Gay makeover

News today that the city of Canterbury has been accused of not doing enough to create an LGBT community:

Hmm. Can’t say this surprises me. Back in 2003, before I moved up to Leeds, I went to Canterbury, having been told of one or two gay (or at any rate “gay-friendly”) venues. Ascertaining these required looking out for a little rainbow sticker in the doors, not much of a move on from going down a dark alley, knocking on a back door and being asked if you’re a “friend of Dorothy”. And as it turned out, one had been closed for several months and the others were gay-friendly inasmuch as you probably wouldn’t get beaten up for going in there, but you could forget about kissing, holding hands or any nonsense like that. Canterbury did have a Pride march a few years ago, but quite frankly anywhere can have a Pride march. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a visible community except on that day.

The news seems quite pertinent as last night’s Apprentice saw the candidates tasked with rebranding the Kent seaside town of Margate which, like my childhood home of Folkestone, is a once-popular resort fallen on hard times. The episode had been trailed a few weeks previously (in a blog post by me, for one) due to a supposedly homophobic comment made by Mona Lewis about gays, causing upset to openly gay candidate Howard Ebison. Whether this remark was made or not is still up for conjecture, as it didn’t appear in the final edit (instead, Mona merely expressed reservations about putting off other people by rebranding Margate as a gay resort, although this doesn’t appear to have done Brighton any harm). On screen, Howard was rather more put out by Debra’s insistence that she be project manager, although she agreed to make him the creative lead – before proceeding to ignore or override any ideas that he or anyone else came up with.

The real fun started when Empire had to produce the promotional literature for their rebranding. Howard and Debra (a woman with piggy eyes and a very small mouth from which a great deal of noise nevertheless emanates) auditioned some models for the photos, whilst Mona and James (his village still missing its idiot) decided to gauge the feelings of the local population. The impression given was that the people of Margate were all up for the idea, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some less positive comments ended up on the cutting room floor. Mona herself looked completely out of her depth, particularly when meeting a pre-op transsexual in a gay bar, and grappling with notions of gender and sexuality that were clearly beyond her frame of reference. Yet even this paled in comparison with a deathless sequence in which the (straight) models posing as the gay and lesbian couples were asked to throw some shapes in a nightclub. An empty nightclub. In the daytime. They were, in the words of the incomparable Nick Hewer, “stiff and wooden – if I can put it that way”.

The resulting, over-worded poster, rather like the doors of those venues in Canterbury, encoded the gay references (women with arms around each other’s waists, a rainbow map of Britain) so as to make them largely missable, and Empire’s situation was compounded by a half-finished leaflet: Debra, in her extremely finite wisdom, only got stuck into this twenty minutes before the production deadline; when presenting their idea to industry experts, the team claimed that the blanks on the leaflet were advertising space. Needless to say, they lost, although winners Ignite hardly covered themselves in glory, with a series of posters asking people to see Margate “through a child’s eyes”. The largest of these was a large shot of a beach – no children with buckets and spades, just an empty beach. Beautiful and serene, yet also desolate, it looked more like an advert for euthanasia than local tourism. Despite this, and project manager Yasmina being serially undermined by Lorraine (with her “instinct”, strange lipstick and bizarre tendency to suddenly start talking like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted), they won. Debra lied her way through another boardroom (although she did at least have the decency not to take Howard back) and Mona, her mind probably still undecided as to the gender or orientation of her new-found friend in Margate, was fired.

So, the gay idea was a nice one, but needed to be shouted rather than mumbled, and Howard’s still in. As for Kent, it’s still largely this weird, arid chunk of non-gayness between London and Brighton. Plus ca change…



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