Having carefully created The Great Gay Scare over the past couple of years, the tabloid press made full use of it during the election campaign. “Red Ken to defy Neil and speak out for Gays” said THE SUN’S front page (19 May) while its sister paper The NEWS OF THE WORLD (17 May) ran “My Love for Gay Labour Boss” over two pages. “The Left’s plan for gay charter” announced the front page of THE DAILY MAIL (6 June). “Ken displays gay abandon” was on the front page of THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (24 May) and The SUN gave the whole of page one to the headline (28 May) “Labour picks rent boy as school boss.” “Lesbian plots to pervert nursery tots,” was another classic.
But it was not only Labour who were tarred with the gay brush. The SUN also went for David Steel using the same cudgel (June 5): “Lower gays’ age of consent, says Steel—Liberal leader’s radio gaffe is set to split the Alliance.”
These despicable smears had obviously been trawled for far and wide. Some of them had been held back until the moment was right to inflict maximum damage. The tactics didn’t go unnoticed by other papers. Ken Livingstone, who knows more than most about newspaper smear techniques, quoted in THE LONDON DAILY NEWS (4 June) from an autobiography written in 1914 by Patrick Macgill and recalling an editor’s advice: “The public is a crowd of asses and you must interest it. You are paid to interest it with plausible lies or unsavoury truths. Our readers gloat over scandal, revel in scandal and pay us for writing it. Learn what the public requires and give it that. Think one thing in the morning and another at night, preach what is suitable to the mob and study the principle of the paper for which you write. Fleet Street is the home of chicanery, of fraud, of versatile vices and unnumbered sins. Only its falseness is consistent.”
Ian Aitken in THE GUARDIAN (8 May) said: “One can shake one’s head sadly over this sort of thing and turn gratefully to one’s more tasteful choice in newspapers. But the fact is things are getting worse rather than better; a substantial section of the press is now plumbing depths never before experienced in this country… yet I confess I have no idea what can be done about it in a free society. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch really is the price we have to pay for liberty. If so, it is a shamefully heavy one.”
It is sobering to see how effective a weapon homophobia has been for the Tories, and it is one they will not relinquish easily. Over the next few years we are going to become scapegoats on a grand scale.
SUNDAY TODAY was closed down half way through its series about “Gay Life in Britain” so only the first two parts made it to the news-stands (24th and 31st May). The whole thing was introduced in a fairly downbeat way by agony aunt Denise Robertson and the first double page spread was … well, I hate to carp when people are trying to be helpful … but it was old-fashioned. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a magazine in the early seventies when positive images of gay people were something of a novelty. A lot of space was given over to an explanation of supposed gay slang “polari”, which I’ve never heard anyone use, except Jules and Sandy all those years ago on the radio. But according to this article: “Many older gays speak polari and even young boys understand a word or two.” They do?
The second part was better, probably because it was mainly written by gay people themselves. Mark Finch of the Gays and Broadcasting Group did a hatchet job on the failure of TV to represent gays accurately, Brian Kennedy wrote about his Coming Out. There was a bit about police nastiness, Jackie Forster was interviewed about lesbians and Peter Morey-Weale about self-defence courses.
We were promised the following week “The Shocking pink scene”. If it was as bad as it sounded, perhaps it’s as well that it never made it into print.
Even when all the objective evidence says otherwise, the Tories continue to insist that parents know best about their children’s sex education. THE GUARDIAN (6 May) reported that the headmaster of St Augustine of Canterbury School in had sent a questionnaire to all 700 sets of parents to ask: “How should sex be taught.” What should be said about Aids and homosexuality? The response was a resounding silence—not a single reply. The headmaster, Alan Shepherd said: “We are given the impression from newspapers that parents are desperately concerned about what their children are taught. But when we held a meeting about it, only 40 out of 1400 parents turned up.”
There is evidence, however, that children understand the issues much more clearly than their parents do. In the HACKNEY GAZETTE (5 June), there was a report that pupils at a school in the area had organised a petition addressed to their local Tory candidate protesting about the notorious propaganda poster which had suggested that three books—one of which was “Young, Gay and Proud”—were a sinister threat to young minds. The Tory candidate himself refused to believe that the children had organised the protest themselves and said (rather predictably) that they had been “manipulated by left-wing teachers”.
THE LONDON DAILY NEWS carried a heartfelt letter from another pupil (10 June) who was upset by a mock election held in his school. “One of the Conservative posters shows a group of supposedly gay protesters holding banners which say ‘Gay Rights’ and ‘Ban the Bomb’ and the words underneath ‘This is the Labour camp … do you want to live in it?’ I feel that the poster is quite offensive to some school friends of mine who are gay.”
Perhaps there’s hope for us yet with the next generation!
It seems the knives are out for Colin and Barry in EastEnders. THE SUN led the charge by reporting that widespread outrage had been caused by a scene in the programme which showed the gay lovers ‘being affectionate’ to one another. Colin apparently reassured Barry “with a cuddle—and a kiss on the hand”. The Sun said that “Dozens of viewers—many with children—were sickened by the scene. Retired milkman Bert Fulker, 64, said his four-year-old daughter watched the episode which started at 7.30. ‘It’s scandalous to show it at that time of night,’ said Mr Fulker of Croydon, Surrey.”
Meanwhile. THE NEWS OF THE WORLD said: “protests engulfed the BBC following the scene.” I checked with the BBC about exactly how many calls they had received from outraged viewers. A spokeswoman for EastEnders told me that they had, in fact, received fewer calls than usual that night.
Only a couple of dozen were about the gay scene and not all of them critical. “The Sun worded their story very cleverly,” she said. “They overstated the position wildly. When you consider we have 20 million viewers it’s hardly a significant protest.”
The NoW also revealed (14 June) that Michael Cashman who plays Colin is, in real life, gay himself. (Hi, Michael—we love you even more now!). Why it was necessary for the paper to say this in the first place isn’t clear, but it was surely quite gratuitously spiteful of them to publish Michael’s address and reveal which pub is his local. This is a particularly nasty trick when the same article goes on to reveal that the actor who plays the other half of the gay couple, Barry (who is “anything but gay”) has been beaten up a couple of times by queerbashers.
Then THE DAILY EXPRESS (10 June) carried a typically selfish letter from one of its readers, Mrs Val Ogier. “I am an avid fan of EastEnders but I am getting a bit fed up with out gay couple. The last few episodes have proved a bit too much to suffer at such an early viewing time. I’m broadminded but if the BBC isn’t careful it will spoil the programme’s family atmosphere.”
Mrs Ogier is about as ‘broad-minded’ as an amoeba, but I have a nasty feeling that such carping will, eventually, carry the day. My bitter prediction is that Colin and Barry will disappear from our screens in the near future, and we may never see their likes again.
Jim and Tammy Bakker were once famous coast-to-coast in America as TV evangelists. They ranted and railed against the evils of the modern world—against drugs, disrespect for marriage, greed and homosexuality. And as they ranted at their red-neck viewers they implored them to send ever more money so that “the good work” could be continued. But then (according to YOU magazine 7 June) it all fell apart. “Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth when a former church secretary Jessica Hahn admitted that seven years ago she had a night of dalliance with Jim in a Florida hotel suite and had been paid £160,000 in hush money.”
Tammy was admitted to a drug rehabilitation centre and now, according to TODAY (29 May) Jim is accused of having had more than one homosexual experience. “That’s a lie,” he protested. “It’s worse than if I’d been assassinated.” But the evidence of the dastardly deeds has been produced by none other than founder of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell who has now assumed responsibility for the PTL Television Ministry. (PTL means Praise the Lord or, perhaps, People that Lie).
You would think that after this the whole deception would come tumbling down. But no—the money continues to flow in and the apparently limitless gullibility of middle-America remains undented. And meanwhile one of the other TV evangelists is running for president and being taken seriously.
Where is it all leading?
And so, we wave a not very fond farewell to our old friend Peter (Ratface) Bruinvels. He failed to retain his seat in Leicester East—indicating that sanity still prevails in isolated pockets of this country. But before we let the little twerp pass into well-deserved obscurity, we ought to look at a story about him in the INDEPENDENT (9 June). It told of Mr Bruinvels going walkabout in search of votes. “He was accosted by one Rosie Silver,” says the paper, “a ‘practising Christian and mother of four’ as she describes herself.” Ms Silver expressed the opinion that Bruinvels should be ashamed of himself for offering to act as hangman should capital punishment to reintroduced. She told him that such a thing was “decidedly anti-Christian.” Mr Bruinvels would have none of it. “He looked me squarely in the face,” she claims, “and said ‘Piss Off!’”
It is that same sentiment that I am sure Gay Times readers will join me in sending now to Mr Bruinvels himself.
I AM glad that I am not alone in believing that the newspapers in this country (as influenced by Rupert Murdoch) are a distinct threat to democracy. Ron Todd, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union gave a lecture to the London School of Economics in which he said (INDEPENDENT 2 June): “Over the past decade there has been a measurable and dramatic decline in the standards of the popular Press. I believe their standards have become so corrupt as to create a cultural imbalance, which is a threat to the health of democracy itself.”
He said that the tabloids fostered racial prejudice and were responsible for “a persistent and perverse degradation of women and for trivialising human intimacy.” The fabrication of stories was almost “commonplace.” THE GUARDIAN (2 June) reported the same speech and added that Mr Todd had told journalists “that they had to take responsibility for the work they did. ‘We have to say frankly to journalists that the Nuremberg defence no longer cuts ice; the predictable trail of disappearing responsibility which starts with the reporter and goes through the subs will no longer prove absolution.’”
These are not new thoughts for gay people who see their lives distorted, lied about and manipulated for political ends every day of the week. But what can be done? Mr Murdoch isn’t interested in what his opponents have to say, and anyone who speaks out against this outrageous use of power will find no sympathy in the present political climate. All we can do is stand firm together and shout as loudly as we can that the tabloid press is lying, lying, lying.
Francis Wheen in the INDEPENDENT (2 June) revealed the depth of shame of Wapping journalists: “I hear that Kelvin McKenzie, the editor of The Sun, has been alarmed to discover that his staff can no longer bear to read their own paper. But he has an idea which will force them back: make the brutes take a weekly test in which they will be comprehensively quizzed on the paper’s contents.”
Leonard Bernstein, the composer of West Side Story, is the latest victim of an unscrupulous biographer in search of publicity for a book. This time it is Joan Peyser who has dished the dirt on what THE DAILY EXPRESS (27 May) called “one of world’s greatest living musical talents.” Ms Peyser is quoted in The Express as saying that behind the glittering success, Bernstein led a “sordid double life. He revelled in being a rampant homosexual and slumming it in gay bars… he was really a promiscuous homosexual who jumped into bed with boys on three continents.”
In the end, the pygmies who produce The Express have the barefaced gall to “excuse” the great man his “excesses” because of his overwhelming talent. Very big of them, I’m sure. It’s rather like a pig excusing a swan for being beautiful.