Friday, 4 August 2017

The Black Sheep of the Family

Jim and I went to a most intriguing soiree at the British Library on Monday evening - part "potted history", part cabaret, and in part a "workshop" for a full-scale musical extravaganza based up on the great man's life - Fred Barnes: the Black Sheep of the Family: "all about the Victorian invert Fred Barnes and his outrageous music-hall career, brought to life by Christopher Green". Mr Green is, of course, more famous for his creation "Ida Barr" [who made a spectacular appearance at my sister Hils' wedding!].

And it was marvellous! Fred Barnes's story is of course a fabulous one - more outrageously gay than many of the late 20th century artists who supposedly "broke the mould"; he flounced and flaunted himself across the Music Hall stages more than half a a century before the likes of Liberace, Sylvester, Bowie or Boy George were even gametes. His meteoric rise and equally spectacular (and somewhat sordid) fall will make for an excellent (and long overdue) show - and, from what Chris told us, it is already mooted to be staged at Wilton's Music Hall (co-starring Roy Hudd) in 2018.

However - what of those stories of Fred's life he related to an enraptured audience? They are somewhat sketchy [mainly due to Mr Barnes' notoriety; few comprehensive biographical details were ever published], but fascinating...

From The Guardian:
[Fred Jester Barnes was] a "wavy-haired, blue-eyed Adonis", fond of pink-and-white makeup and his pet marmoset; he had been inspired to take the stage by Vesta Tilley and the original Burlington Bertie. But by 1907, he was bored. Inspired by his father, a Birmingham butcher who despaired of his theatrical son, Barnes wrote a new song, The Black Sheep of the Family, about the "queer, queer world we live in". The song had its first outing on a Monday night at the Empire; the crowd of 1,500 loved it, and Barnes - who later joked that he had written the song in a fit of pique at being repeatedly given a tricky "first turn" billing - was soon promoted to the star slot.

From British Music Hall - an Illustrated History by Richard Anthony Baker:
Fred Barnes, the original singer of Give Me The Moonlight (1917) [later made world famous by Frankie Laine] and On Mother Kelly's Doorstep (1925) [which became one of Danny La Rue's mainstays], was among the most popular entertainers of his day. But his career ended by heavy drinking and his homosexuality. Having earned thousands of pounds, he finished his days in poverty...

...It is impossible to tell how many people knew Fred was gay. [Homosexual acts were then illegal.] At first, it became known in the profession. Fred was derided for wearing more stage make-up than most and he earned himself the nickname "Freda". Quentin Crisp has recounted that, on making visits to Portsmouth as a young man, friendly sailors jokingly asked him if he knew Fred. It is probably that Fred's father knew of his predilection. Whatever the truth, Fred's store of good luck started to run out in 1913 when his father committed suicide by cutting his throat. One account speaks of Fred's father arriving with a meat axe at the stage door of a theatre Fred was playing, determined to kill him. When he was thwarted, he went home and killed himself. Fred dated his own downfall from that point, although he had many more years ahead of his as a star. In 1914, he said he had no vacant dates for three years and even had contracts booking him as far ahead as 1924.

Fred's success went to his head. He kept four cars, he employed a butler, a valet and two maids; he gambled, getting through as much as £1,500 in one night in Monte Carlo; and he began drinking. His dressing room bill sometimes totalled £30 a week. By 1922 his drinking had become a problem. He was booked to appear in Australia at a salary of £200 a week, more than he had ever earned before, but, every day, he said, he drank more than was good for him and, during the middle of his second week at the Tivoli, Melbourne, he missed a performance. The rest of the run was cancelled... Back in Britain, theatre managers soon got to know of his unreliability. In Brighton, he was taken off the bill at the Hippodrome for being drunk on stage...
However, for me the greatest revelations about Fred were his absolutely outrageous defiance of the rules and the law of the land, regardless of the consequences. QX magazine, partially quoting from Paul Bailey's book Three Queer Lives related:
Fred liked men in uniform. In 1924 The Times reported that he’d been arrested in Hyde Park for “being drunk in charge of a motorcar.” He had tried to bribe the arresting officer with £100. The paper gallantly made no mention of the half-dressed sailor seen running from the scene of the crime. Fred was sentenced to a month in prison. When he was released, he was banned from the Royal Tournament as “a menace to His Majesty’s fighting forces”...

...but, according to Chris, he continued to get back in to the Tournament, year on year - often with the help of "his boys"!

What a remarkable man Fred Barnes was. And Christopher Green is the perfect man to "bring him to life"!

Here's he is performing as Fred [at Duckie's Lady Malcolm's Servant's Ball]:


Monday, 31 July 2017

People's opinions don't interfere with me

"Beyond the beauty, the sex, the titillation, the surface, there is a human being. And that has to emerge."

"People's opinions don't interfere with me. Ageing gracefully is supposed to mean trying not to hide time passing and just looking a wreck. That's what they call ageing gracefully. You know?"

"To give a character life in a short space of time, it helps if you arrive on screen with a past."

"If you get trapped in the idea that what is most important is what image of yourself you're giving to the world, you're on a dangerous path."

"I don't feel guilt. Whatever I wish to do, I do."

Adieu, Mademoiselle Jeanne Moreau (23rd January 1928 – 31st July 2017)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Magazine for Modern Young Men

As the BBC continues its month-long celebration Gay Britannia, with plays, films, documentaries and discussions all to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Britain, so the ever-marvellous John Coulthart's Feuilleton takes a look at a long-forgotten remnant of those days, the esoteric Jeremy magazine...
...a short-lived publication launched in the UK in 1969. The magazine is notable not for the quality of its contents - which seem slight considering the high cover price of six shillings - but for being the first British magazine aimed at an audience of gay men that wasn’t porn, a dating mag or a political tract. I had planned to write something about Jeremy at least two years ago... but detailed information about the magazine’s history is hard to find.

The anniversary of the change in the law has prompted a number of exhibitions and events devoted to Britain’s gay history but little of that history ever seems to travel beyond academic circles unless a notable life story - Quentin Crisp or Alan Turing, say - is involved. As with so many aspects of British culture, the conversation is dominated by America: the main campaigning organisation in the UK, Stonewall, is named after an American riot; the LGBT initialism is an American invention, as is the rainbow flag (the latter, as I’ve said before, being fine as a flag but - with its multiple colours - hopeless as a symbol). More Britons will know the name Harvey Milk than they do Edward Carpenter (1844–1929) or Allan Horsfall (1927–2012) even though Carpenter and Horsfall devoted years of their lives campaigning for gay men to be treated equally under the law in the Britain. Horsfall’s Campaign for Homosexual Equality pioneered the push for gay rights in Britain, the first official meeting taking place in Manchester in 1964. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 seemed in later years like a poor compromise but when the alternative being offered was celibacy or the risk of a prison sentence it was a start...
..and, it would seem, an important part in this momentous history was played by Jeremy!

Read more of this fascinating article

Sunday, 16 July 2017