Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II (1991) - full transcript

Ron Peck talks about his experiences of growing up as a gay man, the attitudes to homosexuality in Britain, and his journey towards making his film Nighthawks (1978).

[music playing]

[music playing]

RON PECK: Colm Clifford was
cut out of "Nighthawks."

He played a character
very much like himself,

and called Colm in
the film, written

in as a challenge to
the main character,

the school teacher, Jim.

A man much more confident
about being gay,

Colm lived communally with other
gay people in an empty house

that they'd squatted.

This was the place and these
were some of the people

he shared it with.

The house is still there, but
turned into private flats now,

someone told me.

When we were editing,
there was a lot of argument

about Colm's character,
and whether it

should stay in the film or not.

Some people felt it gave the
wrong impression of being gay.

It was too alternative, too
political, the whole setup

was altogether too weird.

Do yourself and us
a favor, they said.

Cut it.

But there were others who
argued just as forcefully

that it should stay in.

Its difference was its strength.

Why live alone or
like a married couple?

Why not share your
life a little more

generously, feel the support
of being with your own people?

This school teacher who
was living a double life

needed provoking, or he'd
never come out of the closet.

Keep it in.

Challenge him.

It was a discussion
that went on for weeks.

In the end, the scenes
with Colm were cut.

They only seemed to
work at full length,

and that threw the rest of
the story out of balance,

took it out on too
much of a detour.

Though that, of
course, was meant

to be part of what the film
was about, the detours.

That, for me, was part of
the exhilaration of gay life.

The adventurous that started
off from leaning at the bar

and talking to strangers.

There was another reason
we cut the character.

A feeling that what
we'd filmed didn't

strongly enough express what
Colm believed in and lived out.

That even at full length,
it was somehow inadequate.

It was too constrained by the
plot of the basic "Nighthawks"


It just wouldn't fit in.

When I made the
decision to cut it,

I didn't feel easy about it.

In fact, I can say
I felt damn guilty.

Because Colm was also part
of the production team.

He was with us for most of the
three years it took us to get

the thing on to the screen.

He wrote letters to try and
raise money, found locations.

He went to every gay
bar and disco in London,

recruiting extras to be in
the club scenes in the film,

and he found most of the
school kids for the classrooms.

But more than anything, he
was one of the people who

kept the whole effort
to make this film going,

who helped keep us
going when trying

to raise the money to make
it became just too tough.

We felt like throwing
in the towel.

And we did, several times.

He had a lot of
energy and humor.

He was Irish, a
very physical man.

You'd be working till 2:00
in the morning, your back

about to give out and someone
would come up behind you

and rub your shoulders to get
you through the next half hour,

and more often than
not, it was him.

If he saw you were thirsty,
he'd come up with a drink.

He watched out for people,
that's what I remember.

Everybody liked him.

When the film was
finally released,

he came along to some
of the screenings,

joined in the discussions.

He was critical of
it, but defensive too,

which was probably how we
all felt. He stood up for it.

He knew what it had cost to
get even that much on a screen.

I lost touch with
them after that,

heard he moved on to Barcelona,
that he was happy there.

And then last year, 1989, I was
told that he'd died of AIDS.

There was a small
piece about him

in the gay press, an obituary
for a man who couldn't

have been more than 30.

A friend saw a
photograph taken of him

a few months before he died.

I wouldn't have
recognized him, she said.

He'd lost a lot of weight.

His hair had turned white
or gray or fallen out.

I don't know how
he faced all that.

He wasn't the kind of man to
go down without a fight, that's

for sure.

And he was a fighter.

We've always needed fighters.

In many ways, a
braver man than I was.

Because he was out
on the streets and he

was insisting on
his right to be gay.

He wasn't gonna to
be discreet about it.

He wasn't gonna take
the abuse, the violence,

being treated as the
scum of the earth.

He was out marching
with a banner

long before I'd even
thought of "Nighthawks."

Whatever confidence I
have in being gay now,

I owe partly to people like him.

And so did Jim, the
schoolteacher in the film.

When he came out to the school
kids at the end of the film,

one reason he stood
up for himself,

was because he'd met
people like Colm Clifford.

How about, "What's
a guy like you

doing in a place like this?"

What's a guy like me doing
in a place like this, uh--

What are you doing afterwards?

Oh, what am I doing afterwards?

I'm not doing
anything afterwards.

You're going home, alone--

I'm driving--

---to a cold flat.

---alone to my cold flat.

Oh no, we can't have that.

I've got half a bed.

Half a bed?


What's your name?




Nelson's Column.

Family's fifth column.

You know.

Oh, Colm, Colm.






What do you do?

I teach.


What do you teach?

I teach geography.


Where do you live?

I live in Notting Hill.

Where do you live?

Oh, sandy Brixton.

Oh, Brixton.


I know Brixton.

[indistinct chatter]

It's going to be everybody.

They're going everything.

There weren't that many people.

All those places have
been done already.

We had three volunteers
to go on the door,

and it seems in this
present situation,

I think we can just get
together this singsong,

because I've arranged
with Noel to come

up for rehearsals at 5 o'clock.


And these are the
songs we're going

to sing again on the
demonstration on Saturday.

-Hi, gang.
-Hi, Colm.


Don't get me wrong now.

This hunky goes
by the name of Jim.


Edwin, John, Steve, Terry,
Jeff, and yeah, another Jim.


I mean we've got this-- sorry.

Look, we've got this
additional problem, right?

We've got a cabaret
to put on tomorrow.

We've got to rehearse
it tomorrow--

Since when are you
doing a cabaret?

Since today, dear.

I mean, that's how
it goes, you know.

I mean, you can't--

-When did you decide that?
-Tomorrow night.

We didn't decide.

I mean I mean, I feel
like doing anyway.

You're going to play the piano,
Steve, though, aren't you?

That's different.


Well if you can meet
Noel at 5'oclock.

Wait a minute.

That means that we have to
get some money to Alan's

to get the band for Saturday.

Well, I'll fix you up
with a check tonight

before I go to bed,
because I'm going

to work early tomorrow to--

Did you get him a drink?

Yeah, do you want one?

-I've got one, it's all right.
-You got one?


This is Alice.

Hi, I'm a bit late.

Yeah I know.


What have you been doing?

Well, I was counseling
tonight right?

I'm really tired, because
this guy went really late

and I had to go and see him.
-Poor thing.

Well, I mean, it was fine.

Thanks love.

It was fine, it was
really positive.

But I mean, like, he was he's
he's, had he's had to leave

home, his boyfriend's
left him, his parents

have just found out, right?

Found out what?

And, and, that he's gay,
and uh, I mean it's OK.

I've sort of talked
him through it.

He's not in any
really bad situation.

I feel OK about it.

But uh, oh God, the Hope's
College turned night

I told him to go and eat shit.


They've got problems too.

Ah, fuck them.

They're, they're the people
we really got to reach.

What do you do for a living?

Oh, sorry, Jim's a teacher.

Man info-- Jim's a teacher.

Do you mean that you're
one of those persons

with these inclinations?

That are looking
at their children?

Like me?

And Steve?

And me?

Um, 11 to 18.


Oh, wow, a bit
older, aren't they?

A lovely age.

It's a bit easier for us.

Mine are a bit older than that.

Jeez, I wish I'd known
if, if my teachers

were gay when I was a kid.

Yeah, do your kids
know you're gay?

No, they don't.

I mean, I thought to tell them.

Is it difficult?

I mean, I mean, do
any of the people

you work with know you're gay?

A few.

I was at the start.

It's quite hard, because I mean,
I work with really young kids.

I mean, I'm not a
teacher, really.

I work in a children's nursery.

And I've been doing that
for about two years.

And it's taking me sort of
most of that times, I suppose,

before I'm sort of fairly happy
that most people of the people

I work with know that I'm gay.

I mean, the parents of the kids.

I'm not really,
terribly, terribly happy

yet that they know I'm gay.

You got to take
it slowly, I think.

You know?

I'm really glad they know.

Mine was an awful lot
easier, because knowing,

I wasn't going to come out
for a couple of months.

I came out screaming, honey.

I went in there with
badges and jewels and--

I'm sorry, to get, I'm
sorry to get in here,

but I mean, look, I mean
like, look, we've got one day.

We've got a demonstration.

I mean, like we've got an awful
lot of last-minute details

that we've got to take care of.

And I'm really worried
that um, you know,

they haven't been sewn up.

You know.

I mean, we've got to
get them together.

Where are you off to?


Nice meeting you.

What time do you
want breakfast honey?



See ya.

RON PECK: I made "Nighthawks"
with Paul Hallam in 1978,

12 years ago.

I'm 42 now.

I was 29 then.

But somehow, that project began
back in 1962 when I was 14.

I was at school.

It was summertime.

Exams were over.

I mean, we were just killing
time 'til the holidays.

There was a boy in
the year above me.

Athletic, good-looking, usually
with a grin on his face.

Kind of boy people like
to hang around with.

I'd catch sight of him most
days in the school playground

and corridors between lessons,
coming out of a classroom

as I was going in.

Chance encounters that
made my heart pound.

Encounters, I began after
a while, to seek out.

His special subject was
art, and he would sit around

at the back of the art
room, in an open area, that

was set aside for boys to drop
into during their free periods.

Once a week, I had an art
class in that same room,

painting still lifes to
records of classical music.

The boy from the year
above would be at the back,

absorbed in his own work.

I'd always try and
get a seat that

faced that space at
the back, so that I

could look up and see him.

I did it in such a way,
that no one noticed.

It was the beginning of the
practiced casual glance.

Later, I got bolder.

I'd go to the back
of the art room

myself, in my own free
periods, hoping he'd be there,

or that he might turn up when I
was there, which he did, often.

Sometimes, we'd even exchanged
the odd look or word.

I began to get to know where
he'd be at certain times,

and I'd find a way to be there.

At morning assembly
in the school hall,

I'd try and stand near him.

In the gym changing room,
on sports afternoons,

I'd try to find a
space next to him.

And when I had a class in the
room where he kept his books,

I'd try and sit at his desk,
in the seat warmed by his body.

Catching glimpses of him became
the high points of the day.

Going into school became,
more than anything else,

going in to see him, and coming
home was to leave him behind.

Over a period, these feelings
towards this boy, a desire

for attachment, for embrace,
for shared nudity, for a smile,

a hand on the shoulder, became
more and more disturbing.

Nothing had prepared
me for them,

and I couldn't give them a name.

And when I was at
home with my family,

his absence reinforced those
feelings in an opposite sense.

It became equally overwhelming
to see him or not to see him.

I would imagine him
in my room, in my bed.

I'd dream about him.

The prospect of a long
summer holiday without him

became unbearable.

There were just two
more weeks of term left.

It was nearly 4 o'clock,
and we were both at the back

of the art room.

The bell rang for the end of
school, and he packed his bag

and went.

I got up a few
seconds later and I

followed him, down the
corridor, out into the streets.

What I was doing, I'm
sure I didn't know.

It was as if I let my
feeling, my desire,

totally determine my
movements to their end.

There was a feeling of danger
about it, the forbiddeness,

of some kind of unstated
rule being broken.

I was nervous, and very afraid.

He got on a bus and I
took the same bus, which

went a long way in
the opposite direction

to the one I'd
normally take home.

I didn't even know the streets
the bus was moving along.

When he got off, I also got off.

He walked along the main
road, and I followed,

down left and right turns,
through suburban side streets,

gardens, trees.

He looked back a couple
of times, but carried on.

And then he reached his
front gate and stopped.

He was there waiting, facing
me, anger in his eyes.

He shouted, what was I doing?

What the fuck did I
think I was doing?

I don't remember what I said.

Something about wanting
to be his friend,

but I remember the sensation of
vertigo, of putting my future

into this boy's hands, of
everything else around me,

the whole material
world-- past, present,

and future-- disintegrating
around my coming out with it.

I don't recall either
what his reply was,

but I do remember that
when he went into the house

and closed the door,
the world around me

became very material
again, and the full weight

of what I had done, although
in a sense I'd done nothing,

sank in.

That night at home, the phone
rang every five minutes.

And another boy's
voice, unrecognizable,

reveled in pouring out abuse.

My mother, who answered
it, cried hysterically,

then pushed the
phone into my hand,

angrily, so that I
could hear the words and

the dirty laughter for myself.

Your son's a homo.

Your son's a queer boy.

When my father came home, I
was taken up into his bedroom

and looking very
serious, he told

me that there had
never been anything

like that in the family.

What was going on?

What was all this about?

And being very
religious at the time,

I quoted back at him, the
story of David and Jonathan,

and showed him the actual
pages in the Bible.

It became a battle of the books.

The following
evening, on my desk,

I found two booklets,
supplied by the doctor

whom one or both of my
parents must've consulted.

They were primitive
sex education booklets.

One was about the
birds and the bees.

And the other was about boys.

It was there, that I was first
told what homosexuality was.

It was an adolescent emotion
that in normal development,

I would grow out of.

And if I didn't, there were
special doctors, psychiatrists.

A little later, in the
local reference library,

I found out that obstinate cases
could be cured by attaching

electrodes to the genitals.

The current was switched on when
you looked at pictures of men,

and switched off when you
looked at girly magazines.

The last resort was a
scalpel to the brain.

The incident with
the boy from the year

above was never talked
about at home again,

and luckily, it never became
a major school scandal.

Just private whispers of
abuse, and smoking looks

from the boy and his friends
whenever we crossed paths,

so that I now feared
those chance encounters,

avoided them as much as I could.

But all the while they
remained at the school,

I dreaded that the whole
school would know, that they

would choose their
moment, that I would

then, be torn apart publicly.

And when they left a year
later, the relief I felt

was indescribable.

I turned myself totally
to work after that.

Became a quiet
reclusive teenager,

spent a lot in my room.

I started writing: poetry,
short stories, a diary.

And I bought a Super 8 camera,
through which I watched

the world outside my window.

My escape routes became
books and the cinema.

I made greater efforts
to find a girlfriend.

I had to have a girlfriend at
all costs, and I was lucky.

I met a girl who also
liked books and films.

I took her out Saturday
nights, and kissed her

against the wall of
her house the way

they did it in the
movies we saw together.

I thought if I worked
at it, I'd become

just like everybody
else, and everybody else

had a girlfriend.

On the surface,
things were easier.

Parties, back row
of the pictures,

discos, we were seen
everywhere together.

I was one of the lads.

Yeah, of course I've
been to bed with her.

Nothing odd about me.

But inside--

The words "homo"
and "queer" never

stopped ringing in my head.

I was alert every
time I heard them.

Boys that weren't any good at
sport got labeled with them,

but it was in a
joking, knockabout way

that never stuck.

They meant something about
not being up to it, as a man.

If you could kick a ball, you
were OK, part of the team.

The same words turned up in
the local paper, the "Merton

and Morden Borough News,"
delivered to the house

every Friday.

It ran sinister stories
about men gathering in parks

and commons at night, hanging
around public toilets,

arrests and murders.

Beasts, the paper called them.

It was like some nightmare
mirror image of what I thought

I might be, and I
turned away from it,

refused it, looked elsewhere.

When I switched on
the TV, all I saw

was comedians suddenly changing
their bodies into limp wrists,

and telling their
jokes through a lisp,

as they picked up a handbag
and did a homosexual sketch.

In this hall of mirrors,
there was nothing

I could identify
with, just something

to laugh at or be scared of.

The face of Dirk
Bogarde in "Victim"

brings back that period
to me with a vengeance,

though I didn't see the
film until I was much older.

It still gives me a cold
sweat when I look at it.

In that troubled
expression, is somehow

all the tension between
1961, when the film was made,

and 1967, when homosexuality
was finally decriminalized

in Britain, an accommodation
with the prison that I felt

written to be.

But signals from the outside
world slipped past the guards

and into these
islands, nonetheless,

and found their way totally by
chance into my parents' house.

A bundle of comics and magazines
were given to my brother and I

to rummage through.

Amongst them, I found a
Physique magazine from America.

It was a new world all right.

These men were different--
confident, proud,

ordinary, good-looking guys.

They were fooling around,
wrestling under Colorado skies

with grins on their
faces, having fun.

But were they like me?

Nothing in the write-up
would confirm that they were.

I just didn't know.

And so this one magazine stayed
hidden on my bookshelves,

the names of the men
in it learned by heart,

my secret friends, my buddies.

The surge of feeling
I'd experienced

for the boy at
school, and thought

I'd crushed, revived again.

And if these were
photographs, then

they had to be real
people in the real world.

And they were.

Marines, pilots, swimming
champions, guys on the beach,

the kid next door.

I wanted to meet them,
wanted to be one of them.

Wherever they were, it seemed
to be better over there.

They came from
New York, Chicago,

the Big Sur, and the Rockies.

The idea of America began
to mean something to me,

and it connected up
with the Hollywood films

I was beginning to run
all over London to see.

Something freer, more
open, technicolor,

the very opposite of Britain.

A polarity built up
in my mind, between

the tight upper-class
accents of Britain

and the broad, relaxed
accents of America.

Between the bodies we covered
up and the bodies they exposed.

Another signal made
it to the house

in Merton Park A magazine
called "Films and Filming."

It was the first, serious
magazine I ever bought.

I wanted to know how
to get into films,

but each month's issue
communicated something

in addition to news
about filmmaking.

I can remember questions
being asked at home when

one particular issue came
through the letterbox, wrapped

up in the "Merton and
Morden Borough News."

It was a serious
film magazine, I

said, though it very
soon became a magazine

I couldn't take to school.

It directed my attention to
films of special interest, that

never hit the film review
column of "The Daily Express"

or the roundup of
new films on the BBC.

It told me about "Flesh"
and Joe Dallesandro.

It was a new American film that
was showing in a private club

in a west end basement.

I tore into town to see.

It was a little
different to what I

was used to at the local odeum.

It was the homoerotic shock.

Less ambiguous than
anything I'd seen before,

but still confusing.

Here was a man, living
with a girlfriend, who

had a child, who went out
and earned his money having

sex with men, and enjoyed it.

The actor was a model
from the Physique magazine

I kept in my bedroom.

Two days after I saw the
film, the cinema was raided,

and the film seized
by the British police.

It made me angry, as
if Joe Dallesandro

body were being pummelled by the
truncheon of our boys in blue.

Joe was my secret hero
from that moment on.

I went to university after
that, and took American studies.

Just as we are told today there
are no homosexuals in China,

I thought there were no
homosexuals at my school,

none at university.

I didn't even count
myself as one.

The law changed in 1967.

For some people,
homosexuality was now legal,

but I don't think
I even noticed.

I saw nothing around me
that suggested anything

was any different.

And I was too busy
reading Hemingway,

Faulkner, and Walt Whitman.

And any spare time I had
went in watching movies.

French, Italian, American.

"Rebel Without a Cause"
for the 10th time.

For a short time, I
lived with a woman.

And I felt I had reached
the other side just in time.

I was no longer a virgin, and
I walked about the streets

with a new confidence.

This time, it seemed
to be the real thing.

But the last night we slept
together, she suggested that I

try going to bed
with men and she even

told me not to worry about it.

The first person who ever
said anything positive

about the whole business.

I never had any sex
education at school.

Everything I learned about sex
came from "Films and Filming,"

the cinema, and my girlfriend.

She sent me out into the world,
surer of myself in some ways,

but still troubled.

And where in hell was I
going to meet another man?

It was a chance discovery
of the Coleherne in Earls

Court that changed things.

A student reunion, a pisser.

It was one of the other
students who recognized

the kind of place we
were in, and thought

that we better get out.

It's a queer bar, he said.

The next night, I
was back like a shot,

though it took a good few
pints in a pub across the road

before I could pluck up
the courage to go in.

And once through the door, I
made straight for the bar, too

nervous to talk to anyone else.

At closing time, I drifted with
the crowd out into the streets.

The police were there,
breaking up the conversations,

telling people to move on.

Everyone seemed to be walking
off in the same direction.

Wherever they were going, I
didn't want to be left behind.

I went down some steps,
paid some money at a window,

and there it was: a
cellar packed with men.

I knew I was home.

I saw a man there that night.

He looked just like the boy in
the year above me at school.

I followed him into the
corridor behind the dance floor.

This time, he didn't
slam the door.

There were no
obscene phone calls.

That night was the first time
I had touched another man.

I was 22.

The lightning didn't strike,
and the earth didn't open.

I felt like life had just begun.

Good morning.


Did you get much sleep?

Uh, well, I got
some sleep, yeah.

I don't feel too bad now.

Did you want anything
for breakfast?

Uh, well, I've got
to go home anyway.

I've got to do some
marking actually.

Are you a teacher?


I teach geography.



And I've got quite a
lot to do today as I'm

covering for somebody as well.



Quite a few things
to remember too.

What about you?

What do you do?

Work in the city.

That's very
different, actually.


Well, I'm sorry I
can't sit much longer,

but I've got to
get ready for work.


Papers to get ready.

Well, I've got to
go anyway really.


I'll probably see you in the
club again sometime anyway,

won't I?

I'm down there on
weekends when I'm free.


Take care.


[music playing]

RON PECK: The place was
called the catacombs.

I went there regularly
after that first night,

two or three times a week.

I moved into the area,
and one way or another,

I met a lot of
people like myself.

And a lot of people who were not
like myself, who knew the scene

and introduced me to
other bars and pubs,

as far flung as Richmond
in the Surrey Docks.

[music playing]

The map of London began to
light up for me at night,

and behind closed
doors, we exchange

the stories of our lives.

But when we walked
out in the mornings

to our separate jobs
and occupations,

we left our
homosexuality behind us.

We were normal people, traveling
on the buses and the tubes.

Well, what's this then?

A regular seller of investments.

Five and six, two
words, five and six.

The first one is-- you ready?





Blank, the last one.

Shareholder, yeah.

No, no, wait a minute.

And the second word begins
with P. P-three blanks-E-Blank.

What's the clue again?

A regular seller of investments.

A regular seller
of investments.

RON PECK: It was the common
experience, the double life.

Half of it open, the other half
secret, furtive, and at night.

It led to lies and deceits,
looking and not looking.

There was still that fear of
the phone call to the office,

to the wife, to the
mother and father.

Keeping quiet about
it, living discreetly,

seemed the only way to survive.

I was a film school at
the time, working evenings

as a teacher to pay my way.

I certainly couldn't
afford to lose my job.

[music playing]

Late night and at weekends,
you would have found me

at the Catacombs, getting
drunk, increasingly aware

that my world was cleaving
in opposite directions,

and that something
was wrong with that.

There were no special
newspapers or magazines for us

in those days that
I was aware of,

and most of the
other papers still

wrote about beasts and queers
if they I wrote about us at all.

But in the bars, some
people started coming around

with a broad sheet, a
couple of stenciled pages

stapled together.

It gave way to a
newspaper, "Gay News."

I didn't know about
this word, "gay."

It seemed a little silly to me.

But I was happy to
exchange the words

"homo" and "queer" for it.

Eventually, they sold it
to my local news agents,

but I couldn't bring myself to
buy it there for a long time.

I stuck to buying it in the
bars and hiding it in my jacket

on the bus ride home.

Only when I was behind my own
door, did I dare to open it.

But, issue by issue, gay
began to mean something.

The gay world began to open up.

There were other places in
London I didn't know about.

There were bars and
clubs all over Britain.

There were places in
Europe, in America,

in South America, Australia.

There was a history, a past,
which writers and historians

were recovering and
putting back together,

and a future to be aimed
at and struggled for.

If the world would not
accommodate homosexuals,

we would create our
own world, a gay world.

And from the protection
of its walls,

search lights were
switched on and scrutinize

all representations
of things gay.

Defenses were mounted,
and attacks made.

All kinds of groups began
to organize themselves.

Gay teachers groups, theater
groups, legal groups,

gay plumbers and gay writers.

All this gave
confidence and it began

to connect people with what
felt like a general upsurge

and overturn.

People talk about
the '60s, but it

was the '70s when the
general dissent began to make

itself felt for many of us.

Britain could not
build walls fast enough

to stop the ideas that were
bursting in from France,

Germany, and the United States.

And if the national
news media would not

report the events that
were changing the world,

then our own media would do it.

It was the vigor of a new kind
of politics, no longer tied

to old structures of
party [inaudible],

but to self-identified
groups, directly

defending their interests.

The personal was
now the political.

A new black was emerging.

A new woman.

The pressure was on for gays.

There was a new cry.

Come out, come out,
wherever you are.

But even with rousing
revolutionary texts

swirling around your
head and demonstrations

parading across the capital
with banners flying,

it wasn't so easy.

I can tell you.

It was the big step from
which there was no going back.

You needed a strong
group around you,

not to feel fear at the
possible consequences of that.

There were plenty of stories
of people losing their friends,

and family, and job.

But many people took that step.

John Warburton, a geography
teacher, came out at school

and was sacked as a consequence.

A group formed around
him and campaigned

to get him back his job.

A support structure was
being created to try and make

it easier for all of us.

The demonstrations became
not merely proud, but angry.

I think it's something
most gay people have to face

sooner or later, don't they?

You're gay, are you?


And, presumably,
you have faced it.

At work, well, pretty
well everyone knows.

I mean, how much of a
hassle was it for you?

Well, it wasn't.

Yes, but you don't
teach in this school.

You don't have kids talking
about fucking queers

and lesbians all day, do you?

Maybe if there was some
gay kids in the class,

I got through to them.

I don't know.

I just wish I'd been prepared.

Yes, but at least you
answered the questions.

I think you did really well.

[indistinct chatter]

Do you have much
trouble with customers?

I mean, if you're
an electrician,

and you go around
wearing those badges.

Um, no, I haven't had much.


A lot of people sort
of try to ignore them.


And, very often, I
have to, if I want to,

I have to actually
raise the question.

But why, but why
do you have to?

Well, because, I'm, I'm gay.

And if I don't make
[inaudible] might interest.

And they keep on asking when
I'm going to get married

and all that sort of shit.



Because you also
get hostility, you

know, you get people
threatening to beat you up,

tops of buses and things.

-Do you?


I would think that would
get really boring, though.

Oh yeah.

It's bluster.



Well I, since I've
been wearing badges,

I've been thrown out of more
pubs than you could imagine.

How long have you
been wearing them?

About three years.

You're life must have changed.

Oh, my life has
completely changed

since I got involved
in gay liberation

about four or five years ago.

[music playing]

Those fucking queers
dancing together.

You know what I'm talking about.

I'm not having that
in my front room.

It's our front room.

They are my friends.

Yeah, and that's
typical of your attitudes

since you started
this bloody job.

You've got so bloody
slapdash and all these people

you're bringing into the place.

Now you can just get them
out, cause I'm not having it.

I am not going to
ask them to leave.

What was wrong with him?

He doesn't like my friends.

Anyway, forget it.

Let's have a dance.

RON PECK: And yet, I still
hadn't come out myself.

I made a sideways move.

I was a student at the
London Film School,

and I made a film
called, "Its Ugly Head."

It was about a
gay school teacher

who lived in a prison of
his own making, who lived

a lie, who would not come out.

I wanted to make a
film about a gay bar,

but I found it tough
enough moving this far.



I haven't seen you
in a long, long time.

No, I've been busy.

Still teaching?


And writing.

I've-- I'm married now.

All right?

Yes, thank you.

You're very well.

RON PECK: It was the
beginning of saying, even

to my fellow students, I'm gay.

And it made it easier
then, to take that step

and come out to
friends and family.

But it wasn't the film
I'd really wanted to make.

Thought I'd take a stroll.

Isn't it cold out?

I don't know.

Is there anything you want?


A bite to eat?




I'll be off.

Will you be back tonight?

Of course I will.

What do you mean?

I just thought you
might not be, that's all.

I'm just going for a stroll.

All right.

RON PECK: In my immediate
circles, I was out.

To that extent, the
double life was over

and I felt the
exhilaration of that.

My difficulties began to
be of a different nature.

Being gay was becoming
a recognizably

more complex experience.

Don't forget.

We're here every Friday,
Saturday, and Wednesday.

And if you can, please
take you're empty

glasses downstairs
with you as you go.

See you soon.

Why don't you come back?

Uh, I don't think that
would be a good idea, Jim.

But why?

It's nice to see you again.

We must keep in touch.

You ready?
Old dear.

Yes John.


Where's your coat?

It's okay.

It's outside.



Come on.

Right, I'll see you again.

Yeah, sure.

-It was nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.

I'll see you.

Good night.

Please take some empty
glasses downstairs.

All right

RON PECK: It was by no means
all solidarity and support

in the bars and the clubs.

"Make love not war"
the badges said.

But the gay world was
itself a battlefield

to love and affection.

Old ideas of finding one man,
Mr. Right, were challenged.

Loosen up and enjoy the party.

Liberate yourself.

If you must have a relationship,
make it an open one.

See him weekends.

See the world the
rest of the week.

Anyone here you fancy?

Yeah, a couple.

Well what about this one here?

Who, the one with the--

Boy Scout with earrings.

Yes, the Dear Monty earrings.

There's a nice one right
over there in the corner,

though, look?

Yes, wear jackets and smile.


Did you come on your own?

I think we're better
off with the brownies.

There's one in a leather
jacket over there I really like.

Yeah, he's really nice.


Made an approach yet?


Look him in the eye?

No, he's talking to someone.

I'm trying to wait
for him to go.

Well, why don't
you just move in?

That'll work.

Oh, look, he's going.

Oh, he's nice.

Here's your big chance.


Look, I've got to leave
in about 20 minutes

to get in the last tube.

I can't afford to get a cab.


I'll give you ten minutes.

Gives me ten minutes.


-See ya.

See ya.


I was smoking 20 a day, but
I've managed to stop entirely.

Can't handle those things.

Sometimes I feel like one after.

After after?

After a good meal,
and, um, after sex.

A few times I feel
like a cigarette.

But since I've had mine just
now, I'm not too desperate.

But now I'm pissed about it
because I missed the last tube.

So you only came
down here because you

missed the last tube?

Well, no.

I-- I acted stupidly.

You know how it is.

You go into the
pub, and I thought

am I going to get
the last tube home

or am I not going to
get the last tube home.

For some reason, get
impelled down and now

I've missed the last tube home.

[music playing]

RON PECK: The ground
moved under my feet.

I felt unstable, emotionally.

Not to attach myself.

I felt at odds with the
separating of sex from emotion.

7,000 partners in 10 years.

That was John Ritchie's boast.

He said he was aiming at 10,000.

[music playing]

I joined the party
as much as anyone,

but I carried a secret
even inside the gay world.

I was searching for Mr Right,
perhaps even Mr. America.

And in every face I saw
on the dance floors--

I looked for him in every bed.

And when I thought
I came close, I

saw another who I thought
might take me even closer,

and another, and another.

And many a time,
he would give me

the slip after just one night.

Or would refuse the
signal of interest

I sent across the dance floor.

Or turn down the offer
of a drink or a cigarette

with a smile,
before walking away,

as you did yourself, so many
times to so many other people.

Where do you live then?

Notting Hill.

Do you live on your own?


Where do you live?


Do you want to come
back to my place then?


Unless you want to come back
to my place, it's nearer.

Well, the only thing is,
that, I got to go all the way

back to Acton tomorrow morning.

It's like two tube trains.

And then I've got to go
back to center again.

[music playing]


Thank you

-How's your head?
-All right.

How's yours?

Still thumping a bit.

Too much red wine.

Your bath's running.

Great thank you.

And I've put a towel out.

And I've got some breakfast
on the go as well.

Do you want some toast and eggs?

Mmm, yes please.

All right.

I'll have it ready for you.


Well, you didn't ring, did you?

You didn't ring me.

No, I've been a bit busy.

Yeah, so have I.

Well, you didn't remember about
uh, two or three months ago.

We had an arrangement to
meet at the Chapstone.

You didn't even have
the decency to phone,

phone afterwards either.

I had to wait about three hours.

RON PECK: In those four years
in the bar, you had changed.

You were harder,
more calculating

in the way you dressed,
in the way you talked,

in the way you moved.

Everything became a
calculation in a game

that you hoped would
checkmate that obscure object

of your desire.

But it narrowed down.

A man was reduced to a
coded signal: leather

jacket, Levi's, haircut.

A poster in a bar shows 20
different handkerchiefs stuffed

into the back pockets of 501's.

Each one made it
clear what was wanted.

Underneath, it read, "Why
waste everybody's time?"

The basis for the new
film was clear now.

It was to put up on the
screen something of that life

I and others were living.

And the desire to
do just that was

all the fiercer,
because still, it was

being ignored across the media.

There were a few
films in the cinema,

but I found no close
identity with any of them.

Some of them were brave and
they kept the flame alive.

Television hadn't
even lit the match.

And the press, by and
large, still smeared

their front pages
with lies and covered

endorsements to violence.

And so, like a young
man fired by a mission,

by a clear sense of
purpose, and fueled

by the energy of the
activity around me,

I put together, in the quiet
of my room, a plan for a film.

And then I went out with it,
to friends and to groups,

and discussed it.

In the light of their comments,
I rewrote it several times,

then put it to the
British Film Institute

for production finance.

And at the same time, I
took the irrevocable step.

I talked to "Gay News" about it.

This newspaper that I
was still afraid to buy

from the local news
agents, now carried

my picture on its front page.

250 letters followed
that article

from gay men and women in
every walk of life, all ages,

all over the country.

One of them was Paul
Hallam who was to become

my partner in the project.

Over several weeks, I
talked to most of the people

who had written in.

It was easier to talk
outside of the bars.

Between the letters
and the talking,

I heard the stories of many
different people's lives,

and my sense of what the gay
world was expanded enormously.

A core group emerged
from the 250.

One that turned into
a discussion group,

an acting troupe, a group of
people sharing the work that

might make this film happen.

It survived the first
of hundreds of blows.

When the BFI turned
down the application,

there was a determination.

We would make the film anyhow.

Fuck the BFI.

All our efforts had
to be concentrated

on raising finance.

There was another
great wave of response,

from five pound notes in
the post to commitments

from established
figures in the film

and entertainment business.

Most of them were gay, and they
wanted us to make the film.

[piano music]

Allan Stafford was part of the
group that met particularly.

At one stage, we considered
him for the schoolteacher.

I couldn't believe
it when I heard

a year after the
film was finished,

that he died in a car crash.

Apart from anything else, he
was a pretty good piano player.

But there was no script.

Just an intention, and
some basic dramatic ideas

to organize a narrative
around, some images,

Edward Hopper's
"Nighthawks" somehow

connecting to a motorway
drive in the dark.

Somehow, the night
was everything.

It was Jupiter and beyond
the infinite in 2001.

It was the planetarium blackness
of "Rebel Without a Cause."

Hopper night, city of night.

A night of film noir.

But within that blackness,
to switch on a neon sign,

a bedroom lamp, and
bring people together.

We made a start.

We used a video
camera to generate

the narrative out
of reenactments

of directly felt experience.

We took it into people's homes,
and into the bars and clubs.

People improvised for the
camera what they knew well

enough from their own lives.

Everything was played
back and discussed.

And out of this process,
came the material that was

to be the basis of the script.

We spent a year
working in this way,

and we suffered many more
disappointments in our efforts

to raise finance.

Finally what little money
we had raised ran out.

All that remained was
the offer of a loan.

Paul Hallam and I
called a meeting.

The 20 of us that had
stuck together for a year

had to consider for the
first time, the possibility

of giving up the project.

People got very
emotional, sentimental,

and I think we knew somehow
that we couldn't give up.

We decided to risk
the loan on making

a pilot film, the opening
pages of the script.

Two men making
contact in a gay club,

separating in the morning.

The decision attracted
further finance,

and the pilot raised
the first money

we'd ever had for the script.

This time it was hard
money, professional money,

from a man who was to become
a major investor in the film.

The new script and the
pilot, between them,

finally secured the money
we needed to make the film.

It had taken us two
and a half years.

There were no professional
actors at this stage.

People, to a huge
extent, we're invited

to bring themselves into the
film, and it was cast for that.

For an abundance and a variety,
so that no single stereotype

could hold the field any longer.

It was important to us
that the gay characters be

unambiguously played by gays.

This film had to
be the real thing.

By this time, there was
almost no distinction between

my personal life and the film.

Friends had been pulled
in to play parts,

and other people became
friends as they were cast.

I think there was real confusion
in my mind sometimes, as

to whether people were
playing themselves

or acting out characters.

But we didn't have the
schoolteacher, the main part.

The character written
into every scene

and through whose point
of view, everything

was to be experienced.

Who I thought was me, Paul,
all of us involved in the film


And on this
character's shoulders,

the film would stand or fall.

We searched everywhere for him.

It was like looking for
Mr. Right all over again.

In two years we haven't
found him-- had come close,

but hadn't actually found him.

He had to be in his
late '20s, good-looking,

but at the same time ordinary,
the man in the street.

Nothing about the way that
he looked could tell us

he was gay.

The drama, after all,
was about a man everyone

assumed to be straight.

He had to be able to
improvise, to act, to know

the world of the film, to
be gay himself, to be liked

by the camera, to be everything
that would fill that hole,

the center of the film.

We interviewed
hundreds of people.

We advertised.

We went to bars and discos,
and searched the dance floors

in the cruising corridors.

We got on and off trains when
we thought we'd seen him.

Finally, by chance, someone
told us about Ken Robertson.

We made a video.

And we cast him.

The Catacombs was re-built
for the second time,

and we shot the film.

Same old faces all the time.

It's getting pretty monotonous.


I think once you just
try to new places,

and maybe pick the better one.

You know, and then start
going to that regularly.

It's all very well, but if
you gotta join and all that--

Mmm, yes, the membership can
be very high on some of that.

It's too clique-y in this place.

You know, you're sort of,
either in a little group,

or you're not, sort
of thing, you know?

I know what you mean.

Yes, it's very
different though.

A few months since I came in.

For any newcomers,
that's for certain.

As I say, It's-- oh it's
just-- it's not like it was.

It used to be good,
when it first opened,

but um, it's gone flat now.


How about one cup of--

Why, why so early?

It goes on til 3
o'clock in the morning.

It's so late.

I can't be bothered with it.

Is this your room?

[heavy breathing]

Come on.

Suck me.

Come on.

Now let's fuck.


Come on.


Come on.


Got to get your ass.

Come on.


Come on.

Come on.


Come on.


What's wrong with you?


I think I better go.

RON PECK: When we
cut it together,

we found that we had
a 3 and 1/2 hour film.

Whole sections and
characters had to go,

but there were loyalties
which meant something.

There were people
who had supported us

through thick and
thin and had finally

done their piece on film.

Cut them?

But sometimes, they were
nervous in front of the camera.

It made them vulnerable
on screen in a way

they weren't in life.

A certain vitality was lost.

It compounded a downbeatness.

And that became a
serious problem,

and not what we'd
intended at all.

We had to ask ourselves
a fundamental question.

What kind of picture of gay
life were we putting across?

Was it positive?

Was it negative?

Was it truthful?

What effect was
it going to have?

If this was going
to be the first film

about a gay character
for several years,

then that was an
important question.

This would be so lively
if people like you

and me weren't here.

A living anodyne commercial.

Oh, excuse me, I didn't
know you were alive.

Friends can me so much
in the homosexual world,

don't you think?

Don't you think?



About what?

About anything?


Honestly not about me.

Something's preying
on your mind.



Well, let me take a guess.

It's not a woman.



Well, that leaves
your mother out.

Um, bigger than a bread box?

Animal, vegetable, or mineral?


Right, male of the species.


He's here tonight.



Is he a regular?


I'm the manager of this
place, maybe I know him.

Maybe you do.

I know all the regulars.

They think of me as a
prune, keeping them regular.

What's he called?



Well that narrows it
down to about 4,376.

RON PECK: In the end, we worked
from the best of what we had.

And getting the film
to work dramatically

became the main criterion
behind the cutting,

because the most positive
signal this film could send

was that this man was prepared
to stand up for himself,

and come out, and begin
to make an issue of it.

In 1978, the film was
shown on German television,

but it wasn't until
the following year

that it opened in the
cinema in Britain.

To see the poster of two
gay men all over London,

that meant something.

Once the film was
public property,

the discussion continued in
cinemas around the world,

in the columns of
magazines and newspapers.

And the response varied
from total condemnation

to celebration.

But above all, it got
people talking and arguing,

about the film and
beyond the film.

It was a turmoil of
reaction, that was

exhilarating and exhausting.

But the film was late.

What had started in 1974 took
five years to reach the screen.

The gay world had
changed in that time,

the political field was bigger,
the commercial gay world

was exploding.

Clubs like the
Catacombs were already

closing and being
displaced by vast ultra

discos that held 2,000 people.

The film created the
possibility of travel,

and that travel
opened up even further

the scale of the gay world.

I finally got to America.

It was at that time
that gays in California

had organized against
Proposition 6,

a piece of legislation
intended to bar gays

from the teaching profession.

I was staggered by the forces
being vocalized against it,

the scale of the organization,
the energy and enthusiasm

and positiveness.

I delayed my return home, to
find out what would happen.

The proposition was
defeated, overwhelmingly.

And that night, I joined
thousands of gay men and women

and danced in the streets.

The following year, I would
return again, and join a march

of 4,000 gays down
Market Street,

celebrating their existence,
demanding their rights.

Anything seemed possible here.

I came back to
Britain as many did,

with a confidence
that things could

be changed, with energy, with
a sense of pride in being gay.

I would play my part.

I would go on making
films about gay characters

from different walks of life.

I took "Nighthawks" to the BBC
and was told it was amateur,

of no interest whatsoever.

I wrote another
script with Paul,

but was told, for God's
sake, you've made gay film.

But commercial
television took a chance

and made a series called
"Gay Life" and that generated

its own controversies.

Not everybody could
find themselves in it.

They saw representations
they did like.

For some, it was
clones, drag queens,

prostitutes, diesel dykes.

It was clear now.

No single character
could stand for everyone.

It was too big and
diverse a world

But there was a feeling here in
the late '70s, of coalitions,

support, more and
more interest groups.

And I mean the
feel of the thing,

not necessarily how
it really happened.

There was the GLC which
stood up for all of us,

and recognized our rights
as part of a rainbow

coalition, American- style.

If we couldn't
produce a Harvey Milk,

well, Ken Livingston would do.

Channel 4 took to the air,
which promised to be the GLC

of the television airwaves.

And it bought "Sebastian" and
"Nighthawks" for transmission.

The press jumped on it.

And that night, the
phone that started

ringing in my parents'
house when I was 14,

started ringing again.

Grown men this time,
threatening and obscene

enough for me to move out
of the house for the night.

Britain had changed.

The year "Nighthawks" came
out, Margaret Thatcher

and her conservative
government came in.

There was an immediate
backlash against the '60s

and the beginnings of the
dismantling of all that

supported counter-cultural
activities The GLC was

one of the first to go.

Book shops were raided.

A theater director put on trial.

So many civil liberties
came under attack.

Government ministers talked
of "the enemy within"

and the Battle of Britain
was played out again.

It reached its climax in
the glorification of carnage

in the Falklands.

The sinking of the Belgrano
And the killing of the Argies

was celebrated by
those same newspapers

and political figures who
attacked all things gay.

The very people who wanted
to imprison two men kissing

in the street, cheered
as the British bayonets

were plunged into the chests
of Argentinian youths.

"Make love, not war" had
become "Make war, not love."

The ancient Greeks were
struck off the school syllabus

but the Boer War is now
compulsory education.

And clause 28 forbids teachers
talking about homosexuality

with any enthusiasm.

All this, and AIDS.

Even God, some were
pleased to say,

was putting the boot in and
visiting the plague upon us.

San Francisco and Los Angeles
were now Sodom and Gomorrah.

A friend called
recently from California

and told me he'd lost
half his friends to it.

Not long ago, I lost
another friend myself.

No one knew at first
where AIDS came from,

whether they were carrying it.

For a long time, how you got it.

But it was incurable, fatal,
and it seemed to be gay.

Across the media,
gay now equaled AIDS.

And many a journalist
had a Roman holiday

at the expense of those
dying in the hospitals.

On TV screens, it meant a
parade of men being interviewed,

filmed at home, filmed
dying, struggling

with experimental
drugs and therapies,

but supported by
friends and families,

organizing campaigning,
politicking for funds

to find a cure.

We saw gay doctors and
medics, professional men,

counselors, support groups.

We saw brave men,
grieving lovers,

friends, ordinary people.

Every aspect of our sexual
lives became open to discussion,

and then, all
sexual lives, for it

was no longer homosexuality
per say, but certain

practices that we're not
necessarily homosexual at all.

Everyone was being addressed.

There were hoardings
in the streets.

A leaflet went through
every letterbox in Britain.

It was no longer
unusual to see openly

gay people on television.

And the wonder was, that
even under such stress,

they no longer look like to
Dirk Bogarde in "Victim."

There was no longer
one face to find

your identity in, but
hundreds of faces, thousands.

And one of them was Rock Hudson.

who might have posed in any
muscle magazine in his youth,

and now, dying of AIDS.

Had the public
support and friendship

of Ronald Reagan, then, the
most powerful man in the world.

Something had held.

Something strong.

In the face of a threat we
could never have imagined,

self-affirmation stood
firm, impressively.

This time wasn't
just a law, a bunch

of bigots, a yellow journalist
that had to be dealt with.

It was mortality
itself, faced squarely.

And perhaps it resolved
us to try harder

to do something with our lives.

Life itself, every second of
it, became something to value,

and look after, and
fight for, and defend.

And what I begin to
see on television now,

and to read about in some
of the national newspapers

and magazines, are gay people
talking about much more

than AIDS, taking through
AIDS, fighting off

the silence with
more and more stories

of their lives, our lives.

Struggling with their paintings,
their films, their books,

with political committees,
with the courts,

talking about everything.

So that in one sense,
talking about being gay

is no longer the issue.

It's integrating.

It's sinking in.

Perhaps we could begin to see
the day when we can get it out

of the way as something
to fight about,

when we can turn our
energies elsewhere,

and celebrate childhood's end.

I wonder about a boy who's
just turned 14 today.

He falls in love with a
boy in the year above,

who might follow him home
one summer's afternoon.

I think he could experience
things exactly as I

experienced them 28 years ago.

He might see a gay
paper on the news stand,

and have all the fears
that I had buying it.

He'd be embarrassed
at the small ads.

He wouldn't be able to show his
parents or take it to school.

But I think he would know
that there were many like him,

that there were men
he could admire,

men he could identify with.

He would know there was a world
he could enter, without shame.

But he would have
to play safely now.

He might have to bide
his time through school.

He might have to leave
the place he was born

and move into the city.

But city connects with
city, country with country.

Customs officials can be
bypassed by bouncing messages

across the world by satellite.

The walls are breaking down,
and the world is becoming one.

Time is on his side.

The world has a
great responsibility

to make him welcome.

Help him through it.

Give him confidence.

Don't break him down
with dismissive looks.

Don't leave him
alone in the corner,

unless he wants to be alone.

Buy him a drink.

Dance with him.

Show him around.

Love him and cherish him.

Don't wait until he's dying
before you show him compassion.

Light up his history, his
culture, and fight for him.

And by him, I mean
that impulse to feel

something for your own sex.

That hated, buried, and
twisted, turns itself

into a thrusting of bayonets,
the crushing of bodies

under tanks the world over.

Let him go out into the
world, confident of who

he is, sure of himself, with
the best shot at openness.

[music playing]