Tate Bares All

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The Critics | Henry Scott Tuke | Warwick District Council

London’s Tate Britain is preparing its first show dedicated to “queer art” -“Queer British Art 1861-1967”. It is almost 50 years since the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales.

“We have works which demonstrate lots of different attitudes, from anxiety to celebration,” Curator Clare Barlow told the Observer, adding that other items came to acquire notoriety by accident. Walter Crane’s languorous 1877 painting, The Renaissance of Venus, is a good example. “Crane’s wife did not want him viewing or drawing nude women, so instead he used a well-known young male model, Alessandro di Marco, to stand in for the goddess of love.”

The exhibition includes a full-length portrait of Oscar Wilde by Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington, given to the writer as a wedding present by the artist and now being shown publicly in Britain for the first time. Next to it is Oscar’s prison cell door.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is at Tate Britain, London SW1P, from 5 April to 1 October 2017.


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The Raid on the Caravan Club

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Inside the Caravan Club | Police Photo/UK National Archives | 17049

The Caravan Club in Soho, London was a lesbian and gay friendly members’ club that billed itself as “London’s greatest bohemian rendezvous said to be the most unconventional place in town”. The club, at 81 Endell Street, was one of many mostly temporary venues at a time when being openly gay was perilous, often resulting in prosecution and imprisonment.

The club was run by Billy Reynolds and a former strongman and escapologist called Jack Neave, known as “Iron Foot Jack” because of the metal platform he wore to compensate for a shortened leg.

After a series of complaints about the behaviour of the customers, the Metropolitan police put the club under surveillance from October 1933. Police seem to have watched the comings and goings from unused offices at the Shaftesbury Theatre opposite.

In August 1934 they raided the club, with plainclothes officers easily entering by pretending to be visitors.

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Inside the Caravan Club | Police Photo/UK National Archives | 17050

The officer in charge of the raid was Inspector Clarence, who noted : “The room inside was very badly lighted and the atmosphere was awful. … Men were dancing with men and women were dancing with women, a number of couples were simply standing still, and I saw couples wriggling their posteriors, and where I saw men together they had their hands on the other’s buttocks and were pressing themselves together. In fact all the couples I saw were acting in a very obscene manner.”

A policeman on the raid reported: “Two men were standing in front of each other dancing and moving their bodies close to each other. One had his hand on the other’s flies and the other one said: “Oh, darling.””

One policeman was shocked to enter the bathroom and find two men applying mascara and rouge to each others’ faces.

One regular customer, Cyril, had written a letter to Billy Reyolds, which was found and seized by the Police. “I have only been queer for about two years because I knew nothing about it until I came to London.” He was married and had a daughter. He ends the letter: “Billy, please be a dear boy and destroy this note.” The note is kept in the National Archives.

103 men and women were arrested and taken to Bow Street police station. Many of the young men there were working class. The majority were found not guilty in court on condition they never frequented such a club again.

History does not record whether they complied with that instruction.

Reynolds and Neave were given sentences of 12 months and 20 months respectively hard labour in prison.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/27/revived-1930s-london-gay-members-club-caravan-club-raided-by-police


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Polari explained

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Julian and Sandy, 1970s, LP Cover | Copyright control | 17032

Paul Baker, an authority on Polari, having studied it for some time, has provided Scroll/The Conversation with a brief history of the language. To summarise:

Polari has now largely fallen out of use, but was historically spoken by gay men and female impersonators.

Polari developed first in the world of entertainment, West End theatres and 19th-century music halls, travelling entertainers and market-stall holders, and was based on Parlyaree which had roots in Italian and rudimentary forms of language used for communication by sailors around the Mediterranean, which found its way into Britain, especially London and port cities, and gradually became used by gay men and female impersonators, especially during the first half of the 20th century. In England, gays added Cockney Rhyming Slang, backslang (pronouncing a word as if it was spelt backwards), French, Yiddish and American airforce slang to Polari.

It was useful as a means of conducting conversations in public spaces, which would have alerted others to your sexuality at a time when homosexual acts were illegal.

“Vada the naff strides on the omee ajax” meant look at the awful trousers on the man nearby. Inserting a Polari word – such as bona (good) or palone (woman) – into a sentence could act as a coded way of identifying other people who might be gay. The language itself, full of camp, irony, innuendo and sarcasm, also helped its speakers to form a resilient worldview in the face of arrest, blackmail and physical violence.

In the 1970s, in a gay magazine called Lunch, activists branded Polari as ghettoising and it gradually became surplus to requirements. In 2000, Baker carried out a survey of 800 gay men and found about half the respondents had never heard of Polari.

In recent years however, there has been renewed interest in Polari. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence created a Polari Bible, running a Polari wordlist through a computer program on an English version of the Bible.

Paul Baker is the Professor of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University.

https://scroll.in/article/828942/a-brief-history-of-polari-a-language-for-gay-men-and-its-curious-afterlife


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Hackney’s gay collection

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Some of the items owned by Hackney Museum | Gary Manhine/Hackney Council | 17030

Hackney Museum has decided it doesn’t have enough gay history in its archive, and has launched a project to discover more of the London borough’s gay past. Emma Winch, Hackney Museum’s heritage learning manager, told an event to celebrate gay history month: “Young people tell us museums don’t do enough to collect and share LGBTQI history. This, and the lack of representation in the national curriculum, is unacceptable. It has an effect on their identity and confidence.”

Musician I’m Empire was at the launch to give a speech on his experience of coming out as a queer man in Hackney’s black community, while street artist Stik shared his memories of the queer “safe house” community in Dalston Lane.

Stik described how he first arrived in London in 2001 after “spectacularly crashing and burning” and joined a group squatting then-derelict London Fields Lido, sleeping in a wooden art shipping container. “I came to Hackney because it was somewhere possible to live and I found an accepting and vibrant community,” he said.

A house in Dalston Lane was a hub for wild parties. “Our parties like Behind Bars and Queeruption fundraisers were the most radical punk and progressive things I have ever seen, and there’s no way we could get away with such subversive actions nowadays.”

http://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/heritage/hackney_museum_launches_drive_to_collect_more_of_borough_s_gay_history_with_inspiring_talks_from_stik_and_i_m_empire_1_4875508


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Marking 50 years of legality

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It was in 1967 the UK law was changed to legalise homosexuality between two consenting males. The 1967 act amended the law of England and Wales regarding homosexual activity, with Scotland following suit in 1980, and Northern Ireland in 1982.

The British Museum’s new exhibition will highlight the previously-hidden gay histories within its collection, and creates a treasure map of historic LGBTQ moments and objects held by the museum.

The Museum has a coin featuring the Roman emperor Hadrian on one side, and his male lover Antinous on the reverse. Antinous, who would have been part of a harem of the emperor’s lovers, drowned in the Nile river during a lion hunt, leaving the emperor distraught.

Other events will be taking place across the UK at the British Museum, the Red House, the Walker in Liverpool, the Russell-Cotes museum and gallery, and more.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/british-arts-gay-history-2017-797522


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Pink filing cabinets invade London

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Pink filing cabinets will be placed at London landmarks by campaigners calling for the capital to get its first dedicated museum of gay history. Campaigners want support for their plans to mark next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which relaxed laws against homosexuality.

Jan Pimblett, principal development officer at the London Metropolitan Archives, said “LGBTQ+ people have always been part of our history but too often these histories have been made invisible and marginalised. An LGBTQ+ museum will be an important step in the mainstreaming of these rich and important histories.”

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/campaigners-call-for-london-to-have-its-first-museum-of-gay-history-a3397866.html

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Islington gets a gay archive

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Highbury Fields, 1971. Picture: Islington Local History Centre | 16460ga

A new LGBT archive is being created in Islington, London, a borough steeped with LGBT history. Today Islington council launched an appeal for people to scour their homes for LGBT memorabilia – photos, posters, flyers etc – to build the archive, which is likely to be housed at Islington Museum in St John Street.

150 brave campaigners held Britain’s first ever gay rights protest in November 1970 in Highbury Fields. A torchlight rally was organised by the Gay Liberation Front in response to the arrest of Louis Eakes in the Fields. Mr Eakes, of the Young Liberals, was detained for cruising several men in a police entrapment operation. Mr Eakes claimed he was asking them for a light.

http://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/heritage/highbury_fields_gay_rights_demo_was_a_watershed_moment_islington_museum_to_set_up_first_lgbt_archive_1_4729260

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Peter De Rome

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Peter De Rome | Uncredited and undated | 16170gh

The Guardian remembers the late Peter De Rome, pioneer of gay sex films. He is the subject of a new documentary film, “Grandfather Of Gay Porn”, being released tomorrow.

… Peter De Rome, the late British film-maker who served in the RAF during the second world war, worked as a publicist on The Third Man, campaigned for civil rights in the American south, and then became the Grandfather Of Gay Porn, as the film’s title enthusiastically dubs him. De Rome’s films were unpopular with the authorities in the 60s and 70s, but they struck a chord with audiences by documenting gay sexuality with unashamed vigour.

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The Fire Island Kids by Peter De Rome | Uncredited and undated | 16171gh

When British censors agreed to certify a compilation of De Rome’s work in 2010, they noted the “artistic, cultural and historical merit” that made the film “distinguishable from a sex work”.

Peter De Rome was born on 28 June 1924 and died on 21 June 2014. He became an American citizen in 1997.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/mar/12/grandfather-of-gay-porn-peter-de-rome

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Remembering Tony Warren

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Tony Warren, 1965 | John Vere Brown/National Portrait Gallery | 16135gh

Gay Activist is sad to learn of the passing of writer Tony Warren, aged 79.
Best known as the creator of Coronation Street, he died on Monday night after a short illness, surrounded by friends.

Homosexuality was illegal when Coronation Street was created and Warren said that, “if you were going to work in television and you were gay, you had to be three times as good as anyone else.

“The first Coronation Street writing team contained some of the biggest homophobes I’ve ever met. I remember getting to my feet in a story conference and saying: ‘Gentlemen, I have sat here for two-and-a-half hours and listened to three poof jokes, a storyline dismissed as poofy and an actor described as ‘useless for us as he’s a poof’. As a matter of fact, he isn’t. But I would point out that I am one, and without a poof none of you would be in work today.’”

Warren is survived by his cousin Roy and his friends and colleagues.

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/mar/02/coronation-street-creator-tony-warren-dies

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