Tag Archives: Gay

George Michael’s Time Out outing

26 Dec
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George Michael. RIP

As a little George Michael footnote, I believe Time Out was the first mag to “out” George Michael, back in the early ‘90s. One of our journalists was in a taxi, and the driver said to them: “I had that George Michael in the back of my cab last week, and he was really cut up, going on about how he thought he was gay but didn’t know what to do about it.”

This was floated to me as a story for the “Sidelines” news/gossip pages. I went over several considerations before printing:

  1. Was it true? The journalist swore that the taxi conversation took place; that they believed the taxi driver; and that the driver had no vested interest in telling an untruth. It was also plausible: stories had been circulating.
  2. Was it libellous? Jason Donovan had just successfully sued The Face for saying he was gay, but the damages were not for the allegation, but for implying he was a liar – Donovan having previously denied it. There was no test case that it was libellous in itself to call someone gay. On the other hand, legal action was possible: George Michael’s management sued Time Out in the late ‘80s for reneging on a promise (by a previous editor) to put him on the cover – which is why we no longer ever guaranteed covers even to the likes of Bowie or Prince.
  3. Was it likely to cause needless harm to George Michael? Hard to know. I wasn’t a fan of the Peter Tatchell-style forced “outing” that was then in vogue – it seemed to me to be doing The Mail’s dirty work for them. At the same time, a small Sideline seemed to me a gentle push, a testing of the water for George, a controlled experiment: I didn’t think it likely to cause him damage, more to make it easier for him to come out if he was inclined to do so.

So we published. It was a small story, a “quite interesting”, not a big headline. I doubt it made a huge impact. But many years later, in 1998, when George Michael was caught propositioning an undercover police officer in an LA public lavatory, he was confident enough to “own” the resultant scandal. His riposte to the shock-horror tabloid headlines was to come out whole-heartedly, even filming a music video for Outside in a glitterball disco urinal.

As ex-Time Out music critic Peter Paphides writes in his superb appreciation of the recently deceased star, “it might have been the coolest thing any pop star did in the 1990s”.

Different times. Is Tom Daley less loved by the public for being gay? Is Sam Smith? To quote that great philosopher, Shrek: “Better out than in, I always say.” Or, in George Michael’s own greatest words: “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.”

It’s hard for young folk today to remember that, just 20 years ago, being openly gay was considered career suicide. And it’s pioneers such as George Michael they have to thank for the change.

 

Coal v kohl in Pride, this year’s breakthrough Brit hit

11 Sep

Pride movie

Every couple of years, a small British film comes along that transcends its parochial setting to touch a universal nerve, with award nominations and US box-office upsets ensuing. Think Brassed Off, or Billy Elliot. Now think Matthew Warchus’s Pride, released on Friday, which splices the DNA of both those sleeper hits.

Pride is based, as is so much Oscar-bait, on a true story: having realised, in 1984, that there is one minority group being persecuted even more viciously by the police than themselves, a Soho-based Gay & Lesbian group becomes one of the best fund-raisers for the miners’ strike – only to find the Welsh coal-men, however desperate they are, reluctant to accept charity from a bunch of “poofs and perverts”.

That the insular mining community is, for the most part, won over by the exotic visitors is no spoiler; without that there’s no movie. [In real life, they didn’t even need winning over, as this piece in GayStarNews shows.] But there’s a real joy in how it unfolds: particularly Dominic West’s showstopping disco routine to the song Shame, Shame, Shame in the miners’ social club. The ensemble cast is wonderful. Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy, playing against type as a shy and stuttering poetry-lover, seem most likely to receive Best Actor noms, and the only false note is struck by the one irreconcilably homophobic villainess of the piece, who seems too much of a battle-axe to be true.

And the script… well, I wish I’d written it. The opening lines: “I’ve spoken to the Council about your deviant parties,” warns an older resident of the main gay character’s housing estate. “No need to do that,” he teases, “just knock on the door and we’ll let you in.” Further enraged, the man warns, “They’re sending policemen!” “Ooh, I do hope so!” The one-liners fizz throughout, but first-time writer Stephen Beresford is also deft at painting it black, as the spectre of AIDS beings to spread its chill.

As to the politics of the strike, that’s wisely ignored in favour of its human cost. But what starts as a good-hearted paean of tolerance and understanding for “poofs and perverts” develops into something more interesting and subversive still: a reassertion of the dignity and solidarity of the Labour movement, at a time when it is more sorely needed than ever. The ending had me in tears.

Pride and prejudice: the Oscar link between Dallas Buyers Club and Twelve Years A Slave

23 Feb

Okay, so having now seen Dallas Buyers Club, it’s going to be a closer Oscar race than I thought for Chiwetel Ejiofor in Twelve Years A Slave. The Academy has loved a physical transformation ever since De Niro piled on the pounds for Raging Bull. Here the famously pec-tastic Mathew McConaughey slims down alarmingly to play a straight rodeo roughrider afflicted with HIV.

The two films are intriguingly similar, in that each uses a Trojan Horse to smuggle a minority subject into the hearts of majority film-goers. If Solomon Northup had not been a free man illegally sold into slavery, but born into it instead, it might have been harder for the audience to identify with his plight. If Ron Woodruff had been a gay HIV sufferer, he might not tug on the heartstrings of Middle America.

But apart from McConaughey’s gutsy, livewire, enormously affecting performance, Dallas Buyers Club is not half the film that Twelve Years A Slave is. The supporting characters, though well acted, are little more than stereotypes: from the drag queen with a disapproving banker father to the good ol’ boys who turn against their former friend when they learn he has the disease. There’s a battle with the FDA, but it’s sketchily developed; and the closing caption pretty much undercuts Woodruff’s mission throughout the film rather than supporting it as intended.

It is powerfully affecting, though, especially if you lived through that terrible period. The HIV drugs war was starkly illustrated for me at Time Out, in the late ‘80s: the much-loved receptionist/Gay editor was HIV-positive (though few knew at the time why it was forbidden to throw him into the pool at the party in Porchester Baths, and did it anyway), and he died before effective drugs were developed. The features editor, Tim Clark, one of the liveliest, cleverest, funniest, warmest people I have ever known, was initially given months to live, but science caught up just in time, giving him well over a decade.

And it’s important to have this reminder, as with 12 Years A Slave, just how recent are our sins as a society. While everyone is sneering at Russia for their backward laws forbidding the “promotion” of homosexuality, we should recall with shame that they are a carbon copy of Britain’s own Section 28 legislation, passed by Thatcher’s government just when gay people needed the most support.

Meanwhile, as I was waiting in Chicago on Friday for my delayed flight back to London, the TV news was full of the new Arizona bill which allows Christian business owners to discriminate against gay people. Is the US heading for segregation all over again, with gays instead of blacks?

Never were two Oscar contenders more timely, more needed, and more closely matched.

Experimenting with a new blog filtering programme, http://www.blogdash.com/full_profile/?claim_code=ec939413da13e0427871df185e1cb971

Putting the “cock” into “Cockney”: Danny Dyer’s massive part in EastEnders

3 Jan

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Legs apart: Danny Dyer as Mick Carter in EastEnders

 

Sir Alan Sugar’s not a fan of Danny Dyer’s debut as Mick Carter in EastEnders, recently branding the new cast a “total joke” on Twitter. I am looking forward to tonight’s storyline, in which Johnny Carter comes out to Daddy Dyer as gay, but it’s true that having seen Dyer’s big opening scene last weekend I can’t unsee it: there he was, wallowing on a double-bed with the missus in nothing but skimpy black briefs.

Now I understand why, when I went out to the New Boyana studios in Bulgaria to watch ITV’s hist-com Plebs being filmed, the cast members were all agog at the sheer size of Dyer’s, um, personality.

“Double D”, as they called him, was apparently the life and soul of the shoot when filming his episode as a gladiator in the first series. “We’d go out most nights with him,” said Lydia Rose Bewley, who plays Metella. Ryan Sampson (Groomio) added, “We’d go all the time to this club where everything is mirrored. I loved his word for kissing: a ‘lips-up’, he calls it.”

Sophie Colquhoun, who plays Cynthia, also nicknamed him “Planet Dyer” because “his personality is so massive”. And it’s not the only thing that is. “In one scene,” she said, “I go to him, ‘Ooh, Danny, I’m seeing quite a lot.’ And he goes, ‘I’m sorry, darlin’, let me shift position.’ Then he shifts, and he’s put it behind his legs, and it’s poking out! You have a little bundle of joy in your eye.”

A crew member also had his eyes indelibly seared: “In the bath-house scene Danny just didn’t care. There it was, in your face, swinging against the lockers.”

“He was pretty confident in the bath-house scene,” agreed Tom Rosenthal (Marcus), in his typically deadpan style. “He does have a penis. It is… worthwhile.”

I’m sorry to go on about Danny Dyer’s member (if you prefer high-brow, read my blog about Hamlet and Citizen Kane instead), but at least it makes a change: when people refer to a load of cock in connection with Dyer, they are normally talking about his films. Dyer by name, dire by nature. He just doesn’t seem able to say no to films such as Pimp, which I had the displeasure of sitting through for a week of film reviews in The Times (I gave it one star; more than it deserved). 

Then again, at least Dyer has the self-awareness and sense of humour to know it. “I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some s*** films but 7lives is f***ing awful,” he once Tweeted. And: “I ain’t gonna lie. [Just For The Record] is the biggest pile of s*** I have ever done and that’s saying something.”

And actually, for my money Dyer’s a rather good actor; he was actively terrific in Severance. He has an ear for comedy and a puppy-dog vulnerability that underscores his foul-mouthed, wide-boy front. The British film industry seems not to have been able to do more with him, sadly, than cast him as gangsters, wide-boys and football hooligans.

Here’s hoping the BBC give him a meatier part to play with. As it were.

The first series of Plebs is available on DVD through Universal; the second series will be out later this year.

Gay abandonment: Time Out axes LGBT section and editor

20 Dec
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Paul Burston, outgoing LGBT editor of Time Out. Pic: Adrian Lourie.

Bit of a departure today from my usual topic of film. The Media Guardian has just published a short piece of mine about Time Out canning its LGBT listings (The Listings Formerly Known As Gay), along with its editor of the last 20 years, Paul Burston. First, read the piece here.

I also wanted to share with you the story of how Paul got the gig in the first place, a tale of split personalities and being held hostage by Lesbian Avengers…

I employed Paul when I was Editor of Time Out in the ‘90s. The previous Gay Editor, Michael Griffiths, was a lovely man who also doubled as the receptionist. You would know when he fielded a call for the Gay Editor, as he would first answer in his high, lilting, very camp voice, “HelloTimeOut, howmayIhelpyou?” Then: “I’ll just see if he’s in.” He’d put the phone down, inspect his nails, wink at anyone who happened to observe the charade, then pick up the phone again and speak in a deep, butch voice: “Hello, Gay Editor Michael Griffiths here.”

Problem is, Michael was too nice. He gave everything glowing reviews, even when he admitted to me that the play or whatever was awful. “We all have to pull together,” he would say. So when, very sadly, he became too ill with HIV to work, I was determined to employ a trouble-maker, someone who, as in other sections of the magazine, would speak their mind without fear or favour. That man was Paul Burston, and he’s been causing wonderful trouble ever since.

I know this to my cost, as I was once “held hostage” (as the papers later put it) in the Time Out lobby by 20-odd Lesbian Avengers, a group of activists who in 1988 famously broke into the BBC studios and chained themselves to the cameras as Sue Lawley was reading the 6 O’Clock News live on air. The reason was a supposedly “anti-lesbian” piece in Time Out – written in the Gay section, by a gay woman. I came down to hear their concerns and explain why we stood by our story, and they left after half an hour, agreeing to disagree but happy to have had a dialogue.

Paul, as his many friends will know, has become a flamboyant figure, not given to hiding his light under a bushel. Author of several novels, founder of the Polari literary salon which just won LGBT Cultural Event of the Year, prone to photo-shoots in terrific hats and, often, none too many clothes. Yet quick as he usually is to take up arms on issues that affect LGBT readers, he has remained touchingly loyal to Time Out and keen to avoid knocking it, even for cancelling his section.

I, too, am loath to criticise my beloved old mag and the talented and tireless people who still work there following successive waves of cuts; not least CEO Tim Arthur, a second-generation Time Outer whose step-dad was the lovely Comedy editor, Malcolm Hay. Nevertheless, I felt the Guardian piece needed to be said.