❉ We never hear about Peter Straker. Perhaps it’s time we should.
Stardom is a funny thing. There are those, the majority of us, who never achieve it. There are those who burn brightly forever, lavished with awards and given stars on a pavement in Hollywood. There are those who burn brightly but briefly, like a meteor across the sky, making an impact and then being lost forever.
And then there’s a subset of stardom that falls firmly into the “cult” category we particularly dig here at We Are Cult.
These are the ones who never quite caught light. The people you would see in the street and recognise, but not know where from. The ones brimming in talent and never short of work, but missing out on the luck that would’ve made them household names.
One such almost-a-star is Peter Straker. His exotic (for the time) Jamaican looks, his gender-bending (as it was then called) style, and his versatility as both a singer and an actor made him almost, but not quite, burn brightly in the 1970s.
His brushes with fame began with a starring role as Hud in Hair in its original London run – helped by the play waiting to see if it would be allowed or banned by the Lord Chancellor until Home Secretary Roy Jenkins let the Tudor powers to censor the stage lapse in 1968.
In 1972 he gave an interview to Gay News, the pioneering LGBTQI+ newspaper launched that year. It’s disjointed and dreamy, apparently under the influence of something they had been smoking.
In it, he talks about his now pretty well forgotten first film lead, Girl Stroke Boy, where he played the title character, a boyfriend mistaken as the girlfriend of Clive Francis as Laurie.
From there his career has remained one that never quite sparked. In 1979 Doctor Who serial Destiny of the Daleks, he guested as Commander Sharrel, leader of the androgynous android Movellan army – alongside Suzanne (Carry On Emmanuelle) Danielle and Tony (Porridge) Osoba. There were also appearances in LWT’s The Gentle Touch in 1980, and as Dev in Central Television’s Stephanie Beacham vehicle Connie in 1985. All important to the plot, but not important enough for anyone to remember him at a glance.
He has also released several singles, but they’ve never really troubled the UK Top 40, despite him having a fine, even interesting, voice. His long-deleted album This One’s on Me (1977) was produced by his close friend Freddie Mercury with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker – highlights include The Day The Talkies Came, Ragtime Piano Joe, Vamp and his cover of the Brecht/Weill classic Alabama Song.
The Gay News interview is interesting for what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that he’s the next big star – although he may himself have hoped so. It doesn’t say where on the LGBT+ spectrum he put himself at the time, if at all. It does discuss his latest LP, but that too never really went anywhere.
He even had a brief run in a revival of rock opera Tommy and in 2013 released Peter Straker’s Brel, an album of his interpretations of songs from Jacques Brel‘s songbook.
You didn’t hear about it, because we never hear about Peter Straker. Perhaps it’s time we should.
❉ The interview with Peter Straker can be read in the Christmas 1972 issue of Gay News at the Gay News Archive Project with a review of his concert on the South Bank in London promoting the new album ‘Private Parts’ appearing in the same issue. Gay News’ review of ‘Private Parts’ can be found here.
❉ In August 2013, Toby Hadoke chatted with Peter Straker in an instalment of his long-running interview series Who’s Round, which you can download for free here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/toby-hadoke-s-who-s-round-28—peter-straker-962