I’m sick of men like Bill Roache ‘justifying’ their behaviour in the 1970s

Real chaps knew the difference between screen-based fantasy and real-life behaviour
  • @johnhenrywalsh

The Coronation Street actor Bill Roache, 80, has been doing a brilliant impression of a befuddled old git this week.

Interviewed on television in New Zealand, he banged on about his membership of the not-entirely-down-to-earth Pure Love Movement, and suggested that “if you know you are pure love and therefore live that pure love” then you won’t be the victim of sexual abuse. He later apologised, then blundered straight into a row about sexual misconduct.

This one has a familiar ring. Roache claimed that “things were different back in the 1970s” when it was perfectly acceptable for men to fondle girls they barely knew. “A lot of these offences that you’re talking about are just inappropriate touching, which 20, 30, 40 years ago, it was understood that you did,” said Roache, unsuccessfully striving for clarity. “In a way, that’s how you found out – if someone you touched inappropriately said don’t do that, you didn’t do that and that was the end of it.”

We’ve heard this self-exculpatory flannel a few times from TV personalities and disc jockeys, and I’m tired of it. Because I don’t recognise their picture of the 1970s as a constant orgy-in-waiting, in which men routinely touched women’s bodies expecting encouragement (until a woman inexplicably said “Don’t” and “that’s how you found out” she wasn’t keen); in which men could jiggle women’s breasts in the office or the pub or TV studio and pass it off as a matey greeting; where men could pinch women’s bottoms and be greeted with a blush and a murmur of “Cheeky!”

I recognise, however, that this stuff was standard behaviour on television and in movies in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In the days of Doctor in the House and The Benny Hill Show, girls signed up to appear on TV shows as jaunty assemblages of tits and nurses’ uniforms, nothing more, to be ogled, squeezed and chased.

The thing was, real chaps knew the difference between screen-based fantasy and real-life behaviour. They knew that if you pinched a girl’s bottom, it didn’t make you a lothario; it meant you were an arsehole (or a Wop. Or both). If you touched a female breast without being invited by its owner, you were a creep. If you put your arm around a female waist, it was OK and friendly but, you know, watch your step, matey. Things weren’t all that different from today. Girls might not have complained about “inappropriate touching” or know the phrase. But they were capable of saying, “Get your hands off me, needledick.” I bet Bill Roache heard the phrase a few thousand times.

So down to earth, Oscar

The first draft of Oscar Wilde’s sonnet to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, “The New Remorse”, has been discovered in a wardrobe in Oxfordshire. It’s being auctioned in two weeks. I’m more interested in a letter found alongside, in which Wilde replies to a Mr Morgan who’s asked his advice on a successful writing career.

“The best work in literature,” Wilde wrote, “is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread... Make some sacrifice for your art, and you will be repaid.” Well, well. How bracing to find exquisite Oscar, whom we usually imagine occupying the topmost room in Art’s ivory tower, recommending a day job. It makes one think twice about throwing it all in and retiring to Newquay to write that zombie-vampire-wizard erotic cookbook

Twitter: @JohnHenryWalsh