Jack Cullen

Behind The Gay Scene

Footage of archaic drag queens, closeted celebrities, homo-jibe lawsuits and prototype Pride festivals are opened up to the public for the first time!

What is it called? The British Pathé Film Archive. Where is it kept? An underground vault at Pinewood Studios. What do they have? A century of old videos and film footage under lock and key. We always knew British Pathé held all sorts of strange secrets in the Pinewood vaults and luckily for us their century old archive is now fully digitised and open for the public to view on their site.

We took a little look to see what we could find for GT’s readers. Looking beyond the popular material, Marilyn Monroe, old FA cup finals and volcanic eruptions we wanted to find some undiscovered gems from Britain’s partially unchartered homosexual history. There are 90,000 old-school videos hosted on this site for Christ sake, SURELY there’s some retro mancandy or at least some dusty old reels of an all-male cocktail party in Laurence Olivier’s bach-pad!

Of course the school boy error is to type ‘gay’ into the search bar because back in those days this word basically meant flower arranging classes, ballet shows and egg painting. The second faux-pas is to type ‘homosexual’ - a word deemed to be dirty in the early and mid 20th century and so understandably not too frequently penned by the archivists who wrote the canister notes.

Then we typed in drag queen… and bingo… some brilliant 1960s footage turned up of Ricky Renee the ‘Quick Change Artist’. We see the rather handsome and lean Ricky doing his make-up in a soft porn boudoir before striding out in dazzling sequins to entertain upper middle-class diners.

Next we discovered some rare footage from Liberace’s homosexuality lawsuit. Of course Liberace had a lot to lose as the heartthrob of every British housewife, he couldn’t have his marketability thrown into jeopardy could he Cliff? The clip shows the flamboyant pianist battling his way through a vicious press crowd on a sunny afternoon in 1959.

The archive also has brilliant footage of very early Gay Pride festivals, known then rather politely as the “Soho Street Carnival”. Although one film producer in 1955 helpfully titled this one SOHO GOES GAY. It’s actually quite refreshing to see the true amalgamation of gender, class and sexuality at the event. Interestingly perhaps mixed parades like this will have a comeback and become the future for liberal and emancipated nations like our own?

As you push deeper into the archive though you start to come across stranger material. Who’s this man in the 1930s singing ‘Why Do They Call My Tony ‘Daisy’’? And what on earth is going on at this 1961 clergy conference

We’re fascinated by this clip of a borderline homophobic joke in 1933 and were about to lodge a gentle complaint, but we got distracted by this hot boxer Dick Turpin lying down on his back and doing exercises.

Have a rummage through the archive yourself here. Let us know if you do better than we did, and don’t just watch locker room reels – we know what you’re like.

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