with cult filmmaker John Waters — and his private life, including his relationship with actor Anthony Perkins — in the new documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential,” produced by his longtime partner Allan Glaser. The actor will be on hand for a screening and Q&A Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. He spoke by phone from his home in Santa Barbara, California.
You were thrown into movies with no experience. What was the first day on the set like?
The first time was when I tested with Linda Darnell for “Island of Desire,” and I was a nervous wreck. And she pinched me and said, “Relax, I’m good luck for newcomers.” And she was.
You left Warner Bros. after getting roles you didn’t like. Did you regret that move?
Yes, in many respects, and no. Your own freedom and individuality is major. . . . I really wanted out of the studio contract, but at the same time, the security financially was important because I had a mother I had to care for. It was a tough decision to make. I did a couple of movies after that that were all right, and then I did a lot of dreck, mainly for survival.
As a gay man in the 1950s, did you ever think being an actor, in which your life would be so scrutinized, might not be the right profession?
If something would be mentioned, I would just go in the other direction. I wouldn’t confront anything. My sexuality was nobody’s business. The studio never mentioned my sexuality. If they had, I would have freaked out. The only person I ever discussed things with besides Tony [Perkins] was Dick Clayton, my agent.
The movie deals heavily with your relationship with your mother. What did she say when you told her you were gay?
I never told my mother anything. We were driving back from my brother’s funeral up in northern California after he was killed in Vietnam. As we were driving down the coast, out of the blue my mother said, “I never see Tony anymore or hear about him.” And I said, “Well, he’s doing a picture in Thailand.” There was this long pause, and all of a sudden my mother said, “I’ve never been in love.” That was the closest we ever came to saying anything about it.
How did the idea for the documentary come about?
It all started with the book [his 2005 memoir of the same name]. Allan said, “I think you should do a book because I hear someone is going to do a book on you.” I thought, “Who would want to read a book on me?” He said, “You’d be surprised.” I thought about it and decided I’d do it. I figured get it from the horse’s mouth. . . . Then years went by and Allan said, “I think we should do a documentary.”
Warner Bros. considered you for “Rebel Without a Cause.” Did you want to do the kinds of roles people like James Dean were playing?
It was only when I got “Battle Cry” that I realized I wanted seriously to be an actor. . . . I started working with [acting coach] Jeff Corey and doing a lot of live TV, which was a great training ground.
Do you have any favorite co-stars or roles?
I loved working with Geraldine Page, she was one of my favorites. And Natalie Wood, who was like my kid sister. . . . “Damn Yankees” was great because it was my first musical, and I was working with the whole Broadway cast. Live TV was probably the most gratifying for my growth as an actor and a person.
How was working with Sophia Loren?
She was absolutely fabulous. We were working in the heat of the summer in New York City. She had an air-conditioned limo that we would sit in to cool off while we were waiting for a shot. The big record at that time was Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash,” and that was our song. Under all that fire and sex, the great thing I loved about Sophia is that she was so childlike.
And Divine in “Polyester” and “Lust in the Dust”?
That’s one of my favorite leading ladies. I was just done doing a play in Indianapolis or someplace, and John Waters called and said, “I’ve got a script that I’d love you to look at, and it’s a film with Divine.” Then he said, “Before we go any further, how would you feel about kissing a 350-pound transvestite?” And I said, “Well I’m sure I’ve kissed a helluva lot worse.” I read the script and I knew I had to do it because it was such fun. . . . I wanted John to direct our film “Lust in the Dust,” but he said he only does his own stuff. I’d written it and originally it was called “The Reverend and Rosie,” and it was going to be Chita Rivera and myself, but she was tied up on Broadway. And then I wanted Shirley MacLaine, and that didn’t work out. Then Alan said to me, “What about Divine and Lainie Kazan as half sisters?” And I said, “Alan, you’re brilliant.”
Had you had any aspirations to be a singer?
I used to sing in the shower [laughs], and in church I sang in the choir. The only time I had a solo, nothing came out because I was so frightened. When Howard Miller, who was a big disc jockey in Chicago, heard me sing, he said, “Did you ever think about recording?” I said, “I’d love to do that,” so he said, “Let me put you in touch with [record producer] Randy Wood. Randy called me, presented me with a tune called “Young Love.” We went in an recorded it on a Friday, and on Monday morning I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and heard it on the car radio and almost hit a palm tree.
What did you think of your singing voice?
They drowned me in echo and I guess they thought it was all right
What did you think about having all of those female fans swooning over you?
Whenever anybody says to me, “My mother just loved you,” my response is, “Thank her for me because if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have been working.”
Did you ever think your looks were a help or a hindrance to your career?
I wasn’t comfortable in that skin. My comfort zone was being out at the stable. Every free minute I’d be out with my horses. They were my touch of reality in Hollywood. I was just never an out-there kind of guy. I was very shy as a kid. I played the game, but it was difficult.
AnOther traces the history of male icons who have challenged modern tropes of masculinity, from Louis XIV toAndreas Kronthaler
It’s important to note that it’s only within the past few of centuries of western fashion that menswear has become synonymous with the tropes of masculine dress we might think of today. Even this relatively recent history of gender-regulated, pared-down, ostentation-eschewing style has been punctured with numerous anomalies that challenge the norms of said masculine taste standards. Heels, cosmetics, and other accoutrements that often constitute the cultural symbols of femininity have, at various periods, been equally associated with men and masculine ideals. As critics today return to embracing these often-neglected facets of men’s style, and designers from Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood toGrace Wales Bonner turn away from contemporary conventions of masculinity, we explore the appearance ofthe decorated malethroughout history.
Power Heels, Powder and Patriarchy
As is so often the case, one cannot speak about western fashion without mentioning examples outside the Occident. Makeup for men is known to have been prominent throughout the ancient world, with nail varnish being worn by those throughout all ranks of society at least as early as 3000 BCE in Japan and China. Perhaps the best-known example of ancient male cosmetics would be the wearing of eye makeup by the ancient Egyptians, while heels are a comparatively younger affair, worn by men throughout the medieval near east where they had the functional purpose of allowing horse riders to stand up in their stirrups and fire arrows. When these same Persian heels arrived in the court of Louis XIV, their purpose was altogether more decorative. Himself an admirer of this elevated footwear, they came to be known as the “Louis Heel”. The image of the 17th aristocrat is possibly one of the most prominent historical images of the decorated man; alongside heels, they opted for wigs, face powders and other makeup such as artificial beauty spots.
So many of these items were simply not yet strict symbols of femininity. Indeed, far removed from today’s concepts of masculine dress, many of these were as much to do with power and patriarchy as individual expressions of style. It is often cited that the diminutive King Louis took to heels and towering wigs to impart a more “monarchic” height, while it has been observed that it was only due to trends of women imitating men’s fashion that the heel became common amongst both genders. In 18th-century Europe, particularly in England, decoration reached new heights with the “Macaroni”. Macaroni referred to groups of cultured young men whose interest in fashion was seen as excessive. Their hairstyles and powdered wigs, jewellery, attire, makeup and generally “effete” appearance were cause for concern amongst many who felt they were rather too unmanly. It is worth noting, however, that whilst frowned upon and associated with effeminacy, there was not quite the same negative weight to such styles (or indeed to effeminacy) as there later was in Victorian society. Class, however, was heavily at play and while it might be considered acceptable or even suitable for a man of certain social status to sport highly stylised attire, a man of lower rank would not be received as warmly.
Eccentrics and Exiles
There was a notable shift come the Victorian era, one that was particularly visible in Britain. Following some high-profile scandals in the press, attitudes towards gender became markedly less tolerant. In many ways, the late 1800s in particular can be thought of as a cut-off point for the social rules that shaped men’s style – whatever was considered masculine around this period remained so in a manner that had not quite been so rigid previously. This rigidity did not mean that there weren’t several who defied or ignored convention. If fortunate they were classified as eccentrics, as was the case with Henry Cyril Paget, whose elaborate headdresses and bejewelled costumes (which often contained Louis heels), amazed and also horrified many.
Paget, however, had the protections of wealth and status and that often worked to convert perceived queerness into tolerated eccentricity. Others were not so lucky. Even the likes of photographer Cecil Beaton, who was by no means lacking in money and social standing, suffered from the rampant homophobia that suffused the post-Victorian air. At a friend’s ball, he was famously dunked in a fountain by a group of “hearties”, because of his wearing makeup. Similarly, Quentin Crisp’s love of makeup and feminine attire resulted in his being chased through the streets, kicked and beaten. What was certainly apparent by the 1930s was that, in the public consciousness, the image of the decorated man had become consolidated with a vision of femininity and queerness that was violently received.
The Opening and Breaking of Menswear
This consolidation was to have a lasting effect. Vogue ball culture, which emerged from American black drag scenes of the 1930s, is particularly pivotal, in that it shows how queer cultures and groups utilised the negative connotations of the decorative to challenge and undermine the dominant status of masculinity. Elsewhere, counterculture made constant recourse to what had become strictly feminine symbols. With the disco movement, we see men in heels once again, this time in the form of platforms, while the flamboyant impulse was once more loose in the embracing of all the glitter and ornament that have now come to be thought of as “camp”. Similarly, the New Romantic movement which came about almost a decade later is defined by its disregard of the doggedly concrete rules about what men could and couldn’t wear, elevating instead the “excesses” of costume.
Current conversation regarding menswear and cosmetics is becoming increasingly preoccupied with noting the breaking down and opening up of menswear. For many, the mere loosening of men’s fashion is not enough – the very existence of menswear and womenswear as two separate strands, something which is central to the mechanisms of the fashion industry, continues to keep harmful gender norms alive (in spite of the move of some designers, like Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, to do away with such divisions). While designers like Claire Barrow emphasise the essential non-binary nature of their clothes, when it comes to more commercial bodies, such as Selfridges, who recently made the decision to promote gender-neutral clothing with a retail concept space titled ‘Agender’, it can be hard not to suspect the cold machinations of trends and advertising at work. For some, defying dominant gender standards is a choice, but for others, it is a necessity and not something to be left to the mercy of consumerism.
Brent Bozell is one of those right-wingers who has made a career of being indignant at every hour of the day, always on the lookout for an excuse to whine and complain. One of the things that upsets him is that some comic books feature openly gay characters. “The world of comic books has sure changed a lot since we were young,” Bozell wrote in a 2006 column. “Who would have predicted, 10 years ago, that the comics would become a red-light neighborhood where sexually perverted superheroes would be packaged to elicit from children fascination and sympathy?”
Like most professional moralists, Bozell has no real sense of history: he’s a traditionalist with no grounding in the past. If Bozell knew anything about earlier times, he would realize that gays have been portrayed in comics for decades, not just in comic books but even in comic strips that ran in family newspapers.
What could be more wholesome than Mickey Mouse, the big-eared emblem of the Disney empire? Yet a Mickey Mouse comic strip from January 22, 1931 shows the little rodent meeting a big cat who displays all the markers stereotypically given to gay characters during that period: a lisp, a limp handshake, and a general effeminacy of manner (in this case, batting eyelashes). Revealing himself to be not just homophobic but a violent gay-basher, Mickey attacks the big cat.
In the early decades of the 20th century, many cartoonists featured characters that were gay stereotypes: swishy men and butch women. I’ve sprinkled examples throughout this essay. Here are some notes on them (to maximize enjoyment of these images, I suggest clicking on each one):
1. In an April 11, 1925 Wash Tubbs sequence, the hero meets a “girl” who turns out to be Desperate Desmond, a cowboy actor.
2.In a January 11, 1927, Little Orphan Annie strip, the pupil-less waif talks to Miss Brussels, a very manly woman who runs an all-girls schools (which were, in popular folk-lore, places where Sapphic love flourished). “Hm-m-m- Never saw anyone just like that before,” Annie reflects. “Dresses lots like a man, doesn’t she, Sandy?” Like many of the masculine women in Annie, Miss Brussels turns out to be a very bad egg, who mistreats the poor orphan. (Later on in the Cold War era, Annie meets some traitorous State Department diplomats who seemed very effeminate, conforming to the commonly-held notion that gays were more likely to betray their country).
3. A 1930 Sunday page of The Smythes, a domestic comedy drawn by Rea Irwin, the famed cartoonist who was so instrumental in creating the visual ambience of The New Yorker magazine, features a very foppish interior decorator named Mr. Bullfinch.
4.Frank King also used an “interior decorators are gay” gag in a June 06, 1930 Gasoline Alley strip.
5.Terry and the Pirates in the late 1930s, which had a lesbian villain (Madam Sanjak from 1939) and a gay villain Papa Pyzon (in 1936) based on Charles Laughton (who was himself gay and also collected comic strip art). Madame Sanjak specialized in kidnapping and hypnotising young girls, and making them her slaves. For more on these characters see this article.
6. A Spirit story, by Will Eisner, from September 07, 1941 introduces a character named Miss Dorothy Heartbern, who turns out to be a very fey man. Asked to impersonate the Spirit, he says, “The Spirit! Oh! How romantic!! I just love bad men!!” The phrase “a friend of Dorothy” was commonly used to describe gay men in that period.
There are enough of these gay characters that one could easily do an anthology called “The Gay Image In Comics before Stonewall.” The general point to make about these characters is that they are all homophobic stereotypes, although the tone of the representation varies greatly. Sometimes the cartoonists were mildly satirical (as swishy she-men), sometimes melodramatically hostile (as vile seducers of children).
One last point needs to be made: conservatives like Bozell never objected to these gay stereotypes when they flourished in the comics. So what people of this ilk are upset about is not the representation of homosexual per se, but about the fact that gays are increasingly shown in a neutral or favourable light. As long as gays are represented in a homophobic way, Bozell and his political allies would never raise a voice of objection. For the Bozells of the world, it is okay to show gays, as long as you don’t show them as human beings.
Mickey Mouse, Homophobe, sans everything, 16 December 2009, by Jeet Heer
It used to be a tribal signal but as gay style has moved into the mainstream, the look has become harder to pin down. It’s forcing creatives to really push the boundaries if they want to make a statement
When he was studying at Central Saint Martins, London, in the late 00s, Craig Green wrote his dissertation on the adoption of gay style subcultures by straight men. In the preceding decades, perfumed dandies, dilly boys, mods, skins, clones, new romantics, scallies, fierce vogueing divas and muscle Marys had all been sieved out of their natural habitat on to the high street for brief moments of mass consumption. But by the time Green – currently reigning menswear designer of the year at the British fashion awards – was weighing up his thesis, things had changed. The bears – hirsute, gay men – crowded on the dancefloor of London’s XXL nightclub were barely distinguishable from bearded Bon Iver fans.
A reciprocal shared wardrobe, common across menswear emerged. “When I was younger,” says Green, who was born in 1986, “what I thought of as a very gay look was really a metrosexual thing, a bit Italian, clothes a tiny bit too tight, skinny jeans, tanned, tight T-shirt, worked out. Most of the men who dressed like that were straight. Gay men all seemed to be growing beards, too. It was a less specific time. You couldn’t really tell who was who any more. Had we come to a melting point?”
From the vantage point of the DJ booth in the capital’s Horse Meat Disco, Luke Howard has been well positioned to watch the changing appearance of gay men over the past 16 years. He has noticed something similar to Green. “Lads in a straight club in Sheffield or Leeds don’t look that different from an average crowd we get at Horse Meat Disco,” he says. “These days I can barely tell the difference between straight men and gay.”
At the beginning of last year I started writing a book, Good As You, about the mainstreaming of gay pop culture as gay men headed towards complete equality in British law; roughly, a journey from Smalltown Boy to same-sex marriage that felt personal and lived, but would hopefully reflect a wider shift in the country as the gay culture has come into the light. Across the 30 years I looked at (1984-2014), the sheer number and range of signals that gay men sent out through their personal, often tribal, style fitted a wider emerging narrative, reframing the British gay man’s story from victimhood to a kind of valiant heroism. By the time I had finished the book, a moustache was no longer a moustache, it was part of a suit of no-nonsense sex armour.
“Traditionally,” says Tim Blanks, editor-at-large of Business of Fashion, “gay style was about men who took a lot of care and attention about their appearance.” The Beckhamification of culture that begot the metrosexual ended all that. The most popular gay cultural figures in its slipstream were visibly paying less attention to their clobber than the majority. For Blanks, this is even truer of gay cultural figures now. “Where is gay style now concentrated?” he asks. “[Singer] John Grant’s statement is the most chic, stylish and sophisticated art. But it isn’t visual.” Like the musician Perfume Genius, AKA Mike Hadreas, Grant favours contemplation of the interior life over the exterior.
Yet just as the gay scruff-as-cultural-archetype boomed, a raft of new figures emerged, reframing sexuality and style, both in and out of high fashion. Demna Gvasalia (Vetements, Balenciaga) and Alessandro Michele (Gucci) became the most influential designers of their era by taking – respectively – utilitarian street style and ornate embellishment down strange, pleasingly radical avenues, upsetting the strict tenets of buttoned-up, sartorial menswear. Meanwhile, American designer Rick Owens has looked to the brilliantly extreme edges of performance art, taking inspiration from the purposefully surreal, absurdist and unsettling physical disposition of David Hoyle and Christeene Vale. Things have shifted. “Oh, I could look at [queer experimentalist] Arca 24 hours a day,” says Blanks. “He is phenomenal. His look embodies transgression, intellectual depth, incredible provocation and sensuality in exactly the way Bowie’s and Lou Reed’s did when I was teenage.”
For a young breed of designers, a sense of controlled, thrilling outrage – a sense incubated in gay nightlife – is once more tickling the underbelly of fashion. “You have all those children of Kim Jones,” Blanks notes. Jones, head of menswear at Louis Vuitton, made a path from 90s London gay club culture to the apex of men’s fashion. He was a regular at 90s gay clubs from Kinky Gerlinky to Queer Nation, which he has heavily referenced in his collections. Young designers including Christopher Shannon and Bobby Abley have done their own idiosyncratic takes on that journey, too. It’s a path that can work in reverse, too. In their earliest incarnation, Take That, five straight men from the north-west, were styled to catch the eyes of ritzy gay clubbers at La Cage in Manchester.
Another who trod that path was Green, whose richly specific fashion vernacular feels technically in the lineage of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Then there’s JW Anderson’s fruity gender play, putting men in frilly boob tubes and thigh boots during his early years.
As Green was writing his thesis, the young designer Charles Jeffrey was being beaten up in Glasgow for his appearance. An obsessive fan of Southend gothic revivalists the Horrors, he tried to emulate their style on a pocket-money budget. “I wanted the panda eyes and the big black hair but I had to buy winklepickers from Burton and women’s blouses from Primark,” he recalls. Hair was a big thing for Jeffrey, his point of differentiation, the “this is me” moment that many men have traditionally alighted on when they adapt publicly into a chosen gay identity. “I was called a ‘faggot’ and a ‘poof’ for having bright orange hair in what I thought of as really quite an aggressive look. I didn’t see it as being gay at all and I was punched in the face in George Square for it.”
“Gay men have co-opted both masculine and feminine imagery,” says Howard, “in an either/or way as regards their choices of clothes.” This delineation has precedent. “In the late 70s, you had new romantics with their velvet and face powder, which coincided with the clone look – handlebar moustache, muir cap, leather and denim – inspired by construction workers and uniformed personnel.” He thinks the reason these polarities exist might be connected to deeper identity questions. “Boys that grow up to become gay men have often personally experienced or at least witnessed anti-gay bullying, which perhaps then becomes either externalised – I’ll be as flamboyant as I want in my attire and to hell with you all – or internalised: I’ll be more masculine-looking than the most heterosexual men.”
The digital age has complicated personal identity issues for everyone. For many gay men, the closure of bespoke social spaces, as clubs and bars shut up shop, has meant formalising an identity online. “At the Blitz and Taboo,” says Blanks of the legendary London gay clubs, “it was always about not wanting to be stuck at home.” Times change and styles change with them. “Now, it is absolutely all about staying in.” The 2017 gay male archetype could easily be the bearded, topless selfie guy, stomach clenched, puckering up in his bathroom mirror, who routinely clogs the suggestion feeds of gay Facebook and Instagram users.
“What a shame,” Blanks continues. “The notion of community used to be absolute. The internet presents a different sense of immediacy. Your desire is now more important than your style.” In this sense, the most useful arbiter of gay style may be Ernesto Sarezale, the London nightclub fixture who frequently attends, dances and leaves completely naked.
Jeffrey’s Loverboy parties have seen the emergence of a newly radical slant on the club kids who have defined gay culture. “What I love about someone like [Loverboy regular] Harry Charlesworth,” says Blanks, “is that he’s sitting dressed like a southern belle with a hairy chest that Burt Reynolds would be proud of. It’s that visual idea that ties back to the Cockettes.” The revolutionary late 60s/early 70s San Francisco drag ensemble – a template for wild expression – are a touchstone in the gay style story.
“My gay style icon would have to be Sylvester,” says Howard, about the Cockette who broke free from the underground to define the sound, look and spiritual outer edges of disco. “He used his body and the clothes he wore as a way to express his liberation from the oppressive restrictions of heteronormative culture. If only more men, gay and straight, myself included, could be more like him.”
Wardrobe constraints can be further complicated by the thorny issue of sex. “Dress codes are generally about getting laid,” says GQ Style’s editor, Luke Day. “The connecting tissue between all gay subcultures is that you’re generally expressing your sexual preference in some sort of way. We are trying to attract. What we put out there is what we fancy.”
“There are gay men that I like the style of,” says Green. He mentions his former stylist and collaborator Julian Ganio, the fashion director of Fantastic Man magazine. “He wears things really well. It’s quite difficult to look good in denim shorts, a bucket hat and a pair of shearling loafers, but he’s got a magic way of holding himself.”
Ganio himself doesn’t think that gay men’s style has changed much over his time. “It never really does,” he says. “In 30 years’ time, it’s more than likely the leather queens will still wear leather, the bears will wear a plaid shirt and beard and the scallies will wear Reebok Classics with a Ralph Lauren polo shirt.”
Howard thinks the real influence of gay men on mainstream style may not even be on their own kind. “Perhaps, traditionally, gay men have had more time and money to spend on their clothes and bodies, but gay men have arguably had more influence on women’s style and fashion than men’s.” The recent appointment of Edward Enninful as editor of British Vogue would suggest that. As for the question that haunts the debate of gay men and style, Ganio has a simple and succinct answer.
Why are so many gay men designers?
“Because gays are fab,” he says.
Seven key gay styles
Origins: Tom of Finland.
Subcultural habitat: The End-Up nightclub, San Francisco.
Crossover moment: Tom Selleck as Magum PI, the Village People.
The dilly boy
Origins: The rent boys of yore plying their trade at Piccadilly Circus.
Subcultural habitat: Smoking a Virginia Slim louchely under Eros with a Jean Genet paperback.
LONDON >> The former homes of the writer Oscar Wilde and the composer Benjamin Britten are among six sites that were recognized on Friday by an arm of the British government for their significance in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.
Oscar Wilde’s house, 34 Tite St, Chelsea
Historic England, a body that designates places worthy of legal protection, announced the decision, the latest in an effort to showcase “queer history.” Last September, Historic England gave the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a well-known gay pub, a Grade II listing, meaning that it cannot be demolished, extended or altered without special permission.
Similar efforts to recognize gay history are underway in the United States. In June, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, the location of a 1969 police raid and subsequent protest that galvanized the gay rights movement, and surrounding sites a national monument.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said in a telephone interview that the decision was “part of a deliberate policy of looking at what we protect and commemorate by a listing, to see that it is more representative of society as a whole.”
Through a research project called Pride of Place, people have been invited to submit places of importance to gay history, many of them forgotten or obscure. More than 1,600 submissions have come in. The project will in part serve to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales (1967).
Britten House, Lowestoft. Home of the Suffolk born composer, Benjamin Britten.
There are about 500,000 listed buildings in England, of which 2.5 percent are in Grade I, reserved for buildings of “exceptional interest,” like Stonehenge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 5.5 percent are in Grade II*, which covers “particularly important buildings of more than special interest.” The rest are in Grade II.
Of the six sites announced Friday, one is a new Grade II listing: the grave of Amelia Edwards — a writer, musician and founder of Egyptology in St. Mary’s Churchyard, in Bristol. She and her partner, Ellen Braysher, lived in the nearby town of Weston-super-Mare, where Edwards died of pneumonia in 1892, a few months after Braysher’s death.
(The New York Times, which covered a lecture she delivered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1889 on the hidden cities of ancient Egypt, said that an 1875 trip to that country was the “turning point” in her life.)
The Burdett-Coutts Memorial at St. Pancras Gardens in London, was given a higher listing, Grade II*. The memorial commemorates, among others, the Chevalier d’Eon, who was a French spy and diplomat in the 18th century.
A minor aristocrat from Burgundy, the chevalier was sent to Russia as a spy, fought in the Seven Years’ War and helped negotiate the treaty that ended war between Britain and France. The chevalier lived the first part of his life as a man, and the last few decades as a woman; the remarkable story has inspired art, plays and studies.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
The memorial is made of limestone, granite and marble, includes a sundial and is built in the High Victorian style.
The other four properties were given updated descriptions in the National Heritage List for England, the searchable online database that Historic England maintains, to better reflect their significance to gay history.
Two are well-known to arts lovers. One is the house at 34 Tite Street, in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, where Oscar Wilde lived with his wife, Constance Lloyd, and their two children from 1884 until his trial for “gross indecency” in 1895. Convicted of having sex with men, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. The law under which he was convicted was not repealed until 2003. (The house, which has a blue plaque outside, is still a private residence.)
After catching influenza, Edwards died on 15 April 1892 at Weston-super-Mare, having lived at Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol since 1864. She was buried in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Henbury, Bristol, where her grave is marked by an obelisk, with a stone ankh at the foot.
The other is theRed House, in Aldeburgh, a town on the east coast of England. Benjamin Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, lived together there from 1957 until Britten’s death in 1976. (The house, run by the Britten-Pears Foundation, is open to the public.)
The remaining two sites were used by people who had to shield parts of their lives. n West Yorkshire, was the home of Anne Lister, a landowner who kept diaries, part of them in code, about her relationships with women. She lived in the house for several years with her partner, Ann Walker.
Shibden Hall, Halifax
In Chertsey, a suburban town in Surrey, is St. Ann’s Court, which Historic England cited as an example of “queer architecture.” The concrete house, built between 1936 and 1937, was the home of Gerald Schlesinger and Christopher Tunnard, a gay couple who designed their home in response to laws that made homosexual sex a crime, even in the privacy of one’s home.
Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial
The house’s master bedroom could be separated into two, promoting an image to visitors that the two men slept separately. Phil Manzanera, a guitarist with the rock band Roxy Music, later lived in the house.
Harvey Milk and Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County met in September 1978 for a debate at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek over the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have made it mandatory for school boards to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers. The photos were recently found in The San Francisco Chronicle archive by pop culture critic Peter Hartlaub and published for the first time in decades. 📷: John Storey
Australia can’t claim many famous witches but Rosaleen ”Roie” Norton, a talented bohemian painter, adhering to a form of pantheistic / Neopagan witchcraft which was devoted to the pagan god Pan, was known for most of her life as the ”Witch of Kings Cross”.
Rosaleen Miriam “Roie” Norton was born on the 2 October 1917, in Dunedin, New Zealand to Beena & Albert Norton, an English middle class, Anglican family who had moved to the country a number of years before. She was the third of three sisters and her siblings, Cecily and Phyllis, were each over a decade older than her.
When she herself was eight, in June 1925, her family emigrated to Sydney, Australia, where they settled in Wolseley Street, Lindfield. As a child, she never liked being conventional, and disliked most other children, as well as authority figures, including her mother, with whom her relationship was very strained. Her father, who was a sailor, was regularly away from home, although provided enough of an income so that the Nortons were able to live comfortably. Nonetheless, she would later describe her life at this time as being “a generally wearisome period of senseless shibboleths, prying adults, detestable or depressing children whom I was supposed to like, and parental reproaches. Due to this, she kept herself to herself, sleeping not in the house, but in a tent which she pitched in the garden for three years, and kept a pet spider at the entrance which she named Horatius, as well as other pets including cats, lizards, tortoises, toads, dogs and a goat.
She later claimed she was born with certain markings that set her apart as a witch, such as pointed ears, blue markings on her left knee and a strand of flesh that hung on her body.
Norton was enrolled at a Church of England girls’ school, where she was eventually expelled for being disruptive and drawing images of demons, vampires and other such beings which the teachers claimed had a corrupting influence on other pupils. She subsequently began attending East Sydney Technical College, studying art under the sculptor Rayner Hoff, a man who encouraged her artistic talent and whom she greatly admired.
Following her art college studies, Norton set herself up to become a professional writer, with the newspaper Smith’s Weekly publishing a number of her horror stories in 1934, when she was sixteen, after which they gave her the job as a cadet journalist and then as an illustrator. However, her graphic illustrations were deemed too controversial, and she lost her job at the paper. Leaving Smith’s Weekly, Norton moved out of her family home following the death of her mother, and sought employment as an artists’ model, working for such painters as Norman Lindsay. To supplement this income, she also took up other forms of work, including as a hospital’s kitchen maid, a waitress and a toy designer. Meanwhile, she had taken up a room in the Ship and Mermaid Inn, which overlooked Circular Quay, Sydney, where she began reading various books on the subject of the Western Esoteric Tradition, including those on demonology, the Qabalah and comparative religion.
In 1935, Rosaleen met a man named Beresford Lionel Conroy and they married on 14 December 1940, before going on a hitch-hiking trip across Australia, from Sydney to Melbourne, and on through to Brisbane and Cairns. Returning to Sydney, Conroy enlisted as a commando and went off to serve in New Guinea during the Second World War, and upon his return, Norton, who had been forced to live in a stable during this period, demanded a divorce, which was finally settled in 1951. During their marriage, the couple lived at 46 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross in 1943. Now single once more, Norton took up residence in a boarding house known as the Merangaroo in the Rocks area, which she enjoyed for its “eccentric, communal living.”. She began looking for illustration work once more, being employed by a monthly free-thinking magazine known as Pertinent, which had been founded in 1940 and which was edited by the poet Leon Batt. Batt admired Norton’s work, which was being increasingly influenced by pagan themes, describing her as “an artist worthy of comparison with some of the best Continental, American and English contemporaries.”
By the age of 32, she had held an exhibition of her art at the University of Melbourne’s Rowden White Library, where four paintings were removed by the prudish Melbourne police, who argued they were obscene.
Norton was subsequently charged under the Police Offences Act of 1928. At the court case, held in Melbourne’s Carlton Court, she was defended by A.L. Abrahams, who argued that the images in the recently published The History of Sexual Magic, a book that the Australian censors permitted, were of a far more obscene nature than Norton’s paintings. She won the case, and was awarded £4/4/- in compensation from the police department.
While working at Pertinent, she met a younger man named Gavin Greenlees (1930–1983). Greenlees had grown up in a middle-class family where he had developed an early interest in surrealism, and had become a relatively successful poet, having his work published in such newspapers as ABC Weekly and Australia Monthly. By mid-1949, the two had become good friends.
She returned to Sydney in 1951 and settled in Kings Cross, becoming an integral part of the suburb’s bohemian scene. Norton and Greenlees (who had become lovers), moved into the house at 179 Brougham Street. This was in the area known as Kings Cross, which at the time was renowned for being a red light district and for housing many of those living bohemian lifestyles, particularly artists, writers and poets. and mixing with the likes of Dulcie Deamer the ”Queen of Bohemia”, drawing large occult murals. Visitors were greeted with a sign declaring: ”Welcome to the house of ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, witches, wizards and poltergeists.”
The police saw her as a menace and arrested her for vagrancy. When she appeared in court, she was saved from prosecution by Walter Glover, a publisher who employed her and subsequently published The Art of Rosaleen Norton, which ensured her enduring infamy. Glover was charged with the production of an obscene publication and two images had to be blacked out before the book could be sold. Norton was called into court to explain the nature of her works. The judge ruled that two of the images in the book, The Adversary and Fohat, did qualify as being obscene under Australian law, and that they had to be removed from all existing copies of the book. The authorities in the United States were even stricter, and actively destroyed any copies of the book that were imported into their country. The controversy had helped gain publicity for Norton’s work, although the whole affair had bankrupted Glover, and the book’s binder Alan Cross, realising that he would never get paid, was instead given his pick of Norton’s work, for which he chose Fohat
Norton’s reputation as a witch was compounded in 1955, when she was falsely accused of holding a satanic Black Mass. In 1955, a mentally ill vagrant named Anna Karina Hoffman swore at a police officer, and was subsequently charged, but at her trial claimed that her life had fallen apart after taking part in a SatanicBlack Mass run by Rosaleen Norton, a claim which was picked up in by the sensationalist tabloids. Norton, who did not consider herself to be a Satanist but a pagan, denied these claims, and indeed Hoffman later admitted that she had made them up. However, by this time, the press had picked up on the idea of Norton as a devil worshipper, and spun stories around the idea, for instance claiming that she committed animal sacrifice, a practice which in reality Norton abhorred. With this public outcry against her work, the police once more began to act against her and those who supported her. In 1955, they successfully took the proprietor of a local restaurant, the Kashmir, to court, for displaying some of her works publicly.That year the police raided Norton and Greenless’ home, and accused them of performing “an unnatural sexual act”, evidence for which they had obtained in a photograph displaying Greenless in ritual garb flagellating Norton’s buttocks. It was subsequently revealed that the photos had been taken at Norton’s birthday party, and stolen by two members of their coven, Francis Honer and Raymond Ager, who planned to sell it to The Sun newspaper for £200.
The following year, she was caught up in an obscenity scandal surrounding British conductor Sir Eugene Goossens, who was then in Australia and who had an interest in the occult, read a copy of The Art of Rosaleen Norton and decided to write to the artist herself. She invited him to meet her, and the two, alongside Gavin Greenless, became friends and lovers. In March 1956, Goossens was arrested attempting to bring 800 erotic photographs, some film and ritual masks into Australia from London, and was charged under Section 233 of the Customs Act. In court, he pleaded guilty to bringing “blasphemous, indecent or obscene works” into the country and was fined £100. He resigned his positions at both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and returned to Britain, his international career ending in disgrace. Norton’s relationship with Goossens ended, and soon the life that she had held with Greenless also collapsed, as he was admitted to Callan Park Hospital with schizophrenia. She would continue to visit and support him, and in 1964 he was let off on temporary release, but suffered a schizophrenic attack and attempted to kill Norton with a knife before being re-admitted. He would only be discharged permanently in 1983, approximately four years after her death.
Norton openly declared herself to be a Witch. She tried to explain her beliefs to interviewers, emphasising her faith in pantheism. Along with selling her paintings, she was also making charms and casting hexes for people, using witchcraft to supplement her income.
For a short period, Norton moved in to live with her sister Cecily, one of the few family members whom she got on well with, at her flat in Kirribilli, although in 1967 moved back to Kings Cross, taking up residence in a derelict house in Bourke Street, Darlinghurst. She later moved into a block of flats in Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay, accompanied by her pets. Here she began to live a more reclusive and private existence, avoiding the media attention of previous decades.
Although her two main sexual relationships in her life were with men (Gavin Greenlees and Sir Eugene Goossens respectively), Norton was bisexual, and allegedly enjoyed all forms of sexual activity with both men and women, including bondage and sado-masochism. She was also known to enjoy sexual intercourse with gay men, believing that in such situations she could play the active role. She also actively engaged in sex magic amongst her coven, having learned much about it from the writings of Aleister Crowley and from Goossens, who himself had been very much interested in Crowley’s work.Norton died in 1979 from colon cancer at the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying, in Darlinghurst, Sydney, still worshiping Pan; a pagan until her death. Shortly before she died she is reported as saying: “I came into the world bravely; I’ll go out bravely. A plaque dedicated to her has since been installed in Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross.
In December 1982, a play opened at the Tom Mann Theatre in Sydney entitled Rosaleen – Wicked Witch of the Cross, by Barry Lowe. It starred Jane Parker as Norton, Peter Laurence as Glover, Christopher Lyons as Greenlees and Alan Archer as Pan, and was attended by both Wally Glover and Gavin Greenlees themselves. However, according to Nevill Drury, who was invited to the show by Glover, “the play itself had most of the weaknesses of an amateur production – it was unconvincingly acted and was not acclaimed a critical success.
In 1988, the anthropologist Nevill Drury, who had published a number of books on the subject of witchcraft and magic, released a biography of Norton entitled Pan’s Daughter: The Strange World of Rosaleen Norton. This volume was subsequently re-released under the title The Witch of Kings Cross. He later “substantially expanded and reworked” this into a new book titled Homage to Pan: The Life, Art and Sex-Magic of Rosaleen Norton, which was published in 2009. Drury had himself met her only on one occasion, at her apartment in 1977, at a time when she had become somewhat of a recluse.
In 2000, an exhibition of Norton’s paintings was held in Kings Cross, Sydney, organised by various enthusiasts including Keith Richmond, and Barry Hale of the Australian Ordo Templi Orientis. A full-colour catalogue, The Occult Visions of Rosaleen Norton was published to accompany this exhibition.In 2009, Teitan Press published Thorn in the Flesh: A Grim-memoir by Norton, with an introduction by Australian Norton scholar Keith Richmond. The volume comprises poetry (often humorous), reminiscences, and various occult jottings by Rosaleen Norton, with reproductions of two stunning photographs of Norton, as well as some half-a-dozen examples of her art (mainly in color).
In 2012 Norton’s work was including in the major exhibition, “Windows to the Sacred” curated by Robert Buratti, which toured a number of Australian museums until 2016. The exhibition drew together drawings and paintings alongside work by Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, surrealist James Gleeson and many others.
The most fascinating aspect of Polari isn’t so much what we no longer use, as how much we still use both on the scene, and in everyday slang.
Polari (or alternatively Parlare, Parlary, Palare, Palarie, Palari; from Italian parlare, “to talk”) is a form of cant slang used in Britain by actors, circus and fairground showmen, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins, but it can be traced back to at least the nineteenth century and possibly the sixteenth century. There is a long-standing connection with Punch and Judy street puppet performers who traditionally used Polari to converse.
Polari is a mixture of Romance (Italian or Mediterranean Lingua Franca), Romani, London slang, backslang, rhyming slang, sailor slang, and thieves’ cant. Later it expanded to contain words from the Yiddish language and from 1960s drug users. It was a constantly developing form of language, with a small core lexicon of about 20 words (including bona (good ), ajax (nearby), eek (face), cod (naff, vile), naff (bad, drab), lattie (room, house, flat), nanti (not, no), omi (man), palone (woman), riah (hair), zhoosh (tjuz) (smarten up, stylize), TBH (To Be Had, sexually accessible), trade (sex), vada (see)), and over 500 other lesser-known words. According to a Channel 4 television documentary,[which?] there was once (in London) an “East End” version which stressed Cockney rhyming slang and a “West End” version which stressed theatrical and Classical influences. There was some interchange between the two.
Polari was used in London fishmarkets, the theatre, fairgrounds and circuses, hence the many borrowings from Romani. As many homosexual men worked in theatrical entertainment it was also used among the gay subculture, at a time when homosexual activity was illegal, to disguise homosexuals from hostile outsiders and undercover policemen. It was also used extensively in the British Merchant Navy, where many gay men joined ocean liners and cruise ships as waiters, stewards and entertainers. On one hand, it would be used as a means of cover to allow gay subjects to be discussed aloud without being understood; on the other hand, it was also used by some, particularly the most visibly camp and effeminate, as a further way of asserting their identity.
The almost identical Parlyaree has been spoken in fairgrounds since at least the seventeenth century and continues to be used by show travellers in England and Scotland. As theatrical booths, circus acts and menageries were once a common part of European fairs it is likely that the roots of Polari/Parlyaree lie in the period before both theatre and circus became independent of the fairgrounds. The Parlyaree spoken on fairgrounds tends to borrow much more from Romany, as well as other languages and argots spoken by travelling people, such as cant and backslang.
Henry Mayhew gave a verbatim account of Polari as part of an interview with a Punch and Judy showman in the 1850s. The discussion he recorded references the arrival of Punch in England, crediting these early shows to a performer from Italy called Porcini (see also John Payne Collier’s account of Porsini—Payne Collier calls him Porchini—in Punch and Judy). Mayhew provides the following:
“‘Bona Parle’ means language; name of patter. ‘Yeute munjare’ – no food. ‘Yeute lente’ – no bed. ‘Yeute bivare’ – no drink. I’ve ‘yeute munjare,’ and ‘yeute bivare,’ and, what’s worse, ‘yeute lente.’ This is better than the costers’ talk, because that ain’t no slang and all, and this is a broken Italian, and much higher than the costers’ lingo. We know what o’clock it is, besides.”
There are additional accounts of particular words that relate to puppet performance: “‘Slumarys’ – figures, frame, scenes, properties. ‘Slum’ – call, or unknown tongue” (“unknown” is a reference to the “swazzle”, a voice modifier used by Punch performers, the structure of which was a longstanding trade secret).
There are many sources of polari lexicons or “dictionaries” online, most of which are random collections with little or no research, rather than a descriptive list of terms in use.
Decline in use
Polari had begun to fall into disuse amongst the gay subculture by the late 1960s. The popularity of the Julian and Sandy characters played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams ensured that some of this secret language became public property, and the gay liberationists of the 1970s viewed it as rather degrading and divisive as it was often used to gossip about, or criticise, others, as well as to discuss sexual exploits. In addition, the need for a secret subculture code declined with the legalisation of adult homosexual acts in England and Wales in 1967.
In popular culture
Polari was popularised in the 1960s on the popular BBC radio show Round the Horne starring Kenneth Horne. Camp Polari-speaking characters Julian and Sandy were played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams.
In the first series of British comedians’ panel television series Jokers Wild (1969), comedian Ray Martine is asked to explain the term palone (woman), which he used while telling a joke. In response to the definition, programme presenter Barry Cryer refers to Martine as a bona omi (good man).
Jason King star Peter Wyngarde recorded a self-titled album in 1970 which contained the song “Hippie and the Skinhead” about Billy the “queer sexy hippie” “trolling the Dilly”.
In the long running BBC Programme Doctor Who, in the episode “Carnival of Monsters”, Vorg, a showman, believing The Doctor to be one himself, attempts to converse with him in Polari. The Doctor states that he doesn’t understand him.
In 2015, filmmakers Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston made a short film entirely in Polari, entitled “Putting on the Dish”.
The lyrics to David Bowie’s 2016 song “Girl Loves Me” consist chiefly of a blend of Polari and Nadsat slang. Use today
Since the mid-1990s, with the redistribution of cassettes and CDs of Round The Horne, and with increasing academic interest, Polari has undergone something of a revival. New words are being invented and updated to refer to more recent cultural concepts.
In 1990, Morrissey titled an album Bona Drag – Polari for “nice outfit” – and the single “Piccadilly Palare”.
Also in 1990, comic book writer Grant Morrison created the Polari-speaking character Danny the Street (based on Danny La Rue), a sentient transvestite street, for the comic Doom Patrol.
The 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, which chronicles a fictional retelling of the rise and fall of glam rock, contains a flashback to 1970 in which a group of characters converse in Polari, while their words are subtitled.
In 2002, two books on Polari were published, Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men, and Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang (both by Paul Baker). Also in 2002, hip hop artist Juha released an album called Polari, with the chorus of the title song written entirely in the slang.
Characters in Will Self’s story Foie Humain, the first part of Liver, use Polari.
Comedians Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, David Walliams, and Matt Lucas incorporate Polari in their comedy routines, as did Rik Mayall.
In 2012, artists Jez Dolan and Joseph Richardson created an iPhone app which makes available the Polari lexicon and comprehensive list of etymologies.
Entry into standard English
A number of words from Polari have entered mainstream slang.
The Polari word naff, meaning inferior or tacky, has an uncertain etymology. Michael Quinion states that it is probably from the sixteenth-century Italian word gnaffa, meaning “a despicable person”. There are a number of folk etymologies, many based on acronyms—Not Available For Fucking, Normal As Fuck—though these are backronyms. More likely etymologies include northern UK dialect naffhead, naffin, or naffy, a simpleton or blockhead; niffy-naffy, inconsequential, stupid, or Scots nyaff, a term of contempt for any unpleasant or objectionable person. An alternative etymology may lie in the Romany naflo, itself rooted in násfalo, meaning ill. The phrase “naff off” was used euphemistically in place of “fuck off” along with the intensifier “naffing” in Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse (1959). Usage of “naff” increased in the 1970s when television sitcom Porridge employed it as an alternative to expletives which were not considered broadcastable at the time. Princess Anne famously told a reporter, “Why don’t you just naff off” at the Badminton horse trials in April 1982.
“Zhoosh” (/ˈʒʊʃ/, /ˈʒuːʃ/ or /ˈʒʊʒ/) (generally pronounced “zhuzh” with the vowel sound of “hood”) meaning to smarten up, style or improve something, became commonplace more recently, having been used in the 2003 United States TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and What Not to Wear.
acdc, bibi- bisexual
ajax – nearby (shortened form of “adjacent to”)
alamo! – they’re attractive! (via acronym “LMO” meaning “Lick Me Out!)
aunt nell listen!
aunt nells – ears
aunt nelly fakes – earrings
aunt nell danglers – earrings
barney – a fight
basket- the bulge of male genitalia through clothes
bat, batts, bates – shoes
bitch – effeminate or passive gay man
bijou – small/little (means “jewel” in French)
blag-, pick up
blue -,code word for “homosexual”
bod – body
bona – good
bona nochy – goodnight (from Italian – buona notte)
bonaroo – wonderful, excellent
bungery – pub, this comes from bung.
butch -,masculine; masculine lesbian
buvare – a drink; something drinkable (from Italian – bere or old-fashioned Italian – bevere or Lingua Franca bevire)
cackle – talk/gossip
camp – effeminate (possibly from Italian campare “exaggerate, make stand out”)
capello, capella, capelli, kapella – hat (from Italian, also Greek – cappello)
carsey, karsey, khazi – toilet
cartes – penis (from Italian – cazzo)
cats – trousers
charper – to search or to look (from Italian – acchiappare – to catch)
charpering omi -,policeman
charver – sexual intercourse
chicken – young man
clobber – clothes
cod – bad
cottage – a public lavatory used for sexual encounters
cottaging – seeking or obtaining sexual encounters in public lavatories
cove – taxi
crimper – hairdresser
dally – sweet, kind. Possibly an alternate pronunciation of dolly.
dilly boy – a male prostitute
dinari – money (Latin denarii was the ‘d’ of the pre decimal penny)
Omies and palones of the jury, vada well at the eek of the poor ome who stands before you, his lallies trembling.—taken from “Bona Law”, a Round The Horne sketch written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman
Translation: “Men and women of the jury, look well at the face of the poor man who stands before you, his legs trembling.”
So bona to vada…oh you! Your lovely eek and your lovely riah.—taken from “Piccadilly Palare”, a song by Morrissey
Translation: “So good to see…oh you! Your lovely face and your lovely hair.”
As feely ommes…we would zhoosh our riah, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar. In the bar we would stand around with our sisters, vada the bona cartes on the butch omme ajax who, if we fluttered our ogle riahs at him sweetly, might just troll over to offer a light for the unlit vogue clenched between our teeth.—taken from Parallel Lives, the memoirs of renowned gay journalist Peter Burton
Translation: “As young men…we would style our hair, powder our faces, climb into our great new clothes, don our shoes and wander/walk off to some great little bar. In the bar we would stand around with our gay companions, look at thegreat genitals on the butch man nearby who, if we fluttered our eyelashes at him sweetly, might just wander/walk over to offer a light for the unlit cigarette clenched between our teeth.”
In the Are You Being Served? episode “The Old Order Changes”, Captain Peacock asks Mr Humphries to get “some strides for the omi with the naff riah” (i.e. trousers for the fellow with the unstylish hair).
African American Vernacular English (sometimes called Ebonics)
Carny, North American fairground cant
Lunfardo and Vesre
Polari at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). “Polari”. Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Quinion, Michael (1996). “How bona to vada your eek!”. WorldWideWords. Retrieved February 20, 2006.
Collins English Dictionary, Third Edition
a b c Mayhew, Henry (1968). London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 3. New York: Dover Press. p. 47.
a b “British Spies: Licensed to be Gay.” Time. 19 August 2008
“The secret language of polari”. liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. Retrieved on 27 August 2015.
Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum ISBN 0-8264-5961-7
“Gay men in the Merchant Marine, Liverpool Maritime Museum”. Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
Partridge, Eric (1937) Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
Punch and Judy. (with Illustrations by George Cruickshank). Thomas Hailes Lacey, London, 1859
a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 206. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
Paul Baker (2 September 2003). Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. Routledge. p. 161. ISBN 9781134506347. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
Lowder, J. Bryan (2015-07-28). “Listen to Polari, the Lost Art of Gay Conversation”. Slate.
“The Old Order Changes”. Are You Being Served?. 18 March 1977.
Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum: ISBN 0-8264-5961-7 Baker, Paul (2003). Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781134506354.
Elmes, Simon & Rosen, Michael (2002) Word of Mouth. Oxford University Press: ISBN 0-19-866263-7
Back in the dim days of my youth, the BBC had a succession of hugely successful radio comedy programmes which have never been matched since. The BBC itself has a strong tendency to be nostalgic about them, calling them the Golden Age of Radio Comedy, though these days the gold mainly ends up in the till, now it has discovered how many other people have fond memories of the shows and are prepared to pay to hear them again on CD or cassette. The best known is almost certainly the Goon Show, attested by its Usenet newsgroup and its fan clubs in North America, Britain and elsewhere. Others included Take It from Here, Hancock’s Half Hour and Round The Horne. This last show was introduced by Kenneth Horne, an urbane straight man, who had previously partnered Richard Murdoch in Much Binding in the Marsh, a send-up of a small RAF station “somewhere in England”, but who in the intervening years had had an extremely successful business career. He was partnered by Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden, with scripts by Marty Feldman and Barry Took.
One element of the show, which was stereotypical in its layout, always featured a pair of screamingly camp young men: “Hello, I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy”, overplayed by Williams and Paddick to an extent which robbed it of much of its latent homophobia (particularly as both were known to be gay), though I cannot imagine a similar duo being allowed anywhere near a BBC microphone in this supposedly more permissive but also infinitely more sensitive age. These two spoke in a slangy language which was virtually incomprehensible to anyone hearing it for the first time, though by repetition week by week a mental glossary could be constructed. “How bona to vada your eek!” was a recurring expression; there were references to “butch omis” and to “omipalones”; they always “trolled” everywhere, though their “lallies” weren’t up to much of that; things were “naph”, “bona” or sometimes “fantabulosa”.
This was not a constructed language, but a secret vocabulary, a cant or argot in the linguist’s term, which uses the grammar and syntax of English as well as most of its core vocabulary. It was in fairly common use in the theatre and in related branches of show business such as ballet and the circus, to the extent that a book on the Round the Horne series remarked that Williams and Paddick often really did speak like that in real life. It is variously called Palare, Palyaree, Palary or Polari from its own word for “talk” or “speech”.
HORNE: Would I have vada’d any of them do you think?
SANDY: Oooaaawwh! He’s got all the Palare, ain’t he?
JULIAN: [archly] I wonder where he picks it up?
Linguists still argue about where it came from. The larger part of its vocabulary is certainly Italian in origin, but nobody seems to know how the words got into Britain. Some experts say its origins lie in the lingua franca of the shores of the Mediterranean, a pidgin in use in the Middle Ages and afterwards as a medium of communication between sailors and traders from widely different language groups, the core of this language being Italian and Occitan. Quite a number of British sailors learnt the lingua franca. On returning home and retiring from the sea it is supposed that many of them became vagabonds or travellers, because they had no other means of livelihood; this threw them into contact with roving groups of entertainers and fairground people, who picked up some of the pidgin terms and incorporated them into their own canting private vocabularies. However, other linguists point to the substantial number of native Italians who came to Britain as entertainers in the early part of the nineteenth century, especially the Punch and Judy showmen, organ grinders and peddlars of the 1840s.
But Polari is a linguistic mongrel. Words from Romany (originally an Indian dialect), Shelta (the cant of the Irish tinkers), Yiddish, back slang, rhyming slang and other non-standard English are interspersed with words of Italian origin. Take this exchange from one of the Round the Horne sketches:
SANDY: Roll up yer trouser legs … we want to vada yer calves.
JULIAN: Hmmm … his scotches may be a bit naph but his plates are bona.
So it would not be surprising to find that both the Italian showman and the lingua franca theories are right, each contributing words at different stages in Polari’s development. This might indeed explain the substantial number of synonyms noted at various times. However, the vocabulary is not well recorded, and now may never be, because it was normal until quite recently for linguists to ignore such low-life forms, which rarely turned up in print (and then only in partial glossaries). But we do know that a few of Polari’s terms have made it across the language barrier into semi-standard English, much of it seeming to come to us via Cockney: karsey, a lavatory; mankey, poor, bad or tasteless; ponce, a pimp; and scarper to run away.
The rest have stayed within the theatrical and circus worlds, and have also been incorporated particularly into the private languages of some homosexual groups, as Julian and Sandy make very clear. Some writers have sought to claim Polari exclusively for the gay community, renaming it Gayspeak. In the 1990s it certainly seems to be heavily used by some city-based British gays (but only male gays, not lesbians), who have invented new terms like nante ’andbag for “no money” (handbag here being a self-mocking example of metonymy). However, it can scarcely have always been so, unless every fairground showman, circus performer, strolling player, cheapjack and Punch and Judy man in history was gay, which seems somewhat unlikely.
There are other characteristics of the language of Julian and Sandy. They tend to make diminuitives of nouns: would you like a bijou drinkette? for example. They also playfully invent words based on Italian models, such as fantabulosa. And they use a few terms which seem to be Polari and yet are unrecorded in glossaries: luffer = finger and nish = no, stop (as in “nish shouting!”; unpublished researches of the OED suggest this is either of Yiddish origin or comes from Irish Gaelic.)
A quick Polari lexicon:
batt = shoe; bevvy = drink (or possibly an abbreviation of beverage, or both); bijou = small; bimbo = dupe, sucker; bona = good; camp = excessive or showy or affecting mannerisms of the opposite sex; charper = to search (leading to charpering omi = policeman); dolly = nice or pleasant; dona = woman (hence the Australian slang word donah); drag = clothes (and so possibly via the gay world to the informal but widespread use meaning to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex); eek = face; fantabulosa = excellent; feele = child (hence feely omi = a young man, sometimes specifically an underaged young man); lally = leg; lattie = house, lodgings; leucoddy = body; naph = bad (quite possibly the origin of the current British English slang term naff); nante = none or nothing; ogle = eye (hence ogleriah = eyelash); omi = man; omipalone = homosexual; palare = talk; palone; woman; riah = hair (possibly back-slang); tosheroon = half a crown (two shillings and sixpence), possibly a much-corrupted form of the Italian mezzo caroon; troll, = walk, wander; vada = look; walloper = dancer; zhoosh = fix, tidy. And perhaps you might like to be able to count to ten in Polari: una, duey, trey, quater, chinker, sey, setter, otto, nobber, dacha.
Now you can have a go at translating this:
As feely homies, we would zhoosh our riahs, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar.