Monday, February 26, 2007

James whale was an innovative Hollywood film producer, best known for Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
James Whale (1889 - 1957)
James Whale (1889 - 1957)

James was born in Dudley, Worcestershire and discovered his theatrical talents while held as a prisoner of war in 1917. After the armistice he returned to Birmingham and embarked on a professional stage career. In 1928 he directed two fringe performances of R. C. Sherriff's then barely known play 'Journey's End,' starring the young Laurence Olivier. The play was very successful and transferred to the West End, and later to Broadway. It was filmed in 1930 with Colin Clive in the leading role as Captain Stanhope.

Whale's two Frankenstein movies made Universal Pictures very successful in the 1930s partly because of their huge box-office receipts. Further, these pictures together with The Invisible Man established the screen careers of Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff and Claude Rains some of whom Whale had known previously in England. He had personally selected them for their roles in his films.

Whale's later life was the subject of a biopic Gods and Monsters starring Sir Ian McKellen as James Whale. The title comes from a line in Bride of Frankenstein spoken by Dr Pretorius.

More about James Whale

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

We are over half way through LGBT history month now, and we arrive today at the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest modern English poets W.H Auden.

W H Auden (1907-1973)
W H Auden (1907-1973)

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, where his father George Auden was a doctor and archaeologist. W.H. was the youngest of three sons.

Auden was always interested in science, and had expected to become a mining engineer until he was 15. In 1922 his schoolfriend Robert Medley first suggested that he should write poetry and the same year he lost his Christian faith. His first poems appeared in the Gresham's School magazine in 1923. After university Auden made journeys to Spain, Iceland and Germany, and his poetry was influenced by Marx and Freud. He was employed as a schoolmaster until the war, when he left England for the United States with Isherwood. In America he came under the influence of Christianity once again.

Auden's poem "funeral blues" was made famous by the funeral oration scene in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," but it was originally from a black comedy "The Ascent of F6," written by Auden and his friend Christopher Isherwood, which was dedicated to Auden's geologist brother John who explored and mapped the high Himalayas and K2.

More about W.H. Auden

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Martina Navratilova was born in Řevnice, a small town south west of Prague, in 1956. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest women tennis players and has won the women's title at Wimbledon a record 9 times.

Martina Navratilova (b.1956)
Martina Navratilova (b.1956)

She was born Martina Šubertová, but her parents divorced when she was 3 and when her mother remarried she took her stepfather's name. Her stepfather was also her first tennis coach, and left-handed Martina went on to win her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1978.

In 1981, shortly after being granted U.S. citizenship, Navratilova "came out" publicly, and from 1983 to 1991 she had a long-term relationship with married author Judy Nelson which ended acrimoniously.

Martina has been very active in charities benefiting underprivileged children, gay rights and animal rights. In 2000 she won the National Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest lesbian/gay activist group. She said:- "People often ask me, 'Now that I've come out, what more can I do?' My answer to that would be, 'Encourage others to come out.' and to be active, supportive members of our community, which in turn, helps contribute positive change and ultimately to fair and equal opportunities for us all."

More about Martina Navratilova

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Empowering kids - Part 1

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.

Those words are taken from the beginning of UNICEF's report - Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries.

The Report claims to be a comprehensive assessment of the lives and well-being of children and adolescents in 21 economically advanced nations. Its purpose is to encourage monitoring, to permit comparison, and to stimulate the discussion and development of policies to improve children’s lives.

The top ranking country for subjective well-being was the Netherlands, and the UK was ranked lowest. Newsround reported UK kids 'could have happier life'.

In part 2 of this blog we'll be comparing some aspects of kids' tv in the UK and in the Netherlands, and we'll see that tv over there isn't just about giving kids a voice. It's about empowerment through real participation in the programme making process.

For now though, have a look at Tim Levell's latest blog - this time it's not about banning anyone or anything, and there are some interesting readers' comments too.

Carefully note the bit where Tim says "we have a crucial role in giving children aged six to 12 a voice," as I might have more to say about it in a future blog.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Back to LGBT history month, and the reason this person is history is because he was a victim of homophobia and eventually committed suicide. Even today very few sports personalities are prepared to risk their careers by coming out. This is especially true of male players in team sports. But Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 with tragic consequences.

Justin Fashanu (1961-1998)
Justin Fashanu (1961-1998)

Following their parents splitting up, Justin and younger brother John went into care at Barnardo's home in Barkingside. About three years later they were adopted by a married couple living in Attleborough, near Norwich.

Justin played for Norwich City between 1979 and 1981 when he transferred to Nottingham Forest for an almost unprecedented £1m. Soon afterwards Nottingham's manager, Brian Clough, heard rumours about Justin being gay, but instead of being supportive Clough continually taunted him about it, which dented his confidence resulting in a sharp decline in his skills.

Having been demoralised by years of homophobia his personality began to change and when, in 1990, he came out to The Sun much of his story was fabricated. John, his brother, was horrified that Justin had come out and wanted nothing more to do with him. In 1998 after allegations of impropriety, Justin, with nowhere to turn, committed suicide by hanging himself in a London garage.

More about Justin Fashanu

Last week the Football Association announced that, as with racist abuse, homophobic abuse is to be explicitly banned from football stadiums. That would have been an appropriate story for Newsround to report - at least on its website or on Sportsround. But as I expected there was nothing.

It's almost a year since Tottenham launched a campaign to stamp out homophobic chanting at their White Hart Lane ground. That wasn't reported either. In fact Newsround continues to discriminate against lgbt people by invisibilising them, and it also remains silent about news to combat prejudice against them. You might be fooled into thinking it's still 1961, the year Justin Fashanu was born, and the year Victim appeared in British cinemas.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

So at last we know the Justin Timberlake story about dressing up for charity was wrong (see blog 8 February 2007), and that Newsround's "Celeb Gossip" page is simply about tabloid rumour, and not necessarily true. Well I follow a lot of this tabloid stuff so I might be able to help out Newsround with their Celeb Gossip page. This was one of the Celeb Gossip stories as it appeared on Monday 15 Jan 2007:

New man?

Britney's been spotted hanging out in Las Vegas with a new man. The singer, who split from husband Kevin Federline last year, is reported to be dating the actor and model Isaac Cohen.

Click here to find out about Britney

But that was last month. Now here's my more up-to-date Celeb Gossip page suggestion based on the tabloids -

New woman?

Britney is rumoured to have broken up with Isaac Cohen and loads of people are saying it's because she prefers being with women.

Click here to find out about Britney

What do you think? Should I apply for a job on Newsround's editorial team?

Friday, February 09, 2007

I know this is LGBT history month, but man of the moment must be the former NBA basketball player, John Amaechi.

John Amaechi (b.1970)
John Amaechi (b.1970)

John was born the son of a Nigerian father and English mother and spent his early years in Britain before moving to the USA, where basketball is a national sport.

After a successful basketball career in America, he played for the England national basketball team in the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne last year, in which the England team won a bronze medal.

Apart from his television commentary work in Britain John is involved in promoting basketball and sport in general as a healthy activity. He also donated a sum of money towards building the Amaechi Basketball Centre in Manchester. His autobiography Man in the Middle came out this week, as did John himself.

Incidentally, the BBC has made a children's drama concentrating on the members a wheelchair basketball team, the Desperados.

More about John Amaechi

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog that Tim Levell confirmed on Monday that the Justin Timberlake gossip story was incorrect, as I had suspected (blog 28 December 2006). He apologised and said that, at the time, their information was that this was a genuine charity and that money was going to the Salvation Army. He also mentioned that it was in the "Celeb Goss" page, and the point of the page is that it is sometimes tabloid rumour and not fact.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BBC commitment to equality

With all the recent talk of equality, I'm interested to see if the BBC is really committed, or if the people in charge would prefer a kind of special "BBC opt-out" as befits the organisation's unique status.

I'm waiting to hear back about this, and also the situation regarding Newsround.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Today's LGBT person, Nadia Almada was born the eldest of six brothers, and brought up as a boy in Madeira, an island owned by Portugal. She was christened Jorge, but always thought of herself as different to her brothers. As she grew up she preferred to dress as a woman and wear makeup. She became attracted to men, but she wanted to be seen as a woman to them.

Nadia Almada
Nadia Almada (b.1977)

Nadia came to the UK when she was 19, and worked as a cashier before entering the Big Brother 5 competition which she won in 2004. She was very popular with audiences and had been the overwhelming favourite to win weeks before the final.

The housemates that year in Big Brother were generally split into two groups, diametrically opposite in many ways, the "Jungle Cats" and the "Lip-gloss Bitches." These could be characterised as "masculine" and "feminine" with Nadia becoming the Lip-gloss Bitches' Icon. Nadia is a chain smoker.

More about Nadia Almada

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hopeful signs

Last week was quite eventful and there have been some hopeful signs.

On Monday the government announced no opt-out for adoption agencies. Quite rightly they put the best interests of children first. And at the same time it sent out exactly the right message to other institutions which still discriminate: It must stop now.

The next hopeful sign came Tuesday when I was told by the BBC that there could be some changes in policy, but it's still early days. Some hours later Newsround's In The News messageboard included a thread about gay adoption, which has since developed into a very lively and interesting debate. But threads about gay issues are rare and we still need to know that CBBC boards aren't being selectively censored, for example by removing threads about homophobic bullying etc.

Thursday was the start of LGBT history month, and finally I heard back from some other contacts outside the BBC. There was general agreement that the present policy of discrimination cannot continue.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The second person I'm covering for LGBT history month, like Ethel Smyth, was a significant figure in the fight for rights and human equality - Bayard Rustin.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Bayard was born in Pennsylvania, USA where he was raised by his mother's parents. The values he held dear of pacifism and racial equality were probably those passed down by his surrogate parents. As a young man Rustin joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and argued against discriminatory laws.

In 1932 Bayard attended Wilberforce University founded by African Americans, in the town of Wilberforce, Ohio, named after the abolitionist, William Wilberforce. During the next thirty years or so he had several run-ins with the law, including, in 1953, a charge relating to his sexuality, for which he received a short term of imprisonment.

Bayard helped organise a peaceful protest - the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which took place in 1963. By that time he had persuaded his friend Martin Luther King Jr, that a peaceful struggle in the mould of Mahatma Gandhi was the best way forward to achieve civil rights in America.

The year before his death Bayard Rustin declared that the "barometer" of human rights had become the lesbian and gay community which, he said, was the community "most easily mistreated."

More about Bayard Rustin

Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's February. And here in Britain that means it's LGBT history month.

Apart from the usual type posts, this month I'll be including a few about the lives of some lgbt people. My first person is the composer and women's rights campaigner, Ethel Smyth.

Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

Ethel Smyth was born on 22 or 23 April 1858. She became interested in music when quite young and studied composition in Leipzig, the town where Bach had worked for the latter part of his life. Her most celebrated opera is The Wreckers where, as in Daphne Du Maurier's novel Jamaica Inn, the central theme is wrecking off the Cornwall coast.

But it wasn't music and composition alone that interested Ethel. She was a very individualistic person, and started to wonder why women should be treated as second class. She became a political activist and composed March of the Women to the words of Cicely Hamilton.

A little later Ethel became involved in a direct action campaign to break the windows of politicians who spoke out against women's rights. She received a sentence of two months in Holloway prison, and was said to have used her toothbrush to conduct the March of the Women leaning from her cell window, with women prisoners marching and singing along in the quadrangle.

British women over 30 years old were eventually granted the vote in 1918, but had to wait for a further ten years before they had the right to vote on equal terms with men.

In 1922 Ethel Smyth was honoured with a DBE, to become Dame Ethel Smyth.

More about Dame Ethel Smyth