Getting In Early

Robin Maugham, author of “The Servant” and nephew of Somerset Maugham, wrote his life story in his early middle age because “most writers leave it until senility sets in before even starting on the autobiographies.”

In an exclusive interview with Gay News he said: “I chose this time to write about my life because I think many people leave their autobiographies too late. Either their mentality’s gone or their energy’s sapped. Anyway, they’re insipid.

“I found it terribly hard to write about my sexuality. It was worst writing about the girl I married. I sent off the manuscript to her, and she sent it back to me and said I’d been terribly hard on myself.

“I think the normal person, male or female, is bisexual. I do think far too many people label someone as queer whereas they are bisexual. I would like to think that I have done some tiny little bit to make things better in England.”

Many of Robin Maugham’s works attack the English Establishment, but he’s very much a product of English society.

He says: “Surely it’s possible to be pro-England and anti-Establishment.

“Like many young men who were conscientious objectors during the war, I went off to fight for England. I feel that sort of patriotism.

“But I feel it’s more than silly that I’m only allowed to spend 90 days a year in the country one loves.”

During 1972 Robin Maugham was allowed to stay in his beloved mother country for only 20 days. He says: “I love England and it’s terrific in summer to see all those boys … and girls … wandering around in those marvellous clothes they have these days. But the country has some silly totting-up system, and because of an operation I had here and my two heart attacks, I’m not allowed to stay here more than 20 days this year.”

When Gay News met Maugham he was on his way out again. This time to Ibiza – where he does most of his writing – with his unpretentious entouragette of Peter Burton (who was Jeremy’s best friend, once) and Michael Davidson, who wrote The World, The Flesh and Myself (an early gay book, a sort of Around the World in 80 Boys).

Robin Maugham doesn’t do much writing in England these days, if only because his 90 day sojourns aren’t long enough to keep the author of the Servant among other things, busy. But his autobiography had to be written in Ibiza, he found.

“I found it a lot easier to write about my life at a distance from English society, especially the bits about my homosexuality.”

To save his old friends and their lawyers trouble and distress, Maugham invented “Jim” as a name for his lovers in the autobiography

What was life with Jim like? Maugham answers: “I thought of the device of Jim, so I used Jim, and Jim became almost real. Peter and I felt we knew him in the end.

“Christopher Isherwood in a letter to me says Jim was one of the best things I’ve written.”

The middle-aged man hung on the swivel chair is the nephew of Somerset Maugham, as well as being an author in his own right. “I was influenced by the people around Willy as much as by Willy himself. There were E.M. Forster, G.B. Stone and Harold Nicholson, with whom I had a deep relationship.

“Willy was a very good man and friend earlier on, but in his declining years he became a bit of a monster, and that’s what everyone remembers him as, unfortunately.

“When I had my first novel published at the age of 19, he switched from helping me to almost a positive dislike.”

The reason why Robin Maugham prefers to work in Ibiza is encapsulated in a sentence of Harold Nicholson’s he quotes: ‘Most English writers have a constant nursery governess looking over their shoulders.’

The governess who cramps English writers is English society, and “the English establishment is changing again, in its usual way. Not by revolution but by evolution.

“But it hasn’t changed much yet. Some female said in The Sun that my book was disgusting and obscene. I can only take that as a compliment.

“When Willy published his first novel in 1897 a writer for Vanity Fair wrote, and I’m translating from Spanish now, ‘Mr Maugham must abandon this type of wrok. He has put his nostrils in the gutter and come out with filth.’ That may not be strictly accurate but it’s a translation of a translation.”

Many of Maugham’s books are travel books. That’s why there’s so little about places in his autobiography. He says: “I’ve been bored very, very seldom, largely because I have had amusing friends.”

Life in Ibiza is ordered for Maugham and his circle. He says: “I get enormous satisfaction from working fast, and every time I finish a book I always feel I’ll never be able to start another.

“I go to bed at what you might call a ridiculously early hour, so I can get up and write early.”

Peter Burton, who’s been silent until now, says: “Do you remember when we celebrated New Year at five in the afternoon?”

He does. The taxi arrives to take him to the airport. The last question, what was the most difficult part of your life to write about?

Maugham says “The end. Writing the end had tears streaming down my face.”

Robin Maugham’s autobiography Escape from the Shadows is published by Hodder and Stoughton. £3.50.

Up The Creek

DELIVERANCE, Produced and directed by John Boorman, written by James Dickey from his own novel. With Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox. Panavision, Technicolor. Distributed by Columbia-Warner Distributors.

Deliverance has been sold — to a certain extent – as the latest commercial product to hit London’s West End to contain a strong ‘gay’ content.

But after Stephen Murphy and Warner Communications have put away their scissors, there isn’t much of the famous male rape scene left — it’s a scene that got past the censors in every other country, in America and Europe but it’s one that’s lost 40 seconds in Britain.

Echoes here of what Warners did to Performance before showing it to John Trevelyan, the then-secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, and even then it was still cut some. The scene that we never got to see was James Fox and Mick Jagger making love, the scene that drove Fox into the arms of Jesus.

But the movie I’m supposed to be discussing is Deliverance. It’s a fine movie, but I just can’t bring myself to like it. And I don’t think it’s because I feel cheated at the rape scene. In fact, I didn’t feel at all cheated by that.

My main gripe (and that’s all it is) is that there’s a strong feeling of deja vu about Deliverance. Especially for those of us movie-buffs old enough to have seen The Misfits.

Deliverance is about a group of men trying to make the last canoe journey down a rapid-packed river (which is about to be turned into a reservoir). But they come to this confrontation with nature as city-bred men. The cruellest clash comes when two rough mountain men grab two of the party of four. They tie one up and bugger the other.

The city adventurers kill them both and hide the bodies under the rapidly rising waters of the reservoir.

I went expecting great things of Deliverance and felt a little cheated. Go with less expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it more.

One thing’s for sure, it’s a powerful statement about the degrading quality of American life. Perhaps the all-male cast does something to expose the phoniness of the wife-and-kids-at-home syndrome.

There’s a marvellous bit where Voight drops his wallet which contains his Diners Club Card and photo of his wife and kids, a photo that’s exactly like a credit card.

All the same, it’s a bit like the Misfits-On-lce-Under-Water.

Peter Holmes

More Deliverance

DELIVERANCE is one of the truly fantastic films of 1972, an explosion of the violence some of us feel about the way in which our world is being raped of the greenness, wildness, and the ways of living, which enable us to use some form of ingenuity and inventiveness, and to some extent, none of the four middle class, superficially stereotyped American suburban males, who go on a life-risking canoe trip down a rapid ridden river in cosy hamburger-ridden America’s last wilderness, accept this condition, albeit in some cases only semi-consciously. The men who live in desperate poverty in all ways except spiritually, in this wilderness, associate all outsiders with the bastards who are going to build a hydro-electric dam across their river and flood their valley, their 1920s idyll of undeveloped technology — rusty cars, straw hats, blue denim overalls and fishing. The now famous rape scene reverses the process; the man who gets raped is the one in the canoeing party who most symbolises the suburban horror. He’s fat and balding, working for an insurance company, looks like an oversized french fry.

Like all overtly realistic films. Deliverance is a mass of conflicts as it manifests Man’s dilemma. The leader of the canoe party who seems the one most anxious to return to Life, uses all his urban male chauvinist aggression, as he treats the locals like shits while remorselessly spearing fish and loving the river The guy who claims he’s been dragged along, doesn’t know why he’s there, would rather be home playing golf, is the one who finds it most difficult to spear and shoot.

This is a desperate film. Man is running round in ever-decreasing desperate circles. See it — you might find you are too.

David Seligman