IT'S Y(’)t'R DRliA .\'l job. .-\ chance to do a bit ol‘ detective work for the organisation you loye. that has instilled a set of rock solid principles in your life. It’s also a chance to improve your standing. It‘s an opportunity not tnany women get. Then you start investigating the ‘crimes' and discover you‘re guilty ol them too. Suddenly you‘re the one being investigated and your glowing career is over.
This is what happened to Stat'l' Sergeant ('aroline \leagher ol the Royal Military Police. In the course ol' investigating Ieshianism in the army Britain is the only liuropean ('onununity country with a ban on homosexuals in the military ~ throughout the .s’tls. she came to realise that she too was a lesbian. Although she made no conl'cssion of her 'criine‘ during a harrowing interrogation. she was eattght otit by ﬁling liaudulent travel expenses l’or trips to see her girllriend and was ‘allowed to go‘. seeing out her service in (iuildl‘ord. (iuilty by suspicion.
That was in l‘)‘)l). “Now her story is being told by a vigorous new ('hannel 4 l‘eature-lcngth dratna ’l‘lti' Invavtt'gator. starring llelen llaxendale. The actress is last cementing a reputation l‘or playing conlident career women. and will shortly he seen in the archetypal role ot' this type. Lady Macbeth in (‘romwell l’roductions' big-screen .‘ltlt'lN'I/l.
llaxendale claims that playing a real person presented her with her greatest acting challenge so tar. btit .\leagher hersell' was on hand to show the actress the basics. like how to march arid salute properly
'I can't eyer imagine being in the army.‘ Haxendale says. ‘ll‘s really alien to the. \ot the lesbian issue -- I didn't ﬁnd that particularly hard just understanding the military mentality. l wanted to get a lecl ol' what it was about it that kept (‘aroline going. because it was a tnaior loye in her lilc.‘
\leagher says as much hersell. 'lt sounds peryersc. but I actually enjoyed the mrlitary.’ she admits. rolling a cigarette on the enormous kitchen table other lidinbut‘gh llat. ‘I enjoyed the challenge. rising through the ranks. especially as a woman in a male- dominated prolcssion l tound it incredibly rewarding. So I ttiiss that.‘
\leagher is currently doing a community education course. but directly alter leaving the army. she worked in the security industry for tour years. 'lly the end ol‘ that I‘d just learned to get angry about what had happened.‘ she says. 'l realised how little choice I had itt employment because. ol what the army had done to the through. one. being sacked and losing cont‘idence and. two. having a criminal cony ietion which I have to mitigate by outing tnysell' every time I go tor a job interview,‘
\ow the anger has gone tapart trotn ‘anger at mysell’ l‘or being so naive‘). because her energies were channelled instead into her part in the development ol‘ 'I'/n' ltti'a.sttgatot'. and into the work ol~ Rank ()utsiders. a support group lor homosexuals expelled l'rom the army. Interest in this arcane military policy has also been heightened by the Military Four
— three gay men and a lesbian who have taken their case to the liuropean (Tourt of Human Rights. l‘ollowing the High (Court‘s admission that the Ministry ol' Defence was otit of step with the times.
‘I think the Ministry of Dcl‘encc is long overdue a shake-up.‘ says Meagher. "l‘heir
line is that homosexuality creates a climate of
tear. which I ﬁnd laughable given that they‘re meant to be training brave soldiers to go into any situation. The suggestion that a para would be terrified of the sight ol~ a pool. in the shower is ludicrous.
‘I think also they‘re just scared of the dil’l‘erence. The armed l’orces rely on people being the same and il you have individuals. you can't enl'orce rules. They ent'orce beliefs by spreading propaganda. We were told that
lesbians operated in cliques and would lure women in or subject them to horril‘ic attacks. It was all nonsense I never saw that.‘
Against this background. director ('hris.
()xley. best known tor the documentary Data/t ()n The RU('/\. read an interview \leaghcr had given to The (iaarzlt'an and secured her conl‘idence in the idea ol~ a drama- documentary'. ‘l was a bit wary ot' exposing mysell' in that inediutn.‘ she says. ‘but I could see that we would reach a lar greater audience. There had been documentaries on homosexuality in the military. but I ﬁnd that presentation qttite turgid sontetitttes.’
Instead. 'l'lta Investigator is an involving and pacey ()0 minutes. l'ollowing Meagher l‘rotn eager cub investigator to disillusioned and disgtisted observer ol. the lowest tactics used to out homosexual soldiers. This is coupled with her exploration on her own sexuality. tailed heterosexual relationships and the discretion she must use when she l'inds love in Edinburgh.
Baxendale is as commanding as ever in the pivotal role. There are echoes of one of her previous characters. the Edinburgh lawyer Lorna in Truth 0r Dare. a competent professional who can only watch in horror as her career is destroyed by others. This time, however. the havoc is wreaked internally.
‘I thought it was amazing that that sort of prejudice was still going on now,’ says Baxendale. ‘lt seems that society has come forward slightly in those terms. so it seemed to make no sense. like an attitude from a dil't'erent time. When I read the script. the injustice of the whole story struck me.‘
The interrogation scenes — both Meagher‘s own and the ones she is privy to as a military policewoman — are the most effective instruments in conveying the anti-prejudice message. with their depiction of individuals witch-hunted and questioned intrusively about their sexual practices.
‘I found it incredibly uncom- l‘ortable.‘ says Meagher. ot' the real-lite interrogations she would sit in on. ‘There was a salacious undertone to it. and also outwith the interview situation when we were in the ol'l'ice working — that’s what the gttys would discuss and there would be this lewd banter. It's the same for any woman working in a predominantly male environment.‘
And what of the dramatisation of lesbian relationships'.’ Won’t there he an element ol’ titillation for those ot~ that mentality?
‘lt is glamorised a little bit.‘ concedes Baxendale. ‘but it's not as if it's Sharon Stone. And it‘s equally wrong to show lesbians as all short-haired dyk'ey people — that‘s stereotypical. and it you go t‘or gorgeous women that's also going to be criticised. I thought it went tor the middle ground.‘
Meagher. who has recently been doorstepped by the tabloid press. is also aware ol‘ the pros and cons. "there‘s a tnale fantasy element to viewing women‘s sexuality whether lesbian or not. It you're doing a piece about being a lesbian. you can‘t shy away from lesbian sexuality. There‘s going to be a minority who won‘t get the message bttt equally a lot of lesbians might be glad to see a good portrayal on screen.‘
(liven the current climate ol' interest in the issue. Baxendale sees 'I'lta Invmttgator in an awareness-raising light. while Meagher has similar views on what it can realistically achieve.
‘I still see it as a campaigning piece. because it‘s not just my story.’ she says. ‘I see it as a piece which would engender discussion about just letting people be and not prying into their private lives. I hope it' there‘s one guy sitting there watching llelen. going “cor. get a load ol’ that”. il‘ he even thinks “that was nasty. they shouldn't have treated her like that". then maybe the message is getting through.‘
The Investigator is on Channel 4, Tue 6 May. 2—1 5 May 1997 WE LIST 15