Last Time : 58) Martina Navratilova (b.1956) competed in a Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs who most famously played against 59) Billie Jean King (b.1943), who coached 60) Tam O’Shaughnessy (b.1952), the life partner of the first American woman in space, 61) Sally Ride (1951-2012).
Sally Ride’s space
career began as a result of a newspaper ad which called for applicants to the
space programme. Sally had a PhD in physics from Stamford University and was
accepted by NASA in 1978. She worked on some of the early space shuttle
missions as a command centre capsule communication. She also helped to develop
the shuttle’s robot arm, a device she was to use herself on her own missions
In 1983 Sally became the
first American woman in space as a member of the Challenger shuttle crew. I
gave a little biography of Sally in one of my astronomy pieces where more
information is given.
In 2013 Sally Ride was
posthumously awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest
award the USA can give to civilians and was established 50 years previously be
President Kennedy. Sally’s partner 60)
Tam O’Shaughnessy received the award from President Obama. Tam’s old tennis
coach, 59) Billie Jean King, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom
herself in 2009.
The next member of the
lgbt community to receive the Medal after Sally Ride was 62) Stephen Sondheim (b.1930),
who received it in 2014. Sondheim is responsible for writing some of the most
iconic musicals of our time, beginning with his collaboration with Leonard
Bernstein on “West Side Story”.
For me, though, my
favourite Sondheim musical has to be “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum”, which I mentioned back in May. “Forum”, as it is often called, was the
first musical Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics for. It’s a classic farce
based on those written by the ancient Roman writer Plautus. As such I believe
that it works best when the characters are played by actors steeped in variety,
vaudeville or music hall. It’s also a very popular musical among amateur
The original production
starred Zero Mostel in the lead role of Pseudolus the slave. It wasn’t long
before the UK saw the first production of “Forum” a year after its Broadway
debut. The London lead (suggested by Sir John Gielgud) was a well-known
entertainer and comedian of the 1950s whose star status was beginning to wane.
“Forum” was to give his an incredible boost to his career and helped to create
one of the most popular characters in UK television comedy. But I’m getting
slightly ahead of myself.
Stephen Sondheim himself
came to the UK to see this man in action in a traditional British pantomime. In
a way “Forum” is very much like a pantomime, with Pseudolus speaking directly
to the audience as panto characters do. Sondheim knew straight away that he had
found the London Pseudolus – 63) Frankie
Frankie Howerd began
his entertainment career in war-time troop shows and found fame in the BBC
radio series “Variety Bandbox” from 1946. His distinctive stand-up comedy
delivery made him a household name. The 1960s saw a new type of comedy emerging
which didn’t suit Frankie’s style. But his career was saved by going on
holiday. Not by Frankie going on holiday, but a BBC executive.
The executive was on
holiday in Italy, and he was suddenly inspired to create a new comedy series
with Frankie Howerd in the lead. The international success of “Forum” made
Ancient Roman comedy fashionable. A visit to some ancient ruins provided both
the title and the location for the new comedy – “Up Pompeii”.
All the stock characters
of “Forum” were transferred to Pompeii in one of the most famous and bawdy BBC
comedies ever produced. Not surprisingly, a lot of the actors who appeared in
the London and 1966 film productions of “Forum” appeared at least once in the
14 episodes that were produced in 1969 and 1970. “Up Pompeii” is now synonymous
with 63) Frankie Howerd and it invigorated his career as well as spawn several
television and movie spin-offs.
Its only in the past few
years that people have come to realise that the bawdiness of “Up Pompeii” and
“Forum” is based on fact. In Pompeii there is a lot of ancient graffiti of a
sexual nature, a lot of it homosexual in nature.
There are many names of
men who either say they had sex with another man on that spot, or that they
know of someone else who had. 64) Auctus
and 65) Quintius, for example,
are immortalised in a graffito saying (in translation, of course) “Auctus
shagged Quintius here”. We don’t know anything else about these men, but the
fact that we know anything at all is because they were rescued from looting or
destruction by the writings of an art historian called 66) Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).
The way Pompeii takes us
from the birth of modern archaeology to the court of “Queen” James I of Great
Britain is told next time.