Quentin Crisp (1908 - 1999)
Born Denis Charles Pratt, was an English writer, artist's model, actor and
raconteur known for his memorable and insightful witticisms. He became a gay
icon in the 1970s after publication of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant,
brought to the attention of the general public his defiant exhibitionism and
longstanding refusal to conceal his homosexuality.
He changed his name to Quentin Crisp in his twenties after leaving home and cultivating his outlandishly effeminate appearance to a
standard that both shocked contemporary Londoners and provoked homophobic
By his own account, Crisp was effeminate in behaviour from an early age. After
leaving school in 1926, Crisp studied journalism at King's College London in
London, England, but failed to graduate in 1928, going on to take art classes.
Around this time, Crisp began frequenting the cafés of Soho, meeting other young
gay men and rent-boys, and experimenting with make-up and women's clothes. For
six months he worked as a prostitute, looking for love, he said in a 1999
interview, but only finding degradation.
His outlandish appearance – he wore bright make-up, dyed his long hair crimson,
painted his fingernails and wore sandals to display his painted toenails –
brought admiration and curiosity from some quarters, but generally attracted
hostility and violence from strangers passing him in the streets.
He left his job as engineer's tracer in 1942 to become a model in life classes
in London and the Home Counties, and continued posing for artists for the next
Crisp had published three short books by the time he was commissioned by the
director of Jonathan Cape to complete what would become The Naked Civil Servant.
The book appeared in 1968 to respectable reviews.
The successful screening of The Naked Civil Servant launched Crisp in another
new direction: that of performer and lecturer. He devised a one-man show and
began touring the country with it. The first half of the show was an
entertaining monologue loosely based on his memoirs, the second half was a
question and answer session with Crisp picking the audience's written questions
out at random and answering them in an amusing manner. Then he took the show to
New York, where he eventually decided to move. He continued to perform his
one-man show, published groundbreaking books on the importance of contemporary
manners as a means of social inclusivity as opposed to etiquette, which socially
excludes and supported himself by accepting social invitations and writing movie
reviews and columns for U.S. and UK magazines and newspapers.
During the 1980s and 1990s Crisp gained worldwide recognition when Sting
dedicated his song "Englishman In New York" to him.
Crisp remained fiercely independent and unpredictable into old age, he was
continually in demand from journalists requiring a sound-bite, and throughout
the nineties his commentary was sought on any number of topics.
Crisp died shortly before his ninety-first birthday.