They say that there is no business like showbusiness. They are probably right. Unlike the world of professional football or high-level politics, it usually accepts you for who you really are inside.
I had this friend called Kenny who I worked with when I was an actor. He was in his late sixties when I knew him and a rare commodity, part of the dying breed of old school theatrical queens (and I mean that with real affection). He was the finest story teller and teller of jokes I’ve ever known, erudite and charming in equal measure. Flamboyant in his pomp, the remains of an old twinkle in his eye.
Kenny grew up in a small town in the west of Scotland in the early nineteen thirties. He was born in to a large family and they were quite poor. Kenny was also, a homosexual, not something to flaunt in his town unless you wanted some serious trouble. He didn’t, so he hid himself away. On his fifteenth birthday his mother took him to one side to tell him that she wasn’t his mother, she was, in fact, his grandmother, and his mother was his sister who had recently moved to London to join the famous music hall act ‘Wilson, Kepple and Betty’. His other sisters were now his aunts. She assured him that the budgie was still the budgie.
You may have heard of the said variety act, they were the originators of the famous sand dance. Kenny’s mum/sister was, in fact, the final Betty before the act disbanded. I think Wilson and Kepple were ever present but the girl frequently changed. Like Bernie Winters and Schnorbitz. Only funnier. It’s confusing to me, never mind for him.
I believe that from then on, although his mother disowned him, Kenny moved to London to go in to showbusiness himself. At first, he was an assistant stage manager playing bit parts as cast, then a chorus boy and eventually an outrageous drag act. He toured the country performing in the top nightclubs, his act glitzy and hilarious (so he told me anyway). Later in life he became one of the countries most respected pantomime dames. He was out and, if not proud, magnificent.
Kenny was no activist or poster boy for equal rights. In fact, he said to me once that being gay stopped being fun in 1967 when the legalised it. He was joking, probably.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about tolerance and how unsuitable that word is. Tolerance implies putting up with something even though it makes us feel uncomfortable. I’m going to use the word acceptance from now on.
This all reminds me of an old joke I once heard. If you want to get back at your parents and you don’t have the courage to be gay, then go in to show business. Whether you are a tap dancer or a tap fitter, let’s accept that it’s okay to be yourself, whoever you truly are.