50 Years Legal
Sunday 17th February 2019, 19:00-21:30
Country of Origin: UK
Length: 90 min (1hr 30 min)
Director: Simon Napier-Bell
Directed and written by legendary rock promoter Simon Napier-Bell, created to coincide with the 50 anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, this is an engaging but informative journey through LGBT history in UK since 1967 and how changes in politics and social attitudes, for better or worse, have evolved over the subsequent decades.
The documentary features interviews with a veritable who’s who of leading LGBT activists and cultural commentators from across the generations, discussing topics such as homophobia, acceptance, diversity and gender identity. There are personal accounts from actors such as Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, singers such Sir Elton John, Marc Almond, Will Young and Olly Alexander, and comedians such as Matt Lucas and Stephen K. Amos. Trans activists such as Jake Graff and Paris Lee offer honest reflection alongside journalists such as Matthew Todd and Matthew Paris and politicians such as Lord Cashman and Angela Eagle. Simon Napier-Bell established a name for himself in 60s as manager of groups such as The Yardbirds but subsequently went on to manage T Rex, Wham! and George Michael. 50 Years Legal is both a celebration of battles won and lives lived, but also in Simon Napier-Bell’s own words, “the overwhelming conclusion of the film is that it’s not so much tolerance that overcomes prejudice as familiarity. Letting everyone live their life the way they want to without feeling the need to interfere”.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT – ‘50 YEARS LEGAL’
My original idea for 50 Years Legal was to interview a cross-section of people – both celebrities and ordinary folk – about gay life since decriminalisation in the 60s, then edit it into a chatty piece of entertainment. Within a day of starting I realised it was impossible. The resulting programme would be at least four hours long and I’d only been asked to make a 90-minute film.
Instead, I would have to stick to one central theme and follow it closely. And because the Sexual Offences act of 1967 was only a partial decriminalisation, and for many gays made things worse rather than better, the film became the fight for equal rights.
The list of celebrities who agreed to talk was amazing, so much so that the ordinary people I’d planned to use too had to be dropped.
My first surprise was the activist streak I found in nearly everyone I talked to, even those in whom I’d never before observed it. And as the interviews progressed I began to feel I’d been a rather lazy gay these last fifty years. Perhaps I should have done more to help. On the other hand, as person after person stressed that activism need involve little more than just being openly gay and uncowed, I felt better. At least I’d always been that.
The progress that’s been made from the very partial decriminalisation of 1967, until 2017 when gay marriage was made legal, to today’s openness in discussing transsexual matters, is amazing. In the 70s and 80s, gays could still be prosecuted for exchanging phone numbers or having sex in a hotel bedroom. Today, in law at least, there is complete equality with straight life. And the film charts that progress.
It was achieved by a blend of arts and activism. Both Stephen Fry and Michael Cashman make the point that while marching and protesting in public were important, it was always the arts that led the political agenda. Whether it was Peter Finch and Murray Head with the first screen kiss, Quentin Crisp with his breathtaking flamboyance in the Naked Civil Servant, or Tom Robinson’s passionately angry ‘Glad to be Gay’, it was always artists that broke the ice. The work of political activists was to convert the public’s increasing acceptance into law before it could backslide.
The overwhelming conclusion of the film is that it’s not so much tolerance that overcomes prejudice as familiarity. Letting everyone live their life the way they want to without feeling the need to interfere. (But with laws in place just in case.)
Fortunately, we’re almost there. And at the end of the film, Matthew Parris perfectly sums up the progress that’s been made.
‘These days fewer people give a toss.’
Short biography Simon Napier-Bell
Simon Napier-Bell is rock manager, author, film maker and public speaker. Artists he’s managed include The Yardbirds, Ultravox, T Rex, Marc Bolan, Japan, Asia, Candi Staton, Boney M, Sinéad O’Connor, Wham, and George Michael. He co-wrote the song You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. He has also written four best-selling music business books: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Black Vinyl White Powder, I’m Coming To Take You To Lunch, and Ta–Ra–Ra–Boom–De–Ay. Recently he directed three documentary films, To be Frank, Sinatra at 100 – 27, Gone Too Soon – and 50 Years Legal, marking 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. He is CEO of Pierbel Group, which offers music management and consultancy, and is originating producer of Raiding the Rock Vault, the No 1 rated music show in Las Vegas, and Raiding the Country Vault, in Branson, Missouri.