GAY TIMES February 1989

At one-time Wendy Henry, ex-editor of The News of the World, vied with Divine as the queen of sleaze, trash and bad taste. But really, there was no competition — Ms Henry won hands down every time she brought out an edition of her filthy rag.

Now she has fallen foul of her one-time mentor, ruthless Rupert; first she was packed off to be deputy editor of the super salacious Sun, and now she’s out of the Wapping empire altogether —whether willingly or not isn’t clear.

It’s tempting to say that Mediawatch will miss the material provided by Ms Henry, but I can say with one hand on heart that it isn’t true. Good riddance is what this column thinks, and here’s hoping her career has gone where it always deserved to be — down the toilet. Under her editorship the NoW was packed week after week with anti-gay garbage — “the more bizarre the better” as The Independent said (19 Dec). “It is widely known that Mr Murdoch does not like homosexual stories,” said the same article. Oh really? It may be widely known to The Independent, but news doesn’t seem to have reached The Sun, where the gay-bashing continues as usual.

In her final edition of the NoW on 18th December, Ms Henry managed to squeeze in two double page spreads on gay themes. One concerned “rampant homosexual” Cary Grant and several other deceased “pervert stars”. A gentleman by the name of Michael St John claims that he was “gang-raped” by the likes of Charles Laughton and Gig Young at a Hollywood party. Needless to say, all those named are now dead and beyond denying the allegations (and also, mercifully, being hurt by them). But it doesn’t stop there — apparently Mr Grant enjoyed other “perversions that made even gay sex look tame.” It’s all so prurient that I won’t sicken you with it. Ms Henry seems to have imagined that the gloating descriptions of necrophilia were great family entertainment. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that the instigator of these tawdry ‘revelations’ is about to bring out a book. Oh, how easy it is to make money if you don’t have a conscience.

Another sensational exposé concerned “Former First Division soccer hardman Tony Powell” who apparently has “run away with his gay young lover” to “San Francisco, the Aids capital of the world.”

This sorry tale was provided to the ever-slavering NoW by the victim’s deserted wife (no indication of how much she was paid for the dirt). It boils down to the classic case of a gay man marrying to fulfil other people’s expectations, and then finding out he can’t keep up the pretence. The article’s heading “Sordid truth . . . he now dolls up in frocks” was unsupported in the body of the feature. There was a picture of Mr Powell at a fancy-dress party in panto-style drag – hardly evidence of someone taking a serious interest in transvestism.

As a case of revenge, it was perfect. The wife’s—bitterness is understandable, she feels wronged and this is evident in the way she refers to her husband disparagingly as “a big fairy”. But this kind of vengeance is a mean-spirited business which is probably why The News of the World grabbed it with both hands.

However, in one of the first editions of the NoW under the editorship of Patsy Chapman (15 Jan), there appeared a double page spread devoted to the gay life of BBC presenter Bill Buckley. Lo and behold, it was friendly, positive and generally complimentary. Mr Buckley spoke of his five year relationship with James Thomas. He told how happy they were and how he and James would marry if the law permitted. Bill was not treated to the usual quota of disapproving            adjectives like “outrageous”, “sleazy”, “bizarre”, etc. that have become the norm in these kinds of stories. In fact, it was all rather sympathetic.

He also told how he received a “personal assurance from the BBC” that speculation about his relationship wouldn’t harm his career. The whole feature was seen from his point of view, and very cheering it was, too. “There are so many gay people in showbusiness who keep quiet and must worry every day of their lives about being found out,” he says. “If they let it be known publicly, as I’ve done, they’d find it a tremendous help to their peace of mind. We should be much more open and break down public ignorance.”

Indeed, the article ends with Bill declaring “Life just couldn’t be better.” Cheers, Bill — and thanks to Patsy Chapman. Let’s hope it’s the dawn of a new era.

The annual report of The Press Council (Press and the People. £8.50) chides editors for either ignoring its findings or publishing them “in an obscure place in the paper in minuscule type.” But what of the Press Council itself? It obviously doesn’t work, and despite the unconvincing defence by the outgoing chairman, Sir Zelman Cowan, the Council’s reputation as a “toothless watchdog” will persist.

A Gay Times reader made a complaint to the Press Council about the grotesque editorial which appeared in The Sun on 4th November, 1988, blaming the whole gay community for the murder by Victor Miller of newsboy Stuart Gough. A more blatantly prejudiced and dangerous piece of journalism would be difficult to imagine. The Press Council replied that the complaint had been ‘disallowed’ because the complainant had “not made a sufficiently substantial case to warrant adjudication”.

It’s been the same story with almost all gay complaints. It seems the Press Council defends the rights of editors in tabloid papers to “express their opinions forcefully” on gay topics — meaning they can publish whatever slanderous anti-gay rubbish they like. The Council will not accept that such attacks are likely to incite hatred and violence against innocent people.

The Victor Miller/ Stuart Gough case took the vilification of the gay community to new extremes, but I knew that the Press Council would not entertain complaints about it. Consequently, I decided to make a complaint on grounds of racism. The offending article appeared in The Daily Star on 9th February, 1988, and referred to Miller as a “black bastard”. Whatever contempt Miller deserves, his race and sexuality were not the issues on trial.

My complaint was accepted for adjudication on 22nd December, 1988 — eleven months later! God knows how long it will be before they reach a decision. And of what value will it be when it’s announced? Nobody will remember anything about the case.

The newly appointed Chairman of the Press Council is Louis Blom-Cooper. He promises that there will be fundamental changes in the way the Council operates in order to make it more convincing. Perhaps now would be a good time for a gay pressure group (OLGA, perhaps?) to make an approach to him and ask him to investigate and correct the blatant anti-gay bias in his organisation.

Deserved contempt department: “The Sun, a newspaper which some would argue does little for communication at any level, except the most basic of propagating prejudice and stereotypes of the grossest kind” — The Guardian, (29 Dec)

“Murdoch is a ruthless tycoon who has pioneered new lows in popular journalism, thereby degrading the whole of the popular Press. In certain instances, he has used his papers to support Mrs Thatcher’s Government in the most craven way.” — The Observer, (8 Jan)

Back in November the annual survey into British Social Attitudes “revealed” that 74 per cent of the population thought that homosexual relationships were “always or mostly wrong”. Now a survey by The Sunday Times (8 Jan) says that 44 per cent thought homosexual relationships between consenting adults to be “morally wrong.” That’s a swing in our favour of 30 per cent in three months!

So, what does this tell us? That we are far less unpopular than the Government would have us believe? Or maybe that these surveys are just a load of bollocks that are good for nothing but filling the pages of crappy newspapers?

The choice of Julian Clary or The Joan Collins Fan Club as co-host for an early-evening TV quiz show was surprising. One would have thought that anyone as blatantly gay as Julian and as disgracefully camp as Fanny the Wonderdog would have been totally unacceptable to a family audience. That is certainly the somewhat predictable opinion of the tabloids, reporting that “TV bosses wash out gay Julian’s foul mouth” (Daily Star, 22 Dec). The Sun said on the same day that “Gay gags by gender-bender Julian Clary have been AXED from TV star Mike Smith’s new games show.”

As usual, the po-faced papers had missed the joke. “Trick or Treat” is a send-up of quiz shows with prizes given out by bare-chested men instead of scantily-clad women and Julian providing a counterpoint to the blandness of Mike Smith. (Ruby Wax reviewed the programme for Today [12 Jan] and said that Julian’s ensemble looked like something he had ripped from the corpse of Carmen Miranda.) So shocked was The Daily Star by Julian’s jokes (or perhaps even his existence) that they went into their screeching moral outrage mode: “Shocked TV chiefs dramatically censored Mike Smith’s new games show after his outrageous gay co-host blurted out a stream of crude sexual innuendo. Self-confessed homosexual Julian Clary stunned LWT bosses with his evil-tongued outbursts — to be screened for family audiences … now the makers are bracing themselves for a backlash.” With this level of hysteria over something which isn’t really very important, one begins to fear for the sanity of the people who write it day after day. Perhaps a bucket of cold water or a slap across the face would calm them down. If The Daily Star thinks I can be helpful in this department, please let me know.

The Ealing Gazette —slightly less prone to the screaming hab-dabs — previewed the programme with this comment (6 Jan): “It must be the oddest partnership ever … Mike said his mum was a bit worried about him working with Julian and Fanny the Wonderdog, although Julian hasn’t said what his mum thinks about him working with Mike Smith.”

Here’s hoping that “Trick or Treat” lives up to expectations and provides a bit of real entertainment for the much-neglected pretend family audiences. After all, we pay our licence fee, too.

Although Peregrine Worsthorne was on holiday for the 15th January issue of The Sunday Telegraph, his defence of Section 28 is upheld by someone else writing the editorial that week. The argument goes that critics of Mrs Thatcher should not always be dismissed because they are “well-off sillies”, but because they often overstate their case. The campaign against Section 28 was cited as an example. “This was a measure which was supposed to enable local authorities to ban from municipally subsidised theatres and libraries any works by or about homosexuals,” says the editorial. “In fact it was introduced to stop teachers proselytising in the classroom on behalf of homosexuality, and local authorities from subsidising ‘Gay’ events on the rates.”

The editorial then goes on to say that the campaign which followed the clause’s introduction was “hysterical” and subsequent history has shown that the protests from the “arts lobby” were over the top as “there have been no prosecutions under the clause, and any successful ones will be rare and have little to do with ‘the arts’.”

What this writer fails to say is that the clause was so badly worded and so illogically constructed that there is little wonder that its intention was misunderstood. The Sunday Telegraph also omitted any analysis of the philosophy behind Section 28, and the necessity to challenge it strongly as a message to anyone with a desire to take the legislative gay-bashing any further.

I am unconvinced by The Sunday Telegraph’s arguments that criticism of Section 28 was misplaced; the section is a salutary example of Thatcher-ism’s increasingly sinister face.

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