Quentin Crisp

Mentioning Quentin Crisp in a recent post compelled me to re-watch the Naked Civil Servant, Crisp’s TV biopic first broadcast in 1975. The incomparable John Hurt played the equally incomparable Crisp (or Dennis Pratt, to give him his real name). The film made stars of them both. It was an overnight sensation and catapulted Crisp to centre stage and a new career at 67. I watched the original broadcast as a spell-bound 15 year old. The Edwardian dandy’s resolute insistence that he would be what he wanted to be, despite the considerable odds stacked against him, was an inspiration to this post-pubescent boy coming to terms with his sexuality. Looking back, it was a major miracle that he survived the ordeal to tell the tale.

The film had a profound effect on me. I wanted to be him. Not the makeup and mince but the mettle and pluck. It’s no exaggeration to say that the film gave me the courage to leap out of the closet a year later. I did so without fear or regret. Just like Quentin, I was uncompromisingly out to everyone. Take it or leave it. Just like Quentin, I was offered money but, unlike Quentin, I never took it. I had choices that he didn’t. I always worked and the coppers in my pocket were legally earned. I’d learned self-reliance, I’d learned real pride, and I’d learned both at my father’s knee. Like Quentin, I was a civil servant. Unlike Quentin, I kept my clothes on at work (except for one drunken Christmas party, but that’s another story).

I didn’t always agree with Quentin’s more outrageous pronouncements. His public faux pas that AIDS was ‘a fad’ was completely stupid and something he never fully recovered from. But, in the final analysis, he was a pansy pioneer who burst through the barriers and made the world a little safer for the rest of us. For that I honour him.

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10 thoughts on “Quentin Crisp

  1. I also remember watching the film and thinking that it was way ahead of its time. It was a brilliant inspiration to so many people. I think even people who were not gay could learn something from it. It certainly broke down a lot of barriers, whilst causing a bit of an uproar at the time. I also think John Hurt was an inspired choice to take the leading role. He really did it justice.


  2. . . courage comes in many forms and I’ve had a soft spot for this magnificent old queen ever since I got my head around what he was really about.
    My enduring memory is from an interview (I think) where he was pattering around his flat; he muttered something about ‘wonder what’s for dinner tonight’, picked up the most disgusting frying pan, gave it a sniff and said, ‘Ahh! Kippers!’


  3. I loved this film too, it spoke to me about how its ok to be just who you are and not to bend to other peoples judgement. It must have been such a hard thing to do back then as still difficult now, to just “do” ! what you know is right and not be fitting into those boxes people compulsorily put you in.


    1. It’s sometimes easier to do what’s expected though it may be not make you happy. I’m thinking here about the number of gay people we’ve met in Turkey who got married because they had to.


  4. Changed times here in Scotland, My13 year old and her friends who are just teenagers openly talk about sexuality and it’s no big deal, gay, hetro or bi, it’s a facebook status wonder for 10 minutes, and apart from the socially challenged kids who pick on anything different it’s no big deal. In fact it seems to be ever so slighty cool to be Bi-sexual. Only 30 years ago talking about sexuality would have been a big deal, not nowadays, the things they know would make a call girl blush. There is still prejudice and challenges, but here’s hoping that we have turned a corner with the up and coming generation.


  5. I loved this film too. Did you see the one he made recently about the older QC. Our good friend DC used to share a hotel room with QC and said he was almost impossible to live with. He would borrow DC’s toothbrush to put peroxide on his hair and leave DC foaming at the mouth when he next cleaned his teeth.


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