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THE KINGS OF CAMP – A TRIBUTE TO JOHN INMAN
by Finton Stack
Camp: “An affectation or appreciation of manners & tastes commonly thought to be artificial, vulgar or banal.”
Aside from Spacehoppers, Raleigh Choppers & Action Man, the 70’s for me was the decade where I first became aware of a peculiar kind of entertainer, the “camp” comedian. Although they’d long been around in showbiz circles (Kenneth Williams & Hugh Paddick’s “Julian & Sandy” being the most famous exponents) it was the 70’s that really brought them to the fore. The definition of the word camp (see above) never actually mentions sexual orientation but although their preferences were never actually stated, you just knew that, at the VERY LEAST, they batted as well as bowled. And if we’re honest, I think most of them were happy enough to sit in the pavilion. Reading gay porn. However, they remained sexually ambiguous in a much less enlightened age. As a youngster, I would look on bemused as a rough, fiercely heterosexual Grandfather would be rolling round on the floor laughing at the antics of Dick Emery’s “Honky Tonk”, confident in the knowledge that he, d have beaten him to within an inch of his life had he ever had the audacity to order a Babycham in the posh room at The Fishergate Inn.
As with most things back then though, they possessed an air of class completely lacking in today’s lot. These were strictly old school & there was more than a hint of irony as opposed to the “professional mincers” such as Norton, Winton, Clary et al who substitute over the top smut at the expense of genuine humour. So, with pursed lips, a flared nostril & a thinly concealed double entendre, lets pay tribute to the undisputed King of small screen camp & another four clown princes chucked in for good measure ( cos I’m good like that ).
1) John Inman.
Look up the word “flamboyant” in the dictionary &, next to the picture of a certain rugby chairman, would be the name Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries, legendary menswear assistant at Grace Brothers in “Are you being Served?” Alongside Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, a quite shaggable (young) Pauline Fowler & the bloke who used to sing “Blue Riband Blues”, Mr Humphries would have an outfit for every conceivable occasion, usually of the pastel and / or safari variety. Would take great delight in sashaying across the floor past a disbelieving Captain Peacock just in time to catch young Mr Grace hobbling down the steps saying “you’ve all done very well” assisted by an short skirted dolly bird complete with tits spilling out, non regulation NHS nurses outfit & electric blue eye shadow. Funny as fuck…
Catchphrases : “I’m free”, “It’ll ride up with wear” & numerous references to his mother.
2) Larry Grayson
Born in Nuneaton, he came to prominence taking over from Brucie on “The Generation Game” (who left to front the imminently shite “Bruce’s Big Night”) with short haired, slightly boyish looking sidekick Isla St Clair. Always cocked the games up, lost the contestants details & generally held an air of chaos & all round cackness. Told tales regarding a number of dubiously named characters such as “Everard”, “Slack Alice”, “Apricot Lil”, “Once a week Nora” & “Pop it in Pete the Postman”. Could reduce a studio audience of geriatrics to hysterics by removing his glasses, allowing them to dangle round his neck, sniffing, playing incessantly with his nose, inspecting his fingers then looking sideways at them whilst proclaiming “worms”. Died in 1995 just in time to avoid seeing Jim Davidson piss all over his legacy.
Catchphrases :”Shut that door” “What a gay day”, “Seems like a nice boy”, “What’s the scores on the doors?” & “Ooh, I’ve come over all limp”.
3) Frank Spencer
Fantastically visual comic creation of Michael Crawford. Every mannerism was exaggerated, every gesture over the top. Blessed with a supreme ability to annoy people & within the space of a 5-minute conversation, rational folk could be reduced to tears by his inability to answer questions coherently or follow his trivial monologues, usually concerning his childhood. Effeminate, easily shocked & immensely naïve, any slightly risqué comment or action resulted in a startled “ooh” & strained expression, finding a homosexual advance in the most innocent of deeds. Permanently clad in raincoat & beret worn atop tight trousers & tank top, which doubled as nightwear. Unbelievably, he was married to Betty (before she met The Equaliser, presumably) who existed on the verge of a nervous breakdown attributed to Franks long bouts of unemployment & lack of money. Doted on daughter Jessica & unhealthily defensive of any criticism aimed towards his mother. Liked to roller skate behind buses (minus the required change), under lorries or into skips. Superglued bus queues, collapsed sheds & dangled precariously off Morris Minors.
Catchphrases : “Hmmm Betty”, “Cats done a whoopsie”, “Oooohhhh”.”I’m a married man…”
4) Frankie Howerd
The undisputed master of the withering look, mournful aside & laboured pun. Had phenomenal eyebrows & a shock of hair, which MUST have been a wig. Famous for his role as Lurcio in “Up Pompeii” & playing the fantastically named Francis Bigger & Professor Ingo Tinkle in a couple of Carry On films. Extremely sexually aggressive in his pursuit of young men, Frankie would invite them to give him a “massage”, a tale famously told by a clearly shaken Bob Monkhouse shortly before Bob’s death. Apparently, he did the same with Barry Cryer, amongst many others.
Catchphrases : “Titter ye not”, “Yeessss”, “Oooohhh”, “nay, nay & thrice nay”.
5) Tony Hart
Or to give him his full title, the “Impossibly camp” Tony Hart. Didn’t really twig at the time but looking back, it was as obvious as Freddie Mercury in the “Crazy little thing called love” video. Resplendent in cravat & pastel sweater, silver hair impeccably bouffant with far too much “Cossack for Men”. You just knew that he’d also possess a pair of horn-rimmed bifocals with matching gold retaining chain. Friend of both plasticine men & caretakers called Mr Bennett, Tony held an air of authority on BBC’s token programme for the disabled “Vision On” & when the likes of Sylvester McCoy, Colin Bennett & Wilf Lunn were pissing about on speeded up cine film, Tony would be fashioning a 20ft drawing of a Carribean sunset out of salt, milk bottle tops & Fuzzy Felt. True fact – actually designed the Blue Peter ship in the 60’s.
Catchphrases : None as such BUT “here’s one for little Darren aged 18 who lives in Wigan” (with the sound of John Williams’ “Cavatina” lilting softly in the background ) or even “…there’s a prize for any shown although we can’t return any of your pictures” should ring a bell for readers over a certain age.
Words coquettishly typed by Finton “shut that door” Stack.
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