Ricky Martin, Derek Jacobi and Me


pic by Sebastien Friere

I used to watch a lot of TV, but it wasn’t until I first visited the USA that I realised there was something wrong. The TV Americans were not much like the real Americans. When I got back to the UK, I realised British TV was out of whack too. Even more so Australia, where (except for a few standout imports), we have some of the worst free-to-air TV in the world. After the US, that is.

TV Australia is almost entirely inhabited by buff white middle-class suburban folks, token old bastards and crones, and assorted other marginal stereotypes. It doesn’t look much like the world outside my door. And it’s very very short of visible gay, lesbian, bi, trans and intersex folk. Or as they say in academia, there’s a lack of positive role models.  It can leave you feeling like the kid who’s been shut out of next door’s party, watching the fun over the fence and wondering why he doesn’t belong..

But lately things have been getting better, at least for this grumpy old pommie poofter.

I’ve been watching a charming little drama on the ABC. It’s a BBC import, of course. I suppose you could say that, as an older man from northern England, I’m pretty much the show’s target demographic. It’s about an elderly couple who fell in love as teenagers, were parted by circumstance, now widowed, who find one another again. And find they’re still in love.

It’s called – with typical dry northern humour – Last Tango in Halifax (any butter round here is strictly for the scones), and it stars two superb actors, Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid. The rest of the cast are good, too, but whenever the story drifts off to one of the subplots, I find myself impatient for these two to get going again.

Aside from the fact that, unfortunately, it’s set in Yorkshire (I’m from Lancashire myself), the show is an arrow straight into my heart. I get enormous nostalgic pleasure, hearing people speak the language and accents into which I was born, in the landscape which was once home.

For their accents are the accents of my family and childhood. Or as near as makes no difference. The dialogue could have been gathered eavesdropping on my relatives. Words and phrases and sentence constructions summon up ghosts: my mother and father, aunts and uncles, grandparents and dour old great-aunts. They may be clichés, but they’re my clichés.

The bleak but beautiful grey-green moors, the dreadful cold damp weather, the crumbling drystone walls, the stone – not brick – houses, the dark cosy pubs: this is the ground in which I have my roots. Where I belong.

Derek Jacobi, of course, came out years ago, and knowing that adds an extra dimension of pleasure to this  typically BBC quality show. A second season is already under way.

My other TV love of the moment, The Voice, isn’t remotely British. It’s a local version of a Dutch original with a thick American clear vinyl overlay. Where Last Tango offers skilled actors at the top of their game, The Voice offers desperate (unpaid) wannabees with tear-jerking back stories, liberally sauced with empty clichés from ‘celebrity’ coaches. It is, of course, compelling must-see television, drawing millions of viewers – and ordinarily I’d say they’re welcome to it. Not my sort of thing.

And yet, there is something about The Voice this year that’s got me watching.

That something is Ricky Martin. Sure, he pumps out the clichés with the best of them, but he does it with class. The out gay dad oozes charm, grace, passion, sex . . . that Latino accent . . . OK, OK, it doesn’t hurt that despite some ill-advised tattoos, two small children, and incipient wrinkles, he’s still stunningly handsome. But more importantly, he’s a gentleman.

He leaps from his chair to offer a helping hand to women tottering in ridiculous shoes (can any woman explain to me why, if you’re nervous as hell, going into a blind audition, on a raised stage with steep steps,in front of the whole country – why you strap your feet into towering heels?).

When a loser says his girlfriend will be devastated because she sooo wanted to meet Ricki, Ricki says “Bring her out here”.

In a scene straight out of Glee, a young man skips down the red carpet with his best (girl) friend, turning cartwheels with excitement. They dream of careers on Broadway (Chris Colfer has a lot to answer for). “It’s not easy being an out gay man,” he tells us. Then he sings, and not a single judge turns round. He’s out of the contest.

This is where the show is normally at its most distasteful and creepy, milking that painful moment of rejection, live on national TV. The failures say who they are and what they’d hoped for, and keep smiling, smiling, smiling. The coaches tell them how wonderful they were (just ‘not what I’m looking for right now’, says Seal, as if they were a pair of designer pants, or a lampshade), how they should keep pursuing their dreams, because you’ve really got something, man, blah blah blah.

Ricki is different. When this bloke said he wanted to be on Broadway. Ricki said, “You SHOULD be on Broadway.” That’s my dream, said the Kurt-clone. OK, said Ricki, “I want to introduce you to my agent, I’ll take you to New York. You are going to be on Broadway. I promise.” Big hug. He as good as said, “You don’t need this crap show, I’ll help you.”

It may be an act, but boy it’s one hell of a classy act.

Two men in the entertainment business. One sexy hot latino hip swiveller, one respected actor of rare talent. Bloody good at their respective jobs. Who just happen, in a matter-of-fact so-what style, to be openly gay.

Suddenly I’m not the boy looking over the fence. Now I’m at the party, and me and my gang are the most popular people there. Memo to Ch 7, 9, 10. More please. Much more.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)