Filmmaker seeks Polari speakers for documentary

Jessica Geen July 19, 2010
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A filmmaker is seeking speakers of Polari to interview them for a documentary.

The slang language, which some believe can be traced back as far as the 16th century, was used by a small number of gay people as a private communication method to avoid hostile attention and develop an identity.

It became popularised in the 1960s by the BBC radio programme Round the Home and some words, such as naff and camp remain in use today.

Jack Hancox, a recent graduate of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies, is hoping to make a 15-minute documentary with speakers of the language.

He said: “I’m interested in forgotten stories, teasing apart the history books to find secret memories. Textbook history wants to remember us on its own terms; we need to fight to draw attention to the histories of our ancestors and not allow ourselves to forget them.”

Little has been recorded about Polari, possibly due to the secrecy surrounding it. However, the slang has its roots in English, Italian, Yiddish, canal, theatre and Gypsy languages.

Mr Hancox continued: “As far as I can tell, people use a few words every now again, for nostalgia’s sake mainly. Someone told me that he’d introduced it to California and now has Polari Facebook chats.

“There are a few businesses named using Polari words, and a gay literary salon in Soho called Polari, for example. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of gay nuns, use it in their ceremonies apparently.

“Polari was only spoken by a very small section of the gay community, at a specific time in our history. But I find that those people very brave, in their own way: while most of us probably would have been cowering at home, maybe shuffling off to the park for a bit of shameful ‘charvering’ (Polari for f**king), these men were out flaunting their difference in the most wonderfully outrageous language.

“Polari gives us a direct link back to those pioneers – not that they saw themselves as pioneers at the time of course.”

Mr Hancox intends to finish the film in August and show it at gay film festivals.

Anyone who would like to be interviewed for the documentary can contact him at

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