The Hunt for the Gay Whale, Radio 4, Tuesday
The Heath Caper, Radio 4, Monday
Out of the closet with chimps, dolphins and Ted
When I was growing up we had an Alsatian called Ben. Ben was definitely gay. We tried to get him breeding, but he was so not interested. And he would only sniff boy dogs' privates. He might have featured in The Hunt for the Gay Whale, in which Hermione Cockburn looked at some of the 1,500 animal species who swing both ways.
The programme opened with "Birds do it, bees do it…", but the song could have gone on to mention male bighorn sheep, who bond by licking each other's genitals, river dolphins with their "penile fencing" and blowhole-related activity – and let's hear it for the bonobo chimps and their "freewheeling bisexual sex lives that are more Haight-Ashbury than Animal Magic".
The programme was at pains to stress that it's not really "gay" behaviour as such. Bonobo society is matriarchal, for example, and gals getting it on fosters cohesion. And some animals just aren't that fussy. As Alan Dixson, top dog in the bisexual-beast department, puts it: "There's no guilt, no cultural inhibition, so why wouldn't they do it?"
When I was growing up we had a prime minister called Ted Heath. Like Ben, he was gay – possibly. The Czech secret service apparently thought so, and Josef Frolik, who defected in the 1970s, wrote a memoir recounting a plot to blackmail Heath involving a virtuoso organist and the biggest organ in Prague.
In The Heath Caper, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera teased out the truth – well, the probable truth, or definitely the possible truth. It turns out – maybe – to have been the work of British right-wingers to whom Heath was a raving socialist. They appear to have written passages into the book aiming to sully Heath's good name.
Corera spoke to a former MI6 man about George Kennedy Young, the spy-turned politician who seems to have been behind the scheme. Was he plotting against Grocer Heath? "Plotting's a nasty word," the spook chided. "'Preparing,' I prefer." There is no evidence, but it looks as if it was the work of Young. "Answers remain elusive," Corera concluded – but it was a terrific tale.
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