It’s an old friend’s birthday today. I don’t know if he is reading this and if he is, whether or not I ever spoke to him about the incident it recalls. However, the face that ends up with the egg on it is really mine, so I’ll proceed afoot.
Tony was gay. The first person we knew who was gay I guess. Except at this point only a few people knew officially as Tony wasn’t out. This was about 1980 or early 1981. We were still at school but were already enjoying Saturday nights out at the very least. Tony was exceeding useful on these outings as he was one of the first in our crowd to pass his driving test and own a car. Being designated driver in those days meant you swam in a very small pool.
By chance we found out that Tony had been ‘using us’. Telling his parents he was out with us on a Saturday night when in fact he wasn’t. Something strange was going on and our immediate reaction was “He’s gay. He’s out at gay clubs when he says he’s with us”. I hope I don’t have to add that we didn’t say this to his parents. In fact we told them he was with us.
Now Tony wasn’t obviously gay. Certainly not camp. There were probably three or four blokes in our year above Tony in the campness stakes who ended up getting married, having reams of kids, and generally exhibiting the Melvyn Hayes Camp is not Equal to Gay Syndrome. But Tony denied that he was gay to me and many of the other blokes. We told him there was no reason too and do you know, I genuinely believe there wasn’t. We may have lived in a WASPish community in Hertfordshire, but we have just come through the punk era. We couldn’t care less who you were, only what you did mattered!
Nonetheless Tony wasn’t having any of it. He repudiated being gay with ferocity. This is not an appropriate analogy but he denied it a darn sight more than three times before the cock crowed! Eventually we believed him and started looking for alternate explanations. And by now our teenage curiosity was piqued. What could Tony be doing that kept him from our bosom on a Saturday night? Why did he need to lie to his parents about what he was doing?
We had many weird and wonderful theories but the favourite was he had been recruited by MI5 or similar. Tony was after all an academic genius.
And one Saturday night we found the evidence. On this occasion Tony was actually coming out with us and I was with him in his car (A little Austin that had to have its suspension pumped up every few weeks – not at all relevant but funny how you remember these little things). I think Neil was with us too. For some reason we had to go back to Tony’s so he could pick something up and we are sat outside waiting for him. There was a disco tape playing (oh how did we miss such an obvious clue) and I wanted to find something different to put on so I rummaged through his glove-box for more tapes. I found one that just had some undecipherable scribble on it and slotted that in instead of Michael Jackson or whatever else the disco tape contained.
What came out of the speakers was a monotonous girl’s voice repeatedly intoning the word Peter. Over and over again, “Peter, Peter, Peter….” Was this some Secret Service training tool; a mystery Tony was trying to solve to stop the country being obliterated in a nuclear attack. We didn’t think to ask, instead we stuffed the weird tape back in the glove-box and stuck Blondie on. A mutually acceptable choice.
And so that was that. A few weeks later Tony finally came out to all of us and was instantly accepted. His boyfriends started to join us on our nights on. They were mostly lovely but that American guy Billy had a bit of mouth on him, Tony. I went to Camden with Tony to the Old Mother Red Cap or was it the Mother Black Cap and another place in Euston. Life just rolled along. The tape, I hear you cry. What about the tape? Oh yeah, that was Tony’s sister. Turns out they had been teaching the budgie to speak its name.
Happy birthday Tony.