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August 01, 2005

Time to Laugh at the Icons of the Gay Community at Getty Images Gallery

Posted by Christie Davies

Icons of the Gay Community
curated by Ivan Massow
Getty Images Gallery
46 Eastcastle Street, London W1
21st July - 6th August 2005
Monday - Friday 10am - 6.30pm (Thursday until 7.30pm)
Saturday 12pm - 6.30pm
All images are for sale

For real frivolity go and see Icons of the Gay Community, selected by 30,000 members of Jake, the London-based professional gay network. The frivolity of these internet choosers of the gay icons, which were then placed in rank order of popularity, is proven by the fact that Miss Piggy, Piggy in the Pokey, 1981, makes it to Number 4. Madonna tops the list, though whether this is for her devotion to spanking or to the Kaballah is unclear.

It has to be conceded that only gay men truly understand the frivolous. Can you imagine the rest of the inhabitants of Llandewi Brefi, who are as straight as a Dai, ever choosing Miss Piggy as their icon? In the same street as the Getty Images Gallery stands Capel Bedyddwyr Cymreig, Ty Cwrdd Y Bedyddwyr – whose memorial stones were laid in 1889 by Mrs Griffith Rowlands, Mrs Owen Lewis and Geo. W. Taylor Esquire J.P. Can you imagine a gay icon sneaking into that square and serious place? Lawyers' Music, the musical society for lawyers, are allowed to rehearse there but that is the limit of the building's wantonness.

Some of the photographed icons on display are, fairly predictably, distinguished homosexuals, such as Oscar Wilde, 1881, who made it to Number 3, Tchaikovsky by Rischgitz 1890, Grooming Freddie (Steve Wood 1982), Freddie Bulsara, the Parsee pop star who came in at number 5, Orton at Home by Harry Thompson 1966, Kenneth Williams, 1980, Nureyev Rehearses, 1962 and a host of lesser known practitioners of le vice allemand. It is a measure of the prejudice of the men of Jake's that not one single male member of that nation has become an icon – no alte Fritz, no Eulenberg, no Roehm, no Thomas Mann.

The celibate Stephen Fry, (Terry O'Neill 1997), is here, photographed before he acquired his third, or is it fourth, chin, and so is Ian McKellen by Roy Jones 1978, pictured before he became a wrinkly reduced to playing wizards and the Young Crisp, 1940, looking deeply sensitive and soulful in wartime. To round off the list of old queens, here too is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Terry O'Neill 1990) in a very fetching tiara. But where is David Starkey, whose photograph now holds pride of place in the entrance hall to the National Portrait Gallery? Britain's most eminent historian, with his tortoiseshell spectacles and oversized ring, is pensive and his hands held together are raised to his mouth as if in prayer. His head and hands together fill the entire frame, and the top of the frame removes the crown of his head. Why is this handsome and photogenic man not among the icons?

For the record the best photographs to look out for or even buy at Gay Icons are these:
• Thatcher's Hand, 1985, a hand which sits below her well coiffeured hair and obscures her face, a picture from the 1985 Conservative Party conference.
• Streisand and Coward by Clive Limpkin, 1966, a wonderful study of two people interacting but not looking at each other, so that their eyes meet behind their heads.
• What a lot of socks, by John Drysdale, 1963, a study of the Christian pop star, Sir Cliff Richard hanging up his numerous black socks on a high drying rack in the kitchen of his home in St. Anne's, Blackpool. Sir Cliff is posed against the light of the kitchen window between two floral plastic curtains. Below the sock rack sits an aluminium kettle with a whistle. It is a real period piece of St Anne's life in 1963, the kind of kitchen his fans still toil in unchanged today.
• Derek Jarman (Terry O'Neill 1990) dancing in the foam on the beach below Dungeness, a tribute to the power of the famous nuclear electricity generating plant.

One might also add to the list of the best photographs, Marlon Brando, 1951, as he plays Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' play A Street Car Named Desire. Tennessee Williams, like E. Morgan Forster made his women fall for homosexual icons, in this case the brutal, working-class, ten-pin-bowling, beer-from-the-bottle-swigging, dirty-vested, Polack, Stanley Kowalski, the ultimate in rough trade for over-refined Southern women and rouged queens alike.

By contrast it is difficult to see why there are so many photos of beautiful actresses here – Marlene Dietrich, by Eugene Robert Richee, 1932, Happy Marilyn, 1956, Dolly Parton, 1977, Minelli in Red, 1985 and Germaine Greer, 1990, all by Terry O'Neill. What a lucky and privileged man Mr O'Neill is to have been closeted in his studio with all these lovely ladies. The greatest star among them is, of course, the gorgeous Germaine Greer to whom Barry Humphries pays tribute in his autobiography. Her performances in My Girl Herbert at the Swan Theatre, Worcester and as a strip-teasing nun in Cambridge were unforgettable. What an actress, what stage presence, what thighs! But why would any of these goddesses appeal to gay men?

Prof. Christie Davies is the author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain, New Brunswick NJ, Transaction, 2004 - a detailed and thorough analysis of the development of the laws relating to homosexuality in Britain and Ireland.


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"To round off the list of old queens, here too is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Terry O'Neill 1990) in a very fetching tiara."
I would expect better from the Social Affairs Unit than to list our beloved Sovereign in the company of such depraved degenerates.
Shame on you.

Posted by: Jonathan at August 1, 2005 03:39 PM
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Putting aside the fact that here were are dealing with homo- rather than heterosexuality, the general prurience of this article reminds me of when an elderly magistrate was trying a case in which it was relevant that the defendant(s) had been engaged in oral sex. He asked for further clarification, which was forthcoming, with the coda “it’s increasingly common these days”. To which he replied “In that case, I am glad that I do not have so much longer to live.”

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at August 1, 2005 08:38 PM
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I wonder whether Jonathan reallly objects to the presene in this exhibition of our Queen, dear old Lis, - or rather her Majesty, the blessed Margaret - high queen for at least some of those who hold Jonathan type views.

Posted by: David at August 2, 2005 02:55 PM
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A very amusing piece - I have heard Germaine Greer praised and denigrated in equal measure. I have however never heard anyone say of Germaine "what thighs". Come to think of it, I have not often heard her praised for being gorgeous. Perhaps Prof. Davies knows something we don't.

Posted by: Jane at August 2, 2005 03:35 PM
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