1 9 7 5 (UK)
1 x 85 minute episode
John Hurt won a BAFTA best actor award for Thames Television’s The Naked Civil Servant, a 1975 television play based on the autobiography of 67-year-old Quentin Crisp.
Quentin Crisp was born Denis Pratt on Christmas Day 1908. As an openly gay man in a much less tolerant era, he suffered constant abuse and rejection in his quest to “make them understand”.
He may or may not have made society understand homosexuality, but he certainly raised awareness of it, and you could argue that freedom of sexual choice would not be as accepted today were it not for his courage and determination.
The Naked Civil Servant was not only enthralling and deliciously shocking, it was also a breakthrough in television’s treatment of the effeminate homosexual. At last, one was presented as seeing the funny side of the conundrum and being brave, too.
Crisp was a government employee (hence the civil servant of the title) but had also been a one-time model at an art school, a prostitute and a graphic artist. He wore makeup, dyed his hair and lived by his own rules in his dirty Soho flat. He was a martyr for homosexual freedom, often beaten up but never shut up.
John Hurt’s unforgettable performance as Crisp won him a BAFTA for Best Actor, while director Jack Gold won the Academy’s highest commendation, the Desmond Davies Award, for outstanding creative contribution to television.
Credit for the film’s success also goes to screenwriter Philip Mackie and producer Verity Lambert. Perhaps the highest praise is Crisp’s christening of John Hurt as his “representative on earth.”
The Naked Civil Servant was viewed in about 3.5 million homes, and from its survey sample surmised that 85 per cent of the audience did not find the material shocking, while almost half felt they understood and sympathised with Crisp’s difficulties.
It was revealed later that both the BBC and the IBA had had jitters about the programme. More amusingly, the IBA had censored a line of the script – Out went “sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation”. In its place went “wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?”
The real Quentin Crisp moved to New York in 1980 and wrote various books and articles, and appeared in numerous television programs and documentaries. Crisp died on 21 November 1999, on the eve of a sold-out British tour of his one-man show. He was remembered with much affection in obituaries.
Roger Lloyd Pack