Mind your language

How did BBC’s Late Night Line-Up get its name?

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

28 September 2019

9:00 AM

The title of the television review and discussion programme Late Night Line-Up is a curious one. I’d be interested if anyone knows how it was chosen. After the throaty sax notes of Gerry Mulligan’s Blue Boy, Joan Bakewell would leggily engage earnest folk in chatter long after the pubs had closed. Did the guests smoke? I can’t remember, but it was all very b&w.

BBC iPlayer has a small selection on show, including a discussion of two Man Alive documentaries on homosexuality with Maureen Duffy, then writing a novel set in the Gateways club in Chelsea, popular with lesbians, Michael Schofield, fresh from his researches for The Sexual Behaviour of Young People, and an anonymous woman doctor.

The presenter was Michael Dean. Oddly enough he pronounced homosexuality with a long ‘o’, as though it were to do with Homo sapiens.

But now I see that the Oxford English Dictionary records four pronunciations for Homo sapiens and six for homosexual, so let’s not be prescriptive. Even more oddly he remarked that ‘the French like to call sodomy le vice anglais’, though he was inclined to ‘dismiss this as Anglophobia’.

My husband assures me that le vice anglais is understood as flagellation. As the magazine Horizon noted in 1947: ‘No novelist in the last decade of the century could create a character who practised le vice anglais without attributing to him some of Swinburne’s physical characteristics.’ Certainly Swinburne seldom went long, even in the cushioned asylum of The Pines, Putney, without his thoughts turning to the birchings he knew from Eton. He went as far as composing a parody of the national anthem on the subject.

Anyway, Line-Up as the title for a broad-minded discussion is strange, bearing in mind the term’s origins in America to denote a police identity parade, or, I’m sorry to mention it, what became known later as a gang-bang. (It should be remembered that, on Christmas Day 1973, the BBC screened Gary Glitter singing ‘I’m the man who put the bang in gang’ on Top of the Pops.)

Neither of those social expressions of the phrase Line-Up quite matches what was presented to early viewers of BBC2.

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