Monday, 6 December 2010

How bona to vada your eekbook

Today Facebook launched their new profile. Which gives one the option of stating which languages you speak? You only get a list from a drop down box to choose from but some of the more unusual are Klingon, Elvish and Pandoran. Also on the list is Polari.
Polari what is that some of you will be crying out.
Well, Polari was a language used from the 14th century by those on the criminal fringes of British society. Criminals, Prostitutes and Homosexuals. This was when being homosexual was against the law. By the end of the second world war Polari had fallen out of favour with all but homosexual groups. At that point gay men especially were subject to intense suspicion and it was still against the law to be gay. So Polari was the lingua franca of the gay community. It came to a much wider audience through the characters Julian and Sandy two Bona omies encountered on a regular basis each week by Kenneth Horne in the Radio series 'Round the Horne'. Julian and Sandy were played by Hugh Paddock and Kenneth Williams. However it wasn't the first time that Williams had spoken in Polari on the radio. In the pilot episode of 'Hancock's Half Hour' Williams played over half a dozen characters one of them 'Coatsleeve Charlie' was a henchman of Sid James and he and James conversed in Polari. Coatsleeve Charlie has to go down as one of radios most ill conceived characters he got his name because he was always wiping his running nose on the sleeve of his coat. The sound effect of this was a bit off putting to say the least. But this does illustrate the duality of Polari as it was as much associated with the petty criminal world of Sidney Balmoral James as much as with the Homosexual wirlwind of Julian and Sandy. Some of the more common Polari words that have crossed over into English come not from 'Round the Horne' but from the Ronnie Barker vehicle 'Porridge'. Naff off, Basket, Nerk and Prag all come from Polari the latter a term for a turncoat even made it across the pond to find use in American prison drama 'Oz'. The polari word for casual sex, Shag, is very common and of course found it's way into the title of Mike Myers 'Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me' Austin Powers himself is bold enough to use a bit of Polari now and again. But Polari is a very old language and was causing people trouble long before the BBC censor realised he couldn't understand Julian and Sandy. The early serialised version of 'Oliver Twist' featured a lot of Polari from Dodger, Fagin and Nancy so much that Dickens had to tone it down for later editions.
Polari did go into a decline in the 80's and early 90's but with the re-mastering and rebroadcast of 'Round the Horne' in the late 90's it has been having somewhat of a revival.