Wednesday, 17 September 2014

When Dirk Dared

Tucked away in the early morning TV schedules, I came across a film called ‘Victim’. I looked it up, not having heard of it before, and discovered a fascinating piece of history. ‘Victim’ was made in 1961 and stars Dirk Bogarde.  Apparently his taking this part was a big risk, which in itself tells us something about the climate of the day and encapsulates the film’s theme.  Basically, this is a film about homosexuality among men, and the reasons why it should be decriminalised and accepted as part of society.  This film was made at a time when love between two men was still a crime punishable by prison in a legal sense and ostracism and hate in general.  Things were slowly beginning to change, obviously the arguments were in full force before final decriminalisation in 1967. Acts such as this one have a tendency to rumble on for a few years before going through parliament.  Also, I think that the fact that Bogarde took the part shows that he thought that there was some possibility that his career and livelihood wouldn’t be totally destroyed.  Did he detect a thaw in the air?

Defiant Dirk drawn by @aitchteee

 I realise that things are still not perfect for gay men out there.  Coincidentally, on the same day that I watched ‘Victim’ I was browsing on Twitter and I saw a post from the Reverend Richard Coles. He put up a photograph of a letter that he had received. This letter was from a person who firmly believes that there is far too much of this sort of thing and soon everyone will be gay and there will be no more babies being born.  Or something.  They were of the school of thought that being gay is catching. Anyway it just shows that there are still people out there with distinctly old fashioned attitudes.  And they might be in a position to discriminate in any number of ways.  As a female I can understand that there will be the occasional meetings with people whose outlook is stuck in a chauvinistic time warp. But at least now we all have the law on our side, and discrimination and victimisation can be fought.  It is alright to speak out when we are affected by these issues. To watch ‘Victim’ is to see how far we have moved on, and to view historical documentation showing how homosexuality as a criminal offence impacted society.

The story begins with a handsome young lad called Boy Barrett who is in a panic and on the run from the police. He tries repeatedly to contact eminent barrister Farr (Bogarde) who continually brushes him off. It transpires that the two men have had a fleeting lovelorn relationship and that they were photographed in Farr’s car. This photograph was deliberately taken by a blackmailer and has been used to coerce Boy into stealing money from his workplace.  The police have now been called in and he is keen to keep the man he loves' name out of it.  He is picked up and taken to the station where he is interviewed by a liberal minded detective and his puritan assistant.  The detective has an idea why Boy has stolen the money and tries to coax the truth out of him. He refuses to speak, and when he is sent back to his cell he hangs himself.

When Farr finds out about the death of Boy he is filled with remorse – he thought that he wanted to blackmail him when he only wanted to protect his good name.  He sets out to find the blackmailers and tracks down others who are also being targeted. These men include a hairdresser; old and tired after four stints in prison because of his sexual “misdemeanours”.  Dennis Price plays an actor reminiscent of Noel Coward who is very keen to protect his image and must live life in the closet.  Farr himself is married and has battled against his true feelings. In this way we are presented with a whole string of victims. A young man dies, as does the older hairdresser, both having been denied the chance to live a full life. Men battle their perceived demons and one of them takes a wife in an attempt to look respectable to society. This also wrecks her chances of a happy life.  The film presents to us the sheer waste of life that this law and the attitudes behind it are responsible for.   It is a waste of public resources too, as an otherwise law abiding man has spent months of his life in prison, while police spend hours chasing blackmailers who thrive on this law. ‘Victim’ presents the pragmatic arguments for abolishing the law as well as showing sympathy for those caught out by it.  It demonstrates to us how life was before and why it needed to change – a fascinating peep into the transition phase of Britain from an uptight conservative society to the more liberal one that we know today.

The History Usherette's Second Seat Third Row is now available as an Amazon Kindle download for 77p.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Interlude Three

Here’s the next installment in my mini series of short stories inspired by the lives of my favourite film stars:


I think it was the year after we were married. We took our holiday on the Riviera that year.  The English Riviera that is, we don’t like abroad, Harold and I.  It all seems like so much fuss and when you get there it’s all dicky tummies and sunstroke.  And besides, it wasn’t so common to venture abroad back then.  Most people in our circles had two weeks on the south coast and we were no different.  We stayed in a rather nice hotel on the cliff top, a little bit away from everyone else.  I do wish that I could remember its name.  There was a gravel drive and the place was screened from the road with rhododendron bushes and fir trees. Harold and I had the feeling that we were joining a very select group of people by staying there. 

The hotel had its own swimming pool, an outdoor one.  They had planted a line of trees to act as a windbreak so it was sheltered from the sea breezes.  Quite a little suntrap – perfectly planned.  Residents had full use of it within daylight hours and I intended to make the most of it.  I had always been a swimmer, as a girl I had won one or two cups.  But after marriage and then the children…the annual holiday became the only opportunity I ever got to get in the water. But even when the children were young I had to supervise them at the same time.  I had no chance of getting any serious swimming under my belt. Harold you see is quite the opposite from me in this respect.  He isn’t exactly scared of water (or so he assures me) but he never learned to swim as a child and he has spent the rest of his life avoiding large expanses of the stuff.  Even now that we are older and the children grown up he is the one with the big hat and the book, sat as far up the beach as possible, while I thrash about in the waves.

So when we settled into this hotel, I made it my mission to seek out the pool and see if it lived up to my expectations.  It wasn’t big, but there was enough of it to get some momentum into a length.  I resolved to do some serious swimming every morning while Harold lazed around in bed with his ever-present novel.  The very next morning, the first full day of our holiday, I was at the pool for 8.00am.  As I had hoped, I was the first one there.  I dived in, the water was shockingly cold but I kicked off and moved my limbs so that the newly worked muscles sent heat to the rest of my body.  By my third length I was warm, I could positively feel the blood pumping around my system.  It was wonderful to feel that again. After a while I paused at the deep end and pushed myself downwards in a luxurious stretch.  It was at that moment that a pair of legs walked across my line of vision.  I felt so disappointed that I was about to share my morning swim.  The legs were old, quite flabby around the thigh and though I tried not to stare I noticed a paunched belly hanging over them, clad in a garish swimsuit. My disappointment deepened.  My new swimming companion looked like one of those who doggy paddles her way across the width of the pool.  There’s always one when you’re on holiday, continually thwarting those of us who wish to do some real exercise.   She lowered herself in, made some sort of exclamation about the cold and launched herself off.

I began to make my way back down the length of the pool, rather determined to show this newcomer what was what. But to my delight I found that I had misjudged her.  That was the moment when I learned my lesson about books and their covers and all that.  We crossed in the middle of the pool and if it weren’t for that garish outfit I would have thought that someone else had sneaked into the water without me noticing.  She had soon overtaken me without so much as a splash.  I thought then that she was mermaid like, which turned out to be quite a coincidence.  After a few more lengths I paused again for another stretch at the deep end.  In fact the cold water had given me a little cramp.  Until that point the mermaid and I had been swimming in a companionable silence, but now she joined me and began to chat.  As soon as she uttered her first word to me I recognised who she was. Harold likes his films as well as his books and I have seen so many of her efforts on the screen.  She told me that I looked familiar to her, and wondered if I frequented the Hampstead Ladies pool.  I told her that I had never been there, that I lived in Letchworth so it was just a little too far to go.  We concluded that I must just look like one of her fellow Hampstead swimmers and she went on to describe the merits of her favourite pool.  That was all that we talked about – the swimming.  I was perhaps a little star-struck and I didn’t acknowledge that I knew who she was.  But as she turned and continued with her lengths I said to myself ‘I simply cannot wait to see the look on Harold’s face when I tell him that Margaret Rutherford is in the hotel and likes to take a swim every morning.’ I contemplated saying to her that she and Glynis Johns should have swapped roles in that mermaid film, Miranda.  But I didn’t.   I expect they say that to her all the time at Hampstead.  

Harold was indeed dumfounded by my news and he nearly took up swimming on the spot!  Eventually, he decided that a better plan would be to seat himself in a wicker chair near to the pool entrance with his reading matter.  Being a little bit bolder than I am, he managed to persuade her to autograph his book.  So that is why we can never part with this battered old Len Deighton novel. Harold always regrets that he wasn’t reading an Agatha Christie at the time.  That would have been better, wouldn’t it?