Human Rights Day … Feast of Festive Fun … Noel Coward … Coronation Street is 60!

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Human Rights Day – 10 December 2020

Human Rights Day commemorates the day the General Assembly of the UN adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR is one of UN’s major achievements as well as the first enunciation of human rights across the world.

Adopted on 10 December 1948, the Declaration stipulates universal values and a shared standard of achievement for everyone in every country. While the Declaration is not a binding document, it inspired over 60 human rights instruments that today make a common standard of human rights. It is the most translated document around the globe available in over 500 languages.

2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights

This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.

 

Pride in Ageing’s seasonal celebration event for over 50s (presented in partnership with Southway Housing) is this weekend. Join us on Zoom on Saturday, 12 December from 3.00 – 5.00pm for an afternoon of camp, festive fun with The Jingle Belles (a trio of iconic Manchester drag queens). Tickets are free and booking is via Eventbrite here.

 

Noël Coward’s private lives: the photographs that could have landed him in jail

A newly discovered album contains intimate, joyful glimpses of the playwright drinking, partying and holidaying with his famous friends and lovers. The result is an astonishing insight into gay life in the interwar years

On sale this month … some of the images of Coward and his friends, compiled by Joyce Carey

In 1931, Noël Coward was the highest-earning author in the western world, celebrated for his scintillating comedies and sensational dramas of hidden love such as The Vortex, Private Lives and Easy Virtue. As well as writing hit songs, musicals, novels and short stories, he painted and, not least, performed. But perhaps the most astounding thing of all is the fact that – at a time when homosexuality was illegal and would remain so for some time – he lived an openly gay life.

Bearing witness … more images from the album, including one of his Kent house

It is this that makes a newly discovered photograph album so extraordinary. It shows intimate glimpses from the private life of this towering cultural figure. Apparently compiled in the 1930s by Coward’s closest female friend, Joyce Carey, the album is a remarkable insight into gay lives of the interwar years, lived in plain sight. Carey died in 1993. It is because of her long-held loyalty to the man she and other intimates only half-ironically called the Master that the album has only now come to light, due to be sold at a London sale room later this month.

Many of the shots were taken at Goldenhurst, Coward’s country retreat in Kent, an extended redbrick farmhouse he bought in 1926. Here, and at more exotic sites, we see the artist and his famous friends at play. They bask in the ancient, faded sunlight, these people whose lives were bookended by two world wars. There’s Lord Mountbatten, fishing – Coward was later to play him in the wartime film In Which We Serve. And here’s Alec Guinness, in smart sunglasses, with his seraphic smile that gave little of his personal life away.

Many of Coward’s guests are highly glamorous theatre women: Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Tallulah Bankhead, Gladys Calthrop. But Coward’s allure extended far beyond the stage: the writers Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf were also his good friends. And then there are all those handsome young men, sporting droopy woollen swimsuits that leave nothing to the imagination.

Mad dogs and Englishmen … Coward, on right, in the Bahamas with Alan Webb, with whom he had a tempestuous relationship

The mere existence of such images could have brought the punitive weight of the law – and public prejudice – down on Coward’s head. Yet these men were his lovers and he made no secret of it. His relationship with Alan Webb, then starring in Coward’s Tonight at 8.30, was tempestuous, and ended in tears. We see the two men posing on the beach at Nassau in the Bahamas, holidaying there together in 1937. As John Gielgud once told me, Webb was “a very caustic and brilliant actor … one of the few who dared to oppose Noël”. Graham Payn, an altogether less troubling young man, was to become Coward’s longest and most constant companion, and became the executor of his estate when the dramatist died in Jamaica in 1973.

Then there’s Jack Wilson, Coward’s American manager, who has the square-jawed look of Marlon Brando, or an American football player. Wilson was the great love of Coward’s life, but his alcoholism and infidelities drove them apart. It’s a story wittily and lovingly camped up in a novel by Goldenhurst’s later owner, Julian Clary, under the title Briefs Encountered.

A role model … Noël Coward at Goldenhurst in 1935. Photograph: Sasha / Getty / Hulton Archive

Not all of Coward’s female friends approved. Katharine Hepburn loved Coward. She visited him often along with her girlfriend Irene Selznick. But she complained that he and his guests spent all their time lying naked in the sun. She thought they ought to be playing tennis, she told Selznick, as the two women drove away in their red, open-topped sports car.

Noel Coward, circa 1941

But there is a shadow that falls across these images. Coward, like his fellow gay theatrical superstar Ivor Novello, lived in fear of Oscar Wilde’s fate. And it wasn’t so far away: as a teenager, Coward had known Robbie Ross, Wilde’s literary executor and first male lover. At any point, these private parties and cocktail hours – and anything that came after – could have ended in arrest and imprisonment. Indeed, in 1953, Coward’s friend John Gielgud would be arrested for importuning sex with a man in a public lavatory. He escaped with a fine, but suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the incident.

This did not stop the Master from making a joke of it all. Wit was the great man’s defence. Once, crossing Leicester Square with a friend, he looked up and saw a cinema marquee advertising a new film: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them. Coward turned to his friend and said: “I don’t see why not. Everyone else has.”

While Gielgud and Bogarde had a great love and respect for Coward, Carey was more reserved. She kept her counsel, as the great witness to her friend’s pleasures and pains. As Amanda, the star of Coward’s most famous play, says: “I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives.”

Of course, Coward had the privilege to be able to live privately like this. But importantly, like Wilde, he was the role model for an entire generation of gay people. You might live in suburbia, but with a cheap cocktail glass and a perfumed cigarette, you could be king or queen for a day.

Sworders online auction of Noël Coward photographs is on 15 December.

 

 

Coronation Street is 60!

Inspired and created by a gay man, Coronation Street has covered LGBT issues so well.

In the 60 years since the first episode was aired, the soap has gone from kitchen-sink serial to cultural institution.

In the winter of 1960, John F Kennedy had just been elected, a young rock band had changed its name to the Beatles, and – at 7.00pm on Friday, 9 December – a mournful cornet was heard in homes across the north of England.

The Coronation Street theme tune signalled the then unpromising start of a new TV series. Granada Television had commissioned 13 black-and-white episodes, assembling a cast of little-known stage actors in Weatherfield, a fictional town inspired by the working-class terraces of Salford.

Few expected it to succeed, but Coronation Street would transform television, becoming a cultural institution and tabloid juggernaut. It has survived wayward stars, a revolving door of producers, the rise of streaming TV and – in its diamond anniversary year – a global pandemic. The more than 10,000 episodes have included 57 births, 131 marriages (including five acts of bigamy) and 146 deaths (25 of them murders, variously involving a shovel, a crowbar and a small statue).

But before all the love rats, family spats, big stunts, ratings clashes and even before the sense of humour that was always the show’s lodestar, there was a nation on the cusp of change – and a frustrated young writer called Tony.

Tony Warren grew up sitting under his grandmother’s kitchen table, listening to the gossip and caustic asides of Salford’s no-nonsense matriarchs. He devoured plays in Manchester Central Library and, aged 15, hitchhiked to London to write cabaret and routines for strippers.

Back in Manchester, Warren also absorbed the speech and personalities of gay men at pubs such as Paddy’s Goose. But as a junior writer at Granada, which had only begun broadcasting in the still starchy world of TV in 1956, he grew tired of writing Biggles scripts. Postwar Britain was in flux. There was a yearning for recognition and self-assertion among the working class. Desperate for an outlet for the characters buzzing in his head, Warren begged the producer Harry Elton for a shot. Elton agreed, despite scepticism from the Granada supremo, Sidney Bernstein.

Warren, who was 23, was allowed to write 12 episodes – plus a finale in case they bombed. His work stunned the script editor Harry Kershaw, who wrote later: “You closed your eyes and you could see the antimacassars and the chenille tablecloths … You sniffed and you could smell the burning sausages and the cheap hairspray and the tang of bitter beer.”

Warren got the nod … and here we are, 60 years later.

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