Saturday, 27 April 2013

Fishwives, an amputated nose, hoofers, bonk-busters, brothels and a kiss from Miss Babs


Last night's outing for "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari was possibly one of the most entertaining, most thrilling evenings I have had for a long time! We had been promised a "special surprise guest", and my word did we get one - none other than the lovely Celia Imrie!

Ange, John-John, little Tony, our Paul, Craig and "Polari virgin" William were champing at the bit with excitement as we took our seats, and our host Paul Burston opened the show by introducing our first reader, newcomer and recipient of a number of "first book" awards Miss Kerry Hudson.

She read us a very funny extract from the book that has won her all those accolades, the amusingly-titled Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. A tale that "tells the story of a Scottish childhood of filthy council flats and B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs, the dole queue and bread and marge sandwiches" - how could you not love a novel that opens like this?
‘Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard. The midwife, a shiny-faced woman who learned entirely new turns of phrase that night, smoothed Ma’s hair.

‘Yer both fine. We’ll have tae give yeh a quick stitch up later, but – baby girl just ripped you a wee bit coming out.’

Ma laid me, sticky and slack-limbed, on her chest and wondered how something so pink, puckered and fragile could be so vicious as to tear the person who was meant to love her most in the world. But that was the Ryan Women: fishwives to the marrow, they were always ready to fight and knew the places that would cut deepest.

I was not vicious, though. No one could tell if I was clever, or sly as my grandma had predicted while blowing Benson & Hedges smoke rings over my ma's swollen belly. I was a "bad baby", forever gurning and spitting out my ma's nipple. My delicate skin had mottled with the indignation of being ripped by forceps from a warm, cosy spot where I was perfectly happy.

For all my fretful kicking at the air and scratching at my own face, my saving grace was beauty. Everyone said so; a golden baby with extra-blue eyes, the slope of my nose and forehead just so.

"She'll be a wee heartbreaker," Grandma said, smoothing down her mint-green nylon trousers. "But she'll have a lot o' jealousy. An' I know wha' a burden it is tae be born with beauty."

Grandma's violet eyes filled and the tears seeped through her pale powder into the wrinkles underneath.

Ma held me to her bony chest, resting my bum on the roll of flesh under her sharp ribs, which was all that remained of my home.

"Aye, she takes after her daddy. He was gorgeous. Those American blue eyes. She's the spit of him."

Ma's face crumpled, her mouth sagged in a whine and her face turned pink. I wondered what I'd been born into.

Other mas in the ward came over and eyed me suspiciously, checking I wasn't heavier, livelier or prettier than their babies. Ma's – my – family came and held their faces so close to mine I could smell whether they'd had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze.

Next to the podium was an old favourite - the wonderful actress and writer of plays, non-fiction and whodunits, and wearer of the most fabulous array of diamanté and pearls Miss Fidelis Morgan (who we so enjoyed at her last visit to Polari in January 2013).

She was as entertaining and dramatic as ever, reading an extract from one of her 18th century murder mysteries The Rival Queens, featuring the Countess Ashby de la Zouche, her maid, some outlandish theatricals, a lot of society gossip, scandalous affairs and intrigue, and some unfortunate amputations (a missing nose being the least of it); and a second from her more recent, and equally intriguing novel, The Murder Quadrille. But this was not all Miss Morgan was going to do on this particular evening...

As an almost hysterical Mr Burston - who had been asked by the lady in question "am I really a gay icon?", to which the only answer could be "of course you bloody well are!" - introduced Miss Celia Imrie to the stage, to riotous applause from our packed audience (that included such arty luminaries as Terry Ronald, Stephen Appleby, Helen Smith, Eve Ferret, Suzi Feay, VG Lee, Max Wallis, William Parker, DJ Connell and Toby Tobes), so Miss Morgan reappeared to play "interviewer" for Miss Imrie [the two ladies are evidently very close friends, and the chemistry was perfect], as she related some of the many fascinating anecdotes from her autobiography The Happy Hoofer.

From her phobia of flying that means she travels everywhere on cruise ships, to the preponderance of plastic surgeons among the swanky boutiques of Los Angeles (where she landed her recent role in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), to the harrowing experience of auditions, to her myriad film and TV appearances and co-stars, she presented each vignette in such a charming and engaging manner, we were hypnotised - and she finished of with a world premiere of a hilarious piece from her forthcoming one-woman show. We really must look out for that one!

Here is the lady herself, taking a little about the book:

And here (inevitably) is one of her classic appearances on the legendary Acorn Antiques:

Exhausted with laughing, it was time for a break - during which time we queued for copies of The Happy Hoofer, which the wonderful Miss Imrie duly signed. Then it was time for part two...

There is very little that could top the experience of of Celia (and Fidelis) on stage, so our fave Miss Lauren Henderson aka Rebecca Chance was taking few risks when she manoeuvred the two ladies to tread the boards once again, this time to act out a marvellous scene from one of her own bonk-busters Killer Heels.

Mere words cannot describe how utterly camp this was, but suffice to say we were in stitches as "ruthless fashion magazine editor Victoria Glossop" (Miss Imrie) savaged "starry-eyed ingenue Jodie/Coco Raeburn" (Miss Morgan) at her interview for the job of her PA (shades of The Devil Wears Prada). With Lauren/Rebecca's narration on top, this was totally outrageous, priceless stuff!

As our headline reader the eminent Paul Bailey remarked drily, "I only wish I could have lowered the tone. I don't think that is possible." However, he rounded-off the sexual theme of the evening perfectly with his exquisitely-written (and read) pieces from his book Uncle Rudolf - the first charting the inner turmoil and conflict of a wartime Romanian refugee and his hesitant, stumbling encounter with the longed-for "beast" he so desires in a male brothel in Paris, and the second, also in a brothel (of the female kind), where the boy confronts his inner feelings while faced with the dilemma of an unwanted prostitute purchased for him by his beloved uncle. Exemplary literary magic; we were transfixed.

And so, leaving us breathless with the exuberance of it all, the evening sadly ended (with the usual mingling and chatting; before going for more drinks to calm down).

This was a first-class Polari - the like of which we are unlikely to see again in a hurry - proving once more that this is indeed one of the best nights out you can have anywhere...

Polari now has its own website -

On the bill at the next one on Tuesday 28th May are old favourites Christopher Fowler, Sophia Blackwell and VG Lee, plus Andrew Belshaw, Greg Mitchell and Anny Knight. Can't wait!


  1. You've done it again, Jon. Great blog. Dx

  2. Fab blog, fab night, fab photos - yet another monthly cultural high - see you for the May one x

    1. We do adore our "cultural highs", and this was a classic! Jx

  3. Brilliant write-up & photos, as always. I'm delighted to be listed as an arty luminary. Thank you.

    It was such an enjoyable evening. See you at the next one, I hope.

    1. Arty luminary, you are... Lovely to see you - it was such fun! Jx

  4. An incredible blog of an incredible evening. As Mrs Overall would say 'Ooh I am pleased!'


    1. Thanks, babe!

      Babs : "Gosh. I am awful. Here I am blabbing away about my own troubles and I never asked you about your husband’s car crash."

      Mrs Overall : "Oh he’s dead, Miss Babs. In fact I was going to ask you if I could have a couple of hours off on Thursday for the funeral."

      Babs : "Of course. Just pop back at five for the hoovering. What happened?"

      Mrs Overall : "His heart stopped beating."

      Babs : "Oh, no."

      Mrs Overall : "Yes, well, sometimes that’s God way of telling you you’re dead. Not to worry, Bingo tonight.."


  5. Celia Imrie is omnipresent!

    Every time I watch a British TV show or movie, up she pops.

    I've just finished watching the series "Kingdom" where she plays the character Gloria Millington.

    I've made note of her autobiography (thank you, Jon) and the book, "Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma."

    So many books, so little time!

    1. Celia is fantastic. Recently, I loved her as Doris Speed in "The Road to Coronation Street", and she even appeared in "Dr Who" last month...

      In the literary whorl in which we find ourselves moving, it is easy enough to get overwhelmed buying books to add to the reading list - I have yet to tackle "Fanny and Stella" (which I know you are reading; I bought mine in February), nor any of Rebecca Chance's "bonk-busters", nor Fidelis Morgan's "Rival Queens", nor Julian Clary's "Briefs Encountered", and also on my pile are Rictor Norton's "Mother Clap's Molly House" and Christopher Stevens' "Kenneth Williams: Born Brilliant"... I need to be a gentleman of leisure. Jx

    2. I enjoyed Celia's "Doris Speed" character too.

      I'm off to Google the titles you've noted.

      Being an insomniac like me helps to move through the pile of books on your nightstand but I don't recommend it.

  6. A completely fantabulosa evening which is surely the highlight of the month, nay YEAR!! Ms Imrie was EVERY bit as delightful as you'd expect her to be... what a thrill to meet her!

    Fabulous blog as always darling. The next best thing to actually being there... See you on Saturday xx

    1. It was a thrill I'll remember for a long time!

      See you Saturday, sweets... Jx


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