My word you do look queer!
Once a month I meet up with a friend and ex-colleague for a pub lunch, he is recovering from an operation and I remarked how well he looked. It seems that I was the first one to say so everyone else was saying that he looked poorly, but then perhaps they have not heard of or don’t remember that famous Stanley Holloway monologue ‘My Word You Do Look Queer’! Stanley Holloway made this 1922 music hall piece popular some thirty years after the following recording.
At this point, having nothing prepared (due to my recent ban from My Telegraph), I was going to reprise my post A musical interlude and suddenly realised that changes in our language now make my title ‘My word you do look queer!’, a double entendre. However, I’ll let it hang there, change my intended context and let the modern usage of words run.
I listen to an internet radio station playing a lot of music that it terms ‘The Great American Song Book’. The word ‘gay’ was frequently included in many of the lyrics from this period – without any homosexual connotation. However, if today you mention the likes of Ivor Novello, Noël Coward, and many others, someone is sure to add; “You know they were gay!” to the conversation.
So; what do we make of Ivor Novello the composer of the musical Gay’s The Word and Noël Coward’s song Mad About The Boy. It was probably generally known that Ivor Novello and his musical operetta competitor Noël Coward were both homosexual, which today would make Novello’s musical and Coward’s song be the subjects of innuendo regarding their sexuality.
However, I will leave any speculation on how both mens sexuality informed their work and the extent to which it shaped their careers, up to a piece found at the Operetta Research Centre. In Coward & Novello, the author Richard C. Norton writes that; ‘While Coward and Novello were always privately known to be homosexual within the professional theatre community, the general public and the press respected their personal privacy and accepted their outward pretence of heterosexuality as a plausible fiction’.
Certainly any distaste on the part of the general public to Novello’s sexual proclivity was not voiced by the media at his funeral, when the nation mourned his passing.
To finish on Novello, my reprise of A musical interlude wouldn’t do as some of the links can no longer be found. However, a complete programme of the 2012 BBC Proms A Celebration of Ivor Novello is shown below and Simon Callow, who compared the BBC Prom, paid his own tribute to Ivor Novello in his article Ivor Novello, master of the musical
[NOTE] It now seems reprehensible that, by virtue of their renown as theatrical celebrities, both Coward and Novello were protected from mores of a society which professed to eschew homosexuality at the time.
Alan Turing, a mathematician and a hero of Bletchley Park during WWII, was convicted in 1952 of ‘Gross Indecency’ (homosexuality). In sentencing Turing, the court offered him a choice between a prison sentence, or probation conditional on “treatment” for his homosexuality.
Turing accepted the conditional probation and the organo-therapy, which was in effect a form of chemical castration. Turing purportedly took his own life two years later. A brilliant man, Alan Turing played a key role in the allied victory in the second world war by cracking the encoded messages produced by German Enigma machines, but this did not make him a national celebrity at the time.
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