A fitting testament to Oscar Wilde: a monumental row over gay politics

OSCAR WILDE could almost be heard chuckling from the grave yesterday. On the 98th anniversary of his death, the playwright imprisoned for his homosexuality gained a strange and belated revenge on the British Establishmen, with a cast list to die for.

It was a day that saw - all in the cause of Oscar - Peter Mandelson's name raised in a discussion of homosexuality, this time by Yes, Minister actor Nigel Hawthorne; an embarrassed BBC interviewer attempting to shut Hawthorne up, and the openly gay Culture Secretary Chris Smith thanking Wilde for what he had done "for our community".

Last night Nigel Hawthorne told The Independent he was furious to have been silenced on air: "I'm so angry. The BBC should be ashamed of itself. I was vetoed. That is hypocrisy of the worst sort. I am already receiving support. Alan Bennett has left a fax on my machine saying, `Well said'."

The day had started innocently enough with the unveiling of a statue to Wilde in central London in which Hawthorne gave a reading with Dame Judi Dench. The statue, by artist Maggi Hambling, entitled A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, depicts Wilde in bronze rising from his granite sarcophagus. The sarcophagus forms a seat on which passers-by may sit and engage in suitable conversation with him. It invoked the scary prospect of every inebriated wit and would-be wit in London mouthing aphorisms at midnight. But there was a hint that this was a little more than just a piece of public art when Mr Smith thanked Wilde for enlivening both his own life "and the life of our community".

But it was Hawthorne, in what the BBC saw as a display of indiscretion, who said that Mr Mandelson was in danger of being turned into a gay "martyr" like the Irish playwright.

Mr Hawthorne was appearing live on BBC TV's One O'Clock News to discuss the statue. The presenter, Ed Stourton, asked Mr Hawthorne: "Is there a wider significance to this or is it just a rather entertaining sculpture?"

Mr Hawthorne replied: "I think there is a wider significance. Listening to the news, as I've been doing for the last five or 10 minutes, and hearing about Peter Mandelson ..."

In a clear attempt to follow a recent BBC memo forbidding unnecessary reference to politicians' private lives, Mr Stourton then cut in to ask the actor not to talk about "specific individuals".

But Mr Hawthorne persisted: "If you don't talk about individuals, then you miss the whole point of this. I think that it's purely that society picks on these individuals and turns them into martyrs very often, which is exactly what happened to Oscar Wilde."

The BBC bulletin had earlier featured a report in which Martin Dowle, a representative of the British Council in Rio de Janeiro, had vehemently denied that he had accompanied Mr Mandelson to gay nightclubs in the city. Mr Dowle said that the attacks on himself and Mr Mandelson were "like something out of Kafka".

He claimed that a comment in the House by William Hague referring to "Lord Mandelson of Rio" was a smear.

Both men had decided not to respond to the allegations for fear of giving them greater publicity, but Mr Dowle said that Mr Hague's comments had forced his hand. "I think it is disgraceful for William Hague to take innuendo, lies and smears as part of a process of destruction of the lives of professional people," he said.

Mr Hague's office in turn denied the charge and said that he had been objecting instead to the cost of the trip rather than Mr Mandelson's private life.

But on such a politically fraught day, it was also worth remembering that Wilde should be celebrated for wit as much as for sexual politics and fighting prejudice. Fortunately, his great-grandson Lucian Holland, a student at Oxford, showed he had inherited some of it.

At the unveiling of the statue he told the assembled crowd: "Going to Ireland and seeing the beautiful houses that once belonged to the family, it struck me that if Oscar hadn't blown it all, they might still be ours."

Tatchell in court, page 3

A wilfully tacky sculpture, Review Front

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?