Thursday, 28 May 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : 10 - Danes

Last time : 25) Lydia Cabrera studied the influence on Cuban religion of traditional African deities, one of whom, 26) Ochossi, is closely associated with fellow patron god of archery, 27) Apollo, who won a song contest against 28) Pan in an ancient version of the modern Eurovision Song Contest of which 29) Bob Benny is the earliest known lgbt entrant.

29) Bob Benny (1926-2011) was born in Sint-Niklaas in Belgian Flanders. His real name was Emeil Wagemans and he adopted the stage name Bob Benny after Bob, the leader of the Metro Club Orchestra with whom he performed and who played the clarinet like the famous bandleader Benny Goodman.

Bob began performing in his home town after World War II. He became a very popular singer and had his first big hit in 1957 with “Cindy, Oh Cindy”. This led to his selection as the representative for Belgium at the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest in Cannes.

As Eurovision celebrates its 60th contest this month it is fitting that we should recognise 29) Bob Benny as the contest’s first known lgbt contestant, though he wasn’t openly gay at the time. As a very well-known and popular singer he feared the effect coming out as gay would have had on his career. He said later in his life that he regretted not coming out sooner, which he did in 2001 at the age of 75. In 2000 Bob suffered a stroke. He became unable to perform and spent the rest of his life in a rest home in his home town. He died on 30th March 2011.

Bob Benny performed in two Eurovision Song Contests. His second was in 1961. This time round his song didn’t do very well. He had finished 6th in 1959, but in 1961 he was equal last with only one vote – from Luxembourg. Ironically, Belgium didn’t give Luxembourg any votes at all, and Luxembourg ended up as that year’s winner. Belgium’s low score may have had nothing to do with either the song or Bob Benny but because of a protest vote against Belgium’s recent involvement in a war in the Belgian Congo.

29) Bob Benny’s connection to the next of our “80 Gays” comes through the person who gave the votes from the Danish jury in 1961, Claus Toksvig (readers in the UK will guess where we’re heading). Denmark was one of the 15 nations who gave Belgium the dreaded “nil points”.

Claus Toksvig was one of Denmark’s most respected journalists and broadcasters. And in the UK so is his daughter 30) Sandi Toksvig (b.1958). Sandi has spent most of her life in the UK and is best known today for her appearances on several tv and radio quiz shows, as either presenter or guest, but her early appearances on television were as a comedian and children’s programme presenter. She is also a prolific writer of both fact and children’s fiction.

An unexpected side of Sandi’s life was revealed to the public in 1999 when she made the first of several appearances on “Time Team”, a hugely popular archaeology series that ran for over 20 years in the UK. Up till then people had no idea that she had a first class degree in archaeology from Cambridge University (curiously, this significant part of her broadcasting career is ignored on her current Wikipedia entry). In fact, at Cambridge Sandi was awarded the Raemaker’s Prize for Archaeology.

I don’t have that many lgbt archaeologists on my databases, and even fewer Danish ones. Other than Sandi Toksvig the only other Danish lgbt archaeologist I have (who also has a link to her father) is 31) Eigil Knuth (1903-1996).

I wrote about Eigil Knuth a couple of years ago when I had archaeology as one of my “Ologies of the Month”. On that occasion I wrote about the significant discovery he made of the world’s most northerly human settlement in Greenland.

During World War II Eigil worked for Denmark’s national radio station when the country was under Nazi occupation, having been prevented from pursuing his archaeological expeditions to Greenland. Ostensibly, Eigil’s role was to broadcast Nazi propaganda, but in fact he was also working secretly with the Danish Resistance and broadcast coded messages to the Allies. A decade later 30) Sandi Toksvig’s father would work as a foreign correspondent and announcer at the same radio station, commentating of 5 Eurovision Song Contests as well as announcing the Danish votes in 1961.

Before he was unwillingly coerced into broadcasting propaganda for the Nazis, and before his first archaeological expedition, Eigil Knuth graduated as a gymnastic teacher from one of the most famous gym colleges in Europe at the time, at Ollerup. Supervising the training of the students was the college’s founder, and infamous Nazi supporter, called 32) Niels Bukh (1880-1950).

Next time we see how gymnastics was influential in the development of the bondage and sado-masochism scene.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Simeon's Dignity Restored

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Pre-Raphaelite art and have a special interest in the work of Simeon Solomon, a gay Jewish associate of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Over the past couple of years Frank Vigon has been campaigning and raising funds to have Simeon’s grave restored to some sort of dignity after he found it neglected and derelict. I’ve been following this campaign on this blog.

Last July the grave was finally restored and I was invited to go down to the Willesden Jewish cemetery to attend the small ceremony that had been arranged. Unfortunately, I was unable to go down due to work commitments. I hope to go down later this year to pay me respects this undeservedly under-recognised gay artist.

Simeon Solomon was not one of the “official” Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he knew them all. His paintings usually depicted Biblical or Hebrew subjects and his figures were often androgynous in appearance. In 1873 he was arrested for homosexual activity and imprisoned. In jail he continued to draw, though the only materials he was allowed to use were pastels, chalk and charcoal.

After his arrest many of Simeon’s friends abandoned him, and when he was released he struggled to achieve the position in society and the art world he had previously held.

Simeon’s reputation suffered throughout most of the 20th century. One of the first academics to do serious research into Simeon’s life and work was Lionel Lambourne. Since then, the 1960s, Simeon’s reputation had grown as his full story has become more widely known and many people, myself included, were first attracted to Simeon Solomon through his art and not his lifestyle.

At the unveiling ceremony of Simeon’s grave were several members of his family who have always been proud of their famous relative. Also there was the widow of Lionel Lambourne, and members of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive. Several dozen enthusiasts and admirers of Simeon’s work gathered with them at the grave side where Frank Vigon, the prime mover in the fundraising and restoration, thanked everyone (present and absent) who had helped him to reach this proud day.

Below you can see two photographs of Simeon’s grave (Ó Simeon Solomon Research Archive). At the top is the grave in its dilapidated state as it was discovered by Frank Vigon several years ago. Underneath is the newly restored grave with the original headstone reset and a new memorial stone placed over the grave.  An inscription around the edging stones reads “This grave has been restored with donations received from individuals, museums and galleries, arts and social organisations, and religious communities in admiration and appreciation of the art of Simeon Solomon.”

Friday, 22 May 2015

Eurovision 60


If there’s one event in Europe that was created to encourage harmony which has created its fair share of disharmony then it has to be the Eurovision Song Contest.

The brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union (Eurovision) the 60th contest is being held this week. During the past 30 years, however, countries have often been accused of voting politically. This was seen most clearly after the break-up of Communist eastern Europe when former Soviet states tended to give the highest votes to other former Soviet states.

From its modest beginnings in 1956 the Eurovision Song Contest has now become something of a monster. I was a keen fan at one time, not so much these days. Acting like a kind of reverse mirror the lgbt (predominantly gay male) Eurovision fan-base has become more visible. In fact it’s got to a stage where the contest is regarded as a “gay-fest” in most of the countries where homophobia is common.

Lgbt Eurovision fans have always existed, just as they have with other forms of entertainment. Perhaps the year the community realised they could express their enthusiasm visibly was the success in 1998 of the contest’s first openly transgender winner, Dana International. Since then some participating nations have used any excuse to use contestants or songs to get on their homophobic, political soap box. The words of last year’s winner, Conchita, in her acceptance speech was a defiant statement  – “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity. And we are unstoppable”. And I’m not the only person who demands that Conchita must sing the next Bond theme!

Conchita’s victory gives the perfect excuse to look at the other known lgbt participants of the Eurovision Song Contest. I was surprised to learn that the first of these was way back in 1959. Bob Benny competed for Belgium, and I’ll write more about him next week in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” article.

For the purposes of today’s article I’m listing the lead or backing singers who appeared on stage during the grand final (and the semi-finals that were introduced in 2004). I haven’t included members of the orchestra, presenters, designers, voting panels or production crew. Nor have I included singers who competed in the various national heats and finals. These could easily form a future article.

There have been 3 lgbt singers, all solo artists, who have won the contest outright, and another was a backing singer to another winner.

In the list below the singer’s name may also be followed by the name of the group or duo of which they were a part, or indicates for whom they were a backing singer. Other information is also given. There is no space to give the name of the host city or title of the song. In the final placings column the number indicates the position in the grand final, e.g. 6/11 means the performer finished 6th out 11 countries in the final. No final placing indicates the performer didn’t get pass the semi-final stage. 

Year
Eurovision Performer
Representing
Final
Place
1959
Bob Benny
Belgium
6/11
1961
Bob Benny
Belgium
=15/16
1968
Ronnie Tober
Netherlands
16/17
1973
Patrick Juvet
Switzerland
12/17
1976
Jürgen Marcus
Luxemburg
14/18
1979
Louis Hendrik Potgieter (Dschinghis Khan)
Germany
4/19
1986
Olav Klingen and
Jonny Nymoen
(Eurovision’s 1st drag act; backing act for Ketil Stokkan)
Norway
12/20
1988
Gerard Joling
(contest won that year by Celine Dion)
Netherlands
9/21
1989
Alex Panayi
(backing singer for Fani Polymeri & Yiannis Savvidakis)
Cyprus
11/22
1991
Alex Panayi
(backing singer for Elena Patroklou)
Cyprus
9/22
1992
Christer Björkman
Sweden
22/23
1994
Jan Werner Danielson (with Elisabeth Andreassen)
Norway
6/25
1995
Alex Panayi
Cyprus
9/23
1997
Paul Oscar
Iceland
20/25
1998
Dana International
(1st openly transgender entrant)
Israel
1/25
2000
Alex Panayi (Voice, with Christina Argyri)
Cyprus
21/24
2001
Michelle Courtens
Netherlands
18/23
2002
Gary Revel jr.
(backing singer for Laura Voutilainen)
Finland
20/24
2002
Srecko Blas (Sestre)
Slovenia
13/24
2002
Damjan Levec (Sestre)
Slovenia
13/24
2002
Tomaz Mihelic (Sestre)
Slovenia
13/24
2004
Jari Sillanpää
Finland
-
2004
Tomas Thordarsson
Denmark
-
2004
Deen
Bosnia
9/24
2005
Donna McCaul
(Donna and Joe, with brother Joseph)
Ireland
-
2005
Alex Panayi
(backing singer for Helena Paparizou)
Greece
1/24
2006
Brian Kennedy
(the 1,000th entry/song)
Ireland
10/24
2006
Andreas Lundstedt (six4one)
Switzerland
16/24
2006
Azis
(backing singer for Mariana Popova)
Bulgaria
-
2007
Ola Salo (The Ark)
Sweden
18/24
2007
Marija Seriforic
Serbia
1/24
2007
Peter Andersen (DQ)
(1st solo drag entrant)
Denmark
-
2009
Gordon Heukeroth (The Toppers)
Netherlands
-
2009
Alex Panayi
(backing singer for Sakis Rouvas)
Greece
7/25
2011
Duncan James (Blue)
UK
11/25
2011
Dana International
Israel
-
2012
Alex Panayi
(backing singer for Litesound)
Belarus
-
2013
Ryan Dolan
Ireland
26/26
2014
Conchita
Austria
1/26