Now that we’re getting
closer to the opening of the Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron in ten days time
I turn my attention to an event which has become as much associated with the
Gay Games as the torch relay has with the Olympics – the International Memorial
Flag Fun. Having only briefly covered the Flag Run a couple of time before it
seems like a good time to go into more detail today.
The Flag Run
commemorates all those who have died from AIDS or breast cancer, not least of
all being Tom Waddell the founder of the games. The run also pays tribute to
the artist Keith Haring, a follower of the 1990 Memorial Run. The Keith Haring
Foundation is one of several sponsors of the run. Victims of breast cancer are
commemorated in memory of lesbian activist Rikki Streicher.
It all began 30 years
ago in 1984. The AIDS epidemic was severe across north America. There were many
people who claimed the disease was a judgement from God for the homosexual
lifestyle. Such ignorance spread to politicians and health organisation. A few
doctors spoke out against this homophobia and began to educate the community –
the lgbt community as much as any other – that AIDS was not just a “gay
It was also a time when
many in the lgbt community banded together to form groups and organisations to
help raise awareness of AIDS and general sexual health issues. One vital
element in this campaign was to push for funding for research and financial
assistance to HIV patients, their partners and families, which governments
around the world were slow to provide.
Out of these voluntary
groups came fund-raising events such as charity runs. It wasn’t a new idea, but
it was a new method for gay men who wanted to help to join together. One of
these men was Brent Nicholson Earle.
Brent had seen many
friends and acquaintances lose their battles against AIDS and HIV. Other
friends had begun to volunteer their services to health groups and he decided
to join them. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York held a charity run in
1984. Brent entered the run and raised $400.
This was one inspiration
behind the International Memorial Flag Run. The other was a charity run by a
young man in Canada to raise funds for cancer research. Brent founded a
non-profit organisation called American Run for the End of AIDS (AREA) in
December 1985 with the aim of running solo 90,000 miles around the USA, keeping
as close to the national border/coastline as possible.
The first run began in
New York on 1st December 1986. With just the minimum of a support
team, just 2 people, Brent set off around the US in an anti-clockwise
direction, reaching home base back in New York some 20 months later. During the
run’s stay in Florida the Fort Lauderdale and Miami lgbt community presented
Brent with a Rainbow Pride flag. This was to become the official standard of
In 1990 Brent decided to
make his second AREA run to Vancouver, the host city of the 3rd Gay
Games, beginning the association with the games which remains to this day. AIDS
had taken many Gay Games athletes from the community since the first games in
1982. In remembrance of them and Tom Waddell, who had died of AIDS shortly
after the second games in 1986, Brent began his second run from the San Francisco
stadium which hosted the first two Gay Games. With the flag donated by the
Florida community Brent ran the 1,000 miles to Vancouver and led the parade of
athletes into the stadium at the opening ceremony. This run is regarded
retrospectively as the first International Memorial Flag Run.
For the fourth Gay Games
of 1994 in New York, and to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the
Stonewall Riots, Brent chose a different method of getting from San Francisco
to the games host city – roller blades. Named the Rainbow Roll for the End of
AIDS this event included a team of 6 other skaters taking the flag to the Big
Apple. They appeared at the Stonewall 25 commemoration event and once again
provided the lead for the athlete’s parade at the Gay Games opening ceremony.
1998 saw another change
– the first time the run went overseas. The Gay Games were held in Amsterdam
and more runners, walkers and athletes took part in the Flag Run than before.
By now the decision was made to include all previous host cities as part of the
run. This has been the format ever since. Flag Runs have been held prior to
each Gay Games. With the organising and sponsorship for the run divided between
several organisations the AREA first created in 1985 has continued to raise awareness
of AIDS and breast cancer and promote healthy living. While being a
commemoration of those who have left us, it has also come to symbolise hope,
help and celebration.
International Memorial Flag Run began on 9th February, starting as
usual in San Francisco. Currently it is making its way to Cleveland after
having left Europe last week.
hosted Nottinghamshire Pride. After many years of being held in the
Arboretum or Goose Fair site it has moved into the historic Lace Market and
Hockley area of the city. It feels like a home-coming, because the first ever
Pride-like event in Nottingham took place there in 1997. It was called Pink Lace.
It also gave me an idea
for a new mini-series of articles. Inspired also by my recent article on
Toronto I thought I’d do a series on individual cities and towns when they held
their Pride celebration and look at their lgbt heritage. I’ve called the series
City Pride (which includes towns and other areas).
As the Pink Lace Tour is
the newest of my lgbt tours of Nottingham I thought I’d start there. Rather
than give a review of the whole city I’ll restrict myself to the Lace market
and Hockley area and the street leading up to it from the Market Square. These
are just snapshots of Nottingham’s great wealth of lgbt heritage and I hope
I’ve chosen a varied selection for your enjoyment. There are too many lgbt
pubs, clubs and venues to mention them all. The map below shows you where
Zara – This fashion
store is on the site a popular old pub that was here for several
centuries until 1903. Here Lord Byron’s coffin was brought to rest overnight before being
taken for burial in Hucknall several miles away. Thousands of people filed past
the coffin to pay their respects to one of the very few parliamentarians to
defend working people’s rights. Byron lived in the city centre as a child, for
part of that time at 1b).
J. M. Barrie – A
large decorated wall plaque marks the location of the offices of a local
newspaper on which Barrie worked. It is said that he got the idea for Peter Pan
after watching children at play in a local park.
Thurland Hall – A pub
named after a huge stately home that once stood here (I’ve outlined the extent
of the original Hall on the map). This old palace was the only building big
enough to house the court when “Queen” James I came to Nottingham, which he did
6 times, each time without his wife but with his “toy-boys”.
The Bodega Club –
This was where the Scissor Sisters gave their first Nottingham performance to a
crown of less than 100 in 2003. Their subsequent 3 appearances in the city
Outhouse Project – In
1998 the National Lottery gave £228,000 to help establish an lgbt centre in
Nottingham. Although the plane never came to fruition, with several sites being
considered, the office of the Outhouse Project was here. Nottingham still has
no lgbt centre.
The Queen of Clubs –
Formerly known as Omega, before that Rain, before that Ice, and before that
Jacey’s. Jacey’s hit the headlines in 2001 when the council banned its weekly
male stripper show. Jacey’s pointed out that the council-run Theatre Royal had
hosted the Chippendales and was about to produce “The Full Monty”. The council
cancelled Full Monty and banned ALL male strippers (the ban has not been officially
lifted). My friend and former barista at Jacey’s, Rich Cowell, made front page
of the tabloids in 2005 when he was a Royal Navy lieutenant. He had been voted
Mr Gay Plymouth and the Navy considered disciplinary action. Rich came 2nd
in the Mr Gay UK finals.
Broadway Cinema –
Nottingham’s leading independent cinema whose café-bar is my home from home. It
has hosted several exhibitions and screening for LGBT History Month and
Nottingham Pride and for many years hosted the British Film Institute’s touring
LGBT Film Festival. For Pink Lace in 1997 it provided the entertainment and
The Health Shop – A
health clinic, the base of the Gay AIDS Initiative project (GAi) which was
launched on 11 July 1994 with Sir Ian McKellen doing the official opening. The
Health Shop also provided facilities for volunteers to put together thousands
of free condom packs to be distributed around city venues. Several lgbt support
groups held meetings here. In 1999 Channel 4 television followed Health Shop
director Tim Franks for several weeks for their fly-on-the-wall series.
The Masquerader – In
1913 an eccentric local character was arrested for begging. It turned out that
this cross-dressing astrologer was a Serbian war refugee. His home was on the
site of this car park.
Pierrepont Hall –
another huge stately home long since demolished (the extent of the property is
marked on the map). It was the childhood home of Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who
married her lover’s brother to avoid becoming Mrs. Clotworthy Skeffington. She
introduced smallpox inoculation into England and popularised the Language of
Short Hill – One of
the surviving lace worker’s tenement buildings still stands. It was the home of
Karl Wood before World War I. He became an art teacher and painter of
windmills. In 1957 he was imprisoned for his homosexuality.
The Galleries of Justice –
The old city court house and jail, now the National Museum of Law. In 2008 an
exhibition commemorating Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading Jail came here.
Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, recreated Oscar’s trial in the old court
itself. Part of the exhibition included the door from Oscar’s cell, and
visitors reported hearing voices from behind it! During it’s working life as a
court this building saw one of the biggest mass prosecutions of gay men before
homosexuality was legalised – 23 men were put on trial in 1961.
If you’d like to see
your own city featured in City Pride why not let me know. Or you could write
your own article and be a guest blogger for the day. Just give me plenty of
advance notice so I can schedule it in (I usually plan one month in advance of
The Commonwealth Games began last
night with a spectacular opening ceremony (not as spectacular as originally
planned after the demolition of 2 big city apartment blocks as part of the
ceremony was dropped).
I wasn’t expecting an Olympic-scale ceremony
like we saw in Melbourne 2006 or the Bollywood spectacular of Delhi 2010, but
Glasgow provided a modest ceremony with a surprisingly high visible lgbt
content, right from the opening sequence with John Barrowman singing about the
legacy of Scottish inventions and culture (complete with gay wedding and a gay kiss)
all the way the entrance of the games flag, led by the recently out swimming superstar Ian Thorpe
who received a huge cheer.
Taking the Melbourne opening ceremony as inspiration the athlete's parade was split into continental sections, something the Olympic should think of to get rid of their interminably bland parade.
Unlike the London Olympics the BBC
brought out a huge array for past sporting stars for the opening night’s
coverage, including Ian Thorpe again in their pre-ceremony warm-up. It showed
the Commonwealth that this may not be the Olympics but it still has the biggest
stars in sport in the world. The likes of Usain Bolt, Tom Daley and Mo Farah,
and many other Olympic medallists will compete, though one sad absentee, for
obvious reasons, will be Oscar Pistorius.
The Commonwealth Games offers athletes
the chance to compete in an Olympic-style event and for those of us who live in
a Commonwealth nation winning a Commonwealth Games medal is as big a prize as
winning an Olympic one. Some athletes, though, are not fortunate enough to be
able to compete at both games as some sports (e.g. squash, lawn bowls and
netball) are not yet part of the Olympic programme. Many lgbt Olympians first
got their taste of international medal glory at the Commonwealth Games and many
may do so in Glasgow.
Less than a week ago the governing
body of the Commonwealth Games showed how outdated their rules on gender are.
An Indian sprinter, Dutee Chand, the Indian 100 meter champion no less, was
banned from competing because she had a naturally high level of testosterone
which, they say, put her at an advantage over other female athletes.
International sporting bodies, not just the Commonwealth Games, continue to
dither and procrastinate over what to do about the inclusion of non-binary
Here is a list of the lgbt athletes at
the Commonwealth Games. The name of the athlete is followed by the nation and
sport, then by the games and medals (if any). Athletes competing in the current
games are also noted. It comes as no surprise that swimming superstar Ian
Thorpe tops the Commonwealth lgbt medal list with a total of 11.
The family tree I’m
digging up today is that of the heavy metal band Judas Priest. Or, more
accurately, its openly gay lead singer Rob Halford. As usual it’s a tale of
varied fortunes. Along the way we’ll be putting on our boots, rolling out the
barrel, and having a pint with the founder of California. And we even get to
meet some real priests.
Rob Halford was born in
1951, the son of Barrie Halford and his wife Joan, née Elsden. Most of his
recent ancestry is based in the West Midlands around Walsall. Rob is rightly
proud of his working class background, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any
money or influence in the family.
Up until the early part
of the last century the Halfords were boot makers by trade, with Rob’s
great-great-grandfather William becoming successful enough to set up a business
as a boot manufacturer in Walsall employing 20 people and having several shops.
But William Halford was not a native of Walsall. He came from Nottingham and he
didn’t come from a boot-making family.
another William, was a cooper with 2 shops in Nottingham. After William
senior’s death in 1864 the business was taken over by his widow Elizabeth.
William junior had moved to Walsall by then and had set up his boot business
and was married.
There was enough money
in the family for William senior to send his youngest son to the local grammar
school. This son was an earlier Rob Halford, born in 1840, who was to become a
leading civil figure in Nottingham. This earlier Rob – properly Robert Halford
– became an estate agent and valuer, and later chairman of the Nottingham
Banking Company. He also became a magistrate, and died in 1910.
Nottinghamshire roots go further back. Through William Halford senior’s wife,
the aforementioned Elizabeth, we can go back to the Savage family. Records are
pretty scant from this period, around 1700. It looks likely that Rob’s ancestry
can be traced to some very real priests! There’s nothing to confirm this, but
evidence suggests Rob is descended from father and son Rev. John and Rev.
Thomas Savage, both Rectors of Sutton Bonington, south of Nottingham. Other
evidence of them being descended from Sir Thomas Savage of Elmley Castle in
Worcestershire is even harder to verify.
William junior’s son,
Henry Wyatt Halford, married Elizabeth Flavell in 1893. Her grandfather founded
California. Not California, USA, but California, a suburb of Birmingham in
Legend has it that Isaac
Flavell (1792-1870) went to America to seek his fortune in the California Gold
Rush. However, in 1842 he bought a farm near Birmingham. There’s no record of
him in the USA and the Gold Rush didn’t begin until 1847, but he made his
fortune quarrying red clay on his farm estate and setting up a brick making
business. The Industrial Revolution was in full flow and many cities and towns
were in desperate need of bricks to build factories and homes.
By 1851 Isaac was also
owner of a brand new pub (maybe one built from his own bricks). The name of his
pub was The California Inn. Perhaps he had spent time in America before the
Gold Rush and (like my own grandfather and Newton Brook in Toronto) named his
home after a place where he previously spent some time. This was probably
before his rather late marriage at the age of 40 in Birmingham cathedral in
1833. Isaac got the beer for his pub from his brother-in-law Henry Chinn who
had a barley farm near by and was a brewer. Henry took over running the pub
when Isaac retired. The pub became so popular that the whole area was named
after it. Which is why there’s still a California in Birmingham.
We’ll turn now to Rob’s
mother’s family the Elsdens. Joan Elsden was the daughter of Arthur Augustus
Elsden (1899-1937). In this centenary year of World War I it seems appropriate
to mention Arthur. During the first months of the war many young men, like my
other grandfather, rushed to sign up in the army. Rob Halford’s grandfather
Arthur was another. Some were so eager to sign up that they lied about their
age. Arthur Elsden was one of them. In 1915 he signed up in the Duke of
Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was sent for training on Bodmin Moor. He gave his
age as 17. As you can see from the dates he was actually 16. The Ministry of
Defence found out and, because he had been absent from several parades, Arthur
was discharged. Perhaps he realised too late just how hard it was to be a
soldier at such a young age. He didn’t re-apply and went to work as a railway
fireman. The story has an unhappy ending. In 1937 Arthur caught meningitis and
died at the age of 38 leaving a young family behind him.
Wartime tragedy touched
the Eldsen family again less than 5 years later. Arthur’s son (Rob Halford’s
uncle) Raymond Elseden, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, died in 1941 at the
age of 18. Florence, Arthur’s widow, died in 1944 at the age of 40, and his
father died in 1945.
I don’t want to end on a
sad note so I’ll go back 2 more generations to Arthur Elsden’s widowed grandmother
Emma, a laundress. Despite having a low-earning job and being from a working
class background, on her death in 1922 she left an estate which today would be
worth £30,000. Quite a legacy. I wonder where it went?
Perhaps the oldest
musical instrument in world history, or at least the first to be used to beat
out a rhythm, is the drum. Originally it would have just been a stone or log
beaten with a stick. From those simple beginnings all percussion instruments
evolved – drums, gongs, xylophones, cymbals, etc.
The drum still figures
large in culture and performance (where would Olympic opening ceremonies be
without drums!). There are many musicians who have built a career on being a
drummer and here are some from the lgbt community.
In the USA there are
several lgbt drum troops. The most well-known is probably DC’s Different
Drummers. Although primarily founded for the lgbt community this troop has
always welcomed straight members. No doubt most cities around the world have at
least one local drum troop in their annual Pride marches. Then there are marching
bands, and orchestras. There are many of these specifically made up largely of
But I suppose the first
image to enter the mind when the word drummer is spoken is of a pop group. Two
famous, and very different, groups of the 1980s who had lgbt drummers were
Culture Club and the Beastie Boys.
It’s a very significant
time for Culture Club. Only last month the band announced their reunion and a
new tour, and tomorrow night they’ll be performing at a special concert in
Edinburgh Castle to celebrate the imminent start of the Commonwealth Games on
Wednesday. The new slim-line Boy George, emerging like a confident butterfly
after many years as an overweight drug-filled caterpillar, will perform the old
familiar songs with the original band line-up, and perform new songs and
produce a new album.
When Culture Club first
became famous Boy George was secretly dating the drummer Jon Moss. It was a
tempestuous relationship which helped to fuel creative song-writing. At times
the two came to blows and they tried to kill each other. It wasn’t a very good
situation for the other band members to be caught in and they all split up in
1986 – both the band and the George/Jon relationship.
John and Boy George have
now reached the part in their lives when they can work together again with the
other Culture Club members, Mikey Craig and Roy Hay. Many bands have reunited
over the years. Some have been successful and achieved the fame they originally
had. I’m sure Culture Club will as well.
The Beastie Boys rose to
fame at the same time as Culture Club but their drummer was something rarely
seen at the time – a female drummer, Kate Schellenbach. She, too, has produced
a new album, not with the Beastie Boys but her later band Luscious Jackson. In
parallel with Culture Club Luscious Jackson split up (in 2000) and reformed in
2011. In the years in between Kate worked in the tv industry, including working
as a producer on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” for a while.
Kate may never have
become a drummer had she not gone to a New York club as a teenager to see a
band called Student Teachers who had a female drummer. Kate knew that she
wanted to be a drummer as well. Several years later she was asked to join a
band called The Young Aborigines. At the end of one rehearsal session the band
let their hair down and played their songs as punk rock. They enjoyed it so
much that they chose to play all their gigs like that. And that’s how the
Beastie Boys was born.
Female drummers are
still relatively rare but they are not unknown in the past (Karen Carpenter
started out as a drummer). All-female bands (jazz bands, big bands, etc.) have
been around for decades. Before World War II there was an American band called
the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and one of their drummers was called
Ruby Lucas. She later became an icon in Chicago’s lgbt community, and I’ll tell
more of her story in October.
Back to the present, and
one of the most famous drummers in popular music is Phil Collins of Genesis.
His son Simon is also a drummer and singer with his own band called Sound of
Contact. To some extent he is still labelled as “the son of Phil Collins”
rather than a performer in his own right. From his emergence as a performer in
2005 Simon has been quite open about his bisexuality and admits, like other
lgbt songwriters, his sexuality has influenced some of his work.
Away from popular music
drummers are more often referred to as percussionists. There are even fewer
openly lgbt percussionists than there are female drummers. One percussionist
with a particularly unique take on drumming is the New Zealander Gareth Farr.
Primarily a composer of
strong percussion-based music, writing for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,
the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Organising Committee,
among others, Gareth studied percussion performance at Auckland University. In
2006 he became one of the very few percussionists honoured by the Queen, who
made him an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to music
I said that Gareth had a
particularly unique take on drumming. In fact, in some classical circles in New
Zealand it has led to him being regarded as an enfant terrible. Why? Because in
1994 he created Lilith Lacroix, a drag percussionist. From her first appearance
at the Club Marcella in Rochester, New York, Lilith has wowed audiences with
her percussive skills, not to mention her outfits. In 1997 Gareth created a
special show for Lilith based specifically around percussion called “Drumdrag”.
And I can think of no
better way to finish than to show you part of Lilith’s 2007 “Drumdrag” show in
(25 days to the start of the Gay
Games) If you ask an Olympic medallist like Tom Daley or Andy Murray what their
job is they’ll say “diver” or “tennis player”. But if you ask a medallist at
the Gay Games, Outgames, or any other lgbt sporting event what their job is
most of them won't say anything which is sports related. They train as hard as professionals but don’t do it for a living. They’ve very much in the mould of the original Olympians of the modern era.
In my researches into
lgbt sports I have come across many athletes whose professions are far removed
from the sport in which they compete. It’s worth looking at some of them. What
they all prove is that you don’t need to be a professional athlete to succeed
in sports, and the job you do shouldn’t dictate what sport you play.
Quite a few Gay Games
athletes work in the sports industry – as coaches or personals trainers, etc. –
and some are professional or retired athletes. I won’t mention them today. In
order to present this list I chose one letter of the alphabet at random and
went through my Gay Games database to find 30 medallists whose professions are
quite different from their sport. A large proportion of them have also competed
in the Outgames and the EuroGames. Although it’s a varied list it doesn’t
include other professions I could mention if I chose another letter, like US
Ambassador, priest, gay porn actor, or Emmy-winning casting director.
The athlete’s name is
followed by their main profession and then the sport in which they won their
journalist - badminton
Luis Bahamon –
cytogeneticist - diving
Balboni - clinical
social worker - in-line skating
– ex-Prof. of Plastic Surgery, now writer of lesbian romances - martial arts
– make-up artist - bodybuilding
– international aid worker - tennis
Baskin – actor - figure skating
– chemistry professor - cycling
– political and environmental ecologist - table tennis
– real estate agent – beach volleyball
– archaeologist – dancesport
– political fundraiser and lgbt rights pioneer – golf
– school teacher – swimming
– barrister - cycling
– playwright and actor – bodybuilding
Blenman – poet and
spoken-word artist - wrestling
– university Pro Vice-Chancellor – sailing
– doctor – swimming
– White House aide to President Clinton - wrestling
– registered nurse – ice hockey
– architect – cycling
EmmaJaneBrennan – photographer - swimming
– journalist - tennis
– architect - swimming
Burrell – Assistant
Professor of History - wrestling
Burton – maths
teacher - athletics
– film-maker – table tennis
– law lecturer – squash
– lgbt festival organiser - swimming
Finally, and with a note
of congratulations to double gold-winning marathon runner – JakeBartholomy, a physical therapist. He and his husband, Dr. Justin
Goodman, became the proud fathers of a son, Park Bartholomy Goodman, on 30th
If you’re reading this
on the day it was posted you’ll notice something significant about the number
of page views. I’ve now passed the 50,000 mark! This is a big deal for me as I never
thought I’d even get past the 500 mark, and never thought I’d come up with
enough ideas to get me beyond the first year. Thanks to you all I’ve been
encouraged to continue for almost 3 years to bring you the lgbt heritage which
interests me, and which I hope has interested you too.
With such a milestone
I’ve been thinking of some changes. Perhaps a new image? I’ve also been
thinking about how to do more. One idea which I’m still working on is
introducing my own YouTube videos. Another is a Facebook page where I can write
about current research projects, links to other pages of interest, or just
comment on news events.
A third idea, and one
which readers may not like, is of adding a donation button. I still can’t make
my mind up about this as I feel uncomfortable asking people for money, even
I’ve had a lot of
positive feedback from readers. In particular I want to thank Marc Naimark of
the Federation of Gay Games for reposting some of my articles on the Gay Games
website. A big thank you to him and Cyd Zeigler of Outsports for their continuing
interest and support in my research into lgbt athletes. I also want to thank
all those people I’ve mentioned in articles who have sent me messages,
corrections, criticisms and advice. Some members of my family and friends also
read my blog, so I thank you all collectively (it might be a while before I see
you all personally). And I want to thank all of you who have spread the word
about my blog.
Throughout the whole of
my blog I have often been surprised by where you readers live, especially
during this past winter with all the controversy surrounding the Sochi Winter
Olympics. Russia has often been in the top 5 daily visitors list, and overall
is placed 4th behind the USA, UK and Germany. Interestingly, in view
of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, the Ukraine is also a nation to appear
regularly on the daily stats list.
Anyway, it’s a reason
for me to celebrate today (I’m sure I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the
fridge). I hope you won’t mind if I don’t invite you all around to my place for
Before I go I must offer my congratulations to Cyd Zeigler who got married to his partner Dan last week.
This is my second look
at some of the lgbt war heroes with Nottinghamshire connections.
My first hero is one who
spent only a short time in the county but went from a poor working class
background to become a university-educated scholar and novelist. His name was
Dan Billany and he was born in Yorkshire in 1913. After serving in the Merchant
Navy and working as a tram conductor Dan went to Hull University College, a
campus of London University, and trained to be a teacher. He was always
writing, whether for student magazines or novels, and continued to write
throughout his life, even during active service and as a prisoner of war.
Several of his novels were published.
In 1940 Dan joined the
army. His training took place in Sutton-in-Ashfield in central Nottinghamshire
with the Royal Army Service Corps. He was commissioned into the East Yorkshire
Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. By April 1942 he was in Libya as
platoon commander of the 4th Battalion. This was to be a decisive
period in the North Africa campaign, part of the major victory over the Allies
at Tobruk by the Nazi’s “Desert Fox”, Erwin Rommel.
The Allies had set up a
series of “boxes”, defensive posts manned by brigades and interspersed with
minefields. The line of “boxes” was called the Gazala Line. Rommel attacked the
Line on 28th May, using the minefields as defence from attack on one
side. A vicious tank assault took the Gazala Line posts one by one. On 1st
June Dan Billany and his battalion were defending the Line after what Rommel
had taken many positions and what he himself described in his diaries as “the
toughest British resistance imaginable”. Billany was captured and sent to a POW
camp in Italy. The British withdrew from the Gazala Line and the route to
Tobruk was clear.
Dan filled his time as a
prisoner of war by writing and contributing to the POW newsletter. It was as a
POW that Dan admitted his attraction to a fellow prisoner called David Dowie,
who was straight, yet their friendship continued to the end of the war.
With Victory in Europe
declared the POWs were released and had to make their own way home. Dan, David,
and 2 others made their way towards Allied troops over the Apennines, but it
seems that they all succumbed to the bitter cold of the mountains and were
never seen again.
Moving back in time to
World War I here are stories of 2 soldiers who survived the war and who, as
openly gay men, had very different experiences of post-war Britain.
The first is someone
well-known in literary circles – Sir Osbert Sitwell. He belonged to an
aristocratic family who lived not far from Nottingham in neighbouring
Derbyshire. Like in most wealthy families at the time Osbert was expected to become
an army officer and he joined the Sherwood Rangers, a cavalry regiment based in
Nottingham. Unfortunately, Osbert didn’t get on very well with horses and kept
falling off! He once quipped that he preferred giraffes! He left the Sherwoods
to join the Grenadier Guards.
In 1915 he and his
regiment took part in the Battle of Loos. Osbert’s experiences made him very
anti-war once the Armistice was declared. He expressed his respect for
conscientious objectors who were branded as cowards. Another group for whom he
said had the highest degree of courage (of particular significance to myself
because my maternal grandfather was one) was to the stretcher bearers and
ambulance drivers on the front line.
Also in the trenches in
France was Karl Wood, another Derbyshire lad. At the outbreak of war Karl had
been living in Nottingham for ten years. He was already an active gay man. His
biographer Tony Wood wrote “In spite of his lack of interest in physical
activity (apart from cycling and sex) Wood wholeheartedly joined the First
World War in late 1914”. Karl enlisted in the 3rd Seaforth
Highlanders and spent the first part of his active service in Sheerness, Kent,
acting as part of the coastal defences.
In 1915 Karl was posted
to France, but his active service was cut short by shrapnel in his ankle. After
convalescing in military hospital in York he settled in Gainsborough, a market
town on the Trent a few miles north of Nottingham. He became an artist and art
teacher at the grammar school. One of his pupils was my father. During the holidays
he would cycle all around England painting as many old buildings that took his
fancy (often cruising any farm lad that took his fancy as well). He sold many
of his paintings, and for many years sold them in a shop in Nottingham.
Windmills were a special interest, and Karl painted thousands of them. For this
reason he is often referred to as “Windmill Wood”.
Sadly, Karl’s life
followed the often-told fate of gay men in the UK in the 1950s. He was
convicted of having gay sex and was imprisoned. On his release he moved to
Scotland and joined the Benedictine Order. In a future article I will recount
more of his life.
How many movie themes
and music can you recognise? The Bond themes? The “Psycho” shower scene? “The
Wizard of Oz”? But how many film composers can you name? John Williams? Any
others? Unless you are a big film buff you may not know any others. The world
of the big screen has been a surprisingly prolific canvas for lgbt composers.
Today’s article takes a
look at film music written by some lgbt composers. Because film music in
general is such a big area to cover I’ve restricted myself to music written
specifically for a film, be it the main theme, background music or featured
song. I won’t cover musicals today as that is a whole subject in itself. Film
music is not just about the composer. The arranger and orchestrator are just as
important to the final cut as anyone.
There’s no snobbery in
composing for a film, a lot of contemporary classical composers have written
film scores. And there’s an art to writing music for a film, as the gay American
composer Aaron Copland explained in this essay he wrote in 1940. I don’t think
the process has changed very much since his time. Copland’s film music earned
him an Oscar for “The Heiress” in 1950 and last October was featured in a festival
of his film music in New York.
classical composer is John Corigliano, who also won Best Original Music award
for “The Red Violin” (1998).
Perhaps the most
surprising combination of composer and film comes with Sir Malcolm Williamson
who, as well as writing ballets, symphonies and choral works, composer the
music for several Hammer horror films (that’s as incongruous as Elizabeth
Taylor playing Cleopatra in “Carry On Cleo”). More on horror films in October!
To counterpoint this he also wrote the title theme for “Watership Down” (1977,
but not the song “Bright Eyes”).
Female lgbt composers
have also written for film. In November 2011 I wrote about Angela Morley, one
of the forgotten heroes of British radio. Not only was she responsible for arranging
the rest of the score for “Watership Down” but she also arranged, orchestrated
and supervised the music for “Schindler’s List”, “The Slipper and the Rose”,
“ET”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and many others, most of them uncredited. In
fact, if you see a film featuring John Williams’ music you’re more than likely
hearing Angela’s orchestrations. Although nominated for 2 Oscars Angela missed
out both times. But she did win 3 Emmys for her tv music.
Most female composers
wrote for tv, probably because of a male bias in the film industry. Several
other female composers who have made a mark in film music include Wendy Melvoin
and Lisa Coleman. Both were band members of The Revolution with Prince. Their
disillusionment at being under-rated by Prince led to them leaving the band.
Since then they have formed their own band, and then turned to writing for film
and tv. Their most famous work is in the film “Purple Rain” from their
Revolution years, winning a Grammy in the process.
Wendy and Lisa brings to
mind other popular music performers who have composed for film. Sir Elton John
has written for Disney (“The Lion King”), and Freddie Mercury penned music for
Which leads us on to
individual songs. A lot of films include songs, but it doesn’t’ make them
musicals. “Shrek 2” and “Bambi II” are borderline cases. These two films
included songs written by Dean Pitchford, more famous for his songs for “Fame”
(1980), for which he won an Oscar, and for the screenplay of “Footloose”
(1984). On 19th September 2008 he married Gay Games multi-gold
medallist Michael Mealiffe.
One of the most creative
film-making teams of recent years includes 3 gay men. Composer John Ottman met
film director Bryan Singer and orchestrator/conductor Damon Intrabartolo at the
University of Southern California in the 1980s. The trio didn’t work together
on a project until 1995 when Singer made the film “The Usual Suspects”. John
and Damon worked closely together on many later films, Damon providing the
orchestrations for John’s scores. John also edited “The Usual Suspects” to make
a more symbiotic element to the film, and he was rewarded with a BAFTA for Best
Perhaps the biggest
films the three worked on are all recent superhero blockbusters – “Fantastic
Four”, “X2: X-Men United” and “Superman Returns”. Such film-making teams have
become more prominent in the past 50 years and weren’t so evident in the Golden
Years of Hollywood. Unfortunately, this particularly well-matched team was
broken up last year with the sad death of Damon Intrabartolo as the age of 39.
With only a little space
left I’ll just give a brief mention to other lgbt film composers and their most
well-known films. Richard Robbins was a member of another 3-gay-man film team,
working with Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory on most of their films. He was
twice Oscar-nominated for “Howards’ End” and “The Remains of the Day”.
Marc Shaiman’s most
recent big hit was the remakes of “Hair” (2007) but his work goes back to the
1980s with films such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Broadcast News”. He was
Oscar-nominated for “Sleepless in Seattle” and “South Park”, among others.
Arthur Benjamin was
(like Sir Malcolm Williamson) and Australian composer. Arthur worked with
Alfred Hitchcock on both of his films “The Man Who New Too Much” (1934 and
1956). He also wrote the music for several documentary films, including “The
Conquest of Everest” (1953).
More film music will be
featured later in the year, the next being a celebration of the 75th
anniversary of the lgbt community’s most iconic film. I hope this all too brief
look at film music by lgbt composers has whetted your appetite to go and see
some of the films mentioned – you may see them in a new light.