The foot soldiers of the Empire fought wars by day and slept with local women by night. The lasting impact of this sexual colonisation is explored in a fascinating documentary, Ruling Passions; says Eddie Gibb.
The story of sex in the Empire is riddled with racism. repression and the clap. At the turn ofthe century. it was estimated that over half the Indian Army was scratching a syphilitic itch. Military-run brothels were set up to control the epidemic but the army‘s role as procurer of local women caused such a moral outcry in Britain they had to close.
The soldiers were back on the streets taking their chances. Contracting a sexually-transmitted disease was punishable by endless square—bashing in the stiﬂing heat. but the pre-penicillin treatments were worse — mercury pellets rubbed into the privates (and every other rank) or the administering of near-toxic doses of arsenic compounds.
Ruling Passions has its humorous moments. such as the Ealing comedy retired colonel talking about the desire of ‘physically fit men’ for female company. while another soldier remembers with squirming embarrassment the attentions of young Indian boys who can only be described as ‘hand-job wallahs'. One daughter of the Raj talks of the perceived threat of the sexually-aroused black man in rather more direct terms than she intended: ‘We had a feeling that one day all ofthern would get on top of us all.‘ You know what she meant.
But the real story is the way attitudes to sex were
f inextricably linked to the treatment of the native
people in occupied territories. If the Victorian conquerors were already inhibited in their attitudes to sex at home. adding the racial dimension abroad tied them in knots. By day they were quelling uprisings by native people. by night they were sleeping with them. The notion ofthe white man as naturally superior was the only way of squaring this perverse circle of domination. disgust and attraction.
Producer David Wilson. himself born into a family with a long tradition ofcolonial service. found many ofthe former army officers who spoke about their experiences on camera treated the interviews almost as a confessional. Guilt at the way women in India and central Africa were treated remains. ‘What I realised very quickly was that people were constrained by their circumstances.‘ adds Wilson. ‘We should be aware of that today.‘
For young men stationed abroad. this was a first taste of freedom. and myths about the exotic. and erotic. East had already ﬁrmly taken hold. The first programme. Forbidden l’rurl. shows that some of the earliest blue movies were filled with images of belly dancers shedding veils like confetti. But hand in hand
Ruling Passions; 'fit young men had a desire for female company'
with this fascination was polite colonial society's abhorrence. at least publicly. of any kind of contact between races. Discretion was vital. ‘If you frightened the horses it was seen as bad for the Empire.‘ says Wilson. ‘Looking at this area gives an insight into the kind of institution the Empire was. Sex is where feelings were most private and most strong but they were brushed under the carpet.‘
Wilson argues that these complex feelings of sexual confusion are the key to understanding what made the Empire tick. and more importantly how it left an indelible stamp on attitudes to race today. ‘Why has Charles Wardle [the recently-departed immigration minister] just resigned? It‘s because of immigrants. and not immigrants from iiurope.‘ he says.
Tragedy continues today in many former colonies. In Kenya. backstreet brothels created earlier this century by the soldiers' determination to buy sex still traps women in a cycle of poverty and degradation. It's reckoned that in one brothel area of Nairobi. ()0 per cent of prostitutes carry the HIV virus. and still they agree to unprotected sex. Ruling l’assimrs tells an important story.
Ruling Passions begins on Mom/(1v 27 l't'ln‘uurv (m BBCZ. ' '
Board of life
The phenomenon of the urban surfer - handy with the Zen aphorisms but wouldn’t know a rip curl from a kiss curl - has already been explored in the us sitcom Big Wave Dave’s, shown recently on Channel 4. Set in a Florida surf shop, the search for the perfect wave was a metaphor for life - don’t let it break over your head and dump you in the sand.
Ilow surf’s up in British comedyland with Game On, a six-parter set in a suburban flatshare. The jokes revolve around Matt, a beach Adonis who’s never been beyond Leigh-on-Sea and spends an inordinate amount of time waxing his board. But for all his slacker style and talk of catching the
vibe, Matt’s the landlord whose wide- boy flash surfaces frequently. In to help with the mortgage are dull Martin, a bank clerk with a sex life to
Game on: Martin, Mandy and Matt catch a comedy wave match, and brassy Mandy who’s never
short of offers.
So far, so what, you may ask, but Game (in looks like succeeding where
many British sitcoms fail, keeping a gag running beyond the set-up and delivery of the punchlines. Good flatmate comedies like The Young Ones are funny not because of a succession of one-liners but by capturing the banter of communal life. Game On makes a fair stab at the same.
With the inevitable surfboard-as- ironing-board gag out of the way early, Game On settles into the groove with a steady stream of chat which allows the three main characters to develop some kind of life of their own. The language, though sanitised, is crude enough to be real, resorting only occasionally to the music hall euphemisms of so much television comedy. How radical . . . man. (Eddie Gibb)
Game On starts on 27 February on 8802.
The List 24 Feb-9 Mar l995 75