What a tale Joanne Drayton tells. Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love is first and foremost a love story, yet it’s also a ripping yarn about two outrageous men who lived their lives to the full and in doing so helped to change the way we are.
Hudson and Halls were enigmatically - and yet unapologetically out there - breaking stereotypes and being unashamedly gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Yet even as the tabloids and gossip magazines lined up to take a peek into their splendid off screen lives, elsewhere in New Zealand gay men were still being openly bashed. And the perpetrators of these horrific crimes sometimes walked free.
Of course the screen pair who changed the face of the New Zealand culinary scene as they camped it up on screen could not say openly that they were lovers. But whether in public or private they did not ever shy away from the flamboyance and bickering that outed them to those in the know. In this way they not only revolutionised the local cooking scene, bringing foreign ingredients, flair and lashings of booze to inspire the home cook, but they also helped soften social attitudes to homosexuality.
In recognising their enormous contribution to changing New Zealand culture recipe by recipe, Drayton goes behind the scenes to delve into their upbringings and the attitudes that shaped them. Fortunately for us all, our own attitudes to homosexuality have changed for the better, although much work is still needed until the LGBT&Q community is fully assimilated and accepted across the board. As I say this, I am thinking of the painful journeys recently negotiated by three young members of my own family as they faced coming out.
But it must have been a quiet week for The Listener when a few days ago the cover banged on about the great secret unearthed by Drayton in Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love. Of course we knew the pair were lovers, that’s a given, so the magazine really had to work hard to come up with something else sensational to lead. They seized on the book’s revelations about Peter Hall’s family and the trial of abortionist Mary Ethel Hudson.
As an editor I sympathise with the need to create gripping headlines to sell the magazine; but really folks? This is one of the least interesting aspects of the book and not in my mind a selling point. Fortunately for the reader there are many more riveting tales told within. Speaking purely for my own voyeuristic self, I loved reading about the couple’s epic arguments and the heroic hurling of antiques and crockery from top floors and cliff tops during their very public spats. And I also loved reading about their tenderness and dependence on each other.
I was intrigued by their other businesses – the ground breaking shoe shop and their foray into the restaurant scene. I absolutely cheered them on as – having been rejected for an extended season on local TV - they broke in to the BBC.
What a grand tale this book tells of two heroic homosexual men who had the enormous courage to be themselves; and how marvellously Drayton tells it. All kudos to her passion and tenacity for giving us all the chance to read about it.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Otago University Press, RRP $49.95