The first time I ever heard anything of Quentin Crisp, it was back in the ‘70s when my mum rapturously read The Naked Civil Servant. Being young, I assumed that it was something rude so slyly checked out the back of it when she wasn’t looking to see what porn my mother was reading.
When she saw me looking, I dropped it like a hot brick and she went on to explain that the book wasn’t in fact about anything rude at all. I recall her describing Quentin Crisp to me as “a brave man.”
I had no idea then that I would go on to love Quentin Crisp’s story myself in my own adulthood, and this follow on to The Naked Civil Servant proved to me again that not only was the original writing perfectly done, John Hurt parlays Crisp’s story so well, he may have been Crisp’s twin.
And An Englishman in New York was a bittersweet tale of Crisp’s rise – again – to social grace and his rather stupendous – again – fall from it when he famously declared that AIDS was, “a fad, nothing more.”
Not unsurprisingly, this angered many, and Crisp was plunged into the loneliness of ignominy and shunned by the very society in which he’d longed to live.
John Hurt yet again brought Crisp’s character to life with a piquancy rarely found in lesser actors. His portrayal of the latter years of Crisp’s life were full of conflicting emotions; wit and sadness, sardonic ripostes and secret regret, love and abandonment.
And it can surely be nothing less than fate handing down ironic karma that saw Crisp die not in his beloved New York but England. Perhaps his homeland called back its son in his dying hour, or perhaps, less poetically, it was just bloody bad luck. I suspect the latter.
If you missed An Englishman in New York, you can watch it again on ITV’s Player here, and I would strongly recommend that you do. Not only is it a fascinating story, it was beautifully played.