Tuesday, 27 January 2009

217: "Gay Life"

from “Private Eye” 18 January 1980

“Gay Life”, broadcast in 1980, was the first British TV series about homosexuality. There had been a number of individual documentaries over the previous 20 years, but this is the first dedicated series. It was produced by London Weekend Television (LWT). Each episode had its particular subject, and in case any one’s interested, I’ll list them.

February 10: Security Vetting and Gays in the Civil Service (post-Anthony Blunt)
February 17: Male Gay Lifestyles – Pubs, Discos, Drag Acts, Leather Scene, etc
February 24: Child Custody and Adoption
March 2: Police Harassment and Entrapment of Gay Men
March 9: Gay Relationships and Gay Weddings
March 16: Gay Teachers
March 23: Gays in Heterosexual Marriages
March 30: Gays and Media Stereotyping
April 20: Young Lesbians
April 27: Gays in the Armed Forces
May 4: Gay Political Organisation

The programme was about overcoming stereotypes and demonstrating the diversity of homosexuals and gay life. “Private Eye” instead makes a news programme about stereotypical gays, about deliberately trivial gay news, gay weather, gay sports, gay parking, a silly separatist world where the “Bible can have a gay angle”. Not a particularly mean-spirited parody, but since “Gay Life” was a programme so determinedly serious, this resolutely refuses to grant gays and their lives any relevance as a minority. You’ll note this was written before an episode had even seen air, so they knew what they already thought.
I’ll concede that the two lesbian football teams are decent puns.
Desmond Wilcox is there simply because “Private Eye” detested him and would insert his name on the most improbable pretext. Mountbatten is there because they liked to suggest he was gay - whether he was or not I’ve never been troubled to find out. Jonah Junor is an odd pun - the journalist John Junor was notoriously bigoted, famous for finishing each of his rants of disgust at the modern world with “Pass the sickbag, Alice”.

At this time Ingrams was TV reviewer for “The Spectator”. He was quite vocal in his column about not reviewing “Gay Life”, saying it was propaganda and would likely provoke him to uncharitable thoughts, since it would almost certainly be "obsessed with Lesbian mothers . . .fat neurotic perverts”. In a later column he pretty much puts his stall on display: "a few years ago homosexuals were rightly regarded as subjects for humour or else sympathy. Now we are expected to treat them as a quasi-political movement with 'rights'" (11 July 1981). Ingrams continues in this conservative vein seeing the blame for gay rights lying with the feminist movement which encouraged lesbians to operate as the extreme wing. It is a conservative argument which can only see gay politics as the ultimate non-procreative, dead-end of left-wing politics.

In the very early years of “Private Eye”, Ingrams had by all accounts been very liberal on the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In the 1960s Ingrams is granting a bemused tolerance. By the 1980s we have Ingram’s response to what he perceives as a ludicrous demand for an unrealistic equality.

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