Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ghost stories, 60s queens, a pre-menstrual terrorist, Bright Young Things, Miss Hepburn and a singing Xmas tree

The gang (John-John, Paul, Jim, Ange, Little Tony, Alex, Emma, Toby, Wayne and I) gathered in style once more on Monday for the final outing of "London's peerless gay literary salon" of 2013 - A Very Polari Xmas, indeed!

Paul Burston had decked his proverbials with tinsel for the occasion, and without further ado welcomed us all with mulled wine and mince pies the first guest to the stage.

Ann Mann has had a long history in entertainment - she sang with The George Mitchell Singers (who were most famous, nay notorious, for being the mainstay of The Black and White Minstrel Show), and has worked for Disney, Hammer and the BBC. Now she's turned her talents to writing, and has come up with a fabulous story indeed.

Understandably already in the planning stages for a possible film, the extracts she read from her debut novel The Impersonator opened dramatically with the murder of a couple in rebellion-riven 1960s Rhodesia, which led to the surviving teenage daughter having to be placed in the care of her uncle in London. The twist, of course, is that the uncle is a closeted (by necessity in that day and age) gay man enmeshed in the world of showbiz - and the "impersonator" of the title? That is the mystery figure whose intervention in this fragile situation causes emotional mayhem for all concerned. This is definitely a book worth further investigation, methinks...

Next up was the exceptionally attractive Mr Neil Spring (shades of Montgomery Clift, we thought). His first novel The Ghost Hunters is a spooky tale (and another, like Miss Mann's, with filming rights optioned already) based upon the true story of the 1920s ghost-hunter Harry Price, the "most haunted house in England" and the media frenzy that surrounded his investigations, as narrated by his (now elderly) assistant:
"...the Society for Psychical Research also has its doubts due to the discovery of yet more inconsistencies in the evidence Price amassed: missing details, ill-substantiated facts and accusations. They are certain their investigation will bring them to the ‘truth’.

Well, let them look, if they dare. They already know that at the moment of his death Price was writing the opening chapters of a third book on the haunted Borley Rectory. What they don’t know is that Price died in very mysterious circumstances and that in the months leading up to his death he was troubled with the worst nightmares imaginable: he thought he was being followed and he received something rather mysterious, rather dangerous, in the post.

The world would be astonished to hear it, but I know that these events – his greatest investigation and his death – were connected.

I know that his pursuers will find me. They will want my story."
We were as transfixed by the tale as we were by the reader.

Closing the first half on a musical high, we were overjoyed to have our friend Marcus Reeves ("A new Tim Rice", according to Elaine Paige) take the Polari stage once more. Arriving resplendent in a voodoo headdress ("made with the skulls of former lovers", he quipped) and departing as the "man behind the mask", in between he treated us to a fab selection of tunes from his newly-launched album Quicksilver: The Masquerade Macabre [I couldn't make the launch party itself, more's the pity], including this one - Mad, Bad World:

After the fabness of Mr Reeves and the chance to grab a ciggie and a drink in the interval, it was back to our seats. Paul began by solemnly singing the praises of the renowned author Karen McLeod, when the stage was invaded - again! - by none other than Barbara Brownskirt ("Poet of the People").

In her trademark cagoule, swigging from her bottle of sherry, and despite all protestations, she launched into a selection of her "poetry", including this one - The Publishers Are All Bent But Not In A Good Way, from one of her 18 volumes of (as yet, unpublished) work: this one is from Volume 6 Pre-Menstrual Terrorist:

Miss McLeod (for it, of course, was she) is a downright bloody genius, and Ms Brownskirt is one of her most hilarious creations.

Speaking of genius: our star reader Mr Philip Hoare, on taking to the podium looked rather nonplussed to follow that! Mr Hoare is a very well-respected researcher and storyteller, and, as it seems from his anecdotes, mixed in some very glamorous circles indeed. Writing his biography of the brightest of the "Bright Young Things" Stephen Tennant, he was actually granted an audience with the grand old queen herself [I'm not envious, of course!], corpulent and bedridden (by choice it seems rather than for any physical reason), surrounded by his menagerie of exotic lizards and other creatures he had transplanted from tropical climes to his crumbling family estate in Wiltshire. Stephen, Mr Hoare explained, was one of the "three loves of his life".

The second of these loves - and the subject of another biography he wrote - was dear Noël Coward. Apparently many of the stories about Mr Hoare's encounters with "The Master" are too smutty to be revealed to a literary audience [make of that what you will!], so instead he treated us to his meeting with another legendary creature - Miss Katherine Hepburn - and the conversations they had about Noël. [I was green with envy by this point.] Completing the circle, Mr Hoare's third love - and the one writing about which he won the greatest accolades including the Samuel Beckett Prize - was of course, the whale. So successful indeed was Leviathan (his book about the great endangered creatures) that he was asked to create a series of films for the BBC's "Whale Night", among other blubber-related projects, and has returned to the subject for his latest book The Sea Inside, from which he also read a couple of extracts. Utterly fascinating and entrancing, I could have listened to him all night.

Alas, it was almost time to go, as Mr B rounded up our participants for the obligatory on-stage line-up and tumultuous applause from a very appreciative audience of literati.

But it was not quite over yet... It is that time of year, of course - and onto the stage in a shower of baubles and glitter, we welcomed the return of the amazing Singing Christmas Tree! (Marcus Reeves again). Mere words cannot describe the wonder in our eyes and the joy in our hearts...

Sad to bid farewell to another year of brilliance, courtesy of Polari. However, the whole thing is back at the Southbank Centre on 24th January with readings from Christopher Fowler, Joelle Taylor, James Maker, Keith Jarrett and Anya Nyx.

Roll on 2014, I say!



  1. Fantastic blog as ever John! I could have listened to Philip Hoare for so much longer too... I have tried since to get hold of copies of his books on Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward but they seem to be out of print.

    It was great to see you too! Looking forward to January.

    1. Good to see you, too. We do have Mr Hoare's Noel Coward tome (I just love charity shops!), but I agree, the Stephen Tennant one is rather more elusive... See you next year! Jx

    2. Can I borrow the Noel Coward one by any chance? x

    3. Not until I finish reading it! Jx

  2. The first truly festive event of the season for me, there was a feeling of goodwill in attendance that you don't find in many places.

    Another great night, another great blog and hopefully the mulled wine and mince pies will be there next Christmas after your subtle hint x

    1. Truth be told, I don't even like mince pies.

      It was fun time, as always - and as well as the quality of the enetertainment, it is the cameraderie that keeps drawing me back... Jx

  3. What a fab review and fab pics too
    keep up the good work

    1. Thank you, dear - shame you couldn't be there again... Jx

  4. Another great write-up. Sorry to have missed this one. Wishing you all the best for next year as the end of this one hurtles towards us. Hope you have a lovely Christmas holiday when you get to it. Looking forward to reading your entertaining posts next year.

    1. Have a great time this festering season too, my darling - hopefully see you at the next Polari, next year! Jx

  5. Was my first time at Polari and what a winner! Great readings, story telling, performance poetry and camp as a Christmas tree singing… and stylish audience, particularly that lady with the baubly hat.

    1. Welcome to our wild'n'wacky world, Dino! It was a brilliant evening - and if you click on the Polari tag at the bottom of this blog, you will find several years' worth of delights and entertainment to behold. I hope you will become a regular... Jx

      PS The lady in the hat was the fantabulosa authoress and comedienne extraordinaire VG Lee.


Please leave a message - I value your comments!