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Fabulosa: The Story of Polari, Britain’s secret gay language

LGBTQ+ Forum with Professor Paul Baker, recorded Monday 17 May 2021.

In this talk Professor Paul Baker celebrates Polari, the camp language of gay men. With a saucy vocabulary including omi (man), palone (woman), lallies (legs), riah (hair), naff (awful), dish (bum), vada (look) and bona (good) Polari was used to conduct conversations in secret up until the 1960s, operating as a form of bonding and humour that helped gay people live through more oppressive times. It was popularised by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick in the radio comedy series Round the Horne and since then has largely disappeared from the gay scene, viewed as unfashionable and politically incorrect. However, in recent years it has been rediscovered and reappraised as an important aspect of gay social history with younger queer people using it in new ways for very different reasons to the original speakers.

Paul Baker is Professor of English Language at Lancaster University. He has written eighteen books, including Fabulosa: The Story of Polari (2019), Sexed Texts (2008) and, with Jo Stanley, Hello Sailor! (2003). He regularly gives talks and workshops about Polari and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.