OVER THE RAINBOW

Amidst the celebratory coverage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, it is certainly worth being reminded precisely how limiting the freedoms contained within the ‘consenting adults in private’ law actually were, and how these limitations made it easily open to abuse by the powers-that-be. After the Act was passed, it’s surprising to realise that more gay men were prosecuted than before it. Perhaps the understandable precautions that had been crucial prior to 1967 were perceived to be unnecessary once decriminalisation came into force; the illusion of legality blinded many to the numerous areas in which homosexuality remained criminal; it also forced the police and politicians to focus on those areas with renewed crusading vigour in the years thereafter.

A timely reminder of this uncomfortable truth came via Peter Tatchell’s excellent and eye (or ear)-opening Radio 4 documentary, ‘The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation’, broadcast on Saturday evening; it documented how 1967 was not so much an end as a beginning, the start of the long road to abolishing discrimination, altering attitudes and achieving an equal age of consent with heterosexuals – none of which were dealt with in the imperfect Act that came into being half-a-century ago.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the armed forces and the merchant navy – all exempt from decriminalisation in 1967; much anti-homosexual legislation remained on the statue book for decades after 1967 and queer-bashing was a legitimate police pastime well into the 1980s. For out and proud young men today, barely old enough to even remember the last century, all of this must seem insane. The prejudices openly unleashed upon gay men and largely unchallenged by the majority of society combined with the AIDS hysteria (AKA ‘The Gay Plague’) and Clause 28 to create a climate of moral panic that would unthinkable to anyone under, say, 30 in 2017. Perhaps the inability to comprehend how we used to live has played its part in a lack of perspective where those too young to remember are concerned.

The sins of their forefathers for allowing this state of affairs to linger for so long without challenge has undoubtedly fuelled a militant bullishness amongst the young; this reaction demands the law and society in general adopt the consensus they’ve developed to serve as a severe redress to the past. It comes partly from retrospective guilt and is not unlike America’s similar response to historical racism via the slave trade and segregation. At its most extreme, the new consensus is imposed with the same level of illogical fanaticism once employed by those who upheld and endorsed the previous prejudices this consensus reacts against, portraying anyone who is white as inherently racist and anyone who is heterosexual as inherently homophobic.

But the ironic outcome can often seem like less of a striving for genuine equality between the different sexual demographics – which is surely what should be aimed for – and more of a determined campaign to ensure the poacher is elevated to gamekeeper and vice-versa. The new consensus cannot alter the past, but the slightest sign of any attitude bearing a passing resemblance to the past – however mild in comparison – dumps the wrongs of the past on the doorstep of the present. The ‘gay cake’ saga in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago seemed indicative of this mindset; a refusal to countenance that there are many out there for whom homosexuality remains a difficult concept has created a climate of intolerance that excludes debate. If you don’t embrace this consensus, you are a homophobic bigot – end of. ‘Inclusivity’ does not include those who deviate from the script.

The clamour to be seen as endorsing the consensus by political parties and other establishment organisations that maybe weren’t viewed as so gay-friendly in the past resulted in the virtue signalling of the National Trust edict stating volunteers dealing with the public at Norfolk’s Felbrigg Hall (whose last resident, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was recently posthumously ‘outed’) must wear rainbow gay pride badges. Those who weren’t comfortable with wearing them were to be relegated to the backrooms of the property. The case was taken up by certain Fleet Street tabloids and predictably labelled a right-wing cause célèbre by the likes of the Grauniad; but the sudden reversal of the edict so that wearing the badges is now optional rather than compulsory seems a more sensible compromise that recognises inclusivity should mean what it says.

Many of the archive recordings of attitudes towards homosexuality excavated for Peter Tatchell’s Radio 4 retrospective were as gobsmacking to hear as similar excerpts of unashamedly racist language from the same era; but whilst these attitudes survive on a smaller scale in private, the cheerleaders for our liberated society still turn a blind eye to one publically vocal section of it. Some of the vilest and most bigoted opinions on homosexuality expressed today emanate from Islam, yet the ultra-liberal left gives Islam the kind of leeway it won’t tolerate in any other faith, let alone secular discourse. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Muslims have been designated the left’s persecuted pets; they are above and beyond the kind of criticism others are fair game for.

Of course, not every Muslim is virulently anti-gay any more than every Christian or every person without any religion whatsoever; I think most people aren’t really that bothered, to be honest. It’s just a shame the person who retains a problem with the notion of homosexuality – usually down to simple ignorance and lack of education – is lumped in with the genuinely homophobic in a rainbow that has no shades of grey.

© The Editor

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ELITISM FOR EVERYONE

Radio 4 listeners are creatures of habit. Different moments of the day are marked by the R4 schedule in clock-like fashion. From ‘Today’ to ‘The World at One’ and from ‘The Archers’ to ‘The Shipping Forecast’, the listeners know where they are and what time it is when a particular voice or theme tune rings around the room. These things may be insignificant to some, but to others they matter. Therefore, whenever a new-ish controller seeks to make their mark by axing a long-running programme or relocating a show to an alien time slot, Radio 4 listeners react in a manner that underlines how much both they and the station itself are regularly misjudged and misunderstood by the BBC overlords.

In 2006, the decision of then-R4 controller Mark Damazer to dispense with the UK Theme, an eccentric medley of traditional British and Irish melodies that had opened the station every morning since 1978, was greeted with a listeners’ backlash that even reached as far as Parliament; an online petition demanding the decision be overturned garnered over 18,000 signatures. It was all to no avail. There were suspicions the theme was dropped because it wasn’t deemed ‘politically correct’, something that could be seen as an overreaction but would also chime with the general opinion of the BBC’s attitude to those segments of its empire that don’t quite fit with the broadcasting business model of the twenty-first century.

Recently, Libby Purves’ Wednesday morning institution, ‘Midweek’, was dispatched to the wireless necropolis after 35 years on air; and now it seems ‘Saturday Review’, another R4 fixture with a lengthy pedigree is also to receive the chop. The latter is a radio equivalent of Mark Lawson’s late BBC2 ‘Review’ series – once referred to as ‘WWF Wrestling for the chattering classes’ by Elvis Costello – and often features infuriatingly smug and pretentious critics that make you want to throw the radio through the window. At the same time, it still provides a service in that plays, books and movies receive exposure on it that they don’t receive outside of broadsheet arts supplements. It’s apparently being dropped due to radio budget cuts.

Radio 4 listeners are passionate about their station of choice because outlets for what is increasingly viewed as niche broadcasting have diminished in the rush to cater for kids or teenagers or a ‘family audience’ that will accept whatever shit is shovelled up for them on a Saturday evening, the kind of surrender to the lowest common denominator formulaic ratings-chasing express that prime-time television embodies. Which other radio station would produce ‘Tweet of the Day’ or ‘Bells on Sunday’? Just because their audience is small doesn’t mean that audience doesn’t count.

Of course, it’s middle-class; it’s white, it’s elitist; the right says it’s too lefty; the left says it’s too far to the right, with Corbynistas booing Nick Robinson from ‘Today’ recently due to that very reason; you don’t hear many regional accents on it – and so on. I might be white, but I’m certainly not middle-class, and I like to hear well-spoken voices on the radio on account of not hearing many of them on the street. Elitism to me is when anyone from a working-class background is advised by their peers to avoid, say, the ballet, opera, theatre, literature, galleries, museums and so forth because ‘they’re not for you’. Inverted snobbery is a greater obstacle to the opening of artistic doors than snobbery from on high, and Radio 4 is one way in. It’s there for anybody who wants more than beer, tits and football. Just listening to ‘The Archers’ for me is an almost radical experience considering the environment I was raised in.

Radio 4, like its television sibling BBC4, sticks to the Reithian principles of informing, educating and entertaining; it’s an oasis of intelligence and illumination with programmes that provoke thought and discussion above and beyond the vocal merits of some bawling, blubbing Gary Barlow wannabe with a sob-story facing a firing squad of judges; there’s more than enough of that for those that want it everywhere else. Yet, for all the odious Tony Hall’s PR waffle about the Beeb’s investment in ‘culture’, the corporation’s most damaging cuts have been reserved for its cultural outlets. Fewer new programmes are being produced for BBC4 now than just two years ago; on many evenings its schedule is clogged-up with repeats; yes, they’re usually worth watching, but the chances are viewers have already seen them several times before.

Increasingly at the post-Birt BBC, the laudable ethos behind the corporation’s creation has been lost and buried beneath the scramble to appease ‘market forces’. One-time genuine alternative BBC2 has been reduced to competing with Channel 4 – another once-great innovator – in how many variations on formats that have been done to death over the last decade can be concocted: the cookery game show/celebrity comedians grouped together and sent on ‘life-changing journeys’ to far-off lands/famous names encouraging ‘ordinary people’ to achieve their dreams/etc. etc. As the old saying goes, this isn’t what I pay my licence fee for.

Tellingly, considering the cuts that have been inflicted upon the best of the BBC, money has been miraculously found to cover the salaries of its senior freeloaders. Thanks to Private Eye, we know that the previous Director of BBC Radio Helen Boaden was on a wage of £352,900 a year, with her deputy Graham Ellis on £212,800. After last autumn’s reshuffle, James Purnell was made Director of Radio & Education on £295,000 a year and Bob Shennan as Director of Audio & Music just about manages on an annual salary of £245,565. But the Beeb can’t afford a 45-minute arts review series once a week on Radio 4. Fancy that!

© The Editor

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TOSH AND BECKS

beyonceJust in case you haven’t caught much Radio 4 this week, let me provide you with some programme highlights. On Sunday morning, ‘Desert Island Discs’ celebrated its 75th anniversary by inviting David Beckham onto the show; on Tuesday, ‘A Good Read’ asked what the favourite books were of Melanie Sykes and Alan Carr; on Thursday, flagship Arts series ‘Front Row’ opened with the news that Beyoncé posted her ‘pregnancy portrait’ on Instagram, one that has apparently become the most ‘liked’ post in that medium’s short distinguished history; the 7.2 million ‘likes’ even exceeded the 6.3 million that ‘liked’ the selfie posted by Selena Gomez (Yes, I know what you’re thinking; I’d ask my daughter if I had one).

‘We would like to share our love and happiness’, declared Beyoncé in the nauseating blurb that accompanied her narcissistic and characteristically humourless image as she cradled the belly carrying the double act whose media careers we’ll have to endure around fifteen years from now. ‘We have been blessed two times over.’ Nice of her to share that with the world, wasn’t it. Judging by the response, it clearly was nice of her; it demonstrates her recognition of just how beloved she is and how the world waits with bated breath for the next earth-shattering bullet fired from Jay-Z’s loins.

If I might be permitted to backtrack a little, when it came to my listening habits at the beginning of this century I believed R&B was the sole cutting-edge sound within pop music, the natural successor to a dying Dance scene that had disappeared up its own backside in the late 90s; I will still argue that the prematurely-late Aaliyah’s eponymous 2001 album is one of the great records of that era, but the era didn’t last long. It used to take around half-a-decade before an era-defining musical genre stopped progressing and started to slide backwards into repetition and cliché, but the pace of life in the twenty-first century has speeded up the process; R&B was a spent force within a couple of years of it being at the top of its game. The pioneers and innovators left the stage and the unimaginative bandwagon-jumping recyclers moved in.

Beyoncé (as a member of Destiny’s Child) was briefly part of R&B at its peak, though only in the way David Bowie was briefly a music hall act during his Anthony Newley phase. There was always a sneaking suspicion Beyoncé was a bit of an R&B tourist and that her ultimate ambition was to be Mariah Carey. Sappy ballads of a kind Michael Jackson at his syrupy worst would have baulked at were a regular fixture of her repertoire, and when she jettisoned her Destiny sisters to embark upon the inevitable solo career, any pretensions to anything other than full-blown showbiz were jettisoned along with them.

Since the demise of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé has gradually become insufferable – a vain, vacuous diva posing as someone with something to say yet offering nothing more than lyrical motivational poster bilge in snappy sound-bites for the sisterhood. At times, she’s made Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears seem deeply profound.

But Beyoncé is blessed, for she finds herself in an age when she can bestride a plethora of platforms There are more outlets for the Beckhams and Beyoncés of this world than their famous predecessors could ever have dreamt of: The entire cultural wasteland of breakfast and daytime TV, MTV, Channel 5, the tabloid press, ‘Vogue’, ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘Marie Claire’, ‘OK!’, ‘Hello’, ‘Heat’, Radio 1, ‘The One Show’, the numerous products they promote and sponsor, and, of course, the internet; their ilk have completely and comprehensively colonised each and every facet of the entertainment industry so that one cannot step outdoors and venture to the local parade of shops without being made aware of their existence.

They’ll be on the supermarket soundtrack as well as staring out from the magazine and newspaper racks; they’ll be in the windows of the Superdrug-type stores advertising their scents; and their look will be worn by dozens of dedicated disciples you’ll bypass getting to the shops and back; then, when you get home and go online, there they are again. Beckham and Beyoncé are watching you, as are all those who followed in their wake.

High Art and Low Art have often collided and the end results have regularly been supremely entertaining. Andy Warhol knew that when he filled galleries with his silkscreen prints of banal household objects over half-a-century ago; and what made Glam Rock so irresistible was the fact that it could encompass everyone from dumb Gary Glitter to erudite Roxy Music. But Low Art has never been more widespread, accessible and available than it is today. It’s bloody everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with Low Art at all; it has its place and that place covers 99% of the globe. To me, it seems only fair that there should also be an alternative, a refuge from its overwhelming dominance – one little corner of the modern world that does not welcome it.

On paper, we have Radios 3 & 4 and BBC4, and I suppose, Sky Arts. That’s more or less it. Not much to ask for, really, yet the edited highlights of this week’s Radio 4 schedule that were contained within the opening paragraph would suggest there is no escape, no relief and no hiding place from something that already owns every other media outlet. Quite frankly, I was always happy to watch David Beckham don an England shirt, but I’ve never had the slightest interest in anything else about him; similarly, I don’t care what books Melanie Sykes or Alan Carr like to read anymore than I care whether or not a 35-year-old woman has a couple of buns in her oven. If I did, I know where to look, and I shouldn’t have to look in one of the few cultural bunkers we have left. Of course, that makes me a Snob, doesn’t it? Well, if it did, I wouldn’t be able to laugh at this…

© The Editor

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