Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bisexual war hero

The really inspiring experience of BiCon a couple of weeks ago, combined with me finishing my MA, means my blog hibernation is over. At the very least, there will be a few posts again before I run out of steam...

Anyway, back to an old theme of mine - Bisexuals I never met – where I write about famousish dead bi people.

The BBC radio programme Last Word often has really interesting subjects featured on it. It’s essentially an obituary programme, about notable people who’ve died in the last week or so, with comments from those who knew them. Catch it on iPlayer (if you are in a country that allows it; I don’t think the US does).

Today’s Last Word had a feature about Michael (Micky) Burn – war hero, foreign correspondent for The (London) Times, poet, novelist - who has died aged 97. Here’s an obituary about him here. Yes, posh man + the Second World War + derring-do = Daily Telegraph obituary.

There’s also an interesting trailer for a documentary about his life here, and I have to say I warm to him:

Like many people who’ve made it to obituary programmes, he came from an upper class background, and this shows in his early politics. Specifically, as a young man he used to be a Nazi sympathiser, even introducing Unity Mitford to Hitler. But (thank the lords) a trip to Dachau in 1937 put a stop to that and he spoke later about how ashamed he had been to have been taken in by fascism. He turned to the Left shortly after, and had a very active war, being imprisoned in Colditz for several years. Later, he saved the life of the little girl who would become actress Audrey Hepburn. Burn was socialist throughout the rest of his life, apparently losing all his money in mussel-breeding workers’ co-operative in the 1960s.

He was also bisexual, having a long on-off affair with the (later) Soviet spy Guy Burgess as a young man. Apparently there were other men too, and in the 1950s he was mentioned (anonymously) in the News of the World as a victim of blackmail. He was also married to Mary, who was, he said, ”the love of his life”.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this man sounds bisexual and you’d have thought that the word might have featured at least once in the programme. Not a bit of it. One of his old acquaintances bugged the hell out of me by saying again and again that Burn was homosexual. No. If he was married simply because he wanted to hide his homosexuality, fine. But Burn describing his wife as the love of his life surely puts paid to that.

I do take the point of groups like Bi Index, who say that the only person who can say someone is bi is themselves.

But Mr Burn wasn’t on this programme to say he either was or wasn’t; it was other people removing the possibility for him after his death. Anyway, one of the inter-titles on the documentary trailer (done with, presumably, his involvement) was “bisexual”. So there!

I sometimes wonder about this “Bisexuals I never met” tag - am I looking for heroes amongst them? Role models, people I can be like, look up to? I don’t really believe in that; people are flawed and adulation doomed to failure. I suppose it is partly volume: look, here’s a large number of people, bisexuals are everywhere. Still, a lot of the people I list here led fascinating lives, with all sorts of tales to tell, and I wish I had met them.

Mr Burn is a particularly apposite member of this team at the moment, what with the 70th anniversary of the Blitz (where urban parts of the UK were bombed by the Nazis) being written about so much right now. How can people in developed wealthy countries nowadays be so brave? I'm not sure that they can.

In 2008, there were reports that Burn’s autobiography, Turned Towards the sun, had been bought by Hollywood and that Jude Law was likely to be starring. Interesting. I wonder who will play Guy Burgess – or will this sub-plot be strangely absent?

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