When I began my second year research project on media representation of homosexuality, the thought of utilising the resources at the Bill Douglas Centre never even crossed my mind. I focused specifically on media representations in the period between the Wolfenden Report and its recommendations to decriminalise homosexuality in 1957, and the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality. Initially, I stuck to the familiar ground and cosy shelves of the university library for research, but when information was getting low on the ground, I thought that the Bill Douglas was unlikely to save the day, but was worth a shot! Soon after searching the online collection, I was surprised by the resources the museum held, and the extent of knowledge and help provided by its curators which led me to sources otherwise not utilised in my research. In particular, I was eagerly directed to a swathe of information on the 1961 film ‘Victim’ and the BBC Radio sketch ‘Julian & Sandy’ hidden away in the depths of the Old Library.
Released in 1961, ‘Victim’ was the first English-speaking film to deal with the topic of homosexuality, and explicitly mention the word itself. Producers Michael Relph and Basil Dearden had worked on a number of social problem films previously to ‘Victim’, and were seen as pioneers in their approach.
The plot follows a successful married barrister Melville Farr who risks his career and reputation to uncover a gang of blackmailers who are extorting money from both Farr and other homosexual men. Through the filmmakers portrayal of Farr (played by the popular heart-throb Dirk Bogarde) and the other extorted men, they aimed to legitimise homosexuality and highlight the hypocrisies of the law, as they believed that it encouraged blackmail by hardened criminals on innocent, respectable men. Resources in the Bill Douglas Collection gave me a broad overview of the film and its response, from books containing essays on the topic, photographs of the actors and press publicity packs, to original copies of The Daily Cinema containing promotional material and reviews. Not only could I watch the film, but discover the popular culture and wider themes that surrounded its conception and response.
When researching the popular BBC Radio sketch show Julian & Sandy, the Centre provided invaluable resources. Running from 1965-8 the sketch followed two flamboyant and coded gay out of work actors played by Kenneth Williams (also starring in the Carry On films) and Hugh Paddick, accompanied by Kenneth Horne, who would act as their comic foil.
The diaries of Kenneth Williams were particularly revealing of behind the scenes tensions in the show, and his growing dissatisfaction with the overtly camp character as one of the only representations of homosexuality at the time. He also stated in these published diaries that despite its faults, the team had great fun producing the show, and how he felt that the sketch had an intimate feel, making the queer world more accessible and familiar, and therefore less threatening and deviant. Furthermore, transcripts from the show held in the BDC explained the use of double entendre and ‘polari’- a lexicon used by gay men in theatre in the 1930s, but which had extended into the British gay subculture in the 1950s/60s- in Julian & Sandy. Words such as ‘drag’ and ‘camp’ were introduced into mainstream vocabulary by the show, and reflected the evolution of homosexuality from a taboo topic, to one that could be represented across the airwaves, provoking and allowing discussion of homosexuality.
The Bill Douglas Centre not only provided the resources for me to research selected sources in greater depth, but also led me to discover other primary materials and artefacts that I would never have found on my own accord. Magazines, diaries, autobiographies, essays and books held by the Centre gave me a more vibrant, and rounded picture of popular culture at this time, and provided an unprecedented insight into coded gay subcultures of this period. From thinking the Centre would have nothing to interest me, I ended up with a plethora of information hidden in the depths of the Old Library and moved away from my comfort zone amongst the library bookcases.
Considering a new way to find literature and sources definitely paid off- the only problem was tearing myself away from the resources available, and actually getting down to writing the mammoth 7,000 word essay!