1982: Coming Out ‐ Ready or Not
A benefit event for London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and Lesbian Line, organised by Consenting Adults in Public on Wednesday 8 December 1982.
The culmination of four months’ work corralling all the major LGBT performers of the time, this three-hour show was a trailblazer both for the Albany in Deptford, which had never hosted a gay event before, and for a community which had never organised such an elaborate fundraiser. It raised £450 (£2,500 in today’s money).
It almost never happened because the Albany, with typical efficiency, double booked us with a boxing tournament. The boxing tournament had to have priority, of course! That we managed to sell out in an obscure south east London venue on a Wednesday night, despite the Albany’s best efforts, was something of a triumph in itself.
What is noticeable, and would have been even more noticeable at the time, was the lack of drag acts. In 1982 there was a real chasm between the politicos and the scene and drag was felt to be stereotyping and offensive to women. There were no drag kings then. It would take the advent of Paul O’Grady in the next year or two to begin to bridge that gap.
The true heir to Mrs Shufflewick, Lily Savage celebrated working class fecklessness, guile and poverty with an energy which justified the name. A kind of one‐man Shameless. He also wore his politics on his faux fur sleeves and strutted nonchalantly across any divide. Paul appeared in a Homo Promos benefit for Switchboard at the Albany in the late 1980s.
Harry Coen’s review gives a pretty good idea of the atmosphere and the excitement, and I won’t add much.
At that timeTom Robinson was very much the star of the occasion, not that he behaved as such at all. He had fled the pressures of the music industry and been hanging out in Berlin without much public profile in the UK. He’d recently returned with a song in his back pocket,War Baby, written in a sauna in Germany. “Only the very young and very beautiful can be so aloof.” Too right, Tom.
War Baby had its first outing here at the Albany, though it wasn’t to be released for another six months. He was accompanied by Mark Ramsden on a blistering sax. Afterwards he described having Mark as like taking your Rolls Royce to do your laundry. I’m still trying to work out if that’s a compliment or not.
Of course, he had to close the whole show, with all the other performers on the chorus, with Glad to be Gay, still pertinent in its original version eight years after the writing. The house went wild.
On a personal note, one of the other performers,Rose Collis brought along a roadie, Sue Brearly. Tom and Sue fell for each other. The fall‐out for Tom within the gay community was disastrous, with vicious attacks on him for selling out, from Peter Tatchell among others.
Over the years our attitude to labels and identities has become a lot more nuanced and we can hail Tom as a pioneer of the more fluid sexuality which is now recognised. Tom and Sue are still partnered.
Of the other performers, the name most likely to be recognised is Richard Coles, nowRev Richard Coles.
At this time, he was involved in Consenting Adults Theatre Group, having just played Derek in my play Latecomer, directed by John Anstiss.
Shortly afterwards, we did the cabaretCan Gay? Will Gay! at the Oval House and toured a roadshow with Chris Ransome and Toby Kettle, two other performers from the Albany gig. Later I received a blistering letter saying that I was crap, Consenting Adults were crap and we had no professionalism.
Richard proved to be an excellent accompanist for a variety of acts ‐ Toby, Bob Blaine and me ‐ and proved to be a gift for the saxophone as well. He and Toby had the greatest rapport, sharing an abiding pessimism and a lugubrious sense of humour.
Toby was the youngest performer on the bill at age nineteen.
Rose Collis was involved, as were Richard and Toby, with the Gay Teenage Movement, and shortly to make the award‐winning film Framed Youth in collaboration with Albany Video. Toby’s contribution was immense, particularly in the editing suite, where he forged an assured visual style. Shortly after, he moved to Manchester.
Over the next ten years the sheer awfulness of life for lesbians and gay men in Britain got to him ‐ Thatcher, AIDS, Section 28, rampant homophobia, abusive men ‐ and in 1994 he succeeded on his second attempt in taking his own life.
Rose went on to become a co‐editor of the lesbian and gay section of the London radical listings magazine, City Limits, and to write highly entertaining biographies of some less well‐known lesbian icons and extraordinary women ‐ Nancy Spain, Coral Browne, ‘Colonel Barker’ and the portmanteau Portraits to the Wall. She is still performing a one‐woman show based on her biographical writing. Herwebsite is excellent.
Chris Ransome was an extraordinary songwriter. His high plaintiff voice over a reggae beat on a small electric keyboard was inimitable and haunting. His songs ‐Nancy Boy,Advertisements for Heterosexuality ‐ were upfront and angry. Yet they showed a great understanding of the craft of song‐writing. I always thought he would go far in the music industry had ot not been for its innate conservatism and homophobia at the time.
His dazzling smile and gentle tentative manner completely belied his material. He had a boyfriend, Jamie, who was heavily involved in the Irish Republican movement, and I believe went to prison for it for a time.
By 1982 Mark Bunyan was probably the most important original gay singer‐songwriter on the circuit.
I’d seen him first in Gay’s the Word bookshop in the summer of 1979 and this convinced me that there was a market for the original cabaret songs and sketches I’d been doing in Oxford and Birmingham since 1972. His signature songIs He One? has been periodically updated to incorporate the latest gay news stories and concepts. By now it has more verses than Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It.
Since then, Mark has hovered on the brink of fame. A documentary,Very Nearly Almost Famous , captures the idea and he has written several excellent musicals including Just Good Friends. Nowadays he’s a magistrate, a performer and a trampoline champion.
Joanne Richler was American and a heterosexual woman, which caused a few arguments among us between the separatists and the includers. Her wistful and often funnysongs were about the fraught nature of male/female relationships ‐ all relationships ‐ and the sexual politics therein. That was good enough for me. Nowadays she is an educational consultant.
Carol Uszkurat was a slightly older lesbian, ex‐teacher and ex‐married, with a nice line in whimsy. She was a singer‐guitarist. At the time there was a feminist organisation Women in Manual Trades, which led to a song about the Spanish fantasy figure Manuel Tradès (a devil with the ladies). In her sixties, after a varied career in the voluntary sector, she is still writing and performing, as well as being an artist.
All the above appear on the record Coming Out Ready or Not which is something of a collector’s item because of the early version of War Baby. I’ve seen second‐hand copies of it going for £30 on eBay. Perhaps I should re‐issue it. I know Tom is keen to do so as a fund‐raiser, but there is the difficulty of getting permission from people with whom we’ve lost touch. Should I risk it? Perhaps!
I am on the record too, although my contribution was recorded the next day at the Albany with a different pianist, Norman Penney.
As you can see from the running order, I acted as a kind of plug for the holes created by the need for time to set up acts. As a result, at the end I had no voice for We Were in There, my signature song at the time. I was determined to get it on vinyl, so we brought the patient sound engineer, Barrie Hilton, in again the next day. His master tapes are today lodged in the LGBT Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute.
Not on the record were two acts. Bob Blaine was an old‐fashioned lounge and pub singer doing Sinatra‐style covers. He’d been a film stuntman and occasional actor for many years. He’d only recently come out in his fifties and joined Consenting Adults. With his cross‐dressing partner, Tony, he founded the Gay Self‐Defence Group, and ran regular classes and courses for LGBT people ‐ his most important and enduring contribution to our community. Despite his macho image, he was a gentle man. His favourite quote was, “The best form of self-defence is running away.” In later years he sadly developed dementia and died in his sixties.
The event was completed by the Red Bucket Theatre Collective of Grimsby, a crazy offshoot from Gay Sweatshop consisting of Noel Greig, Sue Frumin and Philip Timmins. It was a kind of wild safety valve after the right‐on straight jacket was forced on them by the fact of being 'the' theatre company of the community for years. Here they could satirise the po‐faced absurdity of pseudo‐Brechtian absolutism in the saga of Big Red Nelly. I remember they ran around and shouted a lot, and their play was always grinding to a halt for furious ideological arguments between the actors. Fabulous.
The event showed the ability of a mega‐cabaret to engender a kind of outrageous euphoria and goodwill to all queers. Until then we hadn‐t been aware of the power of LGBT performance as expression and cement to our communities. There would be many others to follow.
Listen to thesongs.
The programme and record order
An article about the event that appeared in Captital Gay on 17 December 1982