“It’s just outrageous to suggest this sort of thing,” said Prince Edward in The Daily Mirror (10 Apr). “It’s so unfair to me and my family … The scurrilous rumours are preposterous. They cause hurt not only to me but to my mother, father, brothers and sister.”
What? What? He’s a mass murderer, perhaps? Or he pushes heroin to kiddies? No — the rumours simply suggest he might be gay. “How would you feel if someone said you were gay?” he asks. Well, now you come to mention it, not bad at all. I certainly wouldn’t carry on as though I’d just been accused of torturing the Queen Mum with red hot pokers.
But such is the strange world of the tabloid journalist, who must first create rumours so that he can then report them being denied.
The challenge was — how to make a three-sentence denial into a front page lead and centre-page spread? Easy, pad it out with a lot of gratuitous gay-bashing. The Mirror provided us with an unedifying potted biography of Prince Edward who has, we’re assured, been plagued by rumours about his sexuality right from his early teenage years when he was known as a “Mummy’s boy”. Later in Buckingham Palace (“where homosexuality is a way of life among many royal servants”) it was suggested he was a “closet queen”. His closest friends apparently knew him as “AC/DC — a ditherer unable to make up his mind one way or the other”. At Cambridge he was known, according to The Mirror as “wimp”. At a charity show a journalist is supposed to have said “he behaved like a petulant ballerina with a ladder in her tights”.
Moving on to the Royal Marines (from which he made an ignominious exit) he was “dubbed The Apple Juice Kid” because he wasn’t a big drinker like the other rookies. He made an “even worse gaffe” by joining the “darlings and dear-boys of theatre-land”. He rapidly came to be known —according to the Mirror — as “Mavis”.
And there you have the complete picture of how tabloid journalists perceive gay men. Why bother with original thought when stereotypes are so easily at hand? Credit for the above romp through HRH’s history goes to drivelling ignoramus (or ‘Royal expert’) Harry Arnold. But even he couldn’t outdo John Junor (Mail on Sunday 15 Apr): “My own intense dislike of the grotesquely-named gay movement is not directed at homosexuals who suffer their infirmity in silence but at those who sleazily flaunt it almost as a badge of honour and seek to pervert the innocent young.”
The Sun, furious at being upstaged in its specialty of royalty-baiting, informed us (11 Apr) that Cathy McGowan was rushing to New York to be with her boyfriend Michael Ball, star of “Aspects of Love”. “She is deeply hurt and upset,’” we are told, “Cathy is totally devastated by the rumours. It was a great shock to her.” Ms McGowan’s trauma stems from another newspaper rumour (this time originated by Nigel Dempster) suggesting that Mr Ball and Eddie (as he is now rather familiarly known in headlines) are having a “touching” friendship.
The editor of Burke’s Peerage, Harold Brooks-Baker, says that such innuendo could “destroy the monarchy.” “How many thousands of people now really believe that there is something between Mr Ball and Prince Edward? Are they reading between the lines and saying there is something more than friendship between the two men?”
But the co-editor of Debretts, David Williamson, was much more laid-back about it: “If it was ever revealed that a member of the Royal Family was homosexual, I don’t think it would be a great blow to the monarchy. It is an entirely different age we live in now.”
According to Today (11 Apr) Prince Edward is being cynically used as a PR accessory by his employer, Andrew Lloyd-Webber: “The Prince, kept under the watchful eye of a pushy publicist, was dutifully wheeled around the room at appointed intervals to shake hands and make small-talk with the habitual first night hangers-on,” said the paper. “Edward is paid to assist on the production of the show, not to be paraded around as a rent-a-royal for King Lloyd Webber.”
Of course, something really useful could have come out of this farrago if the suggestions of a letter-writer to The London Evening Standard (1 Apr) had been followed up: “What a pity that Prince Edward is not gay. A Royal with an interest in homosexual causes — rather like Prince Charles campaigns for architecture or his wife for the fashion industry — could only have done some good at a time when there is so much anti-homosexual hysteria around. Practically every minority has a Royal backing it. Why shouldn’t the gays?”
Julie Burchill (Mail on Sunday 15 Apr) saw even more advantages to having a gay Prince: “No more boring Royal marriages,’” she wrote, “No more boring Royal pregnancies … No more boring English films, usually directed by Bryan Forbes, as the year’s Royal Premiere. But instead glorious, glamorous revivals of the bitchy, brilliant films of George Cukor and Bette Davis.”
And it isn’t as though there haven’t been precedents. The London Evening Standard (11 Apr) treated us to a list of historical royal personages who have been rather more upfront than present-day ones: “William Rufus was gay and French, which was worse, and everyone knew about Richard the Lionheart … he and Blondel were the talk of the Middle Ages.” Edward II and Piers Gaveston; James I “possibly our campest king’”. Apparently, there were rumours about William of William and Mary and “there seems little doubt about the Queen’s great uncle Albert, Duke of Clarence … There was a notorious male bordello in Cleveland Street in his day. The police raided it and there, it is said, he was.”
Describing the “Aspects of Love” party at which the whole thing started, Today said: “The problem for the Prince is that first nights are notorious for attracting homosexuals to the glitz and glamour. ‘I don’t think there is one straight man here,’ complained one glamorous New York socialite.” Oh really? What about Prince Edward and Michael Ball?
One thing this whole episode has shown is that the newspapers have not changed one bit. Their “codes of practice’” are nothing but hucksters’ window-dressing, and their behaviour positively screams for legislation.
The award for slimy hypocrisy goes, once again, to The People’s crappy columnist John Smith. Under the heading “Ghastly gay propaganda” he was commenting on “radical gays” in America who are threatening to expose famous homosexuals”. “What a thoroughly nasty idea,” he says. “Everyone is entitled to keep their sex life secret. And that secrecy shouldn’t be sacrificed so that gossipy gays can ruin people’s lives for the sake of poofter propaganda.”
I hate to intrude into Mr Smith’s fantasy, but I would rather like to remind him that the paper he works for has made the exposure of homosexuals into an art form. Wasn’t it The People (30 July, 1988) that “exposed’” the gay sex life of Sea Lord Admiral Sir David Empson? And wasn’t it only a year ago that the paper carried on its front page the revelation that Coronation Street actor Roy Barraclough was gay?
Is my memory playing tricks or was it The People who named several gay vicars on the weekend before the General Synod debate on homosexuality?
I expect Mr Smith will be resigning from his job when he finds out what sort of a filthy rag he works for. If it’s propaganda he wants, The People beats the poofters hands down.
“My attacks have not been on homosexuals … I make no apology for the language I use. It is the language of Sun readers, and indeed, the majority of British people.’” — Sun TV critic Gary Bushell in a letter to the Press Council, March 1990.
“It must be true what they say about nobody being all bad . . . even STALIN banned poofs’” — Gary Bushell, The Sun, 21 March.
“A Labour council and a charity have launched a social club for gay PENSIONERS. Camden Council and Age Concern set up the group for camp codgers at a day centre in North London.’” —Sun, 3 Mar.
“Loony Labour councillors have launched a drive to encourage gays and lesbians to foster and ADOPT children, it was revealed last night.’” — Sun, 28 Mar.
“Southwark Council is pioneering a scheme to make gays and lesbians foster parents . . . As a white hetero, I do rather feel, now, in the minority.’” — Sun, 30 Mar.
“Camden Council have no idea how to cut £4,400,000 from their budget as the Government demands. But Dr Skolar says: ‘For a start they could get rid of the gay and lesbian, ethnic minority and political protest groups’. — Sun, 10 Apr.
“Other donations include … Reading Matters — a group which specialises in providing books for GAYS.’” — Sun, 23 Mar.
Could it be that there is a local Government election in the offing? And could it be that The Sun is getting rather desperate to distract attention from the THATCHER-SMASHING poll tax?
The papers have been keen to announce the appointment of their “readers’ representatives’” or ombudsmen. These gents (yes, you’ll be surprised to hear that they’re all men) are supposed to facilitate complaints from readers about breaches of the recent self-imposed code of conduct.
Almost all of them come from within the management of the newspapers concerned. An Independent reader, Kate Tuck, asked (31 Mar): “What confidence can women, those from ethnic minorities, or young people have that this homogenous group of individuals, however eminent in their respective fields, can effectively represent the interests of anyone other than white, middle-aged men?’” She might also have asked what hope is there for gay men and lesbians who are vilified daily in newspapers. A complaint I made to Mr Kenneth Donlan, The Sun’s ombudsman, brought the response that the gay community brings hostility on itself because of the antics of a noisy minority.
The main characteristic of ombudsmen, of course, is their independence from the organisations they monitor and their freedom from any conflict of interest in arriving at decisions. By this definition newspaper ombudsmen are just tawdry frontmen whose purpose is to deflect criticism.
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The Independent reported from America (7 Apr) about the case of Joe Steffan, who was hounded out of the United States Navy because he had confessed to being gay. There was no evidence that he had “committed homosexual acts’” and admitted only to a homosexual orientation. But, according to the official policy, as stated in 1982 by the then Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, “homosexuality is not compatible with military service’”.
Like most Americans, Mr Steffan is anxious to protect his rights, and is now about to launch litigation aimed at gaining readmission to the navy.
The Independent’s reporter, Keith Botsford, is generally sympathetic to Mr Steffan’s plight, and the article is very informative about American attitudes to homosexuality. But near the end he suddenly swerves towards the incoherent when describing arguments within the military against homosexuality. “There are two more arguments stated rarely in public but often enough in private,” he says. “The first holds that as homosexuals divide into active and passive (or male and female) roles, to allow them into an all-male society introduces three sexes into a group unswervingly by tradition devoted to one.”
We’ll leave the mind-boggling daftness of that statement and go on to the second which goes: “As any army contains a fair proportion of sadistic individuals, it would be unwise to offer them a supply of potential masochists: particularly in enclosed situations (Joe Steffan was to be a submariner).”
If these are the best “reasons” the navy can come up with it says something about the depth of their ignorance and their desperation to resist change.
But at least in America individuals have the right of appeal when they are treated unjustly by Courts Martial. In Britain, a case was reported (almost gleefully by the tabloids) of an Army Officer who was “dismissed from the service for the ‘sudden impulse’ which made him kiss Sapper Andrew Green on the lips in his car in a dark country lane”. (Daily Mail, 5 Apr). The officer, “a 42-year-old divorced father of two”, had 26 years exemplary service and had earned the Long Service Good Conduct Medal and General Service Medals for time in Northern Ireland and Saudi Arabia. He was “kicked out” of the service charged with “disgraceful conduct”. He stands to lose his £15,000 a year pension.
By anybody’s standards that is cruel and unusual punishment for snatching a kiss. Changes are long-overdue.
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Long before the National Union of Teachers even had their conference there was “controversy” about a plan to debate whether “all pupils should be given sex education in homosexuality” (The Daily Mail, 6 Apr). Immediately the right-wingers are lining up to start the ritual chant: “I think parents would be horrified,” says Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. “It sounds more like promotion of homosexuality than acceptance of it.”
Westminster Council’s education “Chairman’”, Marie-Louise Rossi “pledged’”, according to The London Evening Standard (11 Apr), that “even if the conference passed the motion it would not be implemented”, while Mrs Katie Ivens, Governor of Westminster School, said: “It is outrageous that union activists think gay sex is more important than English.” Not to be outdone, a local teacher, Martin Spafford, got even more hot under the collar screeching: “Left-wing pressure groups are indoctrinating our children and hijacking their schooldays for gay sex propaganda.”
All this misrepresentation weeks before the conference even began. Why don’t these Neanderthals listen to what is being proposed before they start shooting their hateful mouths off?