Thursday, 20 May 2010

Why my Mum loved John Inman

I never understood my Mum's fascination with the actor John Inman, in 'Are you being served'- a British sit-com of the late 70's.
I was only 14 and just off the plane from Delhi. I found idiomatic British English a little hard to follow. Moreover, I guess I was pretty naive.
My mother was normally very good about explaining things to me in a frank and open fashion. But, no matter how often I asked, she could never explain to me why she found the John Inman character so fascinating.
At the time, I put it down to menopause but thinking about it recently, I now understand something about Inman, or perhaps I should say I understand something about my Mother- or, rather, I understand the nature of certain oppressive features of the Mass Media as masking Gramscian hegemony- or, since, one can understand nothing about what Society hides away until one glimpses that which one has spent one's whole lifetime hiding from oneself- I think I understand what my Mom saw in Inman, why she related to him.
You see, Inman had a secret. A secret which it would have endangered his livelihood, perhaps even his life (though no longer his personal liberty) to divulge or make public. It was a sort of open secret. But, it was a secret which, precisely for being so open, so in-your-face, could never declare itself.
Britain has changed a lot even during my own life-time. Still, it sends a sort of shiver down  my spine to realize that Inman could have been arrested for no other reason than just being what he was, even two or three years after my birth.
I have studied and taught History, in England, for more than 30 years but, thinking about my Mom's love for John Inman makes that History come alive for me as a living force- as personal as a Hurricane with a cute girl's name- but as devastating in its impact on ordinary lives.
In 1965, the British parliament finally abolished the law regarding Negro slavery. Yet, as a blatantly black man, John Inman still had to hide his identity a dozen years later.
Mum, who was going through menopause because she couldn't do mensuration (which I was able to master after Dad engaged a Bengali Maths tutor for me) identified with Inman, the better part of whose life had been spent in fear of 'being sent down river' (to East London), because she too had lived with the fear of being discovered and exposed.
I tell myself that things have changed. This little apercu of mine has no relevance to our present age.
But is such complacency really justified?
Think about it.
That David Cameron what's just moved in at No. 10- seems so nice don't he? Mebbe a little too nice? All that Old Etonion stuff- are you really buying it? Take a closer look and what do you see- a typical French Cambodian rent-boy- and you know what they're like.

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