Martin Kelner: How's a fellow to know when he can say 'dyke'?

We heterosexual males will always tie ourselves in knots if we try to be terribly modern
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When I asked one of my lesbian friends yesterday if she objected to the term "dyke," she shrugged in a fairly non-committal way. This did not help much; even less so when I discovered she was not a lesbian after all. I could have sworn... It seems my expertise in this field is less than perfect, which is why I may be the ideal person to comment on Richard Madeley's recent dyke-related difficulties.

It was during an in-depth item on tanning (gosh, I really must start watching that Richard and Judy show) that the 48-year-old TV presenter referred to one of his guests as a dyke. He later said he thought he was using the word to describe a woman's sexuality "in a fashionable hip way".

And there is the rub. Madeley's problem is nothing to do with homophobia, it is generational. It is his compulsion to get down with da kids - that new Marc Antony comb forward is a dead giveaway - that has earned him his mild rebuke.

As a member of the same generation as Richard, and a semi-professional broadcaster myself, I can sympathise. When you read about a new play on the Edinburgh Fringe this year called Dykes On Bikes (actually this may not be strictly true, life being marginally too short to allow for examination of the fine detail of the extravagantly overblown Fringe programme, but the principle holds), and lady homosexuals routinely refer to themselves as dykes in personal ads, how are old geezers like me and Richard expected to predict that some people will object to the epithet?

To determine just how offensive the word is, I put it in the hands of Google, which is usually quite reliable in these circumstances (a search for "Jew", for instance, produces a warning that some results may be very disturbing; in other words, welcome to a world of mouth-foaming anti-Semites).

No problem with "dyke," though. The first three sites I found were, dykesworld, and, all of them produced by ladies of Sapphic inclination - I was six sites down before I got to those fine musicians, the Black Dyke Band - happily calling each other dykes with a gay abandon (I know, I know) that would make Channel 4's lawyers blanch.

Those lawyers, to whom the "dyke" complaint was ludicrously referred, said they felt it would have been better had Madeley not used the term, but the presenter thought it was no longer offensive, "and was now accepted by the gay community".

Another big mistake, Richard. There is no community based on people's sexual preferences. My tastes in that area, for instance, are, I suppose, roughly similar to those of Sir Trevor Brooking, George Bush, the Chief Rabbi, and Justin Hayward, former lead singer of The Moody Blues, but the idea that we form some sort of heterosexual community, with broadly similar views on matters of taste, is clearly ludicrous.

I am afraid, Richard, that the kind of pathetic humourless loser who goes whining to Ofcom because a monosyllable on teatime TV has put him off his spaghetti hoops is as likely to be attracted to those equipped with similar genitalia as to those with complementary plumbing.

Richard and Judy's show, as it happens, has a good share of the homosexual audience, as Judy, my gay friends tell me, is considered something of a fag hag (a lady of vaguely cartoonish appearance, appealing to gentlemen not usually taken by members of the opposite sex), so there is a good chance that at least some of those accusing Richard of homophobia may be part of the "community" with which the presenter was striving so self-consciously to connect.

Notice I say "gay" friends - although with the current state of my gaydar, they may well be running their sex lives on the lines of Sven Goran Eriksson - rather than "queer," despite the fact that the q-word has now been reclaimed by what Richard refers to as the gay community.

The truth is that however much is written about the new rockin' and rollin', Harley Davidson-riding 50-year-olds, white, middle-class, middle-aged, able-bodied heterosexual males like Richard and me will always tie ourselves in knots if we try to and be terribly modern, and ingratiate ourselves with minorities of which we are not a member.

One solution, of course, is to pretend the world has not changed since 1958, but I do not see Teatime With Judy and Boris Johnson as a ratings winner for Channel 4. I have a better idea.

It occurred to me some years ago, when I was reported to the Broadcasting Standards Council for the use of the word "bugger", which is more or less a term of affection in the North, where I come from (I was actually rather thrilled when told I was up before the Broadcasting Standards Council. I thought it was like a Sony award). Several cassettes were wasted on copies of the offending extract of my radio show, meetings were held, and I had to write a few hundred words putting the shocking word into context, before the complaint was dismissed.

I thought then - and it definitely holds true for the piffling complaint against Richard Madeley - that the way to get round this problem is simply for Ofcom and all the other regulatory bodies to employ someone specifically to tell all such complainants, irrespective of race, creed, disability, body shape, or sexual inclination, to go boil their head (in those exact words).