Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu

I’m sure I’ve been here before.

So said my mother after she took a sip of her brandy and coke and looked around the large smoke-filled room. It was 1980 and I was stepping out with Bernie, a salesman from Somerset. We were treating my mother to a night of slap, sequins and perversion at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, South London’s premier drag pub. As it turned out, her feelings of déjà vu were spot on. In the Swinging Sixties, she and my soldier dad had slipped out from the barracks on the other side of the river to catch an act or two.

Bernie was a close friend of Pat, the jovial landlord. Against all the odds, bent-as-a-nine-bob-note Bernie and straight-as-a-die Pat had consummated their bromance at the horses, shelling out a king’s ransom at the Cheltenham Gold Cup every year.

RoyalVauxhallTavern

Pat was Irish. Digging roads or running pubs were the standard professions for the Irish back in the day. Just a few months before, Pat had been the manager of the Colherne, the grand old queen of gay bars in West London.  But Pat had ambitions to rise above the ranks and saved his pennies. When the tenancy of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern came up, he grabbed it with both hands, moved in his wife and kids and spent a small fortune reconfiguring the original three bars into one large single space. It was a masterstroke that saw the till ka-chinging for years.

Royal Vauxhall Tavern Charity Night

Charity night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern with the late Diana Dors flanked by the Trollettes. That’s Pat the landlord (top row, third from the left. Next to him in the bow tie is someone everyone knew as Terry ‘Allcock’ – can’t think why we called him that.

Image courtesy of the RVT Community.

Time marched on, of course. Pat and his missus retired back to Ireland many moons ago and, sadly, I lost touch with Bernie in about 2006.  The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, however, continued to thrive, standing firm against the constantly changing rainbow landscape as a venue for drag and alternative cabaret.  Arguably, the venue’s most famous turn was Lily Savage, Paul O’Grady’s theatrical alter-ego before he hung up the blond wig and became every housewife’s favourite.

And then the iconic building was bought by an Austrian property development company. There’s a vast building boom going on in Vauxhall and Battersea these days, with a tube line extension, the redevelopment of Nine Elms, Battersea Power Station and a new state of the art American embassy. The future of the pub was looking bleak. That was until some punters swung into action and applied for listed building status. And guess what? They got it. Historic England (the organisation responsible for such things) decided…

…the building has historic and cultural significance as one of the best known and longstanding LGB&T venues…

It’s the first time any building has been listed on this basis. While the new status protects the building for posterity, it doesn’t mean that the venue will survive in its present form but it’s a start, a great start.

The Dorothy Dollar and Pink Pound

When I was in negotiation with my publisher, Jo Parfitt, she asked me if Perking the Pansies, the book, would attract a wider audience beyond a gay niche. It’s a question I had asked of myself. It’s not a bad niche to be stuck in. By some accounts, the pink pound is worth about £6 billion in the UK and the US equivalent (the dorothy dollar) is reckoned to be worth a staggering $640 billion. Even if this is an exaggeration in these recessionary times it’s still big bucks.

The more I thought about it the more I realised that neither the book nor the blog are actually about gay life in Turkey, rather they are about a gay couple living in Turkey. This is an important distinction. I did a little digging about my blog readership. It turned out that my pansy fans are overwhelmingly British, female (about 70%) and over 45 (around 80%). Even though the blog is occasionally a little naughty and  gay boy about town, this hasn’t put off the straight reader. This may be because gay culture is much more mainstream in Britain than elsewhere. The gay scene has emerged from the dark ghetto on the wrong side of the tracks and gone very high street (or Main Street as they say on the other side of the pond), the Daily Mail has stopped being routinely beastly and the tea-time TV choices for British women of a certain age are Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady (neither of whom hide their flashing pink light under a bushel).

What do you think?

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