Party … The Day The World Came To Huddersfield … AIDS: The Unheard Tapes

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Party

Forty five people came to the Welcome Party compered by Ken (as Larry Grayson, comedian and television presenter best known in the 1970s) with Norman and headlined by Wolf – the oldest boy band in the world.

Patrick read a couple of poems and Peter played the piano before Wolf gave us a fantastic set mixing soul and classic pop tunes. Thanks to all performers and those who helped in setting up the room and working in the kitchen.

The Day The World Came To Huddersfield

In 1981, the usual Pride march and rally was not held in London, decamping to Huddersfield instead as an act of solidarity with the Yorkshire gay community who claimed that West Yorkshire Police were harassing them by repeatedly raiding the Gemini Club, a leading nightclub in the North of England at the time.

Monologues performed by actors retold the stories of the 1981 march

Monologues performed by actors retold the stories of the 1981 march.

The march was held in the West Yorkshire town in July 1981, in defiance of a police campaign against a popular gay venue.

The Gemini Club had been labelled “a cesspit of filth” by police, so Pride moved to Huddersfield in solidarity.

Stephen M Hornby created an immersive theatre event “The Day The World Came To Huddersfield” to retell the events.

The playwright wrote monologues based on interviews with people who took part, along with Abi Hynes, Peter Scott-Presland and Hayden Sugden.

The event saw actors mingling with crowds in the town centre, telling their stories as they restaged the march.

It was also performed at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and the King’s Arms in Salford.

The theatre group took a similar route to the march more than 40 years ago.

An exhibition of portraits of some of the original marchers has also gone on display.

Prof Sue Sanders, chair of LGBTQ+ History Month and Schools OUT UK, said the Pride event in Huddersfield was “a wonderful piece of forgotten history that needs to be known across the UK”.

“This is an extraordinary project,” she said. “These performances are not just creating some wonderful new theatre, they are bringing the past to life in a wonderful, vivid and highly entertaining way.”

The street performance took place in the courtyard outside the Lawrence Batley Theatre and actors took a circular route through the town centre, which included parts of the original route.

Mr Hornby said: “The Pride march of 1981 was full of extraordinary characters from Huddersfield and from across the country.

It’s been a treasure trove for the playwrights who found some amazing tales.

When we bring them all together it really captures what marching in the UK’s first national Pride felt like.”

Aids: The Unheard Tapes – stories from the heart of a crisis

A new BBC documentary gives voice to those at the centre of the Aids epidemic. Pioneering oral historian Dr Wendy Rickard, who conducted the interviews, explains why it’s so important they are heard.

As the Aids crisis in Britain grew in the mid-1980s, pioneering researchers conducted audio interviews with gay men and their friends, producing an archive of frank, intimate discussions of life at the heart of the Aids epidemic. They have been in the British Library ever since.

Now, an innovative, important new documentary brings this real-time oral history project to life as young actors lip-sync to the original recordings. The effect is hugely powerful.

Aids: The Unheard Tapes, which aired from Monday 27 June (and 4 and 11 July) on BBC2 at 9.30pm, covers the period from 1982, when the first cases of a mysterious and deadly virus hit the gay community through to 1997, when combination therapy revolutionised survival hopes for people with HIV. Oral historian Dr Wendy Rickard conducted many of the original interviews.

Why was it so important to create this oral history archive?

Dr Wendy Rickard: As one interviewee said, oral history made it possible to “get into the closet with people”. It offered a way to carefully respect the wishes of the speakers, to preserve their words for a time when they might feel OK for people to listen to them. It was a way to value their stories and save them for the future.

Oral history gives you direct, unapologetic language, uncluttered by professional health, science, media and big pharma agendas. It challenges concepts of people with HIV being remembered only as objects of medical curiosity or as pitiable victims of disease or any other of those depersonalised, scientific records we have of people. And of course privacy and confidentiality were important, but it seemed to me that blanket privacy policies were also silencing people. The British Library were absolutely brilliant at helping us out of those ditches, to do something quiet but, it turns out, pioneering.

What are your abiding memories from conducting the original interviews?

Cycling round with a tape recorder, going to people’s houses, prison cells, university residences, homeless shelters, temporary housing association flats, voluntary agencies – wherever people were, we went there and recorded. We sat at their feet and listened intently for hours, sometimes long into the night, nudging them with a well-phrased question when needed. And helping do the shopping, get the prescription, feed the cat, hang the washing, fill out a form. And then having pauses when people were too unwell or visiting them in hospital or the hospice to carry on recording if they were bored or just to chat. So basically a whole range of things modern research protocols probably tell you not to do.

What do we learn by listening to contemporary or near contemporary interviews about the Aids epidemic and its impact?

It was important to me at the time to only interview people with HIV, to make their voices the loudest. Like all oral history, empowerment is key, generating from within communities the authority to explore and interpret their own experience, experience traditionally invisible in formal AIDS history because of predictable assumptions about who and what matters (doctors, scientists, drugs, money). By listening to these interviews now, we learn what happened to individuals, how raw it felt.

We learn what people were wearing, what happened to the last boyfriend, lots about sexual practices with this one and that one, why night sweats are crap, how to come to terms with gay domestic abuse, how best to padlock yourself to Westminster bridge on a protest, how to cash in your pension and live large, how grim day time TV and loneliness can be, what family means and what happens if you wash coffee grains down your sink every day. We learn how weird it is to plan your own death, how shocking when others die and you don’t. And so very, very much more.

For those who lived, both they and we learn how narratives have changed over time.

How important is this brilliant, innovative series – coming in the wake of It’s a Sin – in terms of educating and informing people about Britain’s Aids crisis?

It’s a Sin did a great job of waking the public up to HIV again. By using life stories, this innovative BBC series now follows and gives agency to people with HIV to tell their own story in their own words –its hard hitting, genuine and charming. It walks a nice line on big topics like tragedy and the culpability of Thatcherite politics. And it does not dilute loves and lives wrenched from people and its compelling and deeply moving to watch, so I hope it helps with educating and informing people in a refreshing new lip synching way.

It also opened a worm can about making sure everyone who features in the series was OK with their voice being heard like this, or their loved ones were. The series producer and director have been really commendable in their efforts to handle that side of things.

It’s 50 years of Pride in London and the 40th anniversary of the death of Terrence Higgins. How vital is it that we learn lessons from the past and preserve histories, especially as so many people who would have now been elders of the LGBTQ+ community were lost to Aids?

Absolutely vital. Look at the prejudices emerging again around monkey pox. Think of the children growing up with HIV, some of whom are themselves LGBTQ, whose parents are perhaps lost in old stigmas and harsh daily realities. There are glaring gaps in losing all those would-be elder voices, all that wisdom, all those rich ideas, that daring, that charm, that beauty, that presence, that experience of horrors and those ways of dealing with blatant injustice.

To have captured something of the essence of LGBTQ people who died (and those from other communities, as we did not just interview gay men) feels radically important and a huge privilege. It is unusual for younger people to record oral histories. It’s conventionally the preserve of those over 70 who have lived long and full lives. AIDS changed lots of things, including oral history. Does it sound stupid to say I think in a way we have got an idea of those elder voices to learn from, in the archive, in concentrated form, in their refreshingly youthful accounts, because they had to get wise swiftly, before dying too young. The BBC series has been great to get some of those voices out there in an absorbingly creative way.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes is also available on the BBC iPlayer.

2 thoughts on “Party … The Day The World Came To Huddersfield … AIDS: The Unheard Tapes

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the Out in the City party and the play at the Kings Arms. Will continue to watch the ‘Unheard Tapes’ series

    Like

  2. Thanks Tony – we have been asked to compile a 50 year lgbt history timeline specifically for Oldham .. thanks for the General and Manchester lgbt history on the OitC webpage.

    Any suggestions of what/who to include from an Oldham perspective?

    David Austin – Chair – Oldham Pride

    Like

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