Friday, 30 March 2018

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual... the beautiful (and ultimately notorious; he was one of the plotters who killed Rasputin) Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, Count Sumarokov-Elston!

He was a divinely decadent character, as these extracts about the Prince's exploits (from the faboo The Esoteric Curiosa blog) confirm. Described by one confidant of the Tsarina as "that effeminate and elegantly dressed young man", his close relationship with Tsar Nicholas II's favourite Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (who was for a while the fiancé of the Tsar's daughter Olga Nikolaevna Romanova) caused somewhat of a scandal:
"Almost every night we drove to Petersburg and carried on a merry life in restaurants, night cafés, among the Gypsies. We invited performers to dine with us in private rooms. And often Pavlova would join us!" But it was not only Anna Pavlova who joined, Felix’s unconventional tastes, which he writes about himself in his memoirs, attracted to the private rooms male ballet dancers who shared these tastes.

The Imperial Family was horrified. "Their Majesties, knowing of my scandalous adventures, looked askance at our friendship," Felix recalled. Or, to put it more accurately, knowing of Felix’s homosexual propensities, which at the time were punishable by Imperial law, the Tsar’s family regarded Dmitri’s passionate attachment to Felix with fear...

...The encounters with Felix continued. Rumour had a simple explanation: Dmitri was bisexual. And Dmitri was madly infatuated with Felix. In the idiom of the salons of the day, it was called ‘making mistakes in grammar!’ Dmitri preferred to move out of Alexander Palace. Now he was lodged in his own house in Petersburg, and Felix helped him to furnish it in the luxury for which his own home, the Yusupov Palace on the Moika Canal, was celebrated. With precious furniture and paintings.

And so Dmitri had made his choice. Now with a clear conscience [the Tsarina, who never liked Dmitri] could, or, more accurately, was compelled to, break off Olga’s engagement. Dmitri had compromised himself by his scandalous friendship.
The rest of the story, especially that involving Rasputin, is well-documented. Both men survived the Russian Revolution - Dmitri died in 1942, and Felix lived until 1967. It is unclear whether either man saw each other again, and (eventually) both denied the rumours about their relationship.

Ohhhh, those Russians...

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Lo! The bird is on the wing

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

- The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The clocks went forward last night, meaning we've lost an hour. Despite all appearances to the contrary, it is now officially British Summer Time! The daylight hours are henceforth longer than the nights - so make the most of it...

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Queen of Eurovision is dead

"My whole career really started by accident. There was a time when I was on the BBC three times a week - it seems very strange to think of that now, but it was the only thing people watched."

And so, farewell to another British icon, the former model, TV personality and doyenne of the Eurovision Song Contest - against whose genteel manner every subsequent hostess has been judged - Katie Boyle, Lady Saunders, who has departed for Fabulon.

You just do not get glamour and poise this this anywhere any more:

  • Her first marriage (to Richard Boyle, later the Earl of Shannon), which lasted eight years, was dogged by rumours of scandal - including a supposed affair with Prince Philip.
  • She became well-known across the UK not just for her elegant appearances on chat shows and variety shows, nor merely for her stint as the hostess of the Eurovison Song Contest (she presented her first Eurovision Song Contest in 1960 and hosted the programme a further three times in 1963, 1968 and 1974), but as "the face of Camay soap" in TV adverts; though she admitted in private that she didn't use it because it brought her out in a rash.
  • When Katie presented the contest in 1974, the year Abba won with Waterloo, she almost diverted attention from that spectacular victory as the tabloids had a field day with the fact that she wore no knickers under her slinky dress - of the occasion, she said she spent the whole show hiding behind the podium, but when she had to step out from it, her cards and hands were strategically placed to hide her private areas.
  • Her marriage to Viscount Boyle meant that technically she was aristocracy, despite their divorce; third husband Sir Peter Saunders was a theatre impresario and the producer of Britain's longest-running show The Mousetrap, and when he was knighted she gained her second noble title.
And here she is again, singing(!) this Lerner and Loewe classic, with erstwhile telly show host Michael Barrymore:

RIP Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali dei Principi di Francavilla (aka Katie Boyle, 29th May 1926 - 20th March 2018)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The wearing of the green

Loretta Young

Nicole Kidman's green parrot frock from the Screen Actors' Guild awards 2017

Jackie Kennedy wearing a pale green Givenchy dress

HM The Queen in 1954

Vivien Leigh's green "curtain" dress from "Gone With the Wind"

Happy Paddy's Day!

Friday, 16 March 2018

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual... this weekend's birthday girl, the fabulous Brigitte Helm!

If any living person could have been described as "Art Deco", it was her.

Brigitte Helm (17th March 1906 – 11th June 1996)

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Mothers' Day

Rafaela Ottiano (4th March 1888 – 18th August 1942)

It's Mothering Sunday!

Hope you remembered the flowers - she won't be happy if you forgot...

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Recycling frogs, a hippo, beautiful buttocks, Livia and a floral astronomer

Not quite the behaviour one might expect from the Public Astronomer

The venerable - and marvellous - Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology's Objects of Desire showcase has become not just a fixture in the calendar for the museum itself, but has long been a pivot for the LGBT History Month events in Camden and Islington. As, due to a variety of circumstances, this year's LGBTHM events were somewhat reduced in number, it was (for me anyway) the highlight. Indeed it was the only event I attended in the whole of last month.

Opening proceedings with his usual aplomb, our host and expert on all things Ancient Egyptian (especially the smutty bits) John J Johnson was as proud as punch to preside over one of the most successful of the Petrie events - in the fifth year it has been running.

Our first guest was a real charmer, the florally-clad Breton fashion designer Florent Bidois - who, from his blurb: "only works from recycling old materials and everything in our daily consumption (plastic/potato bags, bubble wrap, etc.) and tries to create beautiful from ugliness in a continuous fight against waste".

The ancient object from the vaults of the museum that had caught his eye was a tiny (and admittedly rather phallic) frog (of indeterminate provenance). M Bidois has a "bit of a thing" for frogs, not least, as he joked, because it is the common British slang for the French; he often incorporates their image into his designs, and indeed, the jacket he wore for the evening was constructed in a water-lily pad design.

JJJ led the conversation into a discussion of Florent's myriad outré constructions, his fashion shows, his regular appearances - modelling his own clothing range - around the trendy Spitalfields Market, and his friendship with that other remarkably distinctive fashionista (and fave here at Dolores Delargo Towers) Sue Kreizman (who happened to be in the audience for the evening). Check out his YouTube channel if you need some inspiration...

Next to the "interrogation chair" was David Bullen, researcher into "the representation of gender and sexuality in adaptations of Greek myth more generally, particularly in popular media such as Hollywood film, children's literature, and comic-books." He is also director of the By Jove! Theatre Company, whose productions have included works based on Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides.

His chosen object form the Egyptian collection, however, was a delightful pink hippopotamus amulet purchased by Flinders Petrie at Luxor - a representation of the creature whose form was taken by Horus and Set during one of their aeons-long epic battles. Which led JJJ quite neatly to everyone's favourite gay piece from the museum's collection, the fabled "world's oldest gay chat-up line", a 4000-year-old graphic depiction of gay sex being used as a method of gaining dominance in power as well as bed...

Of course, these tales of ancient battles between gods inevitably ignored the role played in society by women, and the discussion continued with a exploration of how By Jove! take a different approach to all their productions, in many cases reversing the emphasis of the original historical text and, instead, telling the tale largely from the female protagonist's point of view.

Speaking of powerful female imagery, our next guest to the hot-seat was self-described "theatre maker" Anne Langford, whose chosen object was a remarkable one indeed - a tiny alabaster pot found buried under Queen Hatshepshut's temple at Deir-el-Bahri, which still had traces of a resin-based (presumed) cosmetic preserved within it!

No discussion on Ancient Egypt during LGBT History Month would be complete, of course, without exploring the fascinating world of the pioneering, cross-dressing Hatshepshut, the first woman not to merely be content to rule as Queen, but who had herself crowned Pharaoh. Her elegant transformation, and the subsequent attempted erasure of her from the historical records by her (male) successors is in itself a fascinating tale... it was for our final interviewee, Dr Douglas McNaughton, historian and theorist of broadcast media, who also chose a Deir-el-Bahri find - a ceremonial axe-head with Hatshepshut's inscription.

He, too, has an endless fascination with the portrayal of strong women-in-power, as they are depicted on screen - and gave us a very good explanation of why, from his observation, such magnificent females as Sian Phillips' Livia and the rest of those scheming queens (the insatiable and devious Messalina, the stoic Antonia, the murderous Agrippina, the doomed Livilla, and so on) as portrayed in the classic 1976 BBC series I, Claudius (as well as other small-screen leading ladies of the time) came to prominence during the 70s in particular.

Due to the constraints upon its budgets faced by the Beeb in that strike-addled, debt-ridden time in British history, even an epic dramatised history of Rome had to be shot largely within one small studio set. Thus, whole chapters of Robert Graves' original books (featuring large-scale battles, parades, the building of monumental architecture and the like) had to be cut out of the final TV adaptation, leaving the more "domestic" personal intrigues of the despotic Caesars and their families to take centre stage - and many of those "domestic" stories were inevitably dominated by the ambitions of the females of the clan...

This was a thought-provoking and very entertaining evening, as ever - and was suitably topped-off when many of the participants and several members of the audience (me and Jim, and his work chums, included - as well as the Public Astronomer Marek Kukula, as featured in our opening picture alongside fellow mischief-maker, curator Helen Pike) traipsed back-stage to continue our sterling work in polishing-off the evening's complimentary wine.

I love the Petrie Museum..!