Thursday 28 May 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 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.

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