Less than two years ago Richard Scanes was a public health inspector with a reputation for pulling the girls. Now he’s Tricky Dicky, the gay dee-jay who’s given up the pretence of living a straight life, but puts all his energy every night of the week into getting gays to come out and into their home surroundings.
Tricky Dicky has a discotheque booking every night of the week in places well out of the usual gay areas. And that’s one of his aims, he told Gay News. He started at The Father Red Cap in Camberwell, now he has discos at The Kings Arms in Liverpool Street and the Arabian in Bethnal Green as well as monthly discos in Southend and the occasional shuffle up the Thames.
He told GN: “Usually a gay stays anonymous in his home area and only takes off his protective overcoat when he gets to Earls Court and the gay ghettoes, as they have beer called in Gay News.
“What’s happening now is that people are opening gay bars and gay discos in their areas and it’s possible for the gay to come out in the East End, and we’ve got to learn to do that.
“The places I work at are in the middle of nowhere, but then all the big discotheques are in the West End. Now DJs are taking discotheques to the people. I offer people a show of the same standard as they’ll get in a West End club but in the area they live in.
“And in the places I work gay people have the liberty they should have. You go to the Catacombs and try dancing together there. All these big names won’t let boys dance together, perhaps they are being leant on, but all that they have is something like a parade.
“At my discos the gay boys and gay girls can dance together and no-one is going to say a word. This time last year you wouldn’t have seen gay people dancing together.”
Now Tricky Dicky is playing sounds for gay girls and men to dance to every night of the week, thanks to his break at the Father Redcap.
He says: “About 18 months ago I had heard that the governor of the Father Redcap was gay and I phoned him and said ‘I am gay, I am a DJ’ and he gave me the chance to get started.
“Now it’s up to three nights a week disco there and one night of stage show, when I play records and do impressions. I might put on a wig or something like that, but I wouldn’t wear full drag. At present I’m formulating my act for Leader of the Pack.
“The Redcap would like me to do more evenings a week, but I want to get discos going in other areas, so I won’t increase the number of nights I spend there.”
He says he tries to make his evening’s work more entertaining than just someone putting on a record after another. He plans the evening’s show. But that’s not the only thing he plans. He says: “Gay discos can get bigger and better, and that’s what we’re working on now. In fact, we are something like six or eight years behind straight discotheques. There always have been gay places in the West End, but one day there’ll be strings of gay discotheques all over London and in the bigger provincial towns.
“Maybe it won’t be Tricky Dicky who’ll be running them, but, at least, I’ll have done something towards making them possible. I’m in this business to make money. I wouldn’t pretend otherwise, but my main aim is to entertain my fellow gays, and to play my favourite sort of music – soul music, which has a very strong following among gays.”
We spoke to him one Thursday night. The night before he’d done The Arabian in Bethnal Green. “Last night,” he said cheerfully, “I made £1.50. No-one can say I’m making a fortune at that rate. The Southend trips I’ve run have made a small profit. The Brighton trip made a small loss. And the riverboat shuffle – well, I thought I was going to be running the thing at a loss until the night when all the people turned up. By the Wednesday before I’d only sold about 60 tickets. It looked like being a disaster.”
But the prospect of a financial disaster doesn’t stop Tricky Dicky ploughing the money he makes back into equipment and other stunts. He insists that gay mobile discos must be the same high quality as you’d get in a major West End club and that gays must have a parallel of every event that the straight world organises for itself. If there are straight New Year’s parties, he says, there should be gay New Year’s parties. That’s why he’ll be featuring all the Christmassy tracks by soul singers later next month.
Of the 170 gays at his last disco at South-end, only 50 came with Tricky Dicky from London.
For the 32-year-old DJ that’s a success because “it’s something like treble the number we had at the one before, the first one. And it means that 120 gays from all round Southend got a chance to go to a gay disco, and they don’t get that chance very often.”
Tricky Dicky is trying to find new places to hold gay discos. He’d like to have a place in North London. At present, he’s south of the river at Camberwell and in East London. Being at two places in the East End pleases Dick no end. “There must be just as many gays per square mile in the East End as there are in Earls Court. And I’m an East Ender born and bred. Only about five years ago there were about four or five pubs you could single out as being gay. But they’ve changed now, I don’t know why, so someone has got to give the East End gays a social life.”
For someone who is working almost full-time for gays – apart from weddings on Saturday afternoons – Tricky Dicky is fairly recently come-out. He says: “When I was a public health inspector, until 18 months ago, I pretended to be straight, because there weren’t any other gay public health inspectors. At least, there weren’t as far as I could see.
“I really started to come out when I was 25, when I broke off my engagement. No-one could understand why. I was only three months off being married before I realised which path to take.
“When I told my mates I was gay most of them said ‘You’re kidding’. But then I had been going up to the Ilford Palais with them pulling the birds and trying to lay them in the back of cars. They couldn’t believe I was gay because I seemed so normal to them.
“One thing I’ve noticed about the way people behave through my discos is people coming up and saying ‘You’re camp up on stage,’ but they never thought that when I was pretending to be straight. I think it shows that a lot of people’s everyday behaviour can be interpreted as ‘camp’ if others want to see it that way.
“If we are going to have parallels between gay entertainment and straight entertainment, it means we have to have equality in the quality of the entertainment on offer, as well as equality in social life.
“If that’s what gay equality means then I’m doing what these GLF and CHE people are supposed to be working for. There are enough people worrying about the politics of equality, so I’m just giving the people equality in my way. I’ve never been very keen on GLF, but then I’ve only seen it from the outside.
“All I saw was the intense political side, which is what you see from the outside. But then, most people can only see it from the outside until they get into it. And if the outside appearances put them off they’re never going to get into the inside to see it from that way round.”
We suggested there was more toleration of gays in the East End then in the middle class areas of West London. As an East Ender, Tricky Dicky knew the answer: “The East End boy learns a lot more about sex from experience than from education. And in the East End brothers very often have to sleep together, so they get used to the idea of sleeping with boys. And as any healthy boy is going to start masturbating when he reaches puberty, sex between brothers is looked on as something very normal, and no-one thinks it’s odd or gay or at all out of the ordinary.
“I think gays find greater acceptance from the older people in the East End, but less tolerance from the younger people.”
With the US elections only a few weeks back, Tricky Dicky was at pains to explain that his name is nothing to do with Richard Millhouse Nixon. “It was a nickname a girl in my office gave me,” he says. “I was having a bit of a thing with her, nothing sexual, mind. And it was long before Nixon became president.”